REGINA – When the Sheepdogs emerged triumphant from a Rolling Stone cover contest a couple years ago, they won a major-label record contract and a much broader following but lost something else: their homes.
That was by choice, of course. But as the rockers dug into tour after tour, it stopped making sense to retain residences in their hometown of Saskatoon.
Only recently has the four-piece hoisted itself off the treadmill and returned to their Prairie home. But they’re not exactly putting down roots.
“To be honest, the first couple months of 2013 have been pretty chill,” frontman Ewan Currie said in a recent telephone interview.
“We’ve done a few things, but I’ve had a chance to kick back and listen to all the records I’ve bought over the past two years. It’s been nice to just slow down and catch up on my listening.
“I just rented an apartment (in Saskatoon). And so far, I’ve been here quite a bit. But once (summer) comes around, we’ll see if it’s worth keeping.”
That’s because the retro rockers remain determined to capitalize on the great opportunity they’ve been granted.
Lately, the news has been good. The band’s self-titled latest was recently certified gold, while their breakthrough third album “Learn & Burn” climbed even higher to the platinum peak – a special feat, Currie points out, since they recorded it on his computer for “no money” in Saskatoon a few years back.
They also reeled in three high-profile nomination’s at this weekend’s Junos in their home province – including nods for single and group of the year – a year after claiming a leading three trophies.
Of course, winning has been a theme of this band’s charmed recent existence. But looking deeper at the Sheepdogs’ work ethic, it becomes clear that the band’s dogged devotion to the road is not just about earning new fans – it’s about proving themselves, and about proving that their big break was hard-earned.
“I certainly would have been very suspicious of some band winning a competition,” Currie said. “It sort of reeks of ‘American Idol’ or something like that. But all we knew was that we had to go out and kick ass and play great live. If you come see us play live, you can make your decision after that.
“I think people come see us and they say, ‘These guys are actually legit. They actually have chops, they can play a show, they’re not just some put-together creation.’
“But if somebody does have that pre-conceived notion, I don’t begrudge them. I totally get it. I just ask that they come see us play.”
Another popular misconception might have been that the Sheepdogs’ Rolling Stone-assisted ascent happened relatively early in their lifespan, when in fact they’ve recorded since 2007.
And without that foundation – built while the band was immersed in relative obscurity – Currie isn’t sure they would have been able to handle the rapid pace since their contest win.
“If we hadn’t had all those years of making mistakes and learning from them, we wouldn’t have been ready for the kind of spotlight that we got as a result of all this stuff,” he said. “I think just taking our lumps and going through the hard knocks really prepared us for the craziness, and meant that we made it through unscathed.
“We’re still all reasonably in good mental health and still talking to each other and still making new music and getting ready for a new album and all of that stuff.”
Still, Currie acknowledges that the foursome got a little tired of one another’s company.
“Of course we did – who wouldn’t?” he said. “Some bands might have broken up. Despite our various dysfunctions, through the years we always managed to keep it together. And we’d see all our other friends who were in bands, they’d break up and start new bands. Over and over again.
“And we kind of always stayed the course.”
Currie says the group has been honing new material recently, a lot of “rock ‘n’ roll” stuff.
“Sort of like ‘grab a pint and hit the jukebox’ kind of music,” he specifies.
Although the group is famous for extended jams as shaggy as their untamed manes, their most recent record – co-produced by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney – actually saw the group aiming for a sharply focused conciseness, with only two tracks even managing to eke past the four-minute mark.
While Currie says the group still indulges its tendency toward jamming in a live setting, they’ve tried to whittle their songs down to their essence in recording.
“We certainly can jam, but we’ve always been a fan of the old Tom Petty motto of: ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,”‘ he said.
Win or lose, the Junos will provide another large-scale opportunity for the Sheepdogs to prove themselves, given that they’ll perform during the broadcast.
“It’s a pretty big audience, at least for Canadian TV,” Currie said. “We’ll have to work out some kind of elaborate stage show.”
“Wires, pyro, celebrity cameos and such,” he responded drolly.
© The Canadian Press, 2013