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Nutana: A thundering f*ck you to cancer

by Casey Ling

photo by Little Jack Films

When thinking about the music of Saskatchewan, the genre of Southern Rock and classic rock has consistently shown up. The Hourhand, The Brothers G, and Seven Mile Sun are a few examples of acts that have been given prominent coverage in our little zine that are imbued with that "retro" charm. These power groups have led the province in the genre. But Sam Corbett, current drummer of The Sheepdogs, has shown us that the exact same power can be achieved through a solo project. Corbett's latest project, Nutana, serves as both a solemn reflection of his life, and a thundering "fuck you" to cancer.

Acting as the rhythmic backbone for The Sheepdogs, the cancellation of shows due to Corbett's diagnosis of testicular cancer was a big deal. But through his time off, Corbett was able to branch off and learn more musical skills.

“Drumming became too tiring because of my therapy, so I decided to move to piano. Despite being in this band (The Sheepdogs) for 20 years, I never wrote any songs. I always wanted to release my own material,” Corbett explains in an interview with NSMZ.

Being a fairly new resident of Saskatchewan, I was a bit in the dark about the inside joke of the term “Nutana”. From my first assumption, I thought it was referring to some sort of pseudo-natural health diet expecting some “hippy bullshit”. Sam was gracious enough to fill this outsider in on the details.

“Nutana is an original to Saskatoon. There is no other place in Canada named Nutana. Some people thought it sounded cool. It was also the neighbourhood where I grew up so I used it as a pseudonym for the project”.

Almost everyone has been affected by cancer, either directly or indirectly. Nutana’s debut album revolves around Corbett's diagnosis of testicular cancer, how he has overcome it, and how he is now thankfully in remission. In a way, it reflects the five stages of grief and where Corbett stands today.

“Most of the songs revolve around the overcoming cancer diagnosis. It (the album) is melancholic and bitter sweet. It was a challenging time in my life but five years later I am still cancer free, It really changed my outlook on life,” Corbett relates.

A bit about myself for those that may not know, I’ve spent about half my life playing music and am now currently an elementary music and band teacher. I cannot think of a worse combination of professions where imposter syndrome is well and thriving. Corbett's opening song “You Belong” speaks directly to that self doubt and everyone's perception of it.

“The song I am the most happy with how it turned out is 'You Belong'. It's about imposter syndrome. A lot of musicians deal with the thought of 'Maybe I don’t deserve my success'. I think a lot of people in general feel like that. It’s my statement to the contrary and that you do belong where you are”.

When working with my students in band class, they seem to have a habit of just stopping when they make a make a mistake. My default response to them has been “Just fake it until you make it. The audience doesn’t know what they don’t know. So don’t be sorry, just be better”. That same mantra has been echoed by Sam in terms of the genre in the province. Alberta has their straight country, Ontario seems to identify with their hip hop and rap, and BC tends to lean towards their indie styles. Saskatchewan seems to be a little different. While our southern rock styles have become our own, our ties can be directly connected to the styles of music seen in the southern states.

“Saskatchewan music has a roots or throwback connection like us (The Sheepdogs), Colter Wall, The Dead South. That Southern American vibe that for whatever reason works for people in this province. We sometimes feel like imposters with the music that comes from the south, but Europe thinks it's legit”.

While not completely disconnected from The Sheepdogs, starting a solo project is a huge feat. Sam has been able to be involved in every single role in the production of The Sheepdogs music and as such has been able to apply it to his own music.

“It’s interesting. I never wrote any songs or sang lead in The Sheepdogs. I was always paying attention in the studio and was trying to learn the roles of the producer. So I think you can draw on any experience you had. Just because you've never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. My main advice would be to listen to a ton of music and learn to play it. Read a fake book and play it on piano or guitar and something will come out. You can always pick up new stuff”.

“The best music comes not from the biggest cities but from the smallest centers where they can find the music they like. Every song is at your fingertips and you can find whatever you like”.

Nutana will be having a double album release party alongside Son of Han (also known as Leot Hanson) at the Capitol Music Club in Saskatoon on May 26th. Tickets can be found at

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