Today our Spotlight – BROS. Shamus Currie (The Sheepdogs) spends a little time with us talking about musical influences and how music came into his life. The sophomore album release Vol. 2 is now out and for sure something you need to check out. Check out the conversation below.
What got you started in music?
Like most people I started with music lessons as a kid and played in school bands. We were pretty well-rounded kids and I was more preoccupied with trying to be a good football player before I clued into the fact that I had a more of a natural aptitude in music. I enjoyed it, and it felt like something I was good at it, so it seemed like a fun thing to pursue. Still at it, so I must have got something right.
Who are some major influences on your sound?
The Beatles, Hall & Oates, Sly and the Family Stone, Doobie Brothers, Bee Gees… We love classic songwriting structures and the sound and aesthetic of records made in the ’60s and ’70s. We’re also big soul and latin music fans, so we’d have to include James Brown, Ray Barretto, guys like that.
Your sound is so unique, who are some surprise influences that people might not know about?
A few years ago I really got into Brazilian pop records from the ’70s and started listening to guys like Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil, and Tim Maia. Those records are amazing blends of soul, funk, pop, and samba. The fusion of styles and sheer creativity was really inspiring, they definitely made me want to make music in a similar vibe.
What made you decide to ultimately pursue music as a career?
I think it’s the inherent joy of playing music live and the creative thrill of making music in the studio. Few careers are as rewarding at their core as making music. It’s definitely a competitive field, and an increasingly hard one to make a decent living at. I was well warned by my father and by my instructors at Humber College how difficult it is to make a living strictly playing music. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to make it so far.
For those unaware, you are both members of The Sheepdogs as well. Travelling with The Sheepdogs for many years, what are some of the best concert memories you have? Or at least the standout ones?
My first 3 gigs with the Sheepdogs were memorable in a “trial-by-fire” sort of way. First was a sold out club show at the El Mocambo in Toronto. Followed by a set backing Paul Rodgers, (the legendary frontman of Free and later Queen), and then the Coachella music festival in California.
Another notable performance would be the Grey Cup in 2013 where we performed in the pre-game ceremonies and then watched the Roughriders win the cup. Ewan and Ryan actually ran onto the field with the players when the game ended.
What was the deciding factor to split off and do your own project BROS?
I have always been a songwriter and bandleader. When I joined the Sheepdogs they were already an established outfit with a strong musical identity. I came in as a sideman, I was trying to make a pre-existing band better as opposed to creating a whole new thing. When I approached Ewan with the idea of writing some songs together, he suggested we start a new project that would allow us to explore some sounds and genres other than the guitar-rock of the Sheepdogs. I had just finished a music degree in jazz trombone, and we shared an eclectic taste in music growing up, so BROS gave us the opportunity to try playing some different styles of music and explore some new ideas.
Being brothers and bandmates, is it difficult or easy working with someone so like yourself?
It’s both. Ewan and I have a great shared knowledge of music and a good shorthand from working together for such a long time. We listened to a lot of the same records growing up, we have very similar taste, and we love trying to make each other laugh or impress each other in the studio. The other side of the coin is that we argue about dumb shit in a way that only family members can. We’ve had some pretty good blow-outs over something as simple as a bass note, or whether to use Wurlitzer or clavinet on a song. That said, we always leave any bad vibes at the studio at the end of the day and make sure we’re still pals in our lives outside of music.
This is your first release since 2016 (excluding Christmas tracks). Why now?
The nature of being in a touring band like the Sheepdogs means that we only get a chance to work on BROS stuff in the interim. After Vol. 1 came out we recorded a Sheepdogs record and hit the road. We would chip away at Vol. 2 whenever we had some down time. We both like to keep fairly busy and working on music when you’re in a good flow state never really feels like work anyway. The pandemic meant we had some extra time on our hands, so we figured the time was ripe to send Vol. 2 out into the world.
The new album has sitars, gospel, everything. Why is it important to have a wider range of sounds and styles on your album than your previous work (sheepdogs)?
I found I was writing a lot of simple little melodies on electric piano. When I’d show them to Ewan he’d immediately get all these fun ideas for different instrumentation. It’s really in the arranging that we’d get the idea to experiment with exotic instrumentation.
We often take the approach of layering more and more ideas and parts onto a song, until it becomes something of an unrecognizable mess at which point we’d go back and trim some of the unnecessary elements. A good example is the song “King of Kings”, which started as a real basic groove. We had the idea to make it a musical trip around the world, and so we threw the kitchen sink of world instrumentation at it – trombone, clarinet, strings, shamisen, sitar, synthesizer, tabla, whatever we could get our hands on. It’s part of our no-holds-barred creative philosophy to have as wide a range of sounds and instruments as possible. The only limit would be our own sense of taste.
If I recall, your father is also featured on the new album. What was it like working with him?
Our Dad has been a working musician his whole life and is still the best piano player in the family, so we thought it’d be fun to bring him in to play some cocktail piano on “Clam’s Casino”. He’s got a formal classical background so we took him out for drinks the night before to make sure he was nice and low-brow the day of the session. I think he nailed it.
As previously mentioned, you have also released Christmas tracks. What prompted you to go holiday? And have the holidays always been a big part of your family?
I think we like holiday music because it’s such a staple of classic songwriting. We like the challenge of trying to write a classic Christmas song because it’s what all the old timers did. Bing Crosby, Chet Atkins, Herb Alpert, Paul McCartney, Donny Hathaway, hell even James Brown all played Christmas music. We definitely spent a lot of holiday seasons together as brothers listening to the old Christmas chestnuts and debating which is the best Christmas song. For the record, it’s “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway.
Are you still in Toronto? Or have you headed back to the prairies?
We both live in Toronto now. Saskatoon was home for many years and we still have deep roots there. I usually go back a couple of times a year. I still fly the Saskatchewan flag on my keyboard whenever we play live. But Toronto is the hub of music in Canada and has so many more opportunities than back home in Saskatchewan. That and the Blue Jays and Raptors.
2020 was a write off year for shows. Can we expect any tours or concert dates to coincide with the new release?
BROS was conceived as a studio project. We recorded these songs without ever really intending to perform them live. As such they’re not the easiest songs to do logistically. Tracks like “It Won’t Be Long” feature Ewan overdubbing his vocal dozens of times to create a gospel choir effect. I played countless trombone tracks to get the orchestral soundtrack vibe on “Theme From BROS”. That said, we love performing. It would be a blast to figure out a way to get these songs in front of a live audience. Last time we hit the road as BROS we had a 9 piece band but COVID has made it hard to get that many guys in a room together. We’ll see what we can do…
We love repping local and independent Canadian businesses. Who are some of your favourite local places to give a shoutout to (restaurants, venues, bars, stores, etc)?
We love the Skyline restaurant in Toronto, as well as Black Dice Cafe. Lula Lounge is a dope salsa club in Toronto’s west end where we released our first album. I’d also like to give a shout out to the triumvirate of Pho Phuong, Pho Linh and the Golden Turtle for keeping me fuelled with a steady diet of noodles.
Our Spotlight – BROS is a wrap! Big thanks to Shamus for taking the time to chat with us.
Check out Vol. 2 out now!
Keep up with BROS right here
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