There’s nothing like a battle between Canada and the U.S. to prove which one is the best.
In hockey, it happened in the recent Stanley Cup final, in which Boston beat Vancouver in a thrilling seven-game series. In the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada downed the U.S. with Sidney Crosby’s goal for the ages.
Now it’s happening in music and patriotic pride is just as strong and true.
A Canadian rock group, The Sheepdogs from Saskatoon, and U.S. singer Lelia Broussard and are finalists to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, the bible of music, on August 18. The winner will be announced in early August.
Some 1,200 unsigned musical acts were in the contest, which was subsequently whittled down to 16, after which it became a competition based on internet voting.
The Sheepdogs, who play a distinctive ’70s-style of music and have scraggly beards and clothes that fit that era, have seen their popularity grow because of the contest. Now, they are waiting to see if they will "score" big.
In advance of this, sportsnet.ca talked to The Sheepdogs’ lead singer, Ewan Currie, who is a huge sports fan and a former athlete. He played for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies a few years ago and participated in the Vanier Cup, which is the annual final for Canadian university football, albeit as a backup defensive lineman who didn’t see much action.
Currie spoke about the battle ahead and also touched on various sports-related items and personal interests, including his thoughts about the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their early struggles in 2011, the recent NBA finals and the possibility of a strike/lockout for the upcoming season, what Don Cherry would think of them representing Canada and professional wrestling and its current state.
Listen to Perry’s full interview with Ewan Currie, lead singer of The Sheepdogs
SN: What is your band thinking about now, knowing the voting is closed for the competition and there’s nothing you guys can do but wait and hope?
EC: There’s certainly a lot of wondering what the outcome might be, but whether we win or not, we’ve gotten a lot of attention, made a lot of new fans and the future looks pretty bright for us.
SN: Your band is up against a female who is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and you guys are not. It’s almost like the beauty against the beast. What do you think?
EC: (Laughs) Well, I hate to be slanderous but some people might take issue with that assessment of our competition, but it’s about music. People listen to music with their ears not their eyes. Hopefully, they dig our tunes and enjoy big-old, hairy men.
SN: Have you guys ever played Running Back To Saskatoon, an anthem sung by the Guess Who back in the ’70s?
EC: We’ve played it many times. It’s a song everybody loves. We just recently did it at our hometown day on Canada Day. It’s a great song.
SN: Wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper is from Saskatoon and helped put the city on the map internationally. Are you a wrestling fan?
EC: I love the old wrestling and I was big into it when I was a young man, but I find the current fit of wrestling is sorely lacking in characters back in Rowdy Roddy’s day.
SN: Can you think of any wrestlers who had beards like you guys?
EC: Oh, Macho Man, right there. Macho Man was a hero to any bearded man.
Currie remains a big fan of the Huskies.
SN: You played football at the university level with the Saskatchewan Huskies. This is the Huskies’ 100th anniversary, any plans to get together with the university and do something with your band?
EC: Not so far, but I’ve still got a big spot in my heart for the Huskies, and if there was any kind of synergy we could get going on, we’d be happy to do something with the old squad.
SN: I went on the Huskies’ website and they have notable alumni and your name is not on there. Why?
EC: (Laughs) It’s a pretty bad oversight on their part. Maybe because I’m not playing in the CFL or something like that. Maybe if we make the (Rolling Stone) cover, they’ll have to make a little honourable mention section for me.
SN: All of the names there are CFL players, so if they were to do something outside of that, they certainly would have to consider you.
EC: I would hope so. There’s potential for me to have more notoriety than any of the other guys that played in the CFL or what have you.
SN: You played in the Vanier Cup, what was it like?
EC: I didn’t get a lot of action. We had some really strong teams and I was a right-out-of-high-school young guy stuck behind a lot of good players, but it was pretty awesome to be part of those teams and get to see how a lot of hard work can go into something and have a big payoff. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in us winning any championships while I was there, but I think you can carry over those lessons about hard work and sticking with something to achieve a goal and it kind of works for music — us working really hard and starting to pay off in terms of us getting this cover, hopefully.
SN: Being from Saskatchewan and Saskatoon, are you a Roughriders’ fan?
EC: Oh, yeah, most definitely.
SN: Right now as we speak, they are 0-3. Are you feeling for that team right now?
EC: Yeah, man. I said the other day I’m getting some scary flashbacks to the Danny Barrett era of the Riders when they weren’t as good as their last five years or so. It’s tough to take, but you know what? I was a fan of the Riders back in the ‘90s and early 2000 when they were not so hot, so I’m not just a bandwagon fan. I’ll stick with the Roughies no matter what.
SN: You played on the defensive line; I’m assuming you played interior tackle. When you think of Saskatchewan defensive linemen who are some of the names you really respected or were a fan of?
