Written By Laura Curry
The music of The Sheepdogs transports listeners back to the blues-rock sounds of the ’70s South, complete with soulful vocals and harmonies, gritty guitar riffs and solos and epic instrumental breakdowns. The Hammond organ and piano settings on their keyboard, as well as the call and response guitar parts between Currie and Bowskill add further complexity to the bluesy nature of their music.
The Sheepdogs are Ewan Currie on lead vocals and guitar, Ryan Gullen on bass, Sam Corbett on drums, Jimmy Bowskill on guitar and Shamus Currie on keyboards, trombone and tambourine. These Saskatchewan, Canada natives deliver Americana tunes to listeners, which inspire them to embrace the liberty of vintage southern rock music.
Pop-Break.com spoke with The Sheepdogs’ drummer, Sam Corbett, before and after their Worldwide Tour performance in Asbury Park to learn more about their influences, the “Future Nostalgia” album and band dynamics. Thanks to bad cell service, the phone interview was cut short and we had to reconvene in person after their set. Corbett assured me that my attire was appropriate for the show, as both he and I were wearing brown western vests. The conversation continued with a discussion of their career highlights.
If you take a look into the history of The Sheepdogs, you’ll discover that back in 2011, they were selected to compete in a North American “Battle of the Instant Bands,” which prompted their success as a band. This contest involved four difficult rounds of competition, including performing at Bonnaroo Music Festival and multiple appearances on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Corbett said that this was the biggest television audience they ever played for, which made it more exhilarating. Thanks to the votes of their fans, they emerged as the victors of the contest and became the first unsigned band to grace the cover of Rolling Stone.
Corbett recalls that this feature in Rolling Stone was a breakthrough moment for their career. Before this, they were touring frequently in Canada with a lot of difficulty due to car trouble and a low turnout at shows. Ever since the four of them appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in all of their hairy, feel-good, rock ’n’ roll glory, they’ve had many more opportunities to tour in the U.S. and Europe.
It’s easy to notice that the music of The Sheepdogs has an American southern rock feel. This style is also evident in their videos, clothing style and sound. “A lot of the greatest music ever has originated out of the American South,” Corbett said. “That’s something we take a lot of our cues from.”
Corbett refers to the British bands that they really like such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Kinks and explains that those bands were also enamored by the music of the American South. He thinks that The Sheepdogs are getting a second-hand influence from those British bands. However, it becomes hard to decipher all aspects of their sound to determine the origin of their influences, because it’s all blended together and Corbett knows that influences can come from just about anywhere.
While influences may be hard to pin down, their songwriting process has been steady over the years. Currie writes the lyrics, melodies and chord changes, and sometimes he’ll bring in a song with a very clear idea of what he wants the arrangement to sound like with the drums and bass line. Other times he just has the chord changes and the song works itself out during a jam session. After they form a basic structure for the song, then Currie adds the lyrics. “There’s no set in stone rule, Corbett said. “We try to be flexible.”
The Sheepdogs grew up in the small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada and Corbett said that the buzzing music scene was “all-inclusive,” so they weren’t forced to fit into any particular sound.
“We were free to take our influences from whatever we were listening to because we grew up in the age of Napster and being able to find whatever kind of music you want to online,” Corbett said.
The Sheepdogs didn’t have any restrictions on the music they created, which allowed them the freedom to combine sounds and genres of the music that they listen to, Corbett explained.
This lack of constraints also encouraged The Sheepdogs to experiment with the recording process of their music. Each album was recorded in a slightly different way, which gave them enough experience to figure out how they wanted to record “Future Nostalgia.”
They recorded their 2010 album, “Learn & Burn,” in an apartment in Saskatoon, and it was very “lo-fi” but true to what they wanted to do. Their self-titled album, released in 2012, was the complete opposite. They worked with Pat Carney of The Black Keys in Nashville to record it in a real studio with a professional engineer. Corbett thinks this was a valuable learning experience, and it put them on the right track for “Future Nostalgia.”
“I think with this album we really wanted to do a mix of both,” Corbett said. “We wanted to have more control over the final product but we wanted it to be professionally recorded, so I think ‘Future Nostalgia’ meets in the middle.”
The live show of The Sheepdogs combines highlights from “Future Nostalgia” such as the dark and sinful track “Bad Lieutenant,” and the confident anthem, “I’m Gonna Be Myself,” along with hits from their previous albums including “I Don’t Know” and “Feeling Good.” Corbett explains that their sets include songs that are true to the album as well as ones that they rearrange in order to incorporate jams at the end. This keeps listeners on their toes and makes each show unique. “Even within those jams, we usually have parameters set down so it doesn’t get out of control,” Corbett said.
Their fire on stage during performances is fueled by the crowd’s level of enthusiasm. “It’s hard to have a whole lot of fun if the crowd isn’t enjoying it or cheering,” Corbett said. “Whenever we play in front of a positive audience, it’s hard not to get excited and feed off of their energy.”
The energy of the crowd spikes at the end of the show when they perform a spirited cover of The Allman Brother’s track “Whipping Post.” This cover was recently added as an alternative to Neil Young’s “Down By The River,” which they also enjoy playing. Ending their sets with a cover gives the listeners a familiar tune with a distinct twist that you can only hear from The Sheepdogs.
While they have been touring since the release of “Future Nostalgia,” The Sheepdogs also have new material in the works for their next album. They realize that touring is a must in order to make money and promote their music.
“We would like to record and release more music, but with the way that the music business is right now, it’s not super realistic,” Corbett said. “We have to really sit down and put the work in.”
“Future Nostalgia” is an example of all of the labor that The Sheepdogs “herd” into their music. This album gives listeners the chance to find their own meaning in each song, but there’s no pressure to figure it all out.
“What we want to do essentially is just make feel good music that people enjoy listening to,” Corbett said. “Whatever music you listen to, you don’t have to dissect it and analyze it—it can just be something that sounds good and makes you feel good. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.”