The Sheepdogs are probably most famous for winning a Rolling Stone cover contest. But they should be famous for putting on exactly the sort of rock show anyone born before 1990 has always dreamed of seeing.
I caught that show for the first time last fall. The four-piece from Saskatchewan was playing a show in LA—a show filled mostly with people wanting to be seen, instead of seeing what they wanted. And the Sheepdogs fit in like a preacher in a pool hall.
The Sheepdogs are fuzzy where L.A. is shiny. Friendly where L.A. is made of Kevlar. Soulful/soulless—you get the idea. Which is probably why I got along with lead singer Ewan Currie. Well that, and he likes basketball.
Since the Sheepdogs will be at Chicago’s Lollapalooza this weekend, I thought it would be fun to talk hoops, music, and the Midwest with Ewan over e-mail. So I did. And this is what happened….
I thought a logical touchstone for our discussion might be Saskatoon’s (relative) proximity to Chicago. Perhaps, I hoped, you grew up a Bulls fan because, you know, the closest NBA franchise to Saskatoon is the franchise with the pissed-off bovine as a mascot. But then I went to the map and learned that Saskatoon is actually 1,308 miles (approximately 40,000 km) from Chicago and that there five – count ‘em, five – NBA franchises closer to Saskatoon than the Bulls: Milwaukee (1,236 miles away), Portland (1,137) Utah (1,050), Denver (995), and Minnesota (900).
I’m not nearly as good at geography as I thought.
So now that we know that the Bulls aren’t the obvious pick for a lad from Saskatoon, enlighten me: Is there one? Which NBA team did you grow up cheering for? Was it geography-based, Canada-based (Raptors), or, perhaps, Scott Wedman*-based? (Celtics)
*The only NBA player I could find who is from Saskatchewan.**
**This is entirely untrue.
Whenever Saskatchewan comes up, so does its geography. I always tell Americans that it’s “north of North Dakota” which only seems to confuse them more. We are closest to the Minnesota Timberwolves (who my buddies and I once drove 15 hours to see; Steve Nash was playing) but Canadians often seem to end up rooting along national lines instead of geographical proximity.
Our TV channels air the games of the Toronto sports teams nationwide, so kids living as far away as 4,200 km (that’s 2,643.93 miles for you Yanks afraid of the metric system) grow up on a steady diet of the Leafs, Blue Jays, and the once purple, now slightly more patriotic, but less distinctive, red and white Toronto Raptors.
However, my love of basketball goes back to before the Raptors were around and I was a kid living in Australia. I became a basketball fan during the ’92-93 season. I had a life-sized Shaq poster on my wall and Orlando Magic shorts, but living half way round the world, I didn’t develop any allegiance to one particular team. I was more interested in dunk highlights, basketball cards, and NBA Jam.
When my family moved to Canada it was 1995, the same year the Raptors and Grizzlies arrived, but I didn’t really latch on to either team despite living in Vancouver that first year (I blame Bryant “Big Country” Reeves). Over the years I’ve learned to like the last remaining Canadian team, the Toronto Bargnanis, but I still mostly watch basketball to see the best.
I want to see the LeBrons and Kobes do battle more than I care about the fortunes of one particular team.
But, your comparison between the American Midwest and Saskatchewan is a pretty good one, although we might have more in common with your home state, Kansas (if you replaced basketball and football with hockey and even more hockey).
From: Americans Sorry about Big Country, bro. Our bad.
The thing, though, about Bryant Reeves is this: I shouldn’t be so disparaging. He’s the sort of guy who, when I was a kid, would have inspired my father to look away from the TV and say, “See that guy? Best job in the world. Back-up center in the NBA.” Of course, Bryant Reeves wasn’t a back-up center, but it seems like he should have been, doesn’t it?
You mentioned wanting to see the best. Were you a fan of Michael Jordan?
Here’s why I ask:
I was always shocked, growing up, when people would say that they were fans of Michael Jordan because he was, quote, the best. (This continues today with fans of, say, Roger Federer or Real Madrid or Tiger Woods, pre-Hooters hookers.) This, I thought even then, was strange, and not just because I was such a fan of Larry Bird.
