But siblings Ewan and Shamus Currie of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada have taken the opposite track. Their “main gig” has been with the ‘70s-inspired rockers the Sheepdogs since their 2004 founding. But their two-man side project BROS is in full swing, having issued the full-length Vol. 1 in 2016 and two A&B side Christmas singles.
“We do [BROS] in between the gaps of Sheepdogs tours and recording,” Ewan says with his brother via Zoom. “Music is super fun, and it’s supposed to be. I know that everyone is [chasing] a hit. We always like records that had a wide variety of sounds, like Steely Dan, the Beatles, and the Kinks.”
“It was pieced together in our spare time. So it’s been ready!” Shamus adds. “We tried to expand and draw from more influences and just get a little crazier. Sometimes, the inspiration for these songs was just trying to crack each other up. It helps that Ewan and I grew up together and have a lot of the same references. Like he’s be doing something and I’d say ‘Hey, that sounds like the Mario video game we played 20 years ago!’ And we’d riff on that.”
The sheer breadth of genres that the brothers explore on Vol. 2 is impressive: soul (“It’s Killing Me,” “It Won’t Be Long”), jazz (“Hesitating”), funk (“Never Gonna Stop”), sunny AM pop (“You Love This Song,” “Garbanzo Man,” “Crazy Schemes”), cocktail music (“Clams Casino”), 1920s vocal jazz (“Two for Tea”), and middle eastern (“King of Kings”).
Even the instrumentals are out there. “Theme from BROS” promises the greatest ‘70s TV cop drama never made, and “Snake Dance” could be dropped into any Sergio Leone spaghetti western. There are vocal and lyrical references to Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, and even Smash Mouth.
Of the three videos from the album released to date, the animated “Theme from BROS” is a piece of art on its own, storyboarded by the brothers and drawn by an artist friend, Rob Fidel.
In it, the hirsute and sunglasses-shaded Curries fight for justice and vanquish a bevy of baddies from across the world including a huge shark, a fleet of UFOs, and a mechanical King Kong. There’s a cat saved from a tree. And ends with a punchout of an axis of evil: Hitler, Stalin, and…Bono from U2??
“I think I came up with the idea of us punching out that evil triumvirate because…I don’t know…Bono is kind of like a punching bag! Ewan laughs. “U2 are OK and all, but I think people kind of got sick of Bono after a while. And no one’s going to complain if he gets punched out.”
For Vol. 2, the brothers wanted to use even more exotic and out-there instruments than on the previous effort, like the tabla and the Japanese shamisen guitar. So there’s horns and a variety of keyboards. Sheepdogs’ guitarist Jimmy Bowskill appears – but playing fiddle and sitar.
“We sampled some weird old keyboards like an optigan, which is kind of a keyboard, but also a kid’s toy from the ‘70s. And we tuned the drums so they sounded kind of crispy and hip-hop,” Ewan says.
As the keyboard player, Shamus says the Sheepdogs’ “bread and butter” instrument is the Wurlitzer piano with its “instant Ray Charles” vibe. For BROS, he used more farfisas for a surf-rock sound at times, and anything outside of the traditional Hammond B-3 organ.
“We just wanted to go for something weird. A new keyboard or something someone bought at a yard sale. We would even change the pitch on something while recording to Pro Tools,” he says. “Anything was fair game.”
As for their band-that-pays-the-bills, the Sheepdogs first came to U.S. attention when they appeared on the August 2011 cover of Rolling Stone. It was part of their prize (along with an Atlantic Records recording contract) for taking part in a 16-group “Battle of the Bands,” with votes based on online songs and live gigs. But according to the magazine in an accompanying feature, The band initially wasn’t even aware that they’d entered the competition. A Canadian music manager they’d randomly met at a party in Toronto had submitted their demo.
Though they’d released other records to date, the Atlantic Records debut The Sheepdogs—produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys—came out in 2012. It was a big success in their native land, but not so much in the United States. There was no second Atlantic release.
“The first time we went into one, we thought ‘What is this? What is this crazy Walmart-like truck stop!’” Gullen offered back then.
Asked to confirm or deny this fact, Shamus gets a bit excited. “Hold on!” he says, disappearing off the Zoom for a few seconds, and returning with his green Buc-ee’s T-shirt from the Temple location.
“I was just wearing this!” he laughs. “We really do love Buc-ee’s when we come to Texas.”
Ewan concurs. “Texas is fascinating because it has such a history. We love the barbecue, and finding old Western shirts and cowboy boots. I dig all that stuff. And all the music and Mexican culture. The first time we went to Texas was to play SXSW, and as soon as we got out of Austin, I said ‘This looks like where I’m from.’”
So maybe…Bros Vol. 3 will have a mariachi song on it? “That’s great!” Ewan says. “A Doug Sahm kind of thing!”
And finally, with BROS being essentially a studio-group only, would there ever be a day when BROS would open for the Sheepdogs?
“I don’t know about that, man!” Ewan laughs. “That’s a lot of singing!”