“I like rock as an escape … music is at its best when it’s uplifting and takes you to a good place.”
With both Rush and the Tragically Hip not around anymore due to the passing of drummer Neil Peart in the former and frontman Gord Downie in the latter, the title of next great Canadian rock band is wide open. There are a few contenders who hail from various parts of the country and one of them is definitely the Sheepdogs from Saskatoon.
With primary songwriter, lead vocalist, and guitarist Ewan Currie, bassist Ryan Cullen, drummer Sam Corbett, and Currie’s brother Shamus handling a variety of instruments along with Ricky Paquette, this multi-platinum album selling and multi-Juno Award winning band has a blues-infused sound that mirrors ’70s classic rock. Their seventh album, Outta Sight, came out on June 3 via both Dine Alone Records and Warner Music Canada, and they’re coming to the Sinclair on Oct. 17 in support of the release. Fellow Canadian artist Boy Golden will kick the night off at 8pm.
Currie and I spoke about counteracting negative feelings from the COVID-19 pandemic, the process of making the new album, recording with a combination of digital and analog equipment, and making mistakes while keeping a short memory.
Outta Sight has been billed as a straight up, non-bummer record that was made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. What made you guys want to convey a positive message during that uncertain, dark time? Was it something in particular or did you all figure this would be the best reaction to have with everything that was going on?
Obviously the pandemic bummed everybody out so we wanted to make something more uplifting. I figured that once this pandemic is completely over, people are just going to want to forget about it rather than listen to some record that reminds them about it. To be honest, we’ve always played music like that. I like rock and roll as an escape and to me music is at its best when it’s uplifting and takes you to a good place.
With the combination of the pandemic and the delaying of live music, did you find the recording process for the album to be more relaxed than usual due to having more time to focus on the music and the production?
We actually spent less time, we did it really quickly and I think that was good. The last full-length record we made took a long time; sometimes, if you do too much noodling and too much fine-tuning, you kind of get lost in the process. What I like about this record is that we just let it flow, we didn’t overthink things and we set up in a room to lay down the songs. Rock and roll is a type of music that sounds good when it’s not over thought so I think that was a good approach.
From listening to Outta Sight, there seems to be a glossy tone that’s consistent within the music. This is especially the case with the guitars, so how did you go about capturing that particular sound?
I don’t know to be honest, I don’t think we do anything crazy. Sometimes with the guitars we just plug them straight into the board and not even with an amp so you just drive it on the preamp and there’s some fuzzed out sounds there. Most of the time it’s just the amps we have, it’s nothing crazy, we just stick a mic on an amp and let it rip while trying not to use any gear things in between our amps and your ears.
Did you use a lot of analog equipment while making the album?
It was a combination. We recorded it digitally but we use a lot of preamps and old things to make it sound a little sweeter, we like a hybrid approach.
I definitely sensed that in the tracks, it’s a mix of that digital quality with a ’70s tone that I really enjoyed. It’s been a little over 11 years since the Sheepdogs won a contest to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone while also becoming the first unsigned act to do so. To reflect, how much has that achievement affected the band’s career since it happened?
It’s had a huge effect. Once we won that thing then the next goal was how to turn this into a career that lasts. Eleven years is a long time, bands come and go in much less time and the Beatles were only a band for nine years. We’ve just been working on making records, doing tours, trying to get into people’s ears and keeping this thing going. It’s our eighteenth year of being a band and we just kicked off another big tour so I’m really stoked, it’s about turning it into a long career. Sometimes it’s boring stuff like running a small business which is practically what we are, but at the same time I make up songs, play guitar, and sing for a living so that’s pretty crazy.
When it comes to the Sheepdogs’ consistency, do you have any key approaches to keep things fresh with ideas, songs and the camaraderie?
We make mistakes all the time, I’m not even sure how we’ve stayed together this long but we are friends and my brother Shamus plays in the band so that helps. We just try to keep a positive vibe as best we can, we’ve had our moments where the vibe hasn’t been so great but we’re still here. I don’t know if I can boil it down to any definite tips or tricks, as I said before we make mistakes all the time but we just get on to the next show. Maybe it’s like in Major League Baseball, you have to have a short memory and when you strike out you just forget about it while trying to get a hit the next time.
You just mentioned this big tour you guys are on that’s going around Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States which includes Monday’s show at the Sinclair. What can we expect from the Sheepdogs during this run of shows in terms of live setup and overall experience? Has anything changed with the way you present yourselves on stage versus years before?
It’s a rock and roll party. We’ll play between 90 to 100 minutes, somewhere around there, while playing a lot of songs both old and new. We jam a little bit but we still get through over 20 songs in a set usually. There’s tons of guitars playing in harmony and everybody sings in our band so it’s awesome. We love rock and roll with guitars so get yourself to a Sheepdogs show.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.