BEING IN A BAND with two of your sisters may seem like a nightmare to some, but it’s all in a day’s work for George Sheppard.
“It’s not too hard, to be honest,” he says. “When we first decided to start a band together I was a bit hesitant, and we’re like normal siblings in that we have tiffs now and then, but it’s all over quickly and it’s like it didn’t happen. I find it easier in that sense, because if you’re in a band with your friends an argument can leave a bad taste in your mouth or bad energy in the air, but with them it’s over with in two seconds and it’s back to normal. The only people I ever have arguments with are my sisters, so it’s pretty easy.”
“Amy started the band,” he says. “She began singing from a very early age, and it wasn’t until I was about seventeen when she asked me to sing harmonies for songs she had written. Then I started helping her write the songs, and we came up with a few cool little numbers. Soon after Jay came on board; he’s an accomplished songwriter and guitarist I met in Sydney, and he added a lot to our song-writing. We realised we needed to play live, so we auditioned Michael for the guitar, and my younger sister Emma decided to learn bass, and in January we added our drummer Dean. We started playing eighteen months ago, and the current line-up has been together since January.”
The Brisbane indie-poppers’ single ‘Let Me Down Easy’ is the band’s most well-known song, and has been getting considerable radio play of late.
“It was released last August when we put out our EP,” he says, “but it’s only been in the last five or six weeks that it’s been picked up on commercial radio, so it’s all happening for us now. It’s pretty much a break-up song, but it’s different to most break-up songs because it’s funky and happy, which is strange for such depressing subject matter. The reaction to the song has blown our expectations out of the water; we’ve had all different ages of people interested in our music. We’ve had videos sent to us of three year-olds singing along to ‘Let Me Down Easy’, and we’ve had seventy year-olds e-mailing us telling us that they love our music. We love to know that people are enjoying what we’re doing; we get mostly positive reaction through our Facebook and Twitter. There are heaps of bands who don’t really care if people like their music or not, but it’s really nice for us to know that our tunes are being enjoyed, and that we’re a positive part of people’s lives.”
In an unexpected turn of events, it was a radio station on the West Coast of America that gave the band their break.
“There’s a huge market over there,” he says. “We had a guy who runs a radio show pick up our song, and we scored a spot on his playlist in Portland. He picked up ‘Let Me Down Easy’, and it was the first commercial radio station in the world to play us, which was a massive deal. We got to number one on their most requested track list, among some huge names like Fun and The Lumineers. We did some shows over there supporting Atlas Genius, and we sold out a 1600 capacity venue, which was a moment I’ll never forget. We’ve done so many awesome gigs; South Africa was probably the most memorable as it was the first big festival stage we had ever played on. Our manager Michael Chugg pretty much threw us in the deep end, as it was in the middle of the wilderness, like something out of the Lion King; just this giant dust bowl.
The band will be playing a show at Brisbane’s Eatons Hill Hotel in June, but it won’t be a conventional Sheppard gig.
“This will be a funny one, as we’re doing a semi-acoustic show,” he says. “We’re going to have all the instruments, although we’ll have to tone down the drum kit a bit; Dean will have to be on brushes or something. It’s going to be very different from every other show we’ve played, that’s for sure, but we try to do that with every show we do; make it a little bit different or add something new every time, so people coming back can expect something different. It’s a big venue with a great reputation for live music, and we’ll take it as a challenge. A lot of our songs translate well acoustically so it’s going to be a groovy, chilled-out afternoon.”
As well as playing a number of hotels and bars, the young band have recently been on a tour of Australia’s high schools, which has seen some new rules being introduced.
“Man, the kids are amazing,” he says. “I expected to have some smart-alec kids here and there booing us or whatever, but they get right into it. Now I totally understand, because I would have loved a band to come to our school, and it’s an excuse for them to get out of class. We also get to do a workshop with them afterwards, and they can ask us questions about the industry, and watch us set up and sound check, so it’s a real learning experience. We can’t play ‘I’m Not A Whore’, and we find alternatives for a couple of swear words, but for the most part it’s really relaxed. The obvious rules are no swearing and always being courteous, although we’re not allowed to hug the students front-on. We do signings after the show and a lot of the students want a hug, but we’re only allowed to do side hugs. We thought it was funny, but rules are rules!”
While high school shows are earning the band legions of new fans, George has an eye on bigger stages.
“If I had a choice I would have Coldplay’s career,” he says. “I saw their live show, and it’s just such an unbelievable spectacle. To be able to put on something of that magnitude would be a dream come true for us, and that’s the level I’d like to see the band get to eventually. Personally I’ve always been a huge fan of big, atmospheric rock music like Kings Of Leon. I’m also into a lot of jazz, blues, and soul. Amy is more into Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones – more old-school rock. Jay has a more singer-songwriter background, so he’s into Elliott Smith and those kind of artists, as well as Death Cab For Cutie. After this tour we’re planning to go back to the US at some point, as there are a few stations picking up our songs over there. We’ve also got a festival in Bangkok, which is going to be pretty cool, so we’re going to be very busy.”
SHEPPARD PLAY EATONS HILL JUNE 9