The Sheepdogs will be jamming at a (top secret) backyard in Toronto tonight at what is probably the hippest charity event ever: Servestock. Every summer, to benefit at-risk youth, musicians and celebs perform at a private backyard party, the location of which is only revealed to ticket holders. Alongside Colin Mochrie, The Lemon Bucket Orkestra (think gypsy punk), Lindi Ortega and others, The Sheepdogs will bring CCR-inspired harmonies and beards that would make ZZ Top proud to a Forest Hill pad.
As the first unsigned band to ever grace the cover of Rolling Stone — and after they pulled off a hat-trick at this year’s Junos — checking out these psychedelic classic rockers will surely be worth the $250 ticket price (especially since the proceeds will also go towards helping local kids in the Serve! program).
Herewith, The Sheepdogs’ bassist Ryan Gullen talks recording a DIY album, collaborating with The Black Keys and tonight’s mysterious backyard gig.
Will someone’s backyard be able to hold your sound? Oh, for sure. As of recently, we’ve played pretty much every type of venue and show you can imagine. Definitely no issues with us performing in that kind of atmosphere. And it’s fun to break up the usual kind of shows and do something a bit different.
After getting the cover of Rolling Stone things really started to pick up for you guys. How did that affect the band?
Probably the biggest change was that it really pushed us into the spotlight, in Canada and internationally. We’d been a band for seven years at that point, just touring around and trying to make it as a band. It really allowed us to do a lot more things, whether that was getting music on the radio and getting people to know your band. One of the biggest challenges of any band is getting your music out there. It allowed us to make music and do it as a full-time job, now we’re able to make a living out of this.
Is it challenging to reach a modern audience while staying true to your old school vibe?
I think rock ‘n’ roll, and the elements of rock ‘n’ roll that existed in older music, is still prevalent today and people still love that kind of music. I think a lot of music nowadays has gone away from that. I guess we’re doing something we really like and hope there’s like-minded people like us. I mean, we’re not necessarily trying to be and old school band necessarily, it’s just sort of taking those things that make older music great and bringing those back and making feel-good rock ‘n’ roll music.
Learn & Burn was totally self-produced, right?
Yes it was!
What was that like?
It was in a house in Saskatoon one summer, with two microphones over about a month and a half. At that point we had no money, we were in debt, we wanted to make an album and couldn’t afford to go in a studio. We had no management; we were 100 per cent independent. We decided to hole up in a house I was renting in Saskatoon, like the second floor, and we set up the equipment and made this very do-it-yourself kind of album. It was a really great experience because it gave us a lot of insight. We got to experiment with different things, and we were very limited with what we could do because there were only two microphones. So, the drums — when you go to a studio, they mic the drums with 20 microphones — and we were trying to do it with just two. It was pretty neat to have this success, whether it’s the Juno or whatever, for an album we just made in a house by ourselves.
How are things going in the real studio with The Black Keys?
We actually just finished recording a new album in January that will be coming out in September. After a long year of touring, we went straight to Nashville to work with Pat Carney, the drummer of The Black Keys, who produced the album. That was really cool — we didn’t necessarily go into a high-end studio, we did it, in some ways, similar to the first time. I mean, obviously we had better equipment, but we just kind of fooled around and tried different things. It was a little bit of a different dynamic this time, as well as making an album for a major U.S. record label is — not that it was a compromise — it meant we got to work with someone who we really respect, both musically and on the production side. Pat produced a lot of their first albums and their most recent album, Brothers, him and Dan produced that album. And it was pretty neat to keep our sensibilities about us without getting pushed in a direction we don’t like as well as adding new elements that will enhance our sound.
Any hints on what it will sound like?
It’s not really a departure from our last album. We’re trying to challenge ourselves to create better jobs and adding newer elements that maybe we didn’t have at our disposal based on where we were recording before. It’s a natural progression. You don’t want to make — well, some people do — but you don’t want to go way out with another album, and you don’t want to recreate your last album with your next one. There are different things: we put a sitar on a song and had access to different keyboards. It’s not way out there that people will be like, "Oh, what is this?" and they’re also not going to be like, "This is exactly like their old album." So, it’s kind of riding a line between those two things [laughs].
What can we expect from the live show?
We’re just going to have fun. We’re going to play some covers. You don’t want to take yourself too seriously at this kind of thing. Obviously we’re going to play our best, so we encourage people to come and have a good time and donate to the charity because that’s the reason why we’re doing it.