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Saskatoon's the Sheepdogs land cover of Rolling Stone

The Sheepdogs, a Canadian rock band that beat out 15 other competitors to land on the cover in a contest judged by readers, is shown performing in this file photo.

File photo/File photo

Sure, they won a contest that made them rock stars literally overnight with a Rolling Stone magazine cover and major label deal with Atlantic Records, but Saskatchewan rockers The Sheepdogs have long been preparing for their chance to shine.

Since 2006, the band has been consistently touring, self-releasing albums and toiling in the rock 'n' roll trenches. "We've been working hard for a long time," said the band's grateful frontman Ewan Currie. "We're doing our best to stay humble and hard-working, we feel very blessed. All we needed was the attention."

Fellow indie rockers would agree. Evidence of the band's respected pedigree came in a Montreal café just minutes after the Sheepdogs were officially announced as winners of the Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star? contest on Monday.

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Tracking down the in-demand band for a quick interview via the usual channels was proving challenging, but a chance café run-in with Montreal musicians Josh Trager (who plays drums in the Sam Roberts band) and Liam O'Neil (formerly of the Stills, now a frequent collaborator of Broken Social Scene and Sam Roberts) proved fortuitous.

Appreciating The Sheepdogs's musicianship -- all these bands had played Montreal's Osheaga festival just a few days prior -- Trager and O'Neil located a contact for the band. Minutes later, Ewan Currie called.

"My cell phone has been vibrating off the hook since this happened," said Currie, speaking from the lobby of his New York hotel. "We've known for a while but haven't been able to talk about it until, like, forty minutes ago!"

The Sheepdogs and their rock 'n' roll sound (not to mention their shaggy beards and long hair, very '70s rock vibe) emerged victorious among the competition's sixteen finalists -- all unsigned acts.

At the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee in June, it came down to a showdown between The Sheepdogs and California singer/songwriter Leila Broussard, who is the contest's runner up. Rolling Stone readers voted to choose the winner.

And so, their five-song digital EP, Five Easy Pieces, comes out Tuesday and the band performs that same night on NBC's Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

As for their Rolling Stone cover, it hits newsstands Friday and is featured on a massive billboard in New York's Times Square. Currie is especially excited that the Sheepdogs will be opening for Kings of Leon on part of that band's upcoming tour.

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So how did this all happen? As Currie tells it, the Sheepdogs ended up in the contest when a music industry fellow named Joel Carrier (now their manager) passed along their music to Atlantic Records, who opted to include The Sheepdogs in the initial selection of 1200 competing bands.

For Currie and his bandmates (guitarist Leot Hanson, drummer Sam Corbett and bassist Ryan Gullen) seeing their dreams come true has been a surreal trip so far. "The music industry has changed so much that there's no set way of proceeding," Currie said. "There's not a formula you follow, like for other careers. You have to sort of jump on any opportunity that comes along and this has been a godsend for us."

As to those who may mistake the Sheepdogs for another reality show-type overnight success story, Currie feels it's understandable some people might make that assumption. "It just means they're not looking at the whole story," he said. "If you're going to get widespread attention you might have to take a little heat as well and that's fine. We're not going to be universally loved by everyone. Even the Beatles had their critics."

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