Prairie cover premiere

Despite winning a Rolling Stone cover, the Sheepdogs aren’t just an overnight success

All three of the Sheepdog’s full-length albums have appeared on Earshot’s national monthly top 200 chart.
All three of the Sheepdog’s full-length albums have appeared on Earshot’s national monthly top 200 chart.
Credit: 
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Few Saskatchewan bands make the cover of Rolling Stone. The Sheepdogs are an exception.

The band was announced as the winner of Rolling Stone’s Do You Wanna be a Rock and Roll Star contest in August, beating out 15 other unsigned musicians. Their victory marked them as the first unsigned band to be on the magazine’s cover.

“It’s a big honour. I think the strangest thing about it is seeing yourself on the cover when you’re in a grocery store, or at an airport. It’s a very strange feeling,” said bassist Ryan Gullen.

Gullen said he and his bandmates, lead singer and guitarist Ewan Currie, drummer Sam Corbett and guitarist Leot Hanson, started playing together in 2006.

“We went from people who could barely play instruments to writing songs. We toured the country and did it all on our own before the competition,” he said. The Rolling Stone competition was held from February to August and included four rounds of eliminations before a winner was announced. More than 1.5 million votes were cast online. The long process required serious commitment from the band members.

“One morning I woke up at 9 a.m. and I got a call telling me that I needed to be in New York,” he said. “I got up right away, threw my clothes in a bag and was at the airport by noon.

“It was very stressful and you’re thrown into a fire a little bit, but [it’s] well worth it. By the end we were like, ‘Thank god it’s over, now we can just focus on playing music.’”

After the competition, the band was signed to Atlantic Records, performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and opened for Kings of Leon on their Canadian tour. But all this exposure doesn’t guarantee the band’s success.

“The biggest misconception that people have of us is that a lot of people think that we just started playing and are somewhat of an overnight success,” Gullen said. “But that’s not true; we’ve toured all over the country and lost money for six and a half years.” Prior to the Canadian leg of their tour, the Sheepdogs were touring the U.S.

“We’re from Saskatchewan so we’re used to travelling five or six hours one way to play a show,” he said. “When we were in Denver, we stayed in the same hotel because the three shows that we played were 30 minutes from one another.”

The band’s last album, Learn & Burn, was produced independently in 2010. Following their Rolling Stone cover win, the Sheepdogs collaborated with their new record label, Atlantic Records, to produce the EP Five Easy Pieces in four days.

“I think it was a progression between the two,” Gullen said. “One was recorded over a long period of time while the other was trying to capture what we had in a limited amount of time.”

Their feel-good rock ‘n’ roll sound is often compared to likes of the Guess Who and the Libertines.

“We’re a big fan of old rock ‘n’ roll and that’s the kind of music we listen to and the kind of music we end up playing,” he said. “I think it’s hard for people to place us because we’re a little different than modem music and are a little obscure. So we don’t exactly fit into that mould.”

The Sheepdogs play Ale on Dec. 7 at 9 p.m.

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