[Q&A] Sheepdogs’ bassist Ryan Gullen talks to The Mark about selling out shows, his passion for playing intimate venues, and the band’s encounter with two musical heroes.
The Mark caught up with The Sheepdogs’ bassist Ryan Gullen in Ottawa on Dec. 6 as the band continued along a Canadian tour that takes them to two sold-out shows at Lee’s Palace in Toronto this Friday and Saturday, the 9th and 10th of December. You can visit The Sheepdogs website and check out more touring information here.
So how has the tour been going so far?
It’s been great, all of the shows have been sold out and people are pretty excited, so no complaints whatsoever, man. We haven’t really toured Canada properly in the last six or seven months. We’ve played festivals and dates here and there, and we’ve been down in the States touring a lot, so it’s nice to come back and do Canada properly.
You were supposed to play a small venue in Hamilton that sold out so quickly that you ended up being moved to the Copps Coliseum. It seems you’ve been selling out a lot of shows on this tour.
Yeah, actually, we had to add second nights in Fredericton and Halifax as well. We got moved from about a 200-person venue to an 800-person venue in Moncton, and both sold out in a matter of – well, the first one sold out in like an hour and the second … sold out in a day and a half. It’s pretty crazy for us. I mean, when we decided to go on this tour we didn’t want to go too, too big as far as venues go, and tried to go and play smaller rooms … but response has been overwhelming. People have been going pretty crazy about getting tickets; we get lots of emails and stuff from people saying we should move to bigger venues, and as much as we’d like to continue moving the venue you can only do that so many times. It’s hard, you wish you could do like five nights in the smaller club. I think we’re still a band that likes to play small venues. We like to play intimate things.
What sort of impact has this explosive success had on the group, and how are you all coping with this sudden demand?
It’s been great. Before this year basically happened, we had been a band for a really long time, like seven years, and things weren’t in dire straits, but we were wondering how much longer we could all do this and if this was actually a feasible thing we could do as a job. We were working jobs and touring and doing whatever. Now it’s pretty great because we’re able to do this full time, and do this comfortably as a job, at least for the foreseeable future. And that is just awesome for us, because this is something we’re very passionate about and have been passionate about.
Obviously slugging it out for seven years with some successes, but more challenges and failures than successes, to have that turn around so quickly has really lifted our spirits and shown us that [because of] the music we are so passionate about and felt good about, people are reciprocating and are equally excited about it. That’s something that means a lot to us and as a result that’s why we want to continue doing it. If you would have asked me at this time last year if we would have been on the cover of Rolling Stone, had a gold record and played all over the world [with] sold-out shows in the States and in Canada, I wouldn’t have believed you. In a year that’s a pretty big change for us, for sure.
In spite of all the changes that have happened in your career since you wrote “Learn & Burn,”can we expect the same sort of classic-rock style on the next album?
We’re writing it right now and we’ll continue to write in January as we go into the studio, and I think that nothing’s going to change drastically by any means. The whole idea for us has been, we’re making a new album not to drastically change things but to enhance things, in a sense. Songwriters and musicians are always challenging themselves to do something bigger and better and I think that when it comes to making our next album it’s not going to be a great departure from our last but a natural progression into being stronger players and stronger writers, however that’s going to evolve. You know, just trying to make it better than our last and not different than our last in some aspects.
Have you met any of your personal heroes while you were on the road this year?
Absolutely, yeah man. We played with John Fogerty this summer at Festival d’été in Quebec City, which was very cool, but probably the coolest one we got to do was one day [while] we were at the Rolling Stone head office – doing an interview or pictures, or I don’t know, we spent so much time there this summer – they were like, “Oh, well Graham and David are coming in,” to somebody, and we were like, “Graham and David?” and realized it was Graham Nash and David Crosby, who obviously are huge heroes of ours. And they were like, “Oh yeah, they’re coming in, do you want to meet them?” and we were like, “Oh my God yes, that would be awesome.” And so we got to meet with them and visit with them for about 15 or 20 minutes and I mean, that was pretty crazy.
It was pretty funny because they found out we were from Saskatoon and we started talking about Joni Mitchell. Both of them had been romantically involved with Joni Mitchell 40 years ago, and you could tell there was still [something there], especially Graham Nash. I mean, Graham Nash wrote that album “Songs for Beginners” and so much of that album is about Joni Mitchell, as far as I understand, and he obviously was pretty heartbroken when they broke up. It’s so funny because he [said] “Oh, Joni Mitchell was from Saskatoon,” and Ewan (Currie, lead singer of the Sheepdogs) was like, “Yeah, she’s the best,” and Graham Nash was like, “No Shit,” and he turned around and walked out of the room. Anyways, it was so funny because you could tell there were still some hard feelings there. And David Crosby told us that falling in love with Joni Mitchell was like falling into a cement mixer. It was a pretty great exchange just hanging out and visiting with those guys. If we were to say some of the people we could meet they would be up there with some of our biggest heroes.
You played at a lot of music festivals last summer; are you planning on performing at more festivals this coming summer as well?
Absolutely. We did so many festivals this summer, and music festivals are [one of] our favorite things to play. As a band coming up we were still – especially in the States – trying to get people to notice us. It’s the greatest place for people to discover your music, because you’ve got music fans that are going just to experience an entire weekend or an entire day, or whatever, of music. It’s very rare that you play at a bar and there’s a bunch of people that come to that bar just to discover music. Usually they’re going just to see a headlining band, [but] the thing that’s great about festivals is that you can expose your music to people in a very honest kind of way. So we love doing music festivals, and we’re going to be doing a ton; we have [already] been booking them for the last few months.
What can we expect from the upcoming shows in Toronto?
Toronto’s kind of a second home to us. We have a lot of friends there, and also people that have been really faithful in supporting our band for many years – not just last year – so we’re going to bring it. I don’t know if I can say anything, but we might do something a little special we’re saving for the Toronto shows. Depending on the night, we’re going to switch it up a little bit too and do a different show both nights. It keeps it interesting for us, and we’re going to try and mix songs and mix up what we do on both nights just to keep it exciting.
This interview was condensed and edited for publication.
Photos courtesy of Reuters and Listen Harder Music Publicity.