The Sheepdogs Get Back To Basics

What a whirlwind couple of years it has been for Saskatoon band the Sheepdogs. Formed in 2006, the group has gone from relative obscurity, endlessly touring Canada, to becoming the first independent band to grace the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in August 2011.

Earlier this year, the classic-rock influenced band walked away from the Juno Awards with a total of three trophies. A little over two months ago, the group’s self-titled major label debut record landed in the number one position.

In their second appearance in Metro Moncton in the last 12 months, the Sheepdogs perform at the iRock, at 415 Elmwood Dr., tonight. Doors open at 7 p.m.

When The Times & Transcript caught up with Sheepdogs bassist Ryan Gullen last week, Gullen was somewhere that was rather unfamiliar to him — home in Saskatoon.

“We have been on the road for probably 11 months of the past year so this is actually the first time that we have been home in a while,” Gullen says. “It’s always nice to come home, though. For where we are at in our career right now, it makes the most sense to stay in Saskatoon as opposed to picking up and moving to Toronto or another big city.”

Gullen admits some may feel as though the stakes have never been higher for he and bandmates Sam Corbett, Leot Hanson and Ewan Currie. If landing on the cover of Rolling Stone could be equated to the band getting their hands on a potential million-dollar lottery ticket, their newest record is simply an additional shot at the big prize. In the music business, nothing is guaranteed.

“This record is really our first true introduction to audiences in the United States. We had our last record distributed in the States but there are still a lot of folks that haven’t heard our music. I think we did feel some pressure in regards to wanting to paint an accurate picture of what the band is about.”

To help bring their vision to life, the Sheepdogs enlisted Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney to produce their latest record after having met him at a Tom Petty Tribute last October.

“We had met Patrick one time prior to the MuchMusic Video Awards last year,” Gullen says. “Much to our delight, he was strangely interested in what we were doing next so we suggested that he come produce the record. It was in the time leading up to the release of (the Black Keys most recent record) El Camino and as such, he didn’t believe that he would be able to dedicate the necessary time to the project so he wished us well.

“Around the end of November last year, we sent him a somewhat random text message asking him if he’d reconsider producing the album and he agreed to do it. It was as simple as that.”

Rather than trying to make the Sheepdogs something they aren’t, Gullen says Carney’s approach to making their record was quite similar to how the Black Keys seem to approach the making of their albums.

“I think there is something to be said about getting back to the basics of rock. There is some bliss and real simplicity to it. Patrick is an incredibly smart guy when it comes to music and composing and arranging songs. He was great at contributing ideas on how we coloured the songs. He has this uncanny ability to get to the juiciest part of the song and really want to emphasize that.

“All in all, however, making this record was a very fast process. Patrick was limited in the amount of time he had free so that was in the back of our minds and I think made us go in and work harder. We weren’t afforded the opportunity to second-guess a lot of what we were doing and I think the record is stronger for it.”

Having just wrapped up a 42-date tour of the United States, Gullen anticipates more American touring to follow in the new year, while touring Europe and Australia are also possibilities. As far as the Sheepdogs are concerned, 2013 is going to be all about getting their music to as many ears as humanly possible.

In addition to touring, Gullen says he will not be surprised if the band heads back into the studio in the new year and prepares something new to be released, whether it is a full-length record or EP. Those specifics remain to be seen.

Asked if the group worries about possibly having too much material available for audiences, Gullen says the group looks to the Black Keys as a business model.

“The Black Keys were still riding high off of their Brothers record when they released El Camino last December. With so much new music these days, people’s attention spans are just getting shorter so we believe that with us trying to build a fan base and build our name, the more reasons that we can give people to be excited about the band, the better.”

Article published in November 23, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript