A Conversation With The Sheepdogs' Ewan Currie
Mike Ragogna: Ewan, how are you, sir?
Ewan Currie: I'm well, man. How's it going?
MR: Pretty well. A lot has happened for you guys, there's so much to talk about. But first of all, your latest single, "The Way it Is," comes from your new self-titled album, your first released in the States. Now, in the video for that song, you're beating up a bunch of little leaguers! What's going on here, man?
EC: You know, we wanted to make a video that was something more than just the usual footage of the band pretending to play their instruments, so we asked some friends for an idea and that's what they came up with. We thought it was great.
MR: Yeah, you know, in a way, it's like you're teaching them, "You know what? This is the way of the world, kids."
EC: Yeah, I think there's some of that in there. The phrase just kind of came from something I always heard people say, "It is the way it is" or "It is what it is," and that kind of stuff. I always thought, "Well what the hell does that mean?" It seemed like a good repetitive chorus for a song or something.
MR: Ewan, you've been influenced by some mighty and wonderful groups. Could you go into some of your influences?
EC: Sure. We try not to be influenced too much by any specific group, everything from great rock bands of the sixties like The Beatles and The Kinks to more sort of roots-y stuff like The Allman Brothers or The Band, Neil Young, it's kind of all over the place. There's a lot of really rockin' stuff like Zepellin and James Gang, Sly and the Family Stone...
MR: When you're singing, where are you singing from? What's driving you? Is it a passionate place or...?
EC: I try to be [passionate]. Sometimes I pretend I'm John Fogerty or something, just try to sing with some grit and soul and try to do it in a way that isn't too over-the-top for a white guy from Saskatchewan, Canada.
MR: Drummer Patrick Carney of The Black Keys was on board for tis project.
EC: Yeah, he was the producer and sort of the overseer and he really helped us put the whole thing together.
MR: Did you guys go into the studio with the traditional recording setting, capturing the rhythm section with overdubbing next?
EC: Yeah, it was kind of different depending on the song. There was some stuff that we were really kind of building in the studio, so there was a lot of overdubbing, but then, there was some stuff that we knew pretty well so we actually would play it live in the studio. We didn't even play with headphones on. We just played looking at each other and using some of the live chops we've accrued over the years.
MR: And you've really invested in your live side.
EC: That's such an important side of the band. There's sort of two sides: There's the recording of an album and then the live show. I think that with a good band, both sides of those should be strong.
MR: Let me ask you one more thing about recording the album with Patrick. Was there a difference in the style, vibe or mood in the studio versus your other earlier projects?
EC: It was completely different from the last album. We made it on my computer, with just the four of us in a slow cooker approach, whereas this time, it was more of a pressure cooker-quick two weeks, bam, bam, bam and we had extra sets of ears helping us out. So in that regard, it was different, but there's no one way to make a record. You can make a record a million different ways.
MR: But since you've been together so long and you've played live together for so long, might this have been the most appropriate way to do the new project to reflect where you are at now?
EC: I think that's true. I think that an album is sort of a representation of where a band is that point in time. The last record was the sound of a band with not much going on and was free to take their time and make something homemade, and this album is sort of the sound of a band riding a whirlwind I guess.
MR: I'd love you to pick a song from the album and give a little backstory on it.
EC: Sure! How about "Ewan's Blues"?
MR: You got it. How personal is it?
EC: Even when it's not overtly personal, every song ends sort of revealing a little piece of yourself, even when you don't think it does. I try to write lyrics true to consciousness. So it's not super overt, it just kind of gives the impression of whatever I'm feeling. That song is a little piece of me. The title comes from liking soul and jazz music and guys that had "Ray's Blues," like Ray Charles, and Miles Davis had "Miles' Blues." I wanted to stick my name in there like the egotist I am.
MR: Very nice. Although you have nothing to be blue about! You have had a great year. You've had a song on CSI, you won the Rolling Stone album cover contest that Atlantic was sponsoring... Do me a favor, can we have your thoughts on this past year and how cool it was?
EC: Basically, we were a travelling band struggling to get by. None of us had any money--pretty broke, in dire straits--and then we got wrapped up in the Rolling Stone competition that had unsigned bands from all over the continent. We ended up winning after a long summer of various little competition pieces, and ever since, we've just basically been travelling around the world and trying to keep up with as many shows as we can.
MR: Now I imagine it was your intention to try to break into the United States, right?
EC: Of course, that's a big goal of ours.
MR: You already won Juno Awards, a recent EP, a track in CSI, and you definitely have been gathering steam. Once you got the Rolling Stone cover, would you say that's a point where everything started breaking even bigger?
EC: You know, I think it really started when we just got in the competition. Certainly up here in Canada, we're a Canadian band and people in Canada really loved the story and got into it and it was our first kind of intro to the US and we're still working on it. The US is such a huge place with so many people and so many bands, it's a tough nut to crack and that's what we're going to do with this upcoming US tour, and we're promoting this album. It's a fickle mistress, that US of A, you know?
MR: (laughs) Now, in Australia, you had a good time touring with John Fogerty.
EC: Yeah, that was a real hoot, cause Fogerty's a hero, and getting to go all over Australia, which is actually where I was born, was really fantastic.
MR: You were born in Australia and your family later migrated to Canada?
EC: Yeah, when I was ten, we moved to Canada. So I'm half Australian, half Canadian, with a love of American music.
MR: You have absolutely no accent. How did that happen?
EC: I don't know. My old man is Canadian, so I grew up with a Canadian parent and an Australian mother and I was just young enough that the accent disappeared when I came to Canada.
MR: Let's talk about a couple of more songs here. Your choice, sir.
EC: Let's try "Is Your Dream Worth Dying For."
MR: I know you said earlier that how you write is a little stream-of-consciousness, but there is a theme going on in this song, right?
EC: This one's a little more concrete and easy to explain. It's basically thinking about trends and folks I know that are involved in an artistic pursuit, whether it's digital art or music or books. Something that people are really passionate about, but it may be a difficult avenue to make money and sustain a career in. It's thinking about how many people I know that've gotten digital arts degrees or started bands and sort of abandoned them when they eventually need money to pay the bills and buy a house and all that kind of stuff. The question is, "Is your dream worth dying for?" That's certainly the way we felt when we were broke and putting off becoming adults because we were getting closer to our late twenties and not having any money and having to borrow cash here and there.
MR: And your group though is that you turned the corner by hanging in there.
EC: Yeah. We basically grounded it out until we got a huge stroke of luck with a major shot in the arm.
MR: Do you think that's one of the secrets?
EC: You know, people say, "You make your own luck." Part of it is just keeping your nose to the grindstone and throwing as many things against the wall until something sticks. You can't just wait around for something to happen. You have to keep working at sort of pushing it forward.
MR: Following that thought, what advice might you have for new artists?
EC: If you're starting out, try to do as much as you can on your own. Don't look to just work with the first person who comes along and offers to help you out because for a long time, we were totally independent and learned to do everything--manage money, booking shows--absolutely every facet of running a band we handed ourselves. So that meant when it came time that we needed to work with people we knew how to do things. That's just knowledge that really helps you to know who's a good person to work with and are they doing all the jobs that need to be done and it helps you prevent from being taken advantage of.
MR: Nice. Is that also the story of The Sheepdogs?
EC: I think so. We were forced out of necessity to do everything for ourselves, but it was really a good thing to have because it just really made us independent and also it means that once you have people in places that are helping you and working for you, you really appreciate it and you don't become a lazy, jaded S.O.B.
MR: You couldn't have been too jaded when you were racking up those Juno awards. (laughs) What was that like?
EC: It was really nice, except we were over in Australia at the time on that Fogerty tour, so I woke up at like seven AM in Perth and my phone was being bombarded with texts and tweets and stuff like that. So it was very cool, but we weren't there firsthand to experience it.
MR: Like Dylan. I remember when Bob Dylan won one of his latest Grammys and he wasn't in the States, he really didn't expect to win. You could tell by the shock on his face. It was like, "What? I won?"
