The Sheepdogs: model of a true rock and roll band
Despite what Dr. Hook says, The Sheepdogs didn’t need “blue-eyed groupies,” “cocaine Katy,” or “all kinds of pills” to land on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Last August, Saskatoon band The Sheepdogs became the first unsigned act to be featured on one of the world’s most recognized magazines.
The small Canadian band accomplished the feat thanks to the help of more than 1.5 million people across the globe who voted in Rolling Stone’s Choose the Cover competition.
“I never thought I would ever be on the cover of Rolling Stone,” confesses bassist Ryan Gullen.
Since fronting the magazine, which is generally confirmation of mainstream success, the Saskatoon quartet is well on its way. With a number-two single on Canadian rock charts and non-stop touring, including a string of opening stints with Kings of Leon, the group have been keeping busy with the extra attention they’ve been receiving.
The Sheepdogs have certainly garnered attention for their old school 70s style neo-psychedelic rock, which stands out among the mass of alternative and mainstream rock dominating radio programming.
Vocalist Ewan Currie, guitarist Leot Hanson, drummer Sam Corbett and Gullen list musical influences that include Derek and the Dominos, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Neil Young, all of which they’ve tried to incorporate into their sound.
“As we progressed into writing songs and performing, we kind of just played the type of music we really liked, which is kind of old 50s, 70s rock ‘n’ roll,” explains Gullen.
“We never really had an intention necessarily to be like an old band by any means—we’re still a modern band.”
The Sheepdogs have maintained their bluesy-rock roots right down to their look, with the band sporting long hair and beards.
“We’d look weird I think, if a rock ‘n’ roll band was wearing New Balance shoes and track pants or [a] tracksuit,” he says laughing.
Despite their vintage look, the boys were featured on an episode of Project Runway.
“We were a little weirded out about it and kind of scared about what the outcome might be,” confesses Gullen.
But don’t think The Sheepdogs appeared on the show on their own accord.
“It kind of went along with the Rolling Stone thing,” he says. “We didn’t really have a choice in the matter.”
Nevertheless, the Saskatchewan boys shot the episode over a span of three days and enjoyed the experience. Coordinating with producers, The
Sheepdogs were able to perform on the show in addition to sporting fashion the contestants designed for them.
“We didn’t have to walk on the runway,” recalls Gullen. “We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, not models.”
The fashion reality show experience brought some unexpected attention to the group. Gullen acknowledges the band garnered major attention from the show and says while the group was touring the US, they not only got recognized every day, but gained a newfound group of fans.
“We get lots of emails from guys being like, ‘My wife makes me watch that show every week and I’m glad I watched this week, cause I found my new favourite band.’”
Though The Sheepdogs have gained commercial success, they still recall the hardships of getting to where they are right now. Coming from a city geographically isolated from the music industry, Gullen admits driving 34 hours straight to Toronto was a regular journey for the band.
But Saskatoon was not a bad place to develop. The band had to work harder but it allowed them time to develop its sound and live show before being in the industry’s spotlight.
“That’s kind of a benefit but also a bit of a detriment in the sense that it resulted in kind of a hard road in ways to becoming a band and getting a name for ourselves.”
Regardless, The Sheepdogs are proud to be from a city and country that “has a really supportive music community.”
“It’s a cool place to be from, because [Canada] does support rock ‘n’ roll a lot.”
Gullen lists artists like Sloan, Joel Plaskett and Sam Roberts as Canadian music successes that have received support.
But he fails to mention the quintessential Canadian band that everyone loves to hate— Nickelback.
Though he will never buy a Nickelback CD or attend a live show, Gullen acknowledges the Hanna, Alberta group had to struggle before they made it big.
“They did have a lot of overnight success but they also had to work really hard at it,” says Gullen. “As another band that had to do that, I can respect that about them.”
The Sheepdogs have proven they stand apart from fellow Canadian groups for simply “making music that we like, with a new twist.”
After quitting their jobs, the band has been busy touring, logging 36,000 kilometres in their van over the past two months—all thanks to Rolling Stone.
“The best thing about it is that it cemented us a career in music, which is something we’ve been working at for years and years,” says Gullen.
“Pretty much anything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong for us, but we kept with it and it paid off.”
The Sheepdogs play The Republik Dec. 18.