These are crazy times for the Sheepdogs. The Saskatoon rock band has gone from relative obscurity to finalists in a contest to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
“It’s unexpected and all the cool stuff and response from people has been great,” said the band’s bassist Ryan Gullen. “Its given us more opportunities to get our music out to lots of people.”
When I spoke to Gullen he was eating lunch in the conference room at the Rolling Stone offices in New York City. They had just played a show in the city and were now meeting with the magazine’s brass before heading out west to headline the first night of the Revelstoke Music Festival this Friday in Centennial Park.
It would be fitting for the Sheepdogs to make it into the pages of Rolling Stone. Their sound is firmly rooted in late-60s/early-70s rock and roll bands like CCR, The Band, Big Brother and the Holding Company and others of their ilk – the music that was all the rage when Rolling Stone magazine was started.
“We were just walking by the cover wall and to see all the people who have been on the cover, it would be pretty wild to have our picture up there too,” said Gullen. “We got to see the original issue of Rolling Stone. Definitely all the bands we really like are in that magazine. We’re definitely from the same area of time.”
Their look – shaggy hair and thick beards – is also rooted in the late-60s. For the Choose the Cover contest they created a mock ‘attack’ ad that made fun of their contest rivals for their lack of beards and anti-beard comments. The other finalist is Lelia Broussard, who, of course, is beardless.
I asked Gullen why he thought their music resonated with fans today. He replied that people were craving that old music.
“Harmony and melody and groove and things like that that are maybe a little bit distant in modern music,” he said. “It’s really great music that people really like and people have been enjoying it.”
The Sheepdogs formed about seven years ago in Saskatoon out of a joint love for classic rock. Since then they’ve released three records independently and have toured all over Canada and the United States, trying to make a name for themselves, which is no easy task coming from such a relatively remote city with few music industry insiders.
Just making the finals of the contest has been a boon to the band. They recently performed in front of thousands of people at the massive Bonnarroo music festival. Still, they haven’t quit their day jobs, though they have all been given extended leaves of absence.
Gullen, who works supporting people with disabilities when he’s not on the road, said the band’s dream has always been to make their living from their music and now they’re finally getting close to achieving that.
“We’re getting very close right now,” he said. “It gets closer every day, the more things we do and the more people that become aware of us. That’s what we all want and why we work so hard at this.”
If they win the contest (voting closes July 1 and they find out the result a month later) they will be the first unsigned band to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and they will get a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
This summer the Sheepdogs will be hitting up numerous small town and big city music festivals Friday’s show will be the Sheepdogs first performance in Revelstoke. Their only other experience here is when their van broke down while they were on their way through.
“We had lunch and somebody helped us fix our van for free. It was awesome,” said Gullen.
Seeing as how this will be their first show here, I asked him what Revelstoke should expect from their performance.
“We try to make it as fun as possible,” he said. “I’m not talking about crazy antics but we bring guitars and good harmonies. Soul rock n’ roll. It’s good times.”
The Sheepdogs are scheduled to hit the stage at the Revelstoke Music Festival Friday at 11:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 for the night or $30 for the weekend.