EC: Yeah, I can't see Bob caring too much about Grammys.
MR: Right on. But I imagine with you guys, it might not have been, "What? We won?" More like, "Really?"
EC: Yeah. You know Bob is the most popular anti-establishment guy of all time.
MR: And my hero and quite an inspiration for many generations.
EC: Yeah, he's the man.
MR: Hey Ewan, you have a tour lined up?
EC: Yeah, we've got a big US tour that starts on September 16 in Niagra Falls and it's about six weeks long with about two days off. So we're really pushing ourselves to cover as much of the US as we can, but there's a lot of places to play, man.
MR: Is that mainly the focus now, touring to support the album? Or do you have some other fun stuff you're going to be doing while you're touring?
EC: Yeah, the next few months is mostly just US tours. We're going to be trying to hit a lot of radio stations and kiss babies and all that kind of stuff as well.
MR: Kissing hands and shaking babies, nice. (laughs) Do you have a goal? Are The Sheepdogs aiming at something right now?
EC: Our goal always was to make a living playing music and to figure out a way that we could do it playing the type of music that we love. We're hitting that goal right now. Now the goal is to turn it into something that sustains and lasts, because we've done a lot of cool things this last year. But if we just sat back and dusted off our hands with our feet up we'd come back to Earth pretty quickly. So we're trying to keep this thing rolling and with any luck, the rest of my days, all I have to do is play shows and record albums, and that's really all I want to do with my life.
MR: And of course the wives and girlfriends are doing okay with all this?
EC: Well I'm single, so that makes it a lot easier.
MR: What other stuff have you got coming? More featured in songs in CSI or movies?
EC: Actually, there's a bunch of things that are coming up in that regard. It's pretty cool to have some of our music in baseball and football stuff, which is awesome because I'm a big sports fan. That's the way the world is now in 2012. There are all these different avenues of getting people to hear your songs, whether it's trailers or video games, menu screens, stuff like that. It's cool, I enjoy it.
MR: Ewan, the track "Feeling Good" could be a sports anthem, no?
EC: You're right. That's definitely the one. It's sort of "Rock 'n' Roll Part Two" with the drumbeat going on there, so it's definitely stadium ready.
MR: One last song--"Never Gonna Get My Love." What's the song about?
EC: Yeah. I recorded that song many years ago with a friend in Winnipeg. I basically made a solo album that never got released, but it fortunately yielded a bunch of songs that turned into Sheepdogs songs. For whatever reason I seem to like writing songs where I'm telling people that they can't do things, or "Don't do that" or "I don't know" or "You're never gonna get my love" or "Please don't leave me." I don't know what the read is on that, I don't know why. Whatever flows out of my head is what I roll with.
MR: Well it's a little finger-wagging with a wink, though, right?
EC: Yeah, there's nothing greater for me than listening to Aretha singing while she's wagging her finger. For some reason, it's empowering and feels good, you know?
MR: Oh yeah. Any words of wisdom before we leave?
EC: You know what? If it sounds good and you like it, listen to it. That's all I have to say on music.
MR: Nice. Very good. This has been great, Ewan. Definitely come back and keep us posted. I was in New York during the contest and had the privilege of interviewing you then. I feel like I've got to watch you guys growing, man.
EC: Hey, I appreciate that, man. We need all of the friends we can get. And best of luck and I love the idea of a solar-powered studio, it's really cool.
MR: You are great for saying that, thanks so much. All the best and take care, have a great one.
EC: Thanks, man.
1. Laid Back
2. Feeling Good
3. Alright OK
4. Never Gonna Get My Love
5. Ewan's Blues
6. The Way It Is
8. I Need Help
9. Is Your Dream Worth Dying For?
10. How Late, How Long
11. Sharp Sounds
12. In My Mind
13. While We're Young
14. It Ain't Easy To Go
Here's the story of the making of The Sheepdogs:
And here's The Sheepdogs' "The Way It Is" video. Pity the poor little leaguers...
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
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