WHO NAMED THE BAND: The Sheepdogs a credit to their breed

Rock musicians always roll their eyes when asked for the 1,000th time where they got their band name, but we can learn a lot from the psychology of rock ‘n’ roll nomenclature. A band name can reveal much about the musicians who named it – personality, character, insanity – sometimes without them even being aware of it.

This highly scientific yet silly series of band name essays is ultimately designed to illuminate the people BEHIND THE MUSIC (phrase used without permission from VH1), to put a human face into generic, assembly-line promotion seen in most rock ‘n’ roll media coverage, and to really find out once and for all WHO came up with that ridiculous/wonderful/stupid band name that these guys are going to be stuck with for the rest of their lives.

Seriously: What were they thinking?

Ewan Currie, vocalist for The Sheepdogs, (which played a sold out show Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Starlite Room), digs the era of THE bands, that is, bands whose usually pluralized names start with the word “the.” It came into fashion during the ‘60s.

“We like ‘THE’ names. I like animal names,” the singer says. “I like when a band name conjures up the image of 1966 and a bunch of greasy dudes wearing matching suits playing rock ‘n’ roll.”

See what we’ve learned already? The ‘60s, greasy dudes, rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a beautiful thing when a rock band resembles its name. The Sheepdogs look a bit like actual sheepdogs, what with the long hair and the scruffy beards – and they make scruffy retro rock to match. The Saskatoon foursome is of course THE LUCKIEST BAND IN CANADA for being chosen in a contest for the cover of The Rolling Stone magazine. The resulting story raised some hackles for alleged insults against Saskatoon, but while Currie admits “it’s not exactly a Tourism Saskatchewan article,” they didn’t say anything about their town that guys who live there don’t say all the time. Besides, it’s their town. They can say what they want. Just don’t let out-of-towners mess with it.

It took a lot more than luck and good press to get to this point. The Sheepdogs have worked hard since 2005 on their distinctive low-tech, no-frills sound that comes off like The Black Crowes meets The Spin Doctors at an Allman Brothers concert and – most importantly – have delivered a catchy song to capture the hearts of the public: the loping, neo-hippie anthem I Don’t Know, which Currie says is a song about “uncertainty.” Of course. All the pieces fall into place.

The Sheepdogs started life as The Breaks – and it took them seven months to come up with that. Naming a band is harder than it looks, Currie says. “You’re constantly having conversations where you’ll say some phrase or word and say, ‘that would be a great name for a band,’ and then when it comes time to name the band you never remember any of those things.”

The original name was dumped because too many other bands had the same or similar names, and the first record was ready for release, so that was the time to do it. The Sheepdogs wasn’t the only option, Currie recalls: “Someone suggested putting a number after the Breaks, but that was too Blink 182-esque and not for us. Numbers seem very ‘90s to me: Blink 182, Eve 6. We try to stay away from the ‘90s as much as possible. The 2000s was the era that THE bands came back in: The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, The Stills. I look at the name The Rolling Stones – it’s one of the greatest band names of all time. It’s just such a solid name.”

It’s interesting how fast a band name becomes assimilated once it sticks, to the point that the original words lose all meaning beyond being “just the name of the band.” Currie says they still get asked about it all the time (though curiously, the topic never once came up when the Rolling Stone writer followed the Sheepdogs around Saskatoon for two days). He enjoys making up little stories to compensate for what he feels is the boring truth (“Sheepdogs” was his Myspace alias). One involves a bet made with a buddy in high school that he would one day be in a band called the Sheepdogs, “but when it came time to collect, my friend was dead.” Another good one is inspired by John Lennon’s yarn about being given the Beatles name by a flaming angel or some such thing during a particularly vivid, possibly hallucinogenically-influenced dream. The Beatles – now there’s another excellent THE name.

As is so often the case, The Sheepdogs will never live down their own name. They will be asked to pose for pictures with their animal namesake, subject of countless canine puns in newspaper headlines and expected to maintain their hairy, hippie appearance lest they confuse the masses with tonsorial rebellion. Says Currie, “I’m pretty sure I got the name from a Swedish band called Mando Diao, and they had a song called Sheepdog. I guess it came from that song. I’ve never even owned a dog.”

Now you know.