A note to aspiring musicians everywhere: Newfoundland’s Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case are doing it right.
With the public’s fascination with “making it big” via flavour of the moment televised reality shows apparently waning, the age-old practice of touring is again the best road to success.
From the time their debut album Honey For Bees was released in 2010, the band was lauded for a melodic sound that embraced folk, pop and country music. Blame it on new group naïveté if you wish but what followed was a dizzying tour schedule that took Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case all over Canada, earning them a devoted audience in the process.
Things really ramped up for the band last year but in an almost accidental kind of way. While the group was in the studio making its sophomore record The Sun In Your Eyes, CBC Radio launched a national competition seeking the best new Canadian act.
Although they were initially hesitant to throw their name in the hat, the group submitted their song “Thick As Thieves” for contest consideration and then promptly got back to work on the record.
As the vote-driven contest progressed, Sherman and the group found themselves surviving each round of potential elimination. When all was said and done, the group was crowned the winners of the Searchlight competition, beating out more than 3,000 other music acts from across the country.
“The support that we received from the people in our home province was just astounding,” Sherman says. “I think that because we come from a small town, we had a lot of people rooting for the underdog.”
Earlier this fall, Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case found themselves on the winning end of a pair of Music Newfoundland Labrador Awards, taking home the top prizes for Pop/Rock Recording of the Year and SOCAN Songwriter of the Year.
Sherman says the awards are one of the many means by which the band feels validated. Understanding they are constantly reaching new audiences – just don’t expect their numerous award wins to be going to their heads.
“Regardless of winning the CBC Seachlight contest and the Music Newfoundland and Labrador Awards, you have to keep pressing forward as a band. It’s nice to stop for a moment and take in the inspiration that might come from those wins (but) you can’t base your career on award wins alone. You have to get out there and work to win people over night after night, and strive to make connections with those people who come to see you.”
Sherman and his group are well acquainted with “getting out there,” even when there is a rather steep cost before they even hit their first stage. The cost of ferrying the band and their vehicle to the mainland comes in just under $1,000 each time. But the band simply sees that as incentive to work hard while they are on tour and to ensure that they perform as often as possible.
“We are rather fortunate to have met a lot of great people in our travels. There is nothing else we would rather be doing. All any band can really do is get out there and tour and get back to those places where you have a good show or two. Word of mouth between fans and amongst the network of venues in any given region proves to be invaluable,” Sherman says.
Although their sophomore album just recently passed its first anniversary, Sherman insists there is much work still to be done to spread their musical gospel.
Noting that the group wants to bolster its online presence, Sherman anticipates they will spend some time in the near future huddled in front of a video camera, creating a collection of still to be determined music videos. Lamenting the fact the group has not extensively focused on this area, Sherman also acknowledges that YouTube and other video formats are simply another piece of the much larger puzzle.
“These days, anybody can put out a single and not necessarily have an album to go along it with,” he says. “We’ve spent a lot of time creating music and being on the road playing music and so some of the online stuff has inadvertently taken a back seat.
“There is no doubt that having an online presence is essential but so is getting out there and shaking hands and talking directly to the people who like the music. It is so important for us to build a strong foundation as a band. We have never really concerned ourselves with online numbers and how many people see a post or whatnot. We are big believers that engagement from the online community happens organically. We are just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
What: Sherman Downey & The Ambiguous Case
When: Saturday, Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Riverview Arts Centre, 400 Whitepine Rd., Riverview
TICKETS are $20. Advance tickets are available at Jean Coutu (438 Coverdale Rd., Riverview), Frank’s Music (245 Carson Dr., Moncton) and Sobeys (1160 Findlay Blvd., Riverview)