Sheppard – Answered by George Sheppard
by Matt Thrower
At the time of these questions being put together, your new single Geronimo is about to be released – describe the band’s mood at this exciting time. Any nerves?
We are all very excited! We’ve been very busy for the last year juggling our time between recording our debut album and touring, so for us to be able to finally share some of our new work is really exhilarating. We were all a little bit anxious about what the reactions would be like from our fans as Let Me Down Easy is a tough song to follow, but so far it has been taken very well by the radio audiences and we look forward to it being released on the 21st!
The new song has had some early radio play – what’s the reaction been like?
The reactions from the radio play of Geronimo have been incredible. We have had so much support from commercial radio. They seem to share our eagerness to deliver new Sheppard tunes to our listeners, which is a HUGE leg up for us, and we can’t thank them enough. This release is also very exciting because we get to show off a new side of Sheppard, which will hopefully keep the old fans happy, while at the same time winning over some new ones!
What has life been like for Sheppard since the success of Let Me Down Easy?
Life has been very busy. The success of Let Me Down Easy took us from 2nd gear to 5th gear, so to speak. We have been to some exotic places and played some incredible festivals with some amazing international artists – at the same time, we’ve been in the studio for months now working on the debut album, which is now in it’s final stages – 11 tracks which we’re extremely proud. We can’t wait to share them with everybody.
How long had the band been working together before that song caught on?
Amy and I began as a duo in 2009. It was more of a hobby at that point – something we did for fun, with no real prospect of turning it into a full time career. It wasn’t until 2011 that we really started seeing potential in our songs, at which point we decided to bring one of my Sydney friends, Jay Bovino, up to Brisbane to write with us and play acoustic guitar in the band.
We continued to expand, enlisting the help of lead guitarist Michael Butler and drummer Dean Gordon. Our last addition to the band was our little sister Emma, who learnt how to play bass for the band. Since then we have been experimenting and creating new sounds and trying our very best to develop our sound to the point where it’s now at with “Geronimo”.
How important was music to the Sheppard siblings growing up?
We have always been a music-loving family, even if the desire to pursue a career in music didn’t come till much later. This was instilled in us at an early age by our parents. We can all remember being woken up every morning for school by the blearing tunes of Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, and the Beatles (not your average alarm clock), but no complaints here! These timeless artists were the early foundations of our musical inspirations.
I’ve read that your influences include Coldplay and Fleetwood Mac, but how did your childhood in PNG impact on Sheppard?
My sisters and I were lucky enough to attend a multi-cultural school in PNG that focused heavily on the arts. Drama, music, dance, they had it all. We had a brilliant music teacher, by the name of Buruka Tau, who is a legendary musician who has played with the likes of Yothu Yindi and Madonna. This opened our young impressionable minds to the power of music at a young and virtuous age – even if we didn’t realise it at the time!
Having a brother and two sisters in the band, are you competitive with each other? If any conflict happens, how do you deal with it?
Like any family, there will always be a conflict or two, usually comes with the stress of touring, but the great thing is we can say what we feel and get it off our chest without worrying about leaving a sour taste, because no matter what, we are family and within ten minutes its forgotten and back to normal. We all need to consider each other, and respect each other’s space. At the end of the day, being able to tour the world playing music with your family is an incredible job, and no matter what, we will always remember that we are all on this crazy ride together and it’s for the long haul. This means that family dramas are all part of the adventure.
The songwriting revolves around George, Amy and Jay – what’s the collaboration process like between the three of you?
It’s very easy working in this song writing team. We all share the same ideas, even though we all have very different musical tastes. I am very into the stadium atmospheric rock of Coldplay, Kings of Leon and U2 and the chill electro sounds of Air and Zero 7, while Amy is into the classic rock of Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones as well as modern pop like Katy Perry, whilst Jay is hazily into his singer/ songwriters like John Mayer, Elliot Smith and Deathcab For Cutie.
These different influences come together and make something very unique in terms of songwriting and sounds. The important thing to remember when collaborating with two other writers is COMPROMISE. Not every idea is going to be a popular one. You have to work together to find the common ground. Only when all three of us are happy with a line/hook/song, that’s when we know it’s a “Sheppard” worthy song, as we all represent a different demographic. All of us being happy with an idea means it will have the widest appeal, if that makes sense.
Sheppard songs have some pretty relatable lyrics – what inspires the lyrical themes of your songs?
We can only write about the experiences we’ve all been through, so far those experiences usually have something to do with love/heart-ache/relationship troubles, and that’s something EVERYONE can relate to, but as long as it’s something we can write about passionately, then anything can be the basis for a song. Amy once wrote a song called “In the End” which focused on the prospect of what happens after death, which I thought was really interesting.
Our song “Hold My Tongue” was written out of frustration, about being lied to constantly by the media and politicians of the world. It’s about freedom of speech, and not being afraid of the consequences of speaking your mind. So yeah, as long as you feel strongly about something, it can usually be turned into lyrics!
How is the debut album coming along? Who are you working with to bring the album to completion, and how is it all going?
The album is in the final stages of completion, we’re gearing up for the release later this year. We have been working closely with our producer Stuart Stuart (yes, that’s his real name), polishing off the songs as best as we possibly can. It has been great fun but we are excited to finally release our debut album and get back into touring and preforming for our fans.
Without spoiling anything, can we look forward to any surprises on the album? Any unexpected guests or musical styles we might not be expecting?
Hahaha well we don’t have Christina Aguilera singing on any tracks, but you can definitely expect a variety of styles between our songs. Because there are three writers in the band, the style of music varies somewhat, but it all sounds like “Sheppard” and we really like what has come out. There are going to be songs which feature lead vocals from my sister Amy. She has a fantastic voice, and we are really excited to be able to show off her capabilities!
What advice can you provide to other young bands trying to make an impact?
I know it sounds cliche, but just write, write, write. Write like crazy, and then write some more. You can be the greatest musician in Australia, but if you can’t write a good song, then you won’t get anywhere. Learn how to structure a good song with great melodies, catchy hooks, and lyrics that people can relate to. The first few songs you write will be terrible, but thats ok! Please don’t be discouraged! The only way you can learn is from your mistakes – there’s no way around this – you will NEED to write bad songs for awhile. Eventually, as you learn, the good songs will start to take shape, I promise!
Make sure you stay true to your creative self and don’t aim to be like others; those people are already out there doing what they do, and you want to be something new, exciting and individual, not just another Vampire Weekend, or another Coldplay. Once you have a catalogue of interesting, original material that you think is worthy of releasing into the world, it is extremely important to have a great, creative marketing/management team behind you, to help support your work and to get it heard. Marketing is a HUGE part of getting your music out there, and you want to make sure this area is being looked after by real professionals.
Although being in a band is highly creative, it is still essentially going to have to run like a business if you want the longevity you dream of, so make sure these areas are covered by people who know what they are doing.
Lastly, don’t give up! I won’t lie – establishing a band is HARD. The first few years are going to be full of setbacks, heartbreaks and discouragement. You need to fight through these early days with a determination that burns like the fire of a thousand suns, because as ACDC said, “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll”, but once you can break through this barrier, the rewards are phenomenal.