Have you heard of Sheppard yet? Chances are, it won’t be long until you have.
The sextet from Australia have been sweeping the world with their catchy hooks, primarily honed by siblings George and Amy Sheppard, who grew up in Papua New Guinea with their sister Emma surrounded by a rich musical culture. Emma plays bass guitar, with other band members, Jay Bovino on rhythm guitar (Jay also co-writes with Amy and George), Michael Butler on lead guitar, and Dean Gordon on drums.
Sheppard’s album, “Bombs Away” was first launched in Australia last year, with lead track from the album, “Geronimo” selling 5 x platinum in that country. This led to Sheppard being awarded “Australian Band of the Year” at last year’s ARIAs. It’s clocked over 3 million streams on Spotify here in the UK, and the band is making waves in the US, with fans including Scooter Braun, who declared their song “Geronimo” to be “a smash”. The album is due for release in the UK on May 18, and the band are currently on tour across Europe. We caught up with them a few weeks back at the offices of their UK label, Decca Records:
Talk us through “Bombs Away”. I want to hear everything about it – favourite song, what it’s all about etc.
Jay: Started about 4 years ago, some songs are about 3-4 years old. We didn’t really set out to make a record at that point, we just started writing and recording songs, we selected a whole bunch and after a few years compiled our favourites.
What’s your favourite favourite?
Jay: A song called, “A Grade Playa”, which I really like.
Emma: I love “The Best is Yet to Come”. I really like the lyrics, they’re really uplifting. We really like the line, “The best is yet to come”.
Because it is, isn’t it! You guys have been around since, what, 2009, in embryo, and basically since 2012 as you are, so it really is the best is yet to come – so much more to do!
Sheppard: Yeah definitely!
George: We’re definitely in the beginning stages of our career, so it’s nice to know that it’s had success so quickly and can’t wait to see how it goes.
What do you think the secret of continuing to stay successful is going to be?
Amy: I think just hard work really.
George: Being unpredictable. You’ve got to make sure you’re not put in a box, people like to categorise you and file you away, you know, whereas if you can continually reinvent yourself, whilst still staying true to your original fans, then you can sustain a career.
Amy: That in itself takes hard work.
What if your fans go, “That’s not the Sheppard we know”…
Jay: That’s bound to happen, as songwriters we want to grow, and hope that our fan base will grow with us.
Amy: That happens every time Coldplay puts an album out, fans go “eww no” and then next thing they’re all like “I love it!”
OK. Coldplay. You’re really into Coldplay.
George: Yes ma’am.
You really love Chris Martin. So much.
George: It’s True Love!
Emma: How did you know that!
I’ve been stalking all your interviews!
Amy: He’s mentioned it at every interview…
George: …In the hope that one day he’ll watch at least one, so one interview it’ll be oh his…
[Dean waves] Oh hello Chris!!
You might not be aware of this…but…[waves towards the door like Chris Martin is about to walk in]
Dean: Let him in! [Chris Martin voice, and offers his hand to George] “Chris from Decca” [lots of laughter]
How important is it to you to maintain creative control over your music career? I know you’ve got your own label, was that an important thing, or was that just because you didn’t sign up to a major label initially?
Amy: We had some great ideas about what we wanted to do, and then deals didn’t come through with what we wanted, so we thought, you know what, we’re just going to do it ourselves, and see how it goes, and it did well, and every few weeks we’re getting the ball rolling, and we’re getting somewhere, marking milestones off, and well, it’s working. It is important cos we love to have creative control, we’ve got our own ideas in the way we want things, and it’s nice to have that control. Australia is our testing ground, and overseas is where we are signed, and they can amplify what we’ve done.
Jay: It’s good for the fans to know that we are making the decisions and the stuff’s not fabricated…
Amy: It’s genuine…
Jay: …or whatever. It’s all coming from us.
Having said that…you’ve got Scooter Braun in the US really liking you guys! So what’s the deal there? Is he going to let you have creative control?
Amy: Yeah, so he’s our manager in the USA, he loves what we’ve done with Geronimo, he heard it and he saw that we were an unsigned band, well, unsigned in America, and he gave us a call one morning, and we were all looking at each other and “we’re speaking to Scooter Braun!” and he’s like [Scooter Braun voice] “You know what, I love this song, I can not stop playing it, my wife is dancing around the house all the time”, and yeah he definitely lets us, he pretty much said to us, “I love what you’re doing and I love everything, I just want to help share what you’ve done.”
