Sherman Downey â 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. Johnâs.
For the roots/rock ensemble, itâs all about building on the momentum generated from this yearâs win in the CBC Searchlight competition.
The group beat 3,000 other artists to claim the title of Canadaâs 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 Downeyâs 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 Downeyâs 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 Caseâs debut album, âHoney For Bees,â 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 âThe Sun in Your Eyes,â 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.
âYou can pass it to one guy, and he might have it guitar heavy, and another guy drum heavy,â he said.
The group will be in St. Johnâs 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.
âInstead 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,â 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. Iâm old enough to school you in Pac-Man. (Laughs)
What is your earliest musical memory?
I guess Iâd say with my face in a ghetto blaster singing stuff like Poison. (Laughs) The first song I sang onstage was âEvery Rose Has Its Thorn,â and God help me, thereâs 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 Iâgrew 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 wasnât encouraging in whatever you wanted to do, but I really didnât know what I wanted to be. Then I started playing music around Grade 10, and just thought Iâd like to be a music teacher. But I never dreamed Iâd try to buy groceries with money Iâmade from singing in bars.
What are you reading at the moment?
Itâs by the guy who wrote âThe Roadâ (Cormac McCarthy) â âBlood Meridian.â Itâs great. Iâve really been delving into a lot of the â I donât know if Iâd call them ultra-violent or anything â but gritty characters. Iâjust read âThe Devil All The Timeâ (by Donald Ray Pollock) and âThe Sisters Brothersâ by Patrick deWitt. Iâve 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) Iâm leaning on it now, and the band is coming over â weâre 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-grandmotherâs 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?
Iâd say home in the Codroy Valley, in South Branch behind my house. Thereâs a river that runs behind my house there, and ... we just kind of run wild back there. Itâs still pretty much the same.
If you could learn to play a new instrument, what would it be?
You know what Iâwas looking at online the other day? A dulcimer. Iâplay a little bit of piano and guitar. Iâd love to play the banjo fluently, but Iâve surrounded myself with musicians, and one of them plays the banjo rather well.
Whatâs your favourite movie or TV show?
Iâve been loving âBreaking Badâ right now. (Laughs) Crazy! Movies â I donât know. I havenât watched a movie in ages. âThe Usual Suspects,â 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, Downeyâs bandmate,) has ever seen, âShark Night 3D.â It was so bad, but Andrew loved it.
(In an email, Downey later confirmed that âStand By Meâ is his âAwesome all-time favoriteâ movie.)
What the best part of living in western Newfoundland?
Itâs just not too big and not too small. Itâs close to home. Itâs a wicked, outdoorsy life here. Weâve been up around Norris Point and Woody Point and around the Northern Peninsula a lot this summer. Iâfind a lot times, people in Newfoundland and Labrador, they go out on vacation and they head outside the province, and Iâve always kind of done that as well. But this year, weâve been spending a lot of time around the west coast outside, so Iâm enjoying it.
Whatâs the most memorable show youâve ever played?
They would be memorable for different reasons. The first time we played in St. Johnâs (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.
Whatâs the best concert youâve 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.
Whatâs your favourite meal?
Man, if I could eat it everyday, turkey dinner. (Laughs)
Amongst the songs youâve written, whatâs your favourite?
(Pause) Iâdonât know. Thereâs some favourites to perform, but I donât really have a favourite. Each time theyâre written, Iâm happy with each song once itâs done. Iâm like, âOh, this is my favourite song right now.â But in terms of performing and audience reaction, Iâd say âWindowsillâ or âChurch Mouse.â Theyâre both fun.
Who are some musicians youâve been enjoying lately?
Iâve been listening to a bit of Dan Mangan, Old Man Luedecke â a lot of Canadian stuff actually. Joel Plaskett.
If there was one thing you could change about yourself, what would it be?
Gee, I donât know. (Laughs) Iâm pretty happy. Maybe I wish I could love jogging, but Iâdonât. (Laughs)
Whatâs your most treasured possession?
Probably my guitar. Iâm playing a Stonebridge right now, and I love it. Itâs great to play and everything, but at home Iâve got tucked under my bed a poor, broken Martin (acoustic guitar). Iâbought it when Iâwas going to school doing my education degree in St. Johnâs, and Iâgot 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 donât 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 Iâjust 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 thereâs a third and a fourth and people keep listening. Iâd love to be doing exactly this as long as itâs paying the bills.
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Iâd like to go back to Thailand. I was there in 2003, and we spent a couple of weeks there. Iâd love to go back there and spend a couple of months. Iâd like to do India as well, because Iâve never been there.
Whatâs the best advice you ever received?
âLove what youâre doing.â Thatâs true. Also, I keep telling this story â 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 â you got any good advice for us? He said to drink lots of water, and we were like, âOh yeah, cool.â He said it will keep the bags from under your eyes and out of your room. Thatâs not bad advice. (Laughs)