by Scott Roos
*photo by Matt Dunlap
Thursday, March 12th, 2020 was going to be the kickoff to a great weekend of fun festivities in the city of Saskatoon. The city had been selected to host the Juno Awards which usually ends up being a showcase of Canadian talent due to the numerous events and concerts that get planned around it - commonly referred to as “Juno Week”. Saskatoon expats, The Sheepdogs, were set to headline the Juno Kickoff Concert that evening but, as you know, that weekend ended not happening. It ended up being the start of a soul crushingly disappointing time, not just for Saskatoon and area musicians, but for essentially the entire music industry as a whole. Sheepdogs vocalist Ewan Currie remembers that day well as he and his band get set to play their first show back in the home province since then. They'll be rocking the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival this Saturday, August 7th, on the TD Mainstage at the Bessborough Gardens in Saskatoon.
"It was a Thursday when the pandemic kicked off. I remember Trump saying stuff in a news conference, then the NHL and NBA shut down, we were getting ready to do the Juno Awards in Saskatoon. So that was the last time we were in Saskatoon as a band - for the Junos. Of course the next morning everything was cancelled so... It's pretty sweet that we're basically picking up where we left off," Currie tells NSMZ.
It’s never easy playing in front of the hometown crowd, but The Sheepdogs will be ready to bring the party to all in attendance this Saturday. They’ll be sharing the stage with Wide Mouth Mason, another act commonly associated with "the bridge city", so you can bet that there will be a lot of feel good Saskatchewan vibes all round.
"Saskatchewan is where we cut our teeth and where we first maybe convinced ourselves, as much as anyone else, that we could do this thing at a level that was good enough to do it professionally,” muses Currie, “The Bessborough Gardens is amazing. It's probably the best venue you could play in the province I would guess."
The pandemic has given the band lots to reflect on lately. On their social media this past Tuesday, the band announced that it was the ten year anniversary of their now famous and career launching appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. They had won the “Choose the Cover” contest to become the first ever unsigned band to grace the cover which, as we all can attest to now, was well deserved. It’s hard to fathom that The Sheepdogs were once a hard working, but mostly unknown, indie act as they have consistently released a series of full lengths and ep’s chock-full of feel good, retro styled, radio friendly tracks since then.
"I think the first thing I kind of thought of was I'll probably not have to work a day job again or at least I can quit my job full time,” reminisces Currie on landing the coveted Rolling Stone cover, ”We were pretty aware at the time that even though we had won this competition and we were on this magazine cover that the work was just beginning. We were kinda just itching to get to the next thing. We were basically months away from making our next record which is a lot of pressure. It's not like we won the super bowl and then drifted off into retirement. It was just almost like a coming out party for us. It was like 'cool, now it's on. Now it's time to do all the things that we (always) wanted to do' like make records and travel around the world and keep this thing going.”
The band has released three full lengths since that cover hit the news stands and recently, on May 28th, unleashed their ep entitled No Simple Thing. No Simple Thing originally was going to be a full length that they were set to record in the United States. Unfortunately, COVID came knocking during that time so the band was forced to alter their plans. As a result, they cut a six song EP with an organic, live off the floor feel to it.
"We got lucky that we were hired to play a Canada Day show on Capitol Hill. That was supposed to be last year (July 1st, 2020) and of course that wasn't going to happen so instead they had us go to Montreal. We flew. Our first time on a plane during the pandemic. You put a mask on in the airport. First time doing all that stuff and we did this performance in Montreal that was broadcast on TV and on the internet and so while we were there we were just like 'we're all together'. We were supposed to make a full record in America last year but that of course wasn't going to happen. So we were like 'let's book some studio time and see what happens' and it turned out that it went really well. That album is a result of just us happening to be together in Montreal," recalled Currie.
In general, then, No Simple Thing shows a band in their element. The Sheepdogs play rock n roll and, in the spirit of many of their classic rock influences, the latest EP serves as a showcase for the band’s free wheeling, jam orientated vibe. It may not be a technique that they use in future releases but, for the situation the band found themselves in, the result is ideal.
"We kind of went that way because the last record we did was very overdub heavy. I mean there's still some overdubs on No Simple Thing. But we also didn't have a lot of time. We wanted to do something that was quick. We had done so many shows with this lineup over the last five years or whatever it's been and when we're in that live element that's our best form. I think that's why we went (with a live off the floor feel). We're an old school rock n roll band and that's an old school way to make a record. It suits us pretty well,” said Currie.
At the end of the day, The Sheepdogs are primed and ready to play the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival this Saturday in Saskatoon. Earlier last month they were able to play the Calgary Stampede. It’s been surreal for many artists to return to playing in front of live audiences again but to The Sheepdogs the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
"(Playing music is) just fun. It's an adventure because there's travel and new places, new people. It's a lot of fun. Staying home every day and doing zooms and all that kind of stuff it's just not fun. It's a big world. There's places to go and there's big groups getting together and sharing experiences. We need that stuff you know?" explains Currie.
Join the band this Saturday at the Bessborough Gardens to partake in The Sheepdogs experience you’ve all likely been craving for the past 18 some odd months. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here: www.saskjazz.com/event/the-sheepdogs