If there was such a genre as a groovy-fairy-tale, the story of the rise to fame of Canadian rock-band, The Sheepdogs, would be classified as just that. There is something inspiring about the Saskatoon rockers’ success that is both sentimental and satisfying, and they are a true example of what can happen when determination and talent are the driving forces behind the journey of pursuing a dream.
Once upon a time, back in 2006, there were four young men from Saskatoon, SK named Ewan Currie, Leot Hanson, Ryan Gullen, and Sam Corbett. Together they formed The Sheepdogs, an indie, boogie-rock band that took the best of ’70s rock, mixed it with a little blues, and added their own original flavour to create a sound that is both nostalgic and deeply creative. This combination of influences resulted in three damn good rock albums that they funded on their own and promoted independently for years, relentlessly touring across Canada and the U.S., trying to earn recognition for their talent wherever and whenever they could. With the 2010 release of their third album, Learn & Burn, the band’s hard work started to pay off. They began to gain a fan-base outside of the Canadian indie scene, but it wasn’t until 2011 that their big-break came.
Rolling Stone’s Choose the Cover Contest was an international competition. The public was invited to vote online for their favourite artist out of a pool of 15 musicians from around the world. The winner would receive a contract with Atlantic Records and a spot on the cover of the magazine’s Aug. 18, 2011 issue. After four rounds of elimination and 1.5 million votes cast worldwide, The Sheepdogs came out on top and became the only unsigned band to ever appear on the cover of the magazine in over 45 years of publication. The moment they were told they had won was captured on video by Rolling Stone staff, and the genuine joy at learning their long years of grungy gigs and ruthless perseverance had finally been rewarded was confirmation that voters had not been wrong to root for the underdogs.
Throughout the competition, the band made appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and performed at Bonnaroo Music Festival, where they could finally earn the publicity they needed in order to achieve the success they deserve. For the last two years they have toured with the likes of Kings of Leon, John Fogerty, and Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and have racked up an impressive list of awards, including three 2012 JUNOs for Single of the Year, Rock Album of the Year, and New Artist of the Year. While the critics appraised the band’s retro-revisited sound, they spent time building a larger fan base in both big and small venues. In Apr. they performed at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and also appeared locally at the Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay on July 7, and at Live at Squamish on Aug. 25. Touring and festival appearances built up a sense of anticipation for the release of their fourth, self-titled album, which was released on Sept. 4. The Sheepdogs was produced by The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney and by Rolling Stone editor Austin Scaggs through Warner Music Canada and Atlantic Records.
It is difficult to imagine that The Sheepdogs could reach a higher level of greatness than Learn & Burn, but The Sheepdogs proves that apparently, when it comes to Canadian southern-rock, the imagination knows no bounds. The band’s fourth record has a sense of refined awesomeness, distinguished groove, and ’70s sophisticated cool. This is likely in part because of Carney’s hand in the production, who, if The Sheepdogs’ rise to fame can be recognized as a groovy-fairy-tale, is one half of the alt-rock epic that is the story of The Black Keys. Carney’s influence is audible throughout the album, but not in an overbearing way. He subtly adds an exclusive polish to each song, and it is undeniable that he is the main reason The Sheepdogs has both captured and exceeded the level of rock music quality reached in the band’s independently produced albums.
The pacing of the self-titled album is perfect, and while no song stands out as unfitting, they don’t all blend as one either. “Feeling Good,” has the up-tempo attitude of The Black Keys’ “Howlin’ For You,” while maintaining The Sheepdogs’ trademark, boogie sound. “I Need Help,” is reminiscent of their hit single, “I Don’t Know,” from Learn & Burn, but has a noticeably tighter quality. The retro element is irresistible in “Is Your Dream Worth Dying For?” and “While We’re Young” could be the next student anthem.
Carney’s input evidently doesn’t stop at the audio either. In The Sheepdogs’ video for the single from their new album, “The Way It Is,” the band proceeds to annihilate a team of little-leaguers in a game of boozy baseball. The same sort of dark humor is explored The Black Keys’ video for “Strange Times,” where Carney and guitarist/frontman Dan Auerbach attack each other with real lasers in a laser-tag arena full of preteens.
The Sheepdogs have recently announced the dates for their Canadian tour. They will play the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver on Dec. 20 and stopover in Victoria at Sugar Nightclub on Dec. 21. This tour will no doubt be one of the last where they play smaller venues, and so the shows are must-see events. There is no question that The Sheepdogs will go down in history as one of those iconic albums that helped to define a generation by means of rock and roll, and as the band continues to gain both critical and fan-based acclaim don’t miss the opportunity to see them on one of their stops as they tour their ’72 Dodge challenger down the groovy road called happily-ever-after.
The Black Keys – Strange Times music video
The Sheepdogs – The Way It Is music video
Watch The Sheepdogs’ reaction when they learn they have won the contest