Michael Jordan didn’t need me or anyone else to be his fan. Perhaps my understanding of fandom is misplaced, but I tend to think that one is a fan of some entity (J.R. Rider, the Raveonettes, Little Debbie Nutty Bars) because that entity could use your help. I suppose I always imagined (and still do) that the being or entity of which I am a fan will one day, when he reaches the top of his sport or profession, reach out and say, “Hey man, thanks for the help, back when I wasn’t the biggest athlete/musician/snack cake on the block.”
For example, it is more likely that I would be a fan of your band than of, say, Jack White. That doesn’t have much to do with musicianship. It’s more because I’m nothing to Jack White. He’s Michael Jordan. You’re Shawn Kemp. And rooting for Shawn Kemp (even now…especially now) is way more interesting than rooting for Michael Jordan.
Do you see what I mean? Or, because you’re a Michael Jordan fan, are you completely offended by my characterization?
Answer me that, and then we’ll talk music for a bit.
When he was playing I was not a fan of Jordan, but I’m not offended that you thought I might have been. I always knew he was the best, but just as I tired of all those Yankees championships in the late 90s and early 00s, the Bulls’ dominance led me to root for the underdogs.
I can’t say I ever thought of it as giving my support to the team/players that needed it the most, but that’s what rooting for the underdog is, I guess, and that’s usually what I did. This might be traced back to geography: Saskatchewan, located in the Canadian Midwest, has an underdog spirit that I would imagine to be similar to that found in the American Midwest. It tends to be overlooked by the major cities as “flyover country”, and it’s a mindset I’ve always identified with.
Certainly it can extend to music.
In 2003, I was a big fan of the Black Keys. They were this awesome, blues-rocking two-man band that I loved, especially to bring up as an alternative to the more popular but similar White Stripes. Actually, your analogy of Jordan and Shawn Kemp probably works a little better describing the White Stripes and Black Keys in the early/mid 2000s (the Sheepdogs so far are more like Landry Fields).
The more I heard the Black Keys–on the radio, at sporting events and pumping out of the oversized pickup trucks of bros I couldn’t imagine sharing musical tastes with–the less they played on my stereo.
In sports it’s called rooting for the underdog, in music it’s just snobbery.
Why shouldn’t I keep enjoying a band that I have for nearly 10 years? For the record, I still do, but probably not as much as I would if they’d never gotten popular.
OK, White Stripes as Jordan, Black Keys (2003-2009) as Shawn Kemp. I’m stealing that one.
The basketball/musician comparison actually works in another way as well: in the past decade or so, I’ve gotten to know a fair number of musicians. Usually, they say the same thing I do, which is that the lifestyle is rarely as glamorous as people think. In my experience, it was lots of long road trips, weird sleepless nights, and WAY more practice than anyone thought.
Has this been your experience too?
Absolutely. There is a lot of travel involved, getting up early after going to bed three hours before, arriving in a new country without your luggage and having to roll right to the venue to play….
People think it’s all like that book “The Dirt” by Mötley Crüe, but we’re a lot more workmanlike than that.
We recently went to London for just two shows before coming back to Canada to play at six different festivals in eight days spread out across the country. Last summer we flew 18 hours to Australia for two shows in three days before hopping back on a plane to North America. We were there so briefly we didn’t even have time to get jet-lagged. …
Yeah, I know what you mean. I was recently talking to a young woman who was, shall we say, “suspicious” of my basketball past. She assumed that the basketball lifestyle was all groupies and blow when, in fact, it’s more sleep and depressing late-night trips to Applebee’s.
Based on everything you know on the subjects, which would you rather be – professional basketball player or professional rockmaker?
As a youth I definitely harboured fantasies of playing in the NBA, although my hoop dreams were quickly dashed when I realized 6-3 power forwards with no vertical weren’t exactly in high demand. Even though we usually seem to be attracted to what we don’t have, I’ll choose the rock ‘n roll path. It’s tougher to get that big guaranteed money, but the career window is much bigger.
