For a new album that The Sheepdogs didn’t initially set out to make, Changing Colours is a stunning achievement.
Proud purveyors of guitar-driven modern-day retro rock, the triple Juno Award-winning Saskatoon-based quintet has expanded its sound on Changing Colours to encompass more styles and hues to enhance the Sheepdogs’ trademark beef-and-boogie twin-axe riffs, hooks, shuffles and long-haired aesthetic.
“We identify strongly with rock ‘n roll, but there’s definitely some branching out,” says Ewan Currie, The Sheepdogs’ singer, guitarist, songwriter and occasional – and yes, you’re reading this correctly – clarinetist. “The sounds we use on this – there’s more keyboards featuring Shamus and more stringed instruments. It’s still rock ‘n roll but there are more colours.”
It’s also great, passionate music born out of spontaneity: first resonating in the 17-song album’s euphoric opener “Nobody” and continuing to flavour such invigorating numbers as the electrifying “Saturday Night” and the driving “I’ve Got A Hole Where My Heart Should Be,” the record’s infectious first single.
But The Sheepdogs haven’t only stretched their sonic palate: they’ve also expanded stylistically, tastefully embracing other genres as well.
There’s the country-lite feel of “Let It Roll,” the Stax-soul aura of the mid-tempo anthem “I Ain’t Cool” that features trombone — and the resplendent Latin-rock vibe that fuels “The Big Nowhere.”
This is what occurs when The Sheepdogs are left to their own devices: when the band completed its global responsibilities in promoting its fifth album, 2015’s Future Nostalgia, the band took a busman’s holiday, renting Toronto’s Taurus Studio and hiring its owner, Thomas D’Arcy, to engineer and co-produce whatever emerged from their creative loins.
“It was very low key,” says Currie. “We didn’t have a clock. We would work until we were bored or tired. Then we would stop.”
Drummer Sam Corbett said the music that eventually evolved into Changing Colours benefitted from the relaxed approach.
“Most of the records we’ve made have been under a short time constraint,” Corbett explains. “This one was done over six months, with some songs sitting around for two months. Then we’d come back and try different things, so I think that as a result, some of the songs took a different shape.
“In some situations, there’s more of a ‘jamming’ feel because we could experiment.”
The Changing Colours sessions also marks the recording debut of the newest Sheepdog: guitar wiz Jimmy Bowskill, parachuted into the lineup as a live, last-minute replacement.
“He joined us on tour, learned our whole set basically in one rehearsal and has been with us ever since,” says bass player Ryan Gullen.
“He gave us a new sensibility – he plays a bunch of instruments as well – mandolin, steel, banjo and fiddle.”
The band honours Bowskill’s addition with an instrumental tribute to his Bailieboro, Ontario hometown in the folk-flavoured “The Bailieboro Turnaround,” part of a six-song medley that begins with “Born A Restless Man” and concludes with “Run Baby Run.” Medleys, in general, have become something of a Sheepdogs signature.
“We like having those medleys that run together at the end of the album,” says Currie.
As far as the songs themselves, Currie says Changing Colours songs like “Nobody” to the one-two combo of “Cool Down” and “Kiss the Brass Ring” cover topics like the freedom of a good road trip and compromises in the pursuit of success.
But the subject matter is never pre-planned.
“I don’t know where my lyrics come from,” Currie confesses. “It’s sort of sub-conscious thing. I try not to write deliberately. I’ve never been a guy who sits down and says, ‘okay, here’s a subject I’m going to write about.’ It’s always been music first.”
In the six years since The Sheepdogs claimed Rolling Stone magazine’s one and only Best Unsigned Band contest – earning them a U.S. record deal and a fervent endorsement from The Kings of Leon – the platinum-selling group has tirelessly criss-crossed the planet.
Touring in support of critically acclaimed albums Learn & Burn, The Sheepdogs and Future Nostalgia has only honed the band’s workhorse ethic, generating hits like “I Don’t Know,” the gold “Feeling Good” and “The Way It Is” along the way and transforming them into a highly disciplined live attraction.
It’s a calling that they have never taken for granted.
“We could never sit back and rest on our laurels,” notes Corbett.
Changing Colours is a testament of The Sheepdogs’ never-ending desire to follow their muse, become increasingly prolific and deliver thrilling evenings of thundering, organic rock to their devoted audiences.
The rest just takes care of itself.
“Do good work and the people will find you,” notes Ewan Currie. “Let the work speak for itself. That’s our big philosophy.”