EC: I think of a guy like John Chick, who was a monster, and I think he’s now with the (Indianapolis) Colts practice squad or something like that. Stevie Baggs was awesome when we had him. Even a guy like Scott Schultz from Moose Jaw was a big old beast on the interior.
SN: Besides having an interest in football and having played it, you’re just generally interested in sports, and there’s a kind of theme that athletes want to become rock stars and rock stars want to become athletes. Why is that?
EC: I mean it’s kind of like you want what you don’t have. Who wouldn’t want to be a great athlete or a great rock star? I feel pretty lucky that I got to do a lot of both, music and sports. You both get a lot of adulation from people that watch you perform. They both give you a lot of satisfaction when you do something great. For me, I’d love to be an NBA power forward. When you’re 6-foot-3 and you don’t have much of a vertical leap, there’s not much future there for you.
SN: I know you’re a basketball fan, so what are your thoughts looking ahead to the possibility there won’t be a season coming up?
EC: I’m kind of ignoring that. I’m really hoping they get it together and they get the season going because the NBA is really unique. Financial aside, the NBA is in great shape. We just had a great playoff where a team that everybody hated got beaten by this wonderful cast of the (Dallas) Mavericks and Dirk (Nowitzki) and all that stuff. The whole (Miami) Heat saga is fascinating, just a lot of talent. It would be such a shame to lose the season right now when the NBA has so many interesting storylines going on, so I’m really hoping that they can get it together.
SN: I read somewhere where you said if you weren’t doing music right now you’d be doing sports highlights. Why do you have such an interest in sports?
EC: From being in music, spending so many years grinding out the tours and not getting much success for a long time until some recent times, I sort of got this idea that music was unfair or it didn’t matter how good you were. It was a lot of circumstance and luck, where sports is you win the game, you’re the winner, you’re the best. I love that in sports you can’t hide. You’ve either got to step up to the plate or you’ve got to rise to the occasion and the winner is the best. It’s objective, it’s not as subjective, and I love that about it and I love the competition.
SN: What did you or the band think about when you heard the Winnipeg Jets were back?
EC: I think it’s awesome, man. I think it was a big mistake for the NHL to expand so far south. There needs to be more Canadian teams. Sportswriter Bill Simmons has a great plan where he says they should divide the teams evenly between Canadian and U.S. cities and have two divisions based entirely on national boundaries. It would be a great idea. Up here in the north is where people really care about hockey; people deserve to have teams, not these Carolinas, Florida. It’s weird. So it’s great that Winnipeg got it back.
SN: There’s been examples of bands that played the national anthem, either with their full equipment or just singing it like The Barenaked Ladies have done often in Toronto. What would it mean to your band to do something like that?
EC: That would be interesting. I haven’t thought about that. It would be pretty nerve-wracking because you don’t want to screw up the national anthem. You might end like that Carl Lewis video that is so damn funny. It would be an honour. One of my favourite YouTube videos is of the Edmonton Oilers, back when they were in the Stanley Cup five years ago, and the guy starts the Canadian national anthem and he lets the crowd take over singing O Canada. It gives you goosebumps, man.
SN: Did you watch much of the Stanley Cup final?
EC: As much as I could. We were on the road. We did watch Game 7 in New York with a friend that’s from Boston, so that was a little hard to take. We were all rooting for the Canucks, for sure. It was a tough one.
SN: Some people would draw a parallel between that Stanley Cup final and the competition you’re in right now — Canada versus the U.S. I know you guys have posed with the Canadian flag, so what does that mean for you guys to be representing Canada in a competition such as this?
EC: It’s funny because we don’t necessarily think of ourselves as exclusively four Canadians. We want to be there for everybody. But at the same time if people feel proud and want to rally around us, we’re happy to have that because we love Canada, we’re Canadian and we’re not going to shy away from that. I love that people are rallying around in the name of Canada. It’s an honour.
SN: What do you think Don Cherry would say if he knew this Canadian band was in this competition?
EC: (Laughs) You know what? I think he’d love us. He’d just be happy that some good-old Canadian boys were acquitting themselves in the best way possible, with some good hockey-hair hopefully — and playoff beards. He might take exception that Leot Hanson, our guitarist, has a European-sounding kind of name, but other than that I think he’d embrace us.
SN: Last thing I wanted to ask you about was your beard. It is extremely long right now and I’ve seen where it was cut shorter. Is there any relevance to having a big, hairy, large beard right now?
EC: It’s a little trimmed from where you saw it, but it grows back real quick. You know what? I love having a big, old beard because I love ZZ Top and Leon Russell and these guys with these crazy beards, but ultimately I’ve got to trim it up because when I’m eating soup or a sandwich it just gets in the way.