Crowd-sourcing a SK band into the big-time
Classic rock revivalists The Sheepdogs have won Rolling Stones’ modern version of Star Search, a contest for one unsigned band or musician to land a spot on the cover of the magazine (paging Dr Hook), a major label recording contract, and some cash to boot. Sponsored by a line of hair care products, the contest put dozens of groups into a big pool and encouraged readers to visit their website and vote for their favourites. Voting was done in several rounds, the number of competitors being pared down each time. The Sheepdogs ended up in the final round, going up against a spunky young singer/songwriter from the U.S.. Their reward was a set at Bonnarroo, a drastically wider audience, and a shot at the top spot, which, it was revealed earlier this week when the cover you see here was unveiled in Times Square in New York City, they won. I would imagine quite handily.
At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I wasn’t really that surprised by the outcome. Don’t get me wrong — I was surprised, just not very surprised.
The Sheepdogs’ sound is probably a dream come true for Rolling Stone, a magazine that hasn’t been relevant in actual music coverage in decades (one arguable low point: the overly effusive “instant classic” five-star review of Mick Jagger’s unholy dump of a solo record Goddess In The Doorway, which featured such rancid, past their prime if they ever had one, flavour-of-the-moment collaborators as Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas, The Fugees’ Wyclef Jean, and Lenny Kravitz). The Sheepdogs’ sound cribs heavily from The Allman Brothers, The Guess Who, and other bands that were staunchly in favour of beards. It’s a sound that will resonate deeply with the divorced dads who keep copies of the magazine laying around their one-bedroom apartments to try and convince the kids they see on every second weekend that they’re still hip.
Moreover, Rolling Stone probably could have predicted this was going to happen. Canada may not be the United States, but we certainly still have a modicum of national pride and identity that can be, and apparently has been, exploited. I haven’t seen any insight into how the bands involved were selected but The Sheepdogs were the only Canadian band in the contest. The ONLY band in a country that has more unsigned bands than people (HYPERBOLE WHAT). It was inevitable that, to an extent, some nationalistic support would be drummed up. The band and its fans did their best to exploit it too, tweeting to the Prime Minister and other notable Canadians to pledge their support to the band.
Now, I have nothing against The Sheepdogs. Their music is well-constructed, hooky, and evocative of a by-gone era in a very genuine, if seemingly somewhat calculated, way. When Tanis sent me their record The Big Stand a couple of years ago I gave it a few listens, played a few tracks on my community radio show, and frankly forgot about it. Again: it just isn’t for me. I wish them all the success in the world; they certainly have worked pretty hard the last five years or so to get where they are.
I do, however, find it more than a little annoying that a magazine that is supposed to be in the business of taste-making is lazy and desperate enough to get some attention that it crowd-sourced it’s content, and that once-upon-a-time most coveted of music industry prizes, a spot on it’s formerly-iconic cover. If you weren’t already dead to me, Rolling Stone, you sure are now.
On the bright side, one has to assume that the attention brought to The Sheepdogs by this mishigas will extend, to some degree, to the music community that exists around them. Assuming they don’t light out for Toronto or some other big city that’s more connected to the music industry, other groups may get some residual spotlight shining on them, hopefully.
For instance, The Deep Dark Woods released their new album The Place I Left Behind on Tuesday, the same day the contest results and The Sheepdogs’ new major label EP came out. The Woods are a band we’ve gushed about here; they put out my third favourite album of 2009, in fact. While I have yet to delve too terribly far into their new release, it promises at first blush to be more of the sombre, engrossing rootsy storytelling that has made them one of the top five bands working in Canada right now, hands-down.
Maybe The Sheepdogs could take them out on tour if they go through America? Spread some of that love around?