Sherman Downey ‚ÄĒ Telegram file photo
Sherman Downey is keeping busy as the summer changes to fall in Corner Brook. Alongside the members of his backing band, The Ambiguous Case, Downey has performed festival dates in Nova Scotia and Ontario. He also took on a solo gig last month at Commissariat House in St. John‚Äôs.
For the roots/rock ensemble, it‚Äôs all about building on the momentum generated from this year‚Äôs win in the CBC Searchlight competition.
The group beat 3,000 other artists to claim the title of Canada‚Äôs best new musical act.
Largely built on acoustic instrumentation, Sherman Downey and The Ambiguous Case perform densely layered, peppy pop tunes that have an upbeat feel to them.
Positivity seems to weave through most of Downey‚Äôs songs, perhaps the result of his own pleasant state of mind.
Chatting with The Telegram over the phone from his home in Corner Brook, Downey described himself as a happy guy.
While Downey‚Äôs profile may only be starting to rise on the national music scene, his music has already received plenty of acclaim back home in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Sherman Downey and The Ambiguous Case‚Äôs debut album, ‚ÄúHoney For Bees,‚ÄĚ earned the group five MusicNL award nominations in 2010, with Downey taking home the Male Artist of the Year honour. The following year, the group earned two East Coast Music Award nominations.
Since then, the band has performed shows in British Columbia, Australia and Memphis, Tenn.
A new album, tentatively titled ‚ÄúThe Sun in Your Eyes,‚ÄĚ was recorded in Corner Brook through a MusicNL grant. Downey is eying a fall release for the album, which is now in the hands of mixing engineers.
‚ÄúYou can pass it to one guy, and he might have it guitar heavy, and another guy drum heavy,‚ÄĚ he said.
The group will be in St. John‚Äôs later this month for Contact East, a performing arts conference that will give Downey and his cohorts a chance to connect with promoters, festival organizers and others in the music industry.
‚ÄúInstead of a conference where you find a lot of bands kind of hoping to get the attention of promoters, you get a lot of promoters looking to get the attention of the bands,‚ÄĚ said Downey, who hopes the event will lead to international exposure for the band.
What is your full name?
Sherman Hubert Downey. (Laughs) My father thought it would be a nice homage to both my grandfathers, Huey and Bertram.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Stephenville. I‚Äôm old enough to school you in Pac-Man. (Laughs)
What is your earliest musical memory?
I guess I‚Äôd say with my face in a ghetto blaster singing stuff like Poison. (Laughs) The first song I sang onstage was ‚ÄúEvery Rose Has Its Thorn,‚ÄĚ and God help me, there‚Äôs a video out there somewhere.
Thinking back to when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Around home in the Codroy Valley, in South Branch where I‚Äągrew up, you went to school and you would either be going into the forestry business, because that was big around my hometown, or you became a teacher. Not that school wasn‚Äôt encouraging in whatever you wanted to do, but I really didn‚Äôt know what I wanted to be. Then I started playing music around Grade 10, and just thought I‚Äôd like to be a music teacher. But I never dreamed I‚Äôd try to buy groceries with money I‚Äąmade from singing in bars.
What are you reading at the moment?
It‚Äôs by the guy who wrote ‚ÄúThe Road‚ÄĚ (Cormac McCarthy) ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúBlood Meridian.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs great. I‚Äôve really been delving into a lot of the ‚ÄĒ I don‚Äôt know if I‚Äôd call them ultra-violent or anything ‚ÄĒ but gritty characters. I‚Äąjust read ‚ÄúThe Devil All The Time‚ÄĚ (by Donald Ray Pollock) and ‚ÄúThe Sisters Brothers‚ÄĚ by Patrick deWitt. I‚Äôve been leaning toward the gritty (books) as of late.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I just started getting into woodworking, actually. I could send you a picture of a huge farm table I built. (Laughs) I‚Äôm leaning on it now, and the band is coming over ‚ÄĒ we‚Äôre going to be sitting around it like the Knights Templar. (Laughs) We just built a house here, so I just grabbed some of the old two-by-eights and built a huge table ... I just went out and ripped down my great-great-grandmother‚Äôs old barn and reused some of the wood there to make an entertainment centre here. I could get into it.
Where is your favourite place to be?
I‚Äôd say home in the Codroy Valley, in South Branch behind my house. There‚Äôs a river that runs behind my house there, and ... we just kind of run wild back there. It‚Äôs still pretty much the same.
If you could learn to play a new instrument, what would it be?
You know what I‚Äąwas looking at online the other day? A dulcimer. I‚Äąplay a little bit of piano and guitar. I‚Äôd love to play the banjo fluently, but I‚Äôve surrounded myself with musicians, and one of them plays the banjo rather well.
What‚Äôs your favourite movie or TV show?
