With their guitarist of eight years, Leot Hanson off the leash and venturing into other projects like his bar in Saskatoon, it is undeniably the unfolding of another forward march for them. They’ve settled into an restless air among that houses them with awards, tour dates alongside John Fogerty and a feature film.
And as expertly represented post-interview, their stapled boogie-rock has become an essential dose of the Canadian summer festival formula, alongside over-priced brews and burgers.
Before they tore the stage apart in their white-brimmed cowboy hats, recently purchased during their stint at the Calgary Stampede, The Sheepdogs took a few moments to speak with us about festival etiquette, their decade together and their upcoming record, a follow-up to 2012’s Patrick Carney-produced self-titled LP.
AMBY: At this point, doing so many festivals, is there a certain etiquette that you have down pact?
EWAN: We are like old hands at this. Don’t drink too much until you are done playing. Mosquito repellent is a must at this festival, in particular.
RYAN: Try to shower before you come to a festival! So if you play two days later, you don’t stink too bad.
EWAN: Be prepared to not go number two, while you’re at the site.
AMBY: Is there preparation for days before, like what you eat and ingest?
RYAN: Unless, there is this festival in Saskatchewan that has these outhouses and by the end of the weekend it is brimming over the top. So you definitely don’t want to go at that point of the weekend either. Well timed number twos are very important.
AMBY: Have you learned anything in the difference of being a headliner like tonight versus opening for someone like John Fogerty?
EWAN: Not really, you want to kickass no matter what. Whether you are opening, you a first, in the middle or if you are last. It doesn’t really matter. I’m already getting excited, because we are watching The Strumbellas play and the crowd is juiced up and I can’t wait to go on out and rip it!
AMBY: What do you do when a crowd is not juiced up?
EWAN: We rip it anyway!
RYAN: We get them juiced.
EWAN: Yeah. I find that man that is not getting off and I get him off!
COLTON: Do you have to be sad to write a sad song?
EWAN: (LAUGHS) No. You fake that shit. (LAUGHS)
COLTON: Marking ten years now, since The Sheepdogs formed, was there a moment when it was more difficult to get into that pre-show headspace? A doubt of yourselves?
EWAN: There were plenty of shows because you’re jet lagged and you’re tired, fourteen days on the road.
RYAN: Or you drove like thirty hours from Saskatchewan to something in Ontario, then you show up and there are zero people there. There’s many times and even now there are certain things that are crappy that kind of get you down and a lot of things that can be crappy, but it all comes back to being stoked about what you’re doing and believing in what you are doing. We definitely had moments where we were pretty down on if this is even going to work, but it always seemed to have moments where you have that show and there might have been only twenty people there but they were so stoked on what you were doing.
AMBY: Do you remember a specific moment when it felt like it was the end?
RYAN: Everytime that we get home from a tour and we have zero dollars, that is pretty hard to conceive how we are going to bring ourselves out of debt and as well as continue doing what we’re doing. We’re very fortunate with things happening how they did for us.
AMBY: Has your thoughts toward music and playing music changed in the past ten years?
EWAN: I think, learning a few tricks and we’re always trying to get better with whatever the show is and seeing how other bands work up a crowd and learning little things. Simple as, when we practice, finding a little weak point in our set and zeroing into it and turning it into a strength. Just real geeky, attention to detail kind of stuff. It is all important. We are trying to entertain whoever comes to see us play.
AMBY: This weekend, with the various performers, you can see different techniques on display. Do you think that drugs and alcohol are key components?
EWAN: No. They can be. It’s probably different for everybody. I think most people that I have encountered are either high on acid or MDMA or mostly unintelligables, so I probably wouldn’t count on them to write music. It’s different for everybody, but I think that you gotta keep relatively steady when you’re playing. I don’t think, at least us, we can’t go up there wacked out of our gourd and perform.
RYAN: There’s a very fine line between being messed up and having a good time and being messed up and having a good time sounding absolutely awful. So it is better to play it safe. We’ve always taken it very seriously. Everyone has that show where they probably had a little too much to drink, but you don’t want to get into that territory where you’re falling over on stage or whatnot.
