The Saskatoon shag-rockers are poised to break out thanks to their Rolling Stone cover story, but frontman Ewan Currie reveals that as recently as last year, the band were close to calling it quits.
A broken dream isn’t the same as a broken promise, but neither is easy to admit to.
Less than a year ago, Ewan Currie gripped the wheel and listened to the engine of his 1993 Plymouth Acclaim die with a sputter that signified the start of his daily routine. That mechanical hiccupping rhythm might as well have been the soundtrack to his band’s career—a series of constant starts and stops. It was enough to make even the mellowest guitarist neurotic. He thought about all the sacrifices he and his fellow Saskatoon shaggy-headed rockers made to become an obscure indie act called The Sheepdogs, and wondered what they could possibly be giving up by calling it quits.
“It meant just getting used to living like a bum,” the 26-year-old frontman says of life as a Sheepdog for the past half decade, right up until November of last year, before the band even realized they’d been enrolled in the Choose The Cover of Rolling Stone contest. “Never having any money, having a crappy car that I can’t afford to register, driving long hours across Canada for shows when we might break down at a moment’s notice… One time I drove it to Winnipeg to record with a pal and got stuck in Brandon. When you start to feel like you’re plateauing and not gaining any kind of momentum, then you start to think about throwing it in and sort of breaking up.”
At the time they could barely get enough publicity to promote their shows, much less grace the front of rock’s most famous magazine. It was enough to make Currie long for a different kind of journalism: sports reporting.
“My quest was to become the first broadcaster with a beard on SportsCenter,” Currie says, his voice nearly as gruff as his appearance. To this day, his musical passions barely beat his love of athletics—Currie’s long-time basketball team reached new heights last year when they changed their nickname to “Van Halen.”
“We’re all big, bearded, husky guys that look like a bunch of cavemen,” he says of his teammates. Currie added that one of those fellow players, who works in construction, lugged the same stereo he used on site to every game. “We’d crank it and run out to the sound of “Ice Cream Man,” or “Jump.”
But Currie was about to focus on a whole new type of competition. Last year, Rolling Stone magazine went on a hunt for bands that readers could vote onto its cover. Reps from Atlantic Records helped to fashion a shortlist of 15 unsigned acts, including a troupe bred in the Canadian prairies that brandished Deep South, ’70s-style riffs. Their songs had been sent to the label by an agent named Joel Carriere, who was introduced to The Sheepdogs at a BBQ hosted by XM Radio’s Jeff Leake. The Verge DJ, who exclusively features Canadian up-and-comers on his show, had invited The Sheepdogs for some schmoozing after being floored by their performance at SXSW.
The band had no idea they’d be invited to vie for Rolling Stone’s cover, a contract with Atlantic Records, or a slot at Bonnaroo. They were also surprised after becoming embroiled in a beef with contest runner-up Lelia Broussard.
“We didn’t have the friendliest rapport with Lelia,” Currie says of the tension between The Sheepdogs and the pixie-like songstress that heated up during the online voting process. He added that the band had much more camaraderie with other finalists like Utah jamsters Fictionist and Chicago arena-rockers Empires.
But that all changed at a glitzy New York gala last week held in the cover winners’ honour.
“Just a couple of nights ago at the [Rolling Stone] party, Lelia came down. And we just had a nice moment, like, ‘Thank god this is over,’ and just kind of wished each other well,” Currie says. “Music isn’t like football, where you get worked up to play defense on each other. You just do your own thing and you hope people like it. She probably was just feeling the pressure of being a solo artist, whereas we had a group.”
Then they were literally introduced to a star who embodies a whole new level of neuroses—Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm co-creator Larry David, whom the Sheepdogs adore, and who preceded the band on Rolling Stone’s August 4 cover.
Currie was told by Rolling Stone writer Brian Hiatt that the actor pays no heed to rock ‘n’ roll news, but after a brief explanation, he graciously congratulated them.
“There were some moments when he started doing some Larry-like stuff. This guy came up to take a picture, and he’s bending over and spilt his beer all over the place,” Currie says.
After a half-decade of living out a bad sitcom marathon—complete with failing car engines, shaggy-headed characters accused of being stuck in the ’70s, and far too few fans—The Sheepdogs were reeling from this latest plot twist, a real-life cameo from the man that co-created the infinitely relatable show about nothing.
“It was kinda cool to see those moments, after years [of watching] your friends get their jobs and buying houses and things like that, while you’re sort of putting off getting your life started, not really having money or being able to afford to go on vacations—just plugging away in a band requires you sort of deny yourself those pleasures, with the hope that a whole lot of good is coming down the line.”
The Sheepdogs play Toronto’s Festival of Beer this afternoon at Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place.