This past September, Canadian classic rock-inspired band The Sheepdogs took the stage of Toronto’s Boots & Bourbon Saloon just two weeks before the release of their highly anticipated record Future Nostalgia. The intimate choice of venue proved to be wise on various fronts.
Not only did the venue afford fans the opportunity to get up close and personal with the acclaimed group, the captive audience proved to be the ideal crowd on which the band could perform a host of songs from their then-forthcoming new record.
Sheepdogs bassist Ryan Gullen says that in many ways, that Boots & Bourbon performance served as a full circle kind of moment.
“We were always that kind of band that would road-test songs before we went in and recorded them. Even though Future Nostalgia was done at the time of that Toronto show, it was still exciting to be on stage to play some new songs and see how people react to them. That was the kind of thing that it seemed we hadn’t done for a long time,” he says.
For those not familiar with The Sheepdogs story, the band has proven to be a shining example of staying true to what you believe.
After having released a trio of independent efforts, the Saskatchewan natives struck gold in 2011 when they became the first unsigned band to ever grace the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. A major-label record deal, international tours, three #1 singles at radio, and a collection of awards soon followed. By the end of 2013, The Sheepdogs had sold well more than 150,000 records in Canada alone.
It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for the band since. In mid-2014, founding member Leot Hanson exited the group’s lineup, leading some to falsely proclaim The Sheepdogs would surely fizzle out without the departed guitarist to guide them.
Although the group wisely refused to directly engage in such a debate, Gullen says the radical opinions of a vocal minority of fans still took the group by surprise.
“The challenge of being in a band is that it is a lot like a marriage in a lot of ways. We had a lot of great years playing with Leot, and, understandably, there were a lot of people that got attached to that specific lineup of the group. At the end of the day, though, it was only natural for us to want to continue making music together after Leot’s departure, which has brought us to where we are today.”
As if that wasn’t quite enough for the group to contend with, the band also severed ties with their American record label, a deal that the group secured upon landing the Rolling Stone cover.
So if the approximate three-year wait between their 2012 self-titled effort and Future Nostalgia seemed long from a fan’s point of view, Gullen admits that time was ticking equally slowly for the band behind the scenes.
“We’ve never been shy about changing things up in the past when they haven’t been working, and, when it came down to it, things just weren’t working with the American arm of our record label, which we can somewhat appreciate on a certain level. Rock music isn’t always an easy sell these days, so it was important to us that we take the time to ensure we had the right team on board when it came to releasing Future Nostalgia.”
That intuition served the group well. Not only did “Downtown,” the first single from the group’s newest record, rest comfortably within the Top 5 singles at Canadian rock radio for more than two months, the band’s follow-up single “I’m Gonna Be Myself” quickly made its way into the Top 10.
If not already obvious, The Sheepdogs career has been about perseverance. While the group looks forward to returning to Moncton on Friday night to perform at Casino New Brunswick – the group’s biggest Moncton show to date – they also fondly recall a time in the not too distant past that they performed in the intimate confines of Moncton’s Plan b Lounge on St. George St.
The numerous small victories that the group has earned along the way are not only deserved, they are also serving to help paint the bigger picture for the group.
As far as Gullen is concerned, the small victories suit the band just fine.
“For so many years, we were told that the kind of music we play would never be popular, and we would never get on the radio. In our eyes though, rock and roll has always had a place in music history. It’s the music that we love, but that we also love to play. None of us are part of this band anticipating scoring massive radio hits or buying mansions and fancy cars. It’s about us being able to sustain what we love to do, which is play music for people all over the world,” Gullen says.
“We are the kind of band that is in it for the long haul. The fact that we are able to pull off a 35-date Canadian tour that brings us from one side of the country to the other is, in our eyes, a great measure of success.”
What: The Sheepdogs with special guests Beat Cops
When: Friday March 18, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $39.99 plus taxes and service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone 1-866-943-8849 and online at www.casinonb.ca