Sheepdogs ride sudden wave of fame

It’s funny how some of the biggest “overnight successes” in music have been toiling away for years, unbeknownst to many. Take for example, Saskatchewan band The Sheepdogs. While the group might forever be known as the first unsigned band to land on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine this past August, the boys are actually three full-length records and one EP into their career.

Boasting a sound that could be described as classic rock at its finest (think Allman Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival jamming together), The Sheepdogs are a breath of fresh, retro-influenced air in a world dominated by one-hit wonders and shallow pop music.

Although The Sheepdogs world is irrevocably changed for the best now, Sheepdogs bassist Ryan Gullen recalls that their outlook and future as a band didn’t always look so rosy leading up to their historic Rolling Stone cover.

“We were playing together and touring for approximately seven years before the Rolling Stone contest,” Gullen says. “We were touring all the time and were really only seeing small results from the work we were putting in. We were very passionate about what we were doing and while things were rolling along pretty nicely, we really didn’t know how much longer we were going to be able to do tour and hold down day jobs.

“We were told for years that things would never happen for us because our music didn’t fit the mould of what radio was playing. We didn’t want to change the style of music we were playing to suit success so it was actually getting to be kind of discouraging.”

This past August however, the band’s fortune changed for the best when more than a million people voted to put The Sheepdogs onto the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. In the few months since their win, The Sheepdogs have supported Kings of Leon, while also undertaking a month-long tour of the United States in addition to headlining sold out shows all across Canada.

The band performs at the Oxygen on Westmorland Street in Moncton tonight. The show was originally scheduled to take place at Tide & Boar Gastropub, but demand was so high, the show was moved to the much larger O2.

Seeing the tide change from where they were at this time last year is still a little surreal as far as Gullen and his band mates Ewan Currie, Sam Corbett and Leot Hanson are concerned.

“In one respect, we haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about it. What we find really blows our minds is being recognized by people both young and old in places like shopping malls. It is a little strange for us,” Gullen laughs.

While it might be strange to Gullen and the remainder of The Sheepdogs to have so much attention focused upon them after toughing it out for seven years, it is relatively easy to see why so many people selected them to grace the Rolling Stone cover.

Despite being a “new” band, the group’s style of music has the ability to seem familiar, even on first listen.

“I think that part of our appeal lies in the fact that our sound is familiar yet is still new to people. I don’t feel like it is really a stretch for people to understand us. People hear us and instantly think we are an old band but in fact, we are still rather new.

“When it comes to writing songs, we put elements of what we love about old music into what we do. Things like harmony and melody and songs that make you feel good at the end of the day.

“Every band is influenced by another group and our influences really excite us and make us want to share that with others,” Gullen says.

Gullen will be the first to admit that while pop music is far from dead, he hopes that rock and roll will see more of a revival in years to come. Despite the success that has come their way in the past few months, Gullen is far too humble to claim that his band is responsible for re-introducing rock and roll to the masses.

Instead, he insists that The Sheepdogs are just happy to be invited to the party.

“A few years ago, you had bands like Jet and The White Stripes and they had a lot of people saying that it was going to be a rock and roll revival,” he says.

“It never really happened though and it wasn’t really anyone’s fault that it didn’t happen. I think it would be cool to have a rock and roll resurgence though. Rock and roll is something that will never go away after all; it is always going to be around.”

Article published in December 2, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript