On the eve of their departure for the UK and the US, TNT caught up with Sheppard and found out about touring with family, their musical influences, and if they can really get the world to sing ‘Say Geronimo!’
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 over 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,” he says. “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. Amy and Jay have always known that this is what they wanted to do, and 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 whilst he is very into the stadium atmospheric rock of Coldplay, Kings of Leon and U2, Amy is into the classic rock of Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones as well as modern pop like Katy Perry, and Jay is into his singer-songwriters like John Mayer and Elliot Smith. These different influences come together and make something very unique in terms of Sheppard’s songwriting and sound.
Leaping forward several years and Sheppard are getting rave reviews for their music from publications like Rolling Stone magazine who recently declared that the young band have a classic pop songwriting style that could take them all the way. They were also recently nominated 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 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 UK and European music scene. Flying to destinations like the UK, Germany and Sweden to launch your 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 and 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, we wanted to know if it was the same for this close knit band, considering they have spent so much time on the road together in the last couple of years. “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!”
At this point in the interview the band all burst into laughter and we realise that with their goofy sense of humor and the de-rigeur inside jokes Sheppard are going to be just fine as they continue on the road.
Guiding them along is legendary Australian music identity Michael Chugg. Chuggi as he is known is recognised around the world having chalked up over 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. However Chugg Music is no sideline for Chuggi, this new organisation recently signed huge Australian star Megan Washington for management representation and Chuggi will be on the road with Sheppard when they hit the UK and Europe on this trip.
Sheppard have been to the UK before, to play a couple of shows and meet with record labels. On the most recent of those they 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,” says George, “but we know it means that there is a lot of hard work ahead as we reach out to connect with new fans.”
Geronimo’s driving indie beat and soaring pop chorus is an ideal platform to launch the young band onto the UK scene but even with this sure fire hit behind them Sheppard are covering a lot of ground this time around. First-up they play the Wilderness festival in rural Oxfordshire along with fellow Aussie Chet Faker and acts including London Grammar, and Sam Smith. It’s not the first time they have played this sprawling, wild and truly wonderful festival; they were here briefly in 2012 and played the night after Melbourne’s The Temper Trap had performed.
“It’s a great festival and a lot of Australians get along to it -we spotted The Temper Trap’s bass player Jonathon Aherne in the audience as we were playing so that was a real buzz.,” says George.
Also on their schedule are the twin V Festivals held on consecutive days in Weston Park near Birmingham and Chelmsford near London and Sheppard make their first trip to Ireland when they play the Electric Picnic Festival on 30 August.
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.’
After a show in London on their last trip to the UK a number of girls in the audience were keen to meet Amy and Emma to tell them how much they loved the show and to get style tips from the sisters who are rapidly becoming on-trend icons as well known for their unique funky fashion as their music. It’s connecting with their fans that like many musicians the band value most highly. They told us that they are always devising ways to connect with fans 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,” says Amy. “We had heard that Portobello Road was good for busking and we just set up and went for it.”
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. In part, the huge crowd at Portobello was a result of the connection Sheppard have with their fans across social media. The band do all their own posts on Facebook and Twitter and although they are playing bigger festivals on this run they have told TNT exclusively that they are planning a couple of London based meet and greet events when they are here where they can meet fans in person.
Beyond their time in the UK and Europe, Sheppard head to the US and then back to Australia for a full tour in support of their album. We’ll see them here in the UK again later in the year when they come back to launch their album here but for now we can’t wait for the current single launch and live dates when we’ll be down the front singing the chorus of ‘Say Geronimo!’
Geronimo will be released in the UK on 25 August by Decca Records. You can hear the track now on Spotify and see the new Geronimo Video on YouTube.
Sheppard play Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire on Saturday, August 9 and the V Festivals on August 16 and 17; plus the Electric Picnic Festival in Ireland on Saturday, August 30.
Find out more about the band here.