I‚Äôve been loving ‚ÄúBreaking Bad‚ÄĚ right now. (Laughs) Crazy! Movies ‚ÄĒ I don‚Äôt know. I haven‚Äôt watched a movie in ages. ‚ÄúThe Usual Suspects,‚ÄĚ maybe. Whenever the boys and I are out on the road, we try to have band morale stuff to do, whether that be go-karts or watching crappy movies. We happened to watch the first 3-D movie Andrew (Ross, Downey‚Äôs bandmate,) has ever seen, ‚ÄúShark Night 3D.‚ÄĚ It was so bad, but Andrew loved it.
(In an email, Downey later confirmed that ‚ÄúStand By Me‚ÄĚ is his ‚ÄúAwesome all-time favorite‚ÄĚ movie.)
What the best part of living in western Newfoundland?
It‚Äôs just not too big and not too small. It‚Äôs close to home. It‚Äôs a wicked, outdoorsy life here. We‚Äôve been up around Norris Point and Woody Point and around the Northern Peninsula a lot this summer. I‚Äąfind a lot times, people in Newfoundland and Labrador, they go out on vacation and they head outside the province, and I‚Äôve always kind of done that as well. But this year, we‚Äôve been spending a lot of time around the west coast outside, so I‚Äôm enjoying it.
What‚Äôs the most memorable show you‚Äôve ever played?
They would be memorable for different reasons. The first time we played in St. John‚Äôs (in 2010 at The Rockhouse), when we were looking out and people were singing along, that was a pretty cool memory. ... And of course over in Australia. That was pretty fun.
What‚Äôs the best concert you‚Äôve ever attended?
I would have to say (Spanish-French recording artist) Manu Chao. It was at the Ottawa Bluesfest. Full band, and the whole place was jumping.
What‚Äôs your favourite meal?
Man, if I could eat it everyday, turkey dinner. (Laughs)
Amongst the songs you‚Äôve written, what‚Äôs your favourite?
(Pause) I‚Äądon‚Äôt know. There‚Äôs some favourites to perform, but I don‚Äôt really have a favourite. Each time they‚Äôre written, I‚Äôm happy with each song once it‚Äôs done. I‚Äôm like, ‚ÄúOh, this is my favourite song right now.‚ÄĚ But in terms of performing and audience reaction, I‚Äôd say ‚ÄúWindowsill‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúChurch Mouse.‚ÄĚ They‚Äôre both fun.
Who are some musicians you‚Äôve been enjoying lately?
I‚Äôve been listening to a bit of Dan Mangan, Old Man Luedecke ‚ÄĒ a lot of Canadian stuff actually. Joel Plaskett.
If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?
Gee, I don‚Äôt know. (Laughs) I‚Äôm pretty happy. Maybe I wish I could love jogging, but I‚Äądon‚Äôt. (Laughs)
What‚Äôs your most treasured possession?
Probably my guitar. I‚Äôm playing a Stonebridge right now, and I love it. It‚Äôs great to play and everything, but at home I‚Äôve got tucked under my bed a poor, broken Martin (acoustic guitar). I‚Äąbought it when I‚Äąwas going to school doing my education degree in St. John‚Äôs, and I‚Äągot a student loan and, like many irresponsible students, I went out and blew $1,800 on this Martin that was just there on display. I don‚Äôt think Long & McQuade or Music Stop, as it was called at that point, were carrying Martins at the time, but somebody came in and they were doing a demonstration for Martin or some kind of a guitar workshop, and that was the guitar that was supplied to that artist. So it was left in the store, and I‚Äąjust went in on a whim and bought it. I played it pretty hard over the years and brought it up to Goose Bay and was tapping the guitar, hitting the guitar percussively, and it split ... I just got it in my head to break that out and repair it.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
Doing the same thing really. ... I hope that with the upcoming albums, hopefully there‚Äôs a third and a fourth and people keep listening. I‚Äôd love to be doing exactly this as long as it‚Äôs paying the bills.
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I‚Äôd like to go back to Thailand. I was there in 2003, and we spent a couple of weeks there. I‚Äôd love to go back there and spend a couple of months. I‚Äôd like to do India as well, because I‚Äôve never been there.
What‚Äôs the best advice you ever received?
‚ÄúLove what you‚Äôre doing.‚ÄĚ That‚Äôs true. Also, I keep telling this story ‚ÄĒ we were heading out on a tour for the first time with the boys. We were leaving Writers at Woody Point. Ron Hynes was playing that same year, and we asked him for advice. Young band heading out on the road for the first time ‚ÄĒ you got any good advice for us? He said to drink lots of water, and we were like, ‚ÄúOh yeah, cool.‚ÄĚ He said it will keep the bags from under your eyes and out of your room. That‚Äôs not bad advice. (Laughs)