After Monday night’s concert at The Borderline, we had the chance to catch up with Sheppard at Decca Records the next day for an exclusive interview. If you’ve not seen our videos yet, please make sure to check them out – meanwhile here’s a transcript of our interview. It’s long – but it’s worth it!
EP: Energy – so much energy! Particularly after you’ve been travelling loads – how do you keep it up?
Amy: It gets tough some days, that’s for sure! Tomorrow’s going to be a bit rough, we have to wake up at 3am…
Emma: 2am! Because we have to be in the lobby at 3am!
George: A lot of Red Bull!
Amy: So, I’m not going to go to sleep tonight. And we’ve got to go to Brussels…
EP: Oh my…What’s the best venue you guys have ever played at?
Jay: Rod Laver Arena.
George: Yeah, Rod Laver Arena I guess has to be pretty good.
EP: Rod Laver Arena? What’s that, Melbourne?
Jay: That arena we did in Spain recently was pretty cool too though…
George: What was it called? La Cadena? [La Noche de Cadena ed.] And they had all those blow up waving things…
Emma: We played in Central Park, and that was pretty amazing. It was a festival, on Australia Day…
George: Summer Stage. What’s the one we played in DC? The Philmore? That was great. Really awesome.
EP: 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.
EP: 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”.
EP: 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.
EP: 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.
EP: 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!”
George: Everytime Facebook updates the new page it’s like, “oh it’s so crap” and then everyone gets used to it.
EP: It’s like Twitter, and everyone’s like, “I can’t stand the new Twitter” but by the end of the day…
EP: OK. Coldplay. You’re really into Coldplay.
George: Yes ma’am.
EP: You really love Chris Martin. So much.
George: It’s True Love!
Emma: How did you know that!
EP: 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!!
EP: 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]
EP: 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.
EP: 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…
EP: You come ready-made, he doesn’t actually have to do anything…
George: Yeah! It’s true!
EP: “We’ll just slot them here…”
EP: 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…
EP: 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.
George: It’s actually her birthday today!
EP: I know!
George: Happy birthday Mum!
EP: It’s all about hard work – although – do you ever sit back and think, “Is this the real life (or is it just fantasy…)?” 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.
EP: Who is the Megaphone Man in “Hold My Tongue”?
George: The Megaphone Man is the guy who comes in and actually says what everyone’s thinking. It’s like the spokesperson for everyone’s secret thoughts, cos Hold My Tongue is some sort of…it’s like a protest song, really, so it’s kinda like…
Jay: I guess The Megaphone Man is like the leader of the protest.
EP: “Let Me Down Easy” – last night [23 March] that was so cool! Considering most of the audience had not been to a Sheppard concert before – it’s still going through my head this morning – the song sounds very South Pacific to me. Do you think, you Sheppard guys, growing up in New Guinea has had any sort of influence on you, like, musically?
Amy: I do – because our music teacher from an early age, and still our music teacher now, is a guy called Barkua Tau, who is a Papua New Guinean [the keyboardist for legendary Australian band, Yothu Yindi ed.], who’s worked with the likes of Madonna as a session musician, so he really influenced me, and my voice, and I really loved that island sound, so I definitely think for me that Papua New Guinea has definitely had an influence on the way I write.
George: I think it also opened our minds to different cultures and different ways of life that we otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to, and I think that can only help. And the school that we went to is very heavily focussed on the arts, like dance, and drama, music, so…
EP: It’s an International School…
George: It was, yeah.
EP: You’re very percussion-based as well, and Dean’s drumming – very good!
Dean: Thank you!
EP: Michael’s brilliant, and Jay’s fantastic…
Emma: What about ME!
EP: You know what! You are the only one I was able to get a clear photo of last night!
Emma: Oh really!
EP: Everyone else was just [waves hands everywhere] [laughter] and so I thought, YESSSS
George: Cool bass player!
EP: I love a band that won’t sit still, you’re completely absorbed. We were right up the back and watching everyone [dancing] and cameras in the air etc.
EP: 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…
EP: 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? Do you all feel like…
Dean: A cult…[laughter]
EP: I’m not going to ask the sibling question, cos I know you don’t like it, but… [LOTS OF LAUGHTER]
Amy: We’re all very close, we’re all good friends…
EP: 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…
EP: 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, like…
Dean: …Veterans, in the military…only they know! “No-one knows what it’s like man!”
EP: “You weren’t there right, so there’s no point explaining it to you!”
EP: 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…
EP: You mean you don’t have them all [racked up] like this…coming out one after the other? My goodness!
George: I feel like we’ve got to put this album…
Jay: …close one chapter…
EP: …put it to bed first…
George: Cos 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! “A Dean Gordon quote!”
EP: Would you prefer to have your album released all at once in every country at the same time?
Sheppard: Yes please!
Emma: Feels like we’ve got all these different…
EP: …yeah cos you’ve been doing it for years…
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…
EP: 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?
EP: DO you want ice cream?
George: Do you have any?
EP: I saw you guys get out of your car, you had smoothies or something, you had a chance to get ice cream, you didn’t do it, so NOT MY PROBLEM! [laughter]
EP: Thank you so much for talking to Essentially Pop!
“Bombs Away” is out in the UK on 18 May and is available to preorder on iTunesand Amazon. Sheppard are continuing with their European tour: for details see their website. You can also find Sheppard online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, Tumblr and on their Vevo channel.