George: I think he’s excited by the prospect of working with like a real band, cos he’s done a lot of those popstars, and like solo artists, now he’s actually working with a real band that writes their own songs and plays their own music…
You come ready-made, he doesn’t actually have to do anything…
George: Yeah! It’s true!
“We’ll just slot them here…”
Mum and Dad were really important in the beginning, are they still right there?
George: Oh they’ve been made redundant! [laughs]
Amy: Mum travels with us every now and then…
So she’s like your tour manager?
Amy: She was our original tour manager, we’ve got a tour manager now, but she still helps with stuff at the airport, getting the passports sorted, whatever we need she’s there, so it’s really nice to have her there to travel with us.
It’s all about hard work – although – do you ever sit back and think, “Is this real life?” Did you feel like this is not real, this is not happening?
Amy: We feel very privileged to be doing what we’re doing, and sometimes we’re like why us, why have we done it and others haven’t, but we’ve lived through every interview and every performance, it’s a grind daily so…
Jay: Kinda feels like a blur the last 4 years, so in a sense we wake up and go, “how the hell are we here!”
Amy: When you look back to when we first started, and then you do something like Jimmy Fallon – and you’re like, “What is going on!” But when you really think about each and every stepping stone that you’ve taken, you can see how it happens.
I like that a lot of your songs are happy, uplifting, but…there’s some that have like, a really darker thing, they might be really boppy and peppy in sound, but the lyrics – it’s like, “take away the gun and…blah blah blah…”
Amy: It gives the songs more substance, because people get hooked on the catchiness of the songs, and when they delve into it more there’s more substance to it, you know, there’s interesting lyrics that really delve into it, but we just take time on our lyrics and I just think that’s why there’s a lot of emotion in there.
George: Just backing up what Amy said, I’ve noticed people telling me the more they listen to the album the more they enjoy it, so it’s not just something that’s there for a quick second, “oh yeah, a nice sounding song, that’s great”, and then you move on, like the whole album, there’s little things that people start to pick up on, there’s different layers within each and every song…
That’s good because it means that people are going to go back and listen to it again and again…So – are you all a family?
Amy: We’re all very close, we’re all good friends…
There’s no like, “You’re not one of us…”
Sheppard: We all hang out!
Michael: When we’re not touring, we all hang out at home…
So you’re friends in the band and out of it too…
Jay: Think it’s hard not to become close, you know, all the tine we spend together…
George: There’s experiences you share together, there’s like no-one else you can talk to about this stuff, there’s obviously friends at home that are like, “What’s going on!” and you can only tell them so much, but there’s all these other people that are actually there with you, experiencing it all with you.
So how hard is it to keep grounded? Fame and success, it’s a two-edged sword, you know, on the one hand you’ve got your songs playing on the radio, but on the other hand touring and just like this [really tired] the whole time…thankfully not today…cos you’re always travelling…when do you find time to write?
George: We’re about to go back and start a writing period, but it’s tough – I was just talking about it before, it’s tough to start writing the next album when you’re right in the thick of the first album, cos you’re mentally still in that mode, and the second album you want to grow and develop, you know, take some time away, reassess, reinvent, and like, come back with a fresh mindset…something completely new, something that’s just as good, if not better, than the first one, which is very hard to do when you’re in the thick of that, the first cycle…because we’ve been touring…like July, it was released, last year, and it was just released in the United States not so long ago, and then in another month it’s released in the UK, so it’s like on three separate cycles, doing three times the amount of work, and it’ll be nice when it’s all synced up, like we’re just going to wait for this first cycle to stop and then sync it up with the rest of the world and come back bigger and better than ever!
Would you prefer to have your album released all at once in every country at the same time?
Amy: Yes please!
George: It’s funny cos when it was released in the States, that was, like a HUGE deal, or it SHOULD be a HUGE deal for us, but it was like, “Oh yeah, it’s released tomorrow!” because it’s already been out for 6 months…
Okay – this will be my last one…What question do you wish somebody would ask you…but nobody EVER does?
George: Do you want ice cream?
Amy: Do you want ice cream?
DO you want ice cream?
George: Do you have any?