By Brenda Hillegas
[T]he Sheepdogs, a Saskatchewan-based five-piece rooted in ’70s inspired rock, returns with their third album, Future Nostalgia, on October 2nd. Without much downtime in between gigs and dates through November, vocalist and guitarist Ewan Currie says that after ten years together as a band, this is just what they do.
“It’s something we are fairly used to. I spent most of my 20s travelling around playing rock ‘n’ roll, so it’s nothing new,” he said. They are however, “trying to get smarter about touring—eating better and exercising to offset the beer drinking and late nights.”
Currie wants to make sure the energy is at a really good level at every show. He wants people to be buzzing when they come see us. And they will. No matter where the band ends up, big festivals or intimate venues, Currie says they always try to tailor the set list to the setting.
“If the vibe is more of a jammy, hippy type of affair we’ll be sure to include our songs that are longer and have more room for improvisation,” he said. “For the most part, we just try to put on a good show regardless of the setting. Sometimes in the middle of a set I’ll call an audible based on the audience reaction.”
They don’t always follow the set list to the letter, Currie added. “Sometimes you just have to rip into a Kinks or Bob Seger song in the middle of a set.”
With their tour starting prior to the October release of Future Nostalgia, the Sheepdogs will be playing a lot of the new tracks for fans who are able to see them live before having the ability to pick up a copy of their latest studio release. Though Currie says there will be a little something for the fans who just couldn’t wait for the release date.
“We are playing somewhere around five-seven new songs, although it changes every night,” he said. “[Since] the album won’t be available until October 2nd, we [offer] a free download of three songs that we are giving folks who come out to the shows.”
Future Nostalgia will also introduce many fans to Rusty Matyas, who began touring with the band as lead guitarist after Leot Hanson left in 2014. Currie calls Matyas a really strong guitarist, “but above all else, he is an excellent musical mind. He’s got a fantastic ear for figuring out harmonies and he has a lot of great ideas. He’s someone I have a lot of experience making music with, so he was a natural fit for our band.”
Also a natural fit for the band was their decision to move to a new label, Dine Alone Records. The Sheepdogs have worked with Dine Alone in the past, for marketing purposes with their 2012 self-titled release. The transition, though, came because the president of Dine Alone, Joel Carriere, is also the Sheepdogs’ manager. “It’s all pretty well in the family,” Currie says.
Currie himself produced Future Nostalgia along with engineer Matt Ross-Spang who was a former engineer at Memphis’ Sun Studios. It was mixed a by Vance Powell (who’s worked with Jack White) in Nashville and brings the band back straight back to their ’70s-rock inspired roots with 18-tracks recorded in the quiet setting of Stony Lake, Ontario. The choice, made by the band, kept out all distractions and made the process as natural as possible.
“Downtown” is the first single off Future Nostalgia. “I always wanted the Sheepdogs to combine the big bombastic riffs of a Led Zeppelin with the softer, prettier melodic elements of a Crosby, Stills & Nash,” says Currie of the first-single pick. “I think this song has both sides well represented.”
With a sound inspired by the songs of nearly five decades ago, Currie makes it pretty clear that they are firmly rooted in their past, especially when asked what current Canadian bands he and the Sheepdogs are enjoying. He does mention one, though. It’s a band that also draws from the past. “One of our favourite contemporary bands is the Sadies, a really excellent mix of ’60s country, roots, surf rock and psychedelia. One of the greatest live bands you will ever see. Travis Good, their guitarist, plays on ‘Help Us All’ on our new album.”
On Future Nostalgia, two tracks are titled for prominent musicians named Jim. Track four is “Jim Gordon” and track six is “Jim Sullivan.” Currie explains:
“Sullivan was a singer/songwriter who disappeared in the desert on his way to Las Vegas from California. One of his albums was reissued a few years back and it’s a really beautiful album that made a real strong impression on me. He seemed like this beautiful lost soul who just vanished from the face of the earth.
“Jim Gordon was one of the top session drummers in the ’60s and ’70s, and a member of Eric Clapton’s Derek & the Dominos. He actually wrote the piano coda from ‘Layla.’ Years later he lost his mind and murdered his mother. I always thought it was this crazy dichotomy; he was capable of both this horrible violent act and also writing this beautifully poignant piece of music.”
Both are brilliant songs on the already incredibly good, well-written album. Hopefully, the songs will be part of the set list while the Sheepdogs are on tour. They will continue their tour of the US until November 6th when they wrap up in Somerville, MA. After a short break, they perform internationally for a few weeks.
“This US tour is all in a van,” Currie said of their travels. “It’s a little less baller, but it actually connects you to the country more and that’s a good thing. I love travelling America; there are so many things to see, from the changing landscapes to the crazy roadside attractions, even the bizarre crap you can buy at the various gas stations.”
Another thing Currie is looking forward to while in America? “Gus’ fried chicken in Memphis is a big favorite. In New Mexico, we love those roadside stores that sell Indian handcrafts and fireworks. There’s nothing like shooting off Roman candles in the desert while wearing moccasins.”