By now, most music fans in Australia are well acquainted with six-piece Brisbane band Sheppard. We were all still singing along to double-platinum single, ‘Let Me Down Easy’ when follow-up track, ‘Geronimo’ came along and became the first independently released Australian single to top the ARIA chart in more than 30 years.
While it seems as if Sheppard broke through overnight, it’s actually taken several years of hard work for the band to get to where they are today. George Sheppard, who shares lead vocal duties with his sister Amy, filled us in on the band’s beginnings. “Setting the band up was actually a very gradual process. In 2009 Amy and I started working together musically. She had to write a song for a university assignment that called for harmonies, she heard me singing in the shower and had the idea of writing a duet. We had so much fun writing and recording that song that we just kept going. It was more of a hobby at that point – something we did for fun, with no real idea of turning it into a full-time career.
“In 2011 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. The last addition was our little sister Emma, who learnt how to play bass for the band. Since then we have been experimenting developing our sound to the point where it’s now at.”
That sound is influenced by a pretty wide range of music. George told us that, while he is very into the stadium atmospheric rock of Coldplay, Kings of Leon and U2, Amy is into the classic rock of Fleetwood Mac and Rolling Stones, as well as modern pop like Katy Perry, and Jay is into his singer-songwriters such as John Mayer and Elliot Smith. These different influences come together and make something very unique in terms of Sheppard’s song-writing and sound.
Leaping forward several years, Sheppard are getting rave reviews for their music from publications such as Rolling Stone, which recently declared that the young band have a classic pop song-writing style that could take them all the way. They were also recently nominated for two Australian Performing Right Association (APRA) awards for Most Played Australian Work and Pop Work of the Year, and they’ve just completed a national tour supporting country music star Keith Urban.
Although they have notched up their first home-ground hits, Sheppard are not resting on their laurels or taking a break just yet. Over the next couple of months they will chalk up tens of thousands of air miles as they try to break through on the European music scene. Flying to destinations such as the UK, Germany and Sweden to launch an international music career might sound glamorous, but in reality it means lots of very early starts, long days and sitting around in departure lounges. “It’s just starting to get really full-on, but this is the dream and what we’ve always wanted. We want to make the most of it so that we can take our music out to the fans that have supported us to this point,” says Emma.
Anyone who has travelled with a group of friends for a while will tell you that inevitably tensions surface, so we wanted to know if it was the same for this close-knit band… “I think we work pretty well together,” says Amy. “If there is a fight it tends to be perhaps Emma and I both wanting to wear the fluffy earrings that day!”
We think they’ll be fine… and guiding them along is legendary Australian music identity Michael Chugg. ‘Chuggi’, as he is known, is recognised around the world having chalked up more than 50 years as an international music promoter putting on shows by artists including Robbie Williams, Coldplay, Radiohead, Elton John, and Pearl Jam. Even with an international corporation to run, he still makes time to support and help develop young talent. Having only recently started his artist management operation, the impresario made Sheppard one of the first signings to his new venture, Chugg Music, along with huge Australian star Megan Washington. Chuggi will be on the road with Sheppard when they hit the UK and Europe on this trip.
For all that’s happened to Sheppard in a relatively short time, the members of the band remain refreshingly down to earth. George told us that when he first heard that ‘Geronimo’ had topped the charts in Australia he thought that “perhaps someone was playing a bit of a joke on me”.
The good news for us Brits is that, by the time we return back to the UK, Sheppard will be massive there too, we’re sure of it. Indeed, they’ve signed a deal with Decca Records who will release ‘Geronimo’ as their UK and European debut on August 25, with the band’s debut album, Bombs Away to follow later in the year. ‘Geronimo’ is already finding fans via the video clip getting plays on MTV and The Box TV. “Signing a deal with a label like Decca is tremendously exciting for us,” said George “but we know it means that there is a lot of hard work ahead as we reach out to connect with new fans.”
It seems it’s connecting with their fans that the band values most highly, and they told us that they are always devising ways to do this when they are out and touring. On one recent trip to London they nearly got themselves into trouble by drawing a huge crowd at London’s famous Portobello Road street market. “We had a bit of time on one of our first trips to the UK and so we decided it would be fun to do a bit of busking and invite any fans who were in London to come along. We had heard that Portobello Road was good for busking and we just set up and went for it.” says Amy. In a very short time their feel-good sound had drawn a huge crowd. Add to that the fans that had heard about the impromptu gig who decided to turn up and it was almost out of control.
Beyond their time in the UK and Europe, Sheppard will head to the US and then back here to Australia for a full tour in support of their new album. We wish them luck, but we’re not sure they need it: people will flock to their gigs, they are Sheppards after all…
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