Think about it, Larry Bird’s body broke down and barely allowed him to play 13 pro seasons, while the Rolling Stones have been trotting Keith Richards’ cadaver onstage for 50 years now.
Damn you, Currie! I was sure you’d say hoops, which would make my answer (music) more interesting. You even took the pillar of my argument: longevity!
Because you’re right, one cannot play basketball for very long, and even when one does, the result is probably going to be a broken-down body. The medical history (non-drug-related) of the average lead guitarist is but a drop in the database bucket compared to that of the average power forward.
Another sneaky advantage to rockstardom: women. People assume that athletes get the girls. And they do. It’s just that the sorts of girls attracted to and willing to spend time with athletes are of the Tila Tequila/Kim Kardashian/Paris Hilton archetype. In other words, barely human.
The right kind of girl – let’s call her the Zooey Deschanel/Charlize Theron/Scarlett Johansson archetype – is going to be extremely suspicious of a professional basketball player’s lifestyle. And rightfully so; most professional basketball players are as reliable as the buses in L.A.
That same archetype should be suspicious of musicians, too. But playing in a band renders that suspicion useless.
Women with functional brains know they should be careful with athletes, and so they are. Women with functional brains also know they should be careful with musicians, but THEY
DO NOT CARE IN THE LEAST.
Which brings us to Lollapalooza, of course.
I am unreasonably excited about Lollapalooza; I’ve come to think of it as a three-day visit to an adult amusement park. (Where “adult” doesn’t mean “adult” like Jenna Jameson; it only means, “hey, there’s lots of booze.”) I like that Lollapalooza is in downtown Chicago, because downtown Chicago is the best. I like that one gets to feel like one is being edgy even when one is not. (Buying a $230 ticket is far from rebellious.) I like that there is a sense that anything can happen, but that that sense is offset by a modicum of boundary–there’s always a fence and yeah, that fence keeps people out and that’s hardly counter-culture, but the fence also reminds me that the world inside Lollapalooza is separate from the one outside. And inside the Lolla world, you can drink too much, and talk to strangers, and eat lobster corndogs, and not wash your hands after you use a Port-a-John, and put a girl on your shoulders during Bassnectar, and generally act like an imbecile.
And you can see really great bands. Sure, sometimes the best ones are playing in the middle of the day (which is not when most bands are at their best), and sure the sets are short and the sound-checks are few and far-between. But there is a sense of hopefulness in the air; that maybe, just maybe, this will be the year that Sharon Van Etten, or The War On Drugs, or The Tallest Man on Earth breaks out, finds an audience, makes all of those hours of rehearsal and bus rides and merch sales worthwhile.
So, Ewan, I’ll leave you with this question: What about Lollapalooza excites you this year? Bands, girls in neon bikinis, lobster corn dogs? What’s going to make Lollapalooza great for the Sheepdogs?
As performers, there’s nothing like a festival crowd: hard working folks who throw down a sizeable chunk of money for a weekend of cutting loose and catching a beer buzz in the sun. They’re uninhibited, open-minded, and ready for a good time. These are the kind of crowds we relish playing for the most.
But, the thing I enjoy most about festivals is the musical diversity of the lineups. I love the idea of seeing a classic band like Black Sabbath (albeit without their original drummer, the mighty Bill Ward) as well as an indie favourite like Dr. Dog, all for the same ticket. We may be in a band on the festival stage, but we are music fans too. We love drinking too much, eating convoluted deep fried street food and using port-a-johns as much as the next guy (ok maybe not the port-a-johns…).
And yes there are some great bands people will be anticipating, but I find it’s those new discoveries–maybe Michael Kiwanuka or the Black Angels or Imaginary Cities–that help make the festival experience something special.
Ultimately, I hope that folks go home safe and happy, with hangovers and sunburns that are outlived by the joyful memories of watching the tasty jams kicked out by this sweet Canadian band, the Sheepdogs. …
* * * * *
THE SHEEPDOGS play Lollapalooza’s BMI stage at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 5.
PAUL SHIRLEY will be in the audience, happy he’s finally getting to watch the Sheepdogs in a real city.