We talked to the Sheepdogs' bassist, Ryan Gullen, about playing to crowds again, the band's new EP and which dog currently has the sheepiest hair.
By Cory Schachtel | August 19, 2021
Catch The Sheepdogs headlining the Together Again festival August 20 – tickets still available!
Looking through your schedule over the last year or so, it looks like you were able to play semi-regularly, at least compared to most bands. But how did you handle the layoff?
I mean, we played a bit. We did a couple of drive-in shows. But compared to before, we did maybe four or five shows last year — normally we would do 150, or even 200 sometimes, so it was a big difference. And obviously, doing a drive-in show is very different than doing a club show or a summer festival. So we’re really thankful this summer to play more, and it’s been interesting to see some things getting back to normal, and how the different provinces are handling it.
Has it been tough to get your band-stamina back up to speed after such a long layoff, like a pro athlete coming into training camp?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a stamina thing, it’s more about getting that comfortable rhythm back where you’re sort of feeding off one other, because some of that stuff feels sort of foreign right out of the gate. If you want to make the sports analogy… I’m a big baseball fan, and in spring training, the pitchers are usually dominant and the hitters don’t really get their rhythm and timing right away. It’s quicker for pitchers to get back into rhythm where hitters are still sort of figuring it out because they’ve been off baseball for a couple months.
I think we’re starting that same way where it’s like, we’re definitely not going up there and like just taking huge cuts and missing the ball. But even if it’s a couple songs into the set, we’re still sort of getting back into the feel of it, because as a band, we’ve never had that much time off, ever. And so much of what we do is jamming and interplay — that’s what makes live music so special — and that definitely doesn’t like just happen overnight. But it’s been really fun, too. It’s reinvigorated us because we’re just so happy to be back doing it.
Which is your go-to Christmas movie?
13%Miracle on 34th Street
20%A Nightmare Before Christmas
4%Jingle All the Way
So Together Again has everyone spaced out at tables. It’s odd to see that many empty tables when you walk up, but once the shows start it feels pretty normal for the audience. For the shows you’ve been doing this summer, what’s the view and vibe been like from the stage?
Well, playing to people who are spaced out and sitting at tables is better than playing to people honking their horns after songs. The first show we did this summer was in Regina, where there was a stage facing a hotel, and each balcony was sort of its own private box, so that was pretty good. And the next night we did the Calgary Stampede, which was full capacity and people were packed at the front. We feel comfortable on stage, but it’s definitely a little bizarre, because we’re in the business of getting people together, so we’re always sort of cautiously optimistic about people getting vaccinated and opening things up, but, at the same time, we don’t want to rush it and be the name that’s associated with a super spreader event or something.
That’s why Together Again is great, because it’s a good step in the door for people who are apprehensive. It’s one thing going to the grocery store and maybe not wearing a mask, but being in a packed crowd having your face pressed up against somebody else’s face… it’s gonna be a while before I’m super comfortable myself.
I’ve always felt that your sound and style really screams “great festival band.” Is there something about festivals that you really like that brings out your best?
Totally. I think being Canadian makes you really love festivals because we spend so much time indoors in the winter, especially in Western Canada. I don’t think even the rest of Canada really understands how demoralizing Western Canadian winters can really be, and there’s something magical about the shared experience at festivals, where you see multiple bands you’ve maybe never heard of, and people tend to let their freak flags fly. So when you get those moments in the open air when the weather’s great, and you’re drinking beers, and the band on stage becomes the soundtrack for those moments — to us, we love that environment. That’s where we want to be.
It seems like a great way to expand your audience with people who aren’t familiar with you.
People go to festivals just to enjoy music, and there is a sense of discovery. So we had a lot of that over the years, where maybe they know who we are, but they haven’t seen us live because they normally wouldn’t come see us when we play at a small club in December. But they see us at a festival and get caught up in it, like, “Wow, I wasn’t really sure about you guys but then I saw you play at Festival X and I’ve been a fan ever since,” all just because they checked us out. I think we’ve won a lot of people over like that.
How did the new EP come about?
Well we had the songs, and there was some things that we were going to sort of work out in the studio. We had a full record ready to go [pre-pandemic], but obviously that didn’t happen. So rather than putting out one thing at one time we thought we’d sort of put out music continuously. So we picked six songs that we really liked and thought would go good together, and in a limited time availability, made the EP and called it No Simple Thing.
According to your website you last performed here in February 2018, and you’ve been coming here for a while. Any memories from then or other Edmonton shows?
Yeah because we’re from Saskatoon, Edmonton and Calgary and Winnipeg were sort of our go-to cities initially. But the one that always stands out was in 2011 or 2012, in… what was that old venue called, in West Edmonton Mall?
Yeah, Red’s. If we weren’t the second last show, we were like the third last show before it closed down. And that was like our first big club show tour across Canada. We sold out Red’s and it was a particularly wild show. And I’ll always remember looking out, and there was a big pillar in the middle of the room. And somebody had climbed to the top of it and was hanging off it, and I was like, holy shit. We’ve had lots of fun shows in Edmonton over the years, but to this day, we still talk about the pandemonium of that show and whoever that guy was, wherever he is today.
Now for the most important question: Which member of The Sheepdogs currently has the best hair, facial or otherwise?
Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty partial to my moustache I grew over COVID. I was a beard guy for 15+ years and went moustache for charity, but have been holding onto it and I think it really has grown into its own thing.
If I had to pick someone else, I’d say Jim [guitarist Jimmy Bowskill] has a great thing going on these days. He’s grown his hair out and really come into a good zone, style-wise, lately — not that he was lacking in it before.