(The Sheepdogs - Ewan Currie, centre. Photo by Mat Dunlap.)
HERE’S ONE THING IT DOESN’T TAKE A GENIUS to work out about The Sheepdogs, the deep north’s – well, Canada’s – spin on southern rock, classic rock, folk rock, heartland rock and a few other things attached to rock. This is a band whose hirsuteness is nothing but a cruel taunt to those who have never been able to grow locks down to their shoulders or carry off some Allman Brothers-worthy beard.
Here's something you might not have known about The Sheepdogs, in particular it’s central figure, singer/songwriter Ewan Currie (who formed the band with schoolfriends Ryan Gullen and Sam Corbett in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, nearly 20 years ago, joined later by his brother, Shamus). The man acquires. He collects. You might say, if you were so inclined, he hoards. Basically, he has not been a fan of the clear-your-house minimalism of Marie Kondo.
“I’ve got about 1500 records and I’m about to move, and records are the worst thing to move because they are so dang heavy. But when we tour, the temptation to record shop, and thrift stores and antique knick-knacks to fill up your house with, guitars,” Currie says. “I bought a drum machine, like a ‘70s Compurhythm drum machine, in Portland on this last tour. There’s no shortage of bric-a-brac filling up my space.”
Which makes him perfect for what I call The Reverse Marie Kondo. Ahead of the first band’s first Australian tour in some 12 years, with a newish album in tow, Outta Sight, I’m asking Ewan Currie what five things – place, song, person, book/movie/art, and one other of his choice – he might bring into his life to bring him joy.
“It might seem obvious, but Australia really is that for me. I was born in Australia and I lived there till I was 10, and then I lived the rest of my life in Canada. I sound like a Canadian but I grew up with a lot of Australian stuff in my life. My mom’s an Aussie so it has a special place in my life.
“When I’ve been there as an adult still I can tap into that. I was there in 2015, just on a personal trip, and I always like just to try and get back because it’s a place that means a lot to me, from a family standpoint but also I know you guys love rock over there and I want to connect with that vibe as well.”
How closely is he tied to this place?
"I have a lot of memories, and they are not just distant memories. I remember going to primary school, as you guys call it, and I played sports growing up: cricket and aussie rules footy. And weird little stuff like pies and what are those frogs, Freddo Frogs. Just random stuff, kids stuff. I’ve lived here in Canada for almost 30 years and people just talk about TV shows and stuff when they were kids and it just goes right over my head because I grew up in Australia.”
“I think I’ve written a lot of straightforward rock songs, which is my favourite: I like a simple Creedence or Tom Petty-style rock songs. But I don’t think I’ve written a lot of ballads or love songs. I was thinking about Leon Russell, who is a hero of mine, and he wrote Song For You, which when he wrote it he thought of it in terms of a standard that other people would want to cover, and sure enough Willie Nelson, Donny Hathaway, The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra and now Michael Buble have covered it. He set out to do that and he did it, and I’d love to do something like that.”
“There’s a guy that we just did a big tour with here in Canada and America, his name is Liam [Duncan, Winnipeg country/blues musician and self-proclaimed founder and minister of The Church Of Better Daze] and his artist name is Boy Golden. They opened for us on about 50 dates and I loved his music and his band and became a good friend of his. He is about 10 years younger than me also but he is very inspiring in his musical outlook but also his life outlook.
“As I am getting a little closer to 40, some of the things he was doing kind of helped me tap back into a bit more of my youthful vibes. As you go along this career you get a little hardened, you lose some of the magic, and it’s good to remember that music is supposed to be kinda magical and to tap back into that.”
A band that’s been around for a couple of decades asks a lot of the people in it to maintain the band, maintain their interest, maintain their excitement. But when you’ve got a band with such long-standing relationships on it, both family and schoolboy friends, how do you maintain those relationships and that magic? How much active work is involved?