AMBY: Similarly, on the tip of another trend this weekend, do you feel that you have to have good beards to be a good performer these days?
EWAN: Yeah, beards are mainstream now. That’s sweet, I guess. I don’t pay attention to what is hip anyways, so I’m not too worried about it. I just wear it so people don’t have to see as much of my giant moon face. I’m doing a favour, it’s a favour to the people out there.
AMBY: Once you’re done with the festivals and the road, how do you escape that mindset to thinking about a record? Or is it an overflowing circle?
EWAN: It is a circle, but we need time to rehearse and things like that too. Fortunately a summer festival season has shows on the weekend and the weeks are downtime so there is time to chill are kind of get stuff ready.
AMBY: Anything new that you are playing around with now?
EWAN: Yeah man, there are a couple of tunes that we are playing tonight. We are always writing stuff and getting stuff ready. We’re going to be recording in September, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.
AMBY: Are you all of the mentality that you could create that perfect record, bury it away for nobody to hear and still feel creatively satisfied?
EWAN: Yeah. I think so. We are kind of formulating a plan for this next record that is going to be the most personally hands on thing that we have done in a while. We are feeling very optimistic. We are going to go up, find some sort of secluded place in Canada somewhere and just make it ourselves.
AMBY: Somewhere further from home?
EWAN: Yeah, we’re working it out still. Something a little further from a city so there is not as much distraction, it’s all about focusing in on getting good performances. The songs are pretty much together.
AMBY: Is it about trying to escape and find a new sound?
EWAN: I don’t think so, it’s not about trying to find a certain sound. It’s mostly about perfecting a sound that you want. We are always working on it, trying to get the best tones and best arrangements and best songs and basically get better at that stuff.
AMBY: How do you know when that’s it, that’s good, this is the next chapter and we’re ready for the next album? I’m sure there are a dozen songs in that grey in-between area.
EWAN: It’s being very discerning and very critical, very critical and judgemental and it negatively effects my life in a lot of ways, but it also means that I’m pretty good at cutting the waste and keeping the good stuff. Trying to keep the wheat and cutting away the chaff or something like that, I was trying to think of a Saskatchewan reference there. Is that right?
[BRIEF INTERRUPTION FOR A PHOTO WITH A FAN]
AMBY: Do you guys find yourselves now, walking down the streets and you cannot separate yourselves from recognition in certain areas?
EWAN: A small amount. We are somewhat recognizable, but we are like C+ level Canadian celebrities.
RYAN: It gets worse if we are walking around together. We’re all just walking slow motion down the streets, that usually tips people off.
EWAN: If we are all together playing music on a stage, people really recognize us. I don’t know!
AMBY: Just one last thing, so you can get back to enjoying The Strumbellas – what are the three essential summer songs or summer albums?
EWAN: I love, it’s a real obvious one, but I love ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime’ by Sly & The Family Stone.
RYAN: ‘Green River’ by Creedence! It’s a great summer album.
EWAN: Those two and –
RANDOM FAN: Do you guys know where I can find a washroom?
EWAN: Just over there.
RANDOM FAN: That one is locked.
AMBY: Go around the audience and there are a bunch.
RANDOM FAN: Thanks guys!
RYAN: I hope that makes it in! (LAUGHS)
EWAN: That guy is definitely on MDMA or something. Oh, Queens of the Stone Age, ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’! It’s so badass and I love the explanation, Josh Homme says he was like walking his ass home after a crazy party, super hot and hungover and I was like, I know that feeling man!
AMBY: Just a grocery list of the night before.
EWAN: Yeah. Nicotine. Valium. Vicodin. Marijuana. Etcetera…
AMBY: Similar to that, was there a moment that specifically tipped you off for the new album’s concept of getting away?
EWAN: It’s not like a stylistic thing, it’s just good or bad. When songs come down the pipeline, is it good enough? You sort of have a template of ten to fourteen songs and then you have the top tier and when something better comes along, you bump the lower one out. Real pragmatic about it. What is the best? Put the best stuff out to the people and keep the crap secret.
Thank you The Sheepdogs, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Colton Eddy | @coltondaniel