The Sheepdogs’ Ewan Currie

The Sheepdogs’ Ewan Currie

Future of rock is clear for The Sheepdogs

Saskatoon’s retro-rockers are currently living in the present with a just announced Juno nod and a Canadian tour that brings them to Vernon.

It may be known as the picturesque Prairie city perched alongside the Saskatchewan River, but Saskatoon has something else going for it.

The city also boasts a vibrant live music scene.

It’s apparent in the swath of respected musicians who have called the city home, from folk icon Joni Mitchell to guitar man Jack Semple and bands like Wide Mouth Mason and The Northern Pikes.

It’s also the place where current heavy hitters The Sheepdogs got their start.

“There were always a number of places to play and watch music as well as open stage/mics to get up on and local bars for local bands,” says vocalist/guitarist Ewan Currie, who founded The Sheepdogs with fellow Saskatoon native, bassist Ryan Gullen.

The band, which just played two sold-out shows in Toronto, is heading this way on the western leg of its current cross-Canada tour and is about to bring their guitar-driven classic rock to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Feb. 22.

Born in Australia, Currie moved to Saskatoon with his family, including brother Shamus who is now in the band, when he was 11 years old (A note of interest: The brothers’ grandparents lived here in the Okanagan for a while before moving back to Saskatchewan).

“Our dad’s a musician and we played instruments that we don’t tend to play on stage now. I took up clarinet and piano and my brother took trombone,” said Currie, adding that Shamus does occasionally bring out the brass for a song when he isn’t playing the keys.

“We were also playing sports, but there was never a time when we were not captivated by music.”

What started in 2004 as Currie and company, including drummer Sam Corbett, goofing around in their basements turned into playing open mic nights and battle of the bands around Saskatoon.

“We were really bad then, but we kept playing and eventually we started getting into vans. We knew we were onto something when we were asked to return to Winnipeg,” said Currie.

What has stood out for The Sheepdogs is the brand of rock they play, resonant of The Doors and Deep Purple with the use of keyboards, hard-driving guitars and pounding rhythms.

“We have been making rock records and it’s a pop world, which gets us mentioned in the mainstream media,” said Currie.

That media attention went gangbusters when The Sheepdogs appeared on the cover of  Rolling Stone magazine in August, 2011.

The band received that “pinnacle” after winning a contest where readers chose an unsigned artist(s) to be showcased by the magazine.

Rolling Stone in 2011 was pretty sweet,” admits Currie. “But since then, we’ve had a number of successful tours and I also attribute our success to the hard work of the three core guys in the band. We have only been in this band, so we’re very committed.”

That commitment has translated to the recording studio.

The Sheepdogs’ 2010 album, Learn and Burn, which was re-released in 2011, earned the band Juno wins for New Group of the Year, Single of the Year (for I Don’t Know) and Rock Album of the Year and was certified platinum in Canada.

Their self-titled 2012 LP, a result of the band’s Rolling Stone win, was produced by The Black Key’s Patrick Carney and Rolling Stone editor Austin Scaggs. It featured singles The Way it Is and Feeling Good, and was certified gold in Canada.

The Sheepdogs are now touring on latest LP Future Nostalgia, which just earned the band yet another Juno nomination for Rock Album of the Year.

Produced by Currie and engineered by Matt Ross-Spang (former engineer at Memphis’ Sun Studios) in a rented house in the remote, idyllic setting of Stony Lake, Ont., the album has already garnered The Sheepdogs Top 10 rock radio hits with Downtown and I’m Gonna Be Myself.

All these accolades give a band serious cred, but as Currie puts it more succinctly, “It’s nothing revolutionary. We just try to be good.”

“Making records is half science and half art. The technology and timing all works into it.”

And that carries on with this whirlwind tour the band has embarked on that takes them to just about every Canadian city that has a decent-sized theatre, and later to Europe.

“We want to kill these shows and want people to leave going ‘wow’, and we hope they will come back,” said Currie.

The Sheepdogs hit the stage at the Performing Arts Centre Monday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $48 (all seats) at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.