The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Sheepdogs started out as an indie band, briefly flirted with the majors, and then returned to their indie roots. But they’ve held onto the popularity they gained along the way: one of the most popular rock bands in their native Canada, they’re working hard to build their fan base in the USA and overseas. But not too hard, not to the detriment of their craft: “I try to focus on the music and not get bogged down with the business side of things,” says lead vocalist and songwriter Ewan Currie.
The six-piece group – which also features Ewan’s brother Shamus Currie on keyboards and trombone – builds their original songs on a foundation of classic rock in the style of Humble Pie, The Allman Brothers and their Canadian forbears the Guess Who. After a pair of independently-released albums failed to set the charts ablaze, their third album, 2010’s Learn & Burn, reached #14 on the Canadian charts.
In the wake of that success, the band entered – and won – a 2011 Rolling Stone competition among unsigned bands. “The way it worked,” chuckles Ewan Currie, “was that whoever won that thing got your standard crappy music industry deal with Atlantic Records.” The product of that deal was the band’s 2012 self-titled album, a #1 charting release that went Platinum (20,000 units) in Canada.
“We made one album with Atlantic, and then we decided we would do things differently on this next one,” Currie says. That different way was a return to independent releases. The band’s regular touring, coupled with airplay on Canadian radio, propelled their 2015 album, Future Nostalgia, to #11 on the Canadian charts.
Currie is a prolific songwriter. “I’m pretty self-motivating,” he says. “I write songs all the time, and I always have a big backlog of songs.” He recently finished a side-project album with his brother, and the Sheepdogs are already working on their next release. With regard to songwriting, Currie says, “I think I know what works and what doesn’t.” Yet he has few illusions about commercial success. “I think it’s foolish to say that you know what the radio wants,” he says, “because I don’t understand what the hell they want.”
One of the highlights of Future Nostalgia is “Jim Gordon,” a track about the famed session drummer (and member of Derek & the Dominos) who met a tragic fate. “I’m just a huge music nerd who loves rock ‘n’ roll and all of those hit records that Jim Gordon played on,” says Currie. “He’s a fascinating character.” The song is a kind of tribute to Gordon, but it’s written in Currie’s lyrically oblique style. “I love open-ended music because you can find your own threads of truth, read into it [what you want] and apply it to your own life.”
The Sheepdogs’ current tour crisscrosses North America, traveling back and forth across the US-Canada border many times, with forays into Europe as well. But their sights are set primarily on the USA. “We try to prove that our music is not just a product of CanCon [Canadian content],” Currie says.
“We definitely have somewhat of a fan base in America, but it’s much smaller than in Canada,” Currie admits. “America created rock ‘n’ roll and all the musical forms that I grew up loving and listening to.” He notes that there’s a long list of Canadian bands that did well domestically but never caught on in the USA. Currie laughs and says, “We’re trying our best not to be another one of those bands.”