The Sheepdogs kicked it up a notch or two

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When the  Straight calls Sheepdogs singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ewan Currie, he’s hanging out in rainy Toronto, just hours away from playing at the 60th anniversary of the fabled Horseshoe Tavern. The gig has special significance for Currie, since the Horseshoe was the first place he ever performed in T.O., “to about six people”, he recalls. This time around, the venue sold out almost instantly.

The Sheepdogs’ unheralded debut in Hogtown came before that much-publicized cover story in the August 5, 2011, issue of Rolling Stone, an honour the band won through a competition aimed at finding rock’s best unsigned act. The writer of the piece, Austin Scaggs, actually gets a coproducer credit on the group’s new self-titled release.

“We met Austin when he came up to Saskatoon to interview us,” explains Currie, “and we hit it off pretty good with him. He’s into the same kinda humour as us. And he’s really good friends with Pat Carney, so he was kind of instrumental in forging that relationship.”

Carney, one half of the superstar garage-rock duo the Black Keys, had the main producer role on the Sheepdogs’ new platter, and took a “more forceful” approach to things than Scaggs.

“He’s very opinionated,” notes Currie, “as you know if you’ve read any of his quotes. He’s not afraid of putting his opinion out there, and I like that.”

The collaboration resulted in 14 Currie-penned tracks that carry on the retro leanings of the quartet’s previous work (the instrumental “Javelina!” is an unabashed ode to the Allman Brothers), but take a sonically different tack from its previous disc, 2010’s Learn & Burn.

“The last one we made on our own,” explains Currie, “with just two microphones at the most at one time. It’s a little more lo-fi—that’s part of the charm as well. This one is a little more… Polished isn’t the right word, but we made it with real equipment this time, so it’s a little bigger-sounding.”

Since the publication of the Rolling Stone story, the Sheepdogs—who also include guitarist Leot Hanson, bassist Ryan Gullen, and drummer Sam Corbett—have managed to score high-profile tours with the likes of Kings of Leon and John Fogerty. Currie was particularly psyched about rubbing shoulders with the CCR mainman during an Australian tour earlier this year.

“He’s so famous it was hard for us to hang out,” he points out. “A lot of those guys are very much in this structured world where they’re like, ‘Go here, go there.’ But he came and chatted with us, and he said that he liked one of our songs. I just wanted to go, ‘I like 60 of your songs, so thank you!’ ”

The Sheepdogs play the Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday and Thursday (December 19 and 20).

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