Montreal’s The Holds are a band inspired by the greats and their local contemporaries. Frontman Ryan Setton cites classic R&B artists like Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder, classic rock acts such as The Animals and Led Zeppelin and  local acts like John Jacob Magistry and The Damn Truth among the band’s influences.

“When we approach what we do,” Setton said in a telephone interview, “we’re influenced by the past but we’re not thinking about it. We’re definitely in the moment of what’s going on now (on the Montreal scene). The result is The Holds.”

Setton feels that the scene that influences them is also one that gives back.

“Montreal’s always been a very supportive scene, a lot of people are supporting the bands,” he said, adding that “it can be tough, though, at the same time because there are a lot of bands. So it can be intimidating sometimes as an artist to find out just where you fit in.”

The Holds is Setton on vocals and guitar, Justin Wiley on drums and percussion, Eric Hein playing lead guitar and André Galamba on bass. That was the same lineup I caught at their EP launch two years ago, shortly after the band’s formation.

“We are lucky enough to have the same lineup for years,” Setton observed, “building chemistry and having a good band chemistry and interaction between the musicians is super important. With the first EP it was more like ‘Hey, let’s do this!’ We didn’t really know where it was going to go. But doing this second record it was clear we’re all on the same page…There’s no confusion as to what direction we’re headed in as a band.”

While The Holds are a band that sticks together, they also tried living together for four days in the country. This was in order to record their first full-length album Juke, featuring songs they had already written over the course of a year and a half.

“We had recorded many times in the city,” Setton remembered, “and at the end day everyone would go home and we’d have to come back in the morning and get back into the flow. That’s why I thought if I get everyone together, we’re in one place, we’re stuck there…and it was totally worth it because it all worked out for the best.”

You can hear for yourself this Saturday when The Holds play live and release Juke. In the meantime, enjoy this video from their first EP:

* The Holds Juke Album Launch with special guests Celina Wolfe and Lea Keeley is Satuday, August 25 at 9pm (doors 8pm) at le Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur Est. $10 (includes a dropcard with a download code for the album)

Last Friday evening at the Corona Theatre looked like a scene straight out of Cameron Crowe’s acclaimed rock n’ roll drama Almost Famous. The venue was packed to the brim with rowdy, power-chord-hungry teenagers sporting long, greasy hair and leather Iron Maiden jackets. And if I had a nickel for every time that I saw someone toss up the rock sign (otherwise known as the sign of the horns) during one of The Sheepdogs’ ultra-classic sounding guitar solos, I’d probably have enough nickels to fund the construction of a time machine to send all of those kids back to the generation that they clearly missed out on (or at least think they missed out on).

Now while I don’t want to sound overly skeptical of the crowd’s enthusiasm and excitement– the energy was palpable at the Corona– I do wish to express that my first official Sheepdogs experience was pretty surreal. A total blast from the past, you might say.

Sheepdogs Corona Theatre Montreal 2While the teens (and pre-teens) were busy shredding gnarly air-guitar and starting short-lived mosh-pits, the other demographic of the crowd, composed of 40-year old Dads and their spouses, were quietly bobbing their balding heads, and shuffling about in Asics running shoes, probably reminiscing on a time when rock music was more culturally cutting edge, and less obscured with piles of layered-on nostalgia.

That’s not to say that The Sheepdogs’ sound can simply be reduced to mere genre re-hash— serving merely to fill the cultural void which emerged in the mid-90s, after hippie revivalism and guitar-based rock moved deeper and deeper underground. Indeed, while some of the younger fans at the Corona were blatantly appropriating a style and a culture that they knew relatively little about, the band onstage that night is an important Canadian cultural emblem, carrying the sonic torch of seminal rock bands like The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive into the 21st-Century. The Sheepdogs’ tendency to evoke nostalgia doesn’t feel like a cheap gimmick; instead, their performances remind us that we need more bands like these guys to keep the ethos of rock music alive.

The show on Friday night harkened back to the glory days of classic rock; the 2-part guitar harmonies (a technique the band likes to call “guitarmonies”) on the fan-favourite Southern Dreaming recalls both the deep-south rock stylings of the Allman Brothers, and also the blistering double-guitar lead on The Guess Who’s Share The Land.

As the night progressed, The Sheepdogs worked through a setlist composed of new material from their aptly titled 2015 release Future Nostalgia, as well as a host of hit songs from their critically praised debut and sophomore records.

The Sheepdogs closed their initial set with arguably their most well-known and recognizable track, I Don’t Know before returning for an encore that featured a 12-minute rendition of Neil Young’s classic Down By The River. Not only was it an epic way of closing out a nostalgia-laden evening, the choice of song seemed to be a deliberate gesture to the band’s roots– the days when drinking beers and jamming along with Neil Young records in someone’s basement took precedence over rehearsing polished live performances.

Sheepdogs Corona Theatre Montreal 3

It’s hard to imagine that The Sheepdogs were teetering on the brink of musical oblivion just six years ago. After years of relentless touring across Canada, and countless nightmare “touring adventures,” the band was severely in debt and on the verge of giving up. That was, until a Canadian record producer silently submitted the band’s name to be considered for the 2011 Rolling Stone Cover Contest. The rest, of course, is classic-rock-revival history. The Sheepdogs went on to win the contest, and in doing so, became the first unsigned band in history to appear on the front cover of Rolling Stone.

The Sheepdogs’ performance last Friday at the Corona was the band’s first show in Canada after an extensive European tour. Although the Saskatoon natives were still thousands of kilometres from their true stomping grounds, they were nevertheless “thrilled to be back home,” according to lead vocalist and band frontman Ewan Currie. Their 2016 Canadian tour, which will bring them westward all the way to Vancouver before returning back east, will naturally be remarkably different than those brutal treks across Canada a less than a decade ago.

The band has rightly earned a special place in the hearts and minds of a Canadian classic rock fan base that still craves those sweet, southern-influenced guitar hooks and delicate three-part vocal harmonies. Friday night’s performance reminded me that The Sheepdogs were able to pull through in the end, turning their Cameron Crow-esque pipe dream into reality. Finally, it seems, The Sheepdogs have made it.

* photos by Georgia Vatcher