Interview with Ryan Gullen of The Sheepdogs

Fans of the Sheepdogs can get a behind the scenes look of the band’s rise to fame with The Sheepdogs Have At It, a documentary opening this weekend. The documentary takes a look at the long road the Sheepdogs traveled to get to where they are now, including the Rolling Stone cover contest that launched them into the mainstream. We caught up Ryan Gullen, the bassist of the band from Saskatoon to get his take on the doc, the Rolling Stone cover contest, and more.

What do you think of the finished documentary?

I think it’s really cool. Having a documentary about us is a little strange, but it definitely captures a very cool moment: us coming off being on the cover of Rolling Stone and then what happens afterwards. During that time for me, we were very busy and we didn’t get a chance to take it all in so its interesting to look back at that whole time of our lives. It was a big whirlwind.

Other than that, it’s a little strange to see yourself on a movie screen. We’re used to playing on stage and people watching us, not sitting down and watch ourselves on a screen, so it’s a little bit different.

What’s it like having a documentary crew follow you around?

We were a little apprehensive at first. A lot of stuff involved with Rolling Stone involved cameras being around all the time and it’s definitely not what we were used to. When we were in the studio, we wanted to still be successful and creative in what we were doing and we didn’t want to be thinking  there was a documentary crew around. But  they were very respectful and it wasn’t much of an issue at all.

Is there anything you want the audience to take away from the movie? 

Our band came from years and years of very little success to suddenly being thrust into the spotlight. I think a lot of people assume that a big part of our success has to do with Rolling Stone and a lot people assume it was just us on easy street after that. And I think there’s a bit of a message to show there is a lot of work involved in what we do. And for someone who is interested in our band, it gives you a bit of a light into how we operate and what we do as a band.

The documentary specifically looks at you guys living up to expectations after being on the cover of Rolling Stone. What was that experience like?

We were fortunate that we were a band for a very long time so when we were put in this situation we basically had to be ourselves and just play music and that’s something we did together for a very long time. There was pressure and you definitely felt it at times but in the end we didn’t have very much time to think about it, we just had to go for it. And I think that’s kind of how we’ve always done things and it worked out I guess in our favour.

Was it nerve-racking when the band got closer and closer to winning the contest?

When it was sixteen bands, we figured there was no way in hell we were going to get past that. When we got to eight, we still thought there was still so many bands. But when we got down to the final two, at that point we were like “it’s a 50/50 chance its going to be us. We just have to go in and be ourselves and hustle and I think we can lock this in.”

So it was very nerve-racking but as we progressed I think we got more confident. There was never a moment we thought we won until they finally told us. For a band that was just used to traveling around and playing to people in bars suddenly going to play these big festivals was a definite change of pace for us. But it was definitely worth it obviously and I think we dealt with it well.

The documentary also looks at the process of recording an album vs. performing live. What’s the biggest difference and which do you prefer?

I think one compliments the other. In the studio you’re being creative and you’re focusing on every little bit whereas when you’re playing live you’re performing and playing for other people. You want to make a really good record and make really good songs because it will enhance your live shows. Playing in the studio is satisfying because you’re creating and expressing yourself but playing live is more about getting feedback for those songs. I couldn’t really pick one or the other.

You guys are always being compared to bands from the ’60s and ’70s. Does that bother you when you’re trying to make something new and unique?

No, not at all. A lot of the comparisons are with people we respect so it’s not that bad of a thing. All music has its influences. Everybody looks to other artists for inspiration and looks to other songs for ideas. Being musicians you’re always going to be compared to others. People are going to critique and analyze your music and that’s part of putting your music out there. I don’t think it necessarily bothers us that we’re compared to other musicians because that’s what comes along with the territory.

With all your recent success, have you had a moment where you’ve said “We’ve made it”?

I think that you’re always striving to be bigger and better musicians and I don’t know at what point you can say you’ve made it. I think for us the biggest thing for us was at the end of the summer we were able to quit our jobs and start doing music full time. Before, we would work jobs, then go on tour, then come back and work jobs. Even during the Rolling Stone stuff we were working full time when we were home. For us, we wanted to do this full time and be passionate and put all our focus into it. We were finally able to do that and to see a paycheck come in that’s solely from your music, that’s making it for us.

Also, you make music for yourself and to share with people and when people suddenly decide to really latch on to that and you see people are actually buying your music, that’s a pretty great moment.

The Sheepdogs Have At It opens across Canada on the 21st, playing in Toronto (Younge & Dundas), Saskatoon (the Roxy Theatre), Regina (Rainbow Cinema), Waterloo (The Princess Cinema), Winnipeg (the Globe Theatre , and Ottawa (teh Bytowne). Western Canada dates TBC.
Photo courtesy of GAT Media. 


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