INTERVIEW: The Sheepdogs

Hailing from the Canadian city of Saskatoon, the guys in THE SHEEPDOGS have experienced their fair share of limelight since setting out away from home to pursue their dreams as musicians. But before their Rolling Stone magazine cover and television appearances, they were an ordinary band who started like every other group. While on the road on the U.S. West Coast, bassist Ryan Gullen opened up a bit about the group’s unforgettable summer, their plans for a new album in 2012 and how — no matter what — they will always be a rock n’ roll band.

Hey Ryan, where are you guys right now?

We’re driving between San Francisco and Portland at the moment.
Can you see the Pacific?

We’re just a couple of hours out of Portland, where we’re playing tonight, so we’re a little bit more inland. We’re kind of busting it right now, so we couldn’t do the scenic route this time around.
You guys took part in this year’s Petty Fest, October 5th and 6th in New York – what was it like there?

It was actually one of the craziest weekends of my life. Norah Jones was playing, Patrick Carney from The Black Keys and Fab Moretti from The Strokes were there, guys from The Mooney Suzuki, and Justin Long — the guy from the Mac ads — was there. It was really a big mixture of people. It was almost like the Last Waltz for Tom Petty.

It was one night at the Bowery Ballroom and one night at The Music Hall at Williamsburg, about 600 people each night. It was something they’ve really built up over the years and it sold out so quickly. The whole audience was singing along to every song and having a good time.
What song did you guys perform?

We played “Breakdown” both nights which is probably one of my favourite Petty songs, so we were happy we got to play that. The other thing is, because we were on the road, we didn’t have a lot of time to work out a song, so we were lucky that it was a song that was relatively simple for us to figure out. It was a really good one and it went over really, really well.
What was it like being a rock band in Saskatoon in your early days?

A lot of time was spent in Saskatoon playing shows, whether it was writing or honing our live skills. Saskatoon is a really good place to come out of as a band in the sense that it has a really supportive music community. It’s a really good incubator for bands to develop their skills. In order to do something in the music industry you basically have to travel outside of Saskatoon, so it makes it a little bit tricky and it can be a challenge. You’re not right where everything is going on like in Toronto but it’s a good place to come up as a band because it gives you a lot of time to cultivate your sound.

We spent a lot of time travelling and losing money because it’s 30-some hours from Saskatoon to Toronto. We’ve done that drive a million times, but when we were ready to go out and tour we had a lot of playing time under our belts, so we were more comfortable on stage.

It’s not like we’re going to suddenly become fashionistas.
We’re still a rock & roll band..”

During that development time in Saskatoon, did you guys have other commitments like jobs or school?

We basically stopped working at our jobs around the time that we won the Rolling Stone cover – so, less than six months ago. All of us were still working around June of this year. It was getting harder because we were away so much. When we started the band we were in university and then eventually we quit so we could travel. Then we needed jobs that would allow us to travel.

Until very recently we weren’t really making any money in the band. Now there’s a lot more demand for us and it’s let us be able to do this professionally, which is probably the greatest thing that’s come out of the competition and the increase in spotlight for us. We can do this as a full-time job now, as opposed to a full-time job we don’t get paid for.
As a music fan in Saskatoon, were there a lot of long commutes to make it to shows you wanted to see?

It’s getting better. Probably five or six years ago, not a lot of bigger tours would go through, but now I know there are a lot more people that are pushing to get more music to come through Saskatoon. There’s a bar called Amigos Cantina that brings in a lot of indie stuff, but for a lot of the bigger shows you’d have to commute to Edmonton or Calgary – if that… maybe Vancouver.
And you would sometimes make those trips?

Well, sometimes. Like I said, a lot of our money was just going back to feeding the beast that was The Sheepdogs. We weren’t making as much as we would’ve liked to, but we definitely made trips to go see music. We had a lot of fun just going to see up and coming bands too, seeing what they’re doing and meeting other bands.
You were recently on tour supporting Kings of Leon. Was being out on the road playing arenas a first for you?

That tour was our first time playing arenas. It was a totally new experience. It was a little daunting at first. It was pretty crazy thinking of playing these big stages. We’re a band that feels more comfortable in a club setting, in a tight, sweaty vibe. But we actually felt that after the first show and started feeling, “Hey, this isn’t so bad”.

One of the things about opening for a band is you never really know how things will go; if people will be there. But we felt really comfortable and people were really excited about our stuff, so it wasn’t so bad at all.

But you’ll be going back to your favourite setting – clubs – for your upcoming headlining tour of Canada?

We haven’t really toured too much in Canada since the Rolling Stone stuff so we weren’t too sure where things were at. But yeah we feel a little bit more comfortable doing smaller club stuff, so that’s why we went with that. The response has been unbelievable. A lot of the shows are already sold out. Over half the tour is sold out already, and it sold out very quickly. It’s very cool.
In Halifax, Toronto and Fredericton you’ve sold out two nights each.

We added second nights both in Halifax and Fredericton and those sold out, and we actually had to go to a bigger venue in Moncton. The first Toronto show sold out in like 45 minutes. Hamilton and London sold out very quickly. It’s pretty crazy. We’ve been in the United States for about a month touring, so coming back to Canada and doing this one tour is pretty exciting for us.
Where does the mind of a bass player going during a jam on stage? Do you zone out and feel the music or are you focused on keeping the beat?

Some of my favourite bass players are people who don’t necessarily just hold it down but who actually add and flush out the sound. So I always try to be conscious of that and I try to at least complement what the other guys are doing. My mind is focused on what they’re doing and seeing what I can add to that to make it better, I guess.
Have you found that some people have treated you differently since you appeared on Project Runway?

I don’t know if they have treated us differently necessarily. We definitely got some comments from people being like, “What’s that all about?” But we just tell them we didn’t really have a choice in the matter and we had to just kind of roll with it because it went along with the publicity around being on the cover. It’s not like we’re going to suddenly become fashionistas. We’re still a rock and roll band. Their outfits were so off from what we normally wear.

That show is so big in the U.S., we get recognized all the time for it. It definitely was out of our comfort zone, but overall we got to be exposed to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t know about our band. It’s crazy how many people know of the band and are excited about the band because of that. There are a lot of guys whose wives make them watch it. We got all these emails from guys who told us, “Man, I did not expect to find my new favourite band watching that stupid Project Runway show!”

But they made us feel really comfortable – and originally we were not going to perform on the show. That was our idea. They were really excited about it and it was cool because we were the first band to ever do that on that show.
After completing your tours in the US and Canada, what’s next?

Our last show is December 20 and then we get a week off for Christmas. Then we’ve got a New Years Eve show and after we’ll be going into the studio — on January 2 by the sounds of things. We’re just going to keep rolling and put out a new album. We have a lot of stuff we’ve been working on and want to spend some time to really focus on that.

Being put into the spotlight is cool, but we’re not changing anything we’re doing in the sense that we just want to record music, put it out, tour and repeat.

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