“It’s definitely a balance of making sure that everybody’s – I don’t want to say happy, but not completely pissed off I guess. I don’t have a secret answer for that,” he says. “We had a few different guitar players over the years, for different reasons, but the core of the band has remained the same: Sam, Ryan and I started this band it will be 19 years ago this summer, and Shamus is my brother who joined us about 11 or 12 years ago. I guess we all love music, we all love showing each other tunes. When we are getting ready to play a gig we’re sitting around having a beer playing some songs off the Bluetooth speaker, showing each other music.
"We still have fun, we love it, and it is a business, this is what we do for work and everything, but at the same time we love to make music and we are rock ‘n’ roll geeks.”
How complex is it to balance relationships in a band where everybody has input but you are the principal creative force? Is that where the real difficulty is in keeping everyone on a not-too-pissed-off level?
“I guess so,” Currie chuckles. “I think it requires some balance. I think I’ve been more bullheaded in the past and I’m less so now. I think I’ve learnt to peel back some of those inclinations or whatever. People contribute in different ways and we try to play into people’s strengths. I can tell you that Shamus and Sam both have solo records coming out right away that are going to be great for them to stretch their wings. Shamus and I started a side project called Bros a bunch of years ago, and we put a bunch of records out, and doing that helped me to see Shamus’ ability as a songwriter, so he started doing songs in The Sheepdogs a little more.
“I think there’s room to grow the other guys’ contributions in that realm. I’m sure if you asked them in private they might say Ewan’s a bit overbearing I guess but on the other side of it it helps to have somebody who is assertive and knows what they want. I’ve been a lot of studios, been a lot of bands, and there’s nothing worse than when nobody has, when there is no direction on a project. You need somebody who is steering the ship. It’s not like I’m a total dickhead; I am providing hopefully some leadership.”
A benign dictator then.
“I’m a big reader of fiction and non-fiction, I love history, especially 20th and 19th century history. More of the fiction side of things. When I was younger I loved movies a lot. I still do, but I wanted to be a director and I realised that most directors seem to be from wealthy families that can afford to pay for all the costs of becoming a director, so that wasn’t going to work,” he says.
“Then I was thinking I could write a novel but, man that’s hard too. I love if there was some way to tell stories – and I guess I do sometimes in songs – but I’d love to marry music and storytelling in a different way. I guess we’ve had concept albums like Tommy and that kind of thing, but even taking it further and bringing the art dimension into it. I have a friend in the states who is a great artist and he and I have talked about trying to do some collab on sound and visual combined: he sends me some visuals and I have tried to music to it, and maybe I send him some music and he has to create some visuals. I’d like to try some of that kind of thing.”
HIS CHOICE OF SOMETHING TO BRING INTO HIS LIFE
“You’ve hit me at a point in my life or actually tried to go more minimalist a little bit. I’m somebody who is a bit of a maximalist in terms of collecting things over the years and I’m at a bit of a crossroads,” says Currie, before pausing for a long thought. “You know what, I’m trying to do more music. I’m trying to be around music spend more time with musicians, see more music, play more music. Like I said earlier, tapping back into that magic that music was for me when I was younger.
“As you come along in this career you get caught up on budgets and tours and finances and business decisions and all the corporations, all these things to do to make sure that the business runs harmoniously, and it tires you out and forget about what it was like when I was just a stoned kid in the basement putting together demos and having fun. I’m trying to tap back into that, so maybe I should smoke more weed, do some microdosing of mushrooms or some of that stuff, I’m not sure.”
Let’s hope no one from Border Control is reading this, unless of course they are a fan of bluesy rock, southern rock, classic rock, folk rock, heartland rock ...
The Sheepdogs’ Outta Sight is out now.
The Sheepdogs play:
Eltham Hotel, April 19
Brightside, Brisbane, April 20
The Great Club, Marrickville, April 21
The Gum Ball festival, April 22
Northcote Social Club, April 24