It’s been five years since the Sheepdogs rocked their way onto the national stage and quit their day jobs, and they don’t plan on going back anytime soon.
Bassist Ryan Gullen says he doesn’t miss the day-job life the band’s members were familiar with during the years before becoming the first unsigned band to grace the cover of Rolling Stone in 2011. The band accomplished this feat by entering the magazine's "Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star" contest, beating out fifteen other finalist acts as the readers' choice for the cover. In addition to the cover, the Sheepdogs were subsequently signed to Atlantic Records.
“Seeing the world and playing rock-and-roll music with some of your best friends is way better than sitting at a desk,” says Gullen from his apartment in Saskatchewan. “For me, that was always the goal; that was always what I wanted to do. It’s kind of the best job in the world.”
The Sheepdogs have been making rock and roll with a Southern soul since 2006. With influences that range from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Sheepdogs have stayed true to form since they first began playing together all those years ago in Saskatchewan.
Gullen says the band spent years pounding the pavement, playing shows to crowds of twenty or less in small bars and clubs around Canada before finally catching it s bigbreak. “We spent a lot of time being in a band where nobody knew about us,” Gullen says. Rolling Stone changed all of that.
“When you’re playing a festival in Spain and seeing a sea of people singing along to your music and they don’t even really speak English, there’s a pretty drastic difference between that and showing up to a show in Oshawa, Canada, where the venue isn’t even open,” Gullen says.
The band had its share of setbacks on its way to stardom or even stability, Gullen says. Whether it was vans breaking down, crappy clubs or sheer despair, the Sheepdogs managed to keep their heads high and power through to the next gig.
“There’s tons of times when we were having doubts before things really took off for us. We’d been a band for seven years and seen little to no success," he says. "There were always kind of little plateaus we’d reach, where we’d kind of feel the show grow or go back to a city and see more people there, or you’d meet people who discovered you. The biggest thing was always [that] everywhere we played, even if it was like three people in some random bar in the middle of nowhere, people always really dug it.”
Ten years later, the Sheepdogs are coming off their fifth album and playing festivals and venues with crowds chanting the lyrics to their familiar but memorable brand of classic rock and roll. Gullen says the band only set out to play music that they like to listen to from the get-go and hasn’t strayed from its rock roots. “For the most part, we are very rooted in our record collection,” Gullen says. “We see our sound being kind of a take on old bands. It’s not like we’re trying to be an old band, but we’re taking some of their sensibilities, like melody, harmony and groove, and listening to how they made a vibe.”
The Sheepdogs' influences can be heard in their perfectly synced harmonies and tight guitar melodies. Their songs range from Zeppelin-esque romps to Lynyrd Skynyrd anthems, with vocal harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Gullen says the Southern influence for many of their songs comes, surprisingly, from their home in Saskatoon. Though thousands of miles separate the Sheepdogs from the United States’ South, Gullen says the feeling is similar.
“Saskatchewan is kind of like your South except it has really cold winters,” Gullen jokes. “There’s farmland, kind of wide-open spaces; it’s not overly populated...The music from the South speaks to us in a way because we very much come from, like, the south of Canada.”
If you missed the Sheepdogs at the Larimer Lounge last night, you can catch them at the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs tonight, Thursday, July 7, with Reno Divorce, and at the Ride Festival in Telluride on July 8.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.