Interview: Amy Sheppard on the release of Sheppard's second album
Sheppard, L-R: Dean Gordon, Jason Bovino, Amy Sheppard, George Sheppard, Emma Sheppard, Michael Butler. Image courtesy SGC Media
Worth the Wait
When your band’s near-perfect pop single rockets you into the global big time, what do you do next? If you ask Amy Sheppard – one of three siblings at the core of Brisbane band Sheppard – she’ll tell you that after a ride like ‘Geronimo’ in 2014, you take a breath, tune out the noise and hone in on the music you want to make. Now, four years later, the band’s second album Watching the Sky is making it fresh all over again.
When Brisbane band Sheppard scored a massive international hit with their 2014 single ‘Geronimo’, they achieved something many musicians can only dream of: three weeks at number 1 in Australia, top 10 across Europe and a platinum certification for over one million sales in the US. What they weren’t prepared for was the comedown, as the high of their world tour came to an end in 2016.
“We had people from the record labels and managers and all sorts of people trying to get us writing straightaway,” says Amy Sheppard, the band’s co-lead vocalist. “But we were just exhausted – creatively, emotionally and physically. We really got down on ourselves and thought, ‘Were we just a one-hit wonder?’”
Their only option was to take time out to regroup, and today – four years after their first album was released – a newly invigorated Sheppard return with a fresh new sound on Watching the Sky.
Sheppard formed in Brisbane in 2009, originally just George and Amy Sheppard in duo form; Amy needed help with a music assignment and no one else was available. Over the next three years they were joined by their sister Emma and bandmates Jay Bovino, Michael Butler, Jared Tredly (and, later, Dean Gordon). Their first release, a self-titled EP in 2012, was a beguiling mix of indie and pop with splashes of soul, and peaked at number 18 on the Australian charts – almost twelve months after it was first released. Then, at the beginning of 2014, Sheppard released a song called ‘Geronimo’ and the little indie band from Brisbane suddenly became a very big deal indeed.
“It was a dream come true,” Amy remembers. Off the back of the international success of ‘Geronimo’, and their 2014 debut album Bombs Away, the band toured the world, including performing at the legendary Rock in Rio festival in Brazil. “We all couldn’t believe we were up on the stage playing alongside artists like Sam Smith and Rihanna,” Amy says, still incredulous. “We were like, ‘We’re just this band from Brisbane. How did this happen?’” But it was exhausting too: “There was a moment where I was like, ‘What have I done? What are we doing?’ We were in Germany on a promo tour, and we had to go to nine cities every day. We were jetlagged, we were tired, we’d been singing ‘Geronimo’ acoustically for the three days straight … Moments like that really got overwhelming.”
It was perhaps inevitable, then, that when the chart life of ‘Geronimo’ began to ebb, the resultant comedown was as initially as overwhelming as the highs of its success. “The last gig on the tour was in Kalgoorlie,” Amy remembers; about a quarter of the town showed up. “It was a great way to finish. But after, it was like, ‘Oh, we don’t have to do anything now.’ It was quite a shock.” The pressure to quickly follow ‘Geronimo’ with more music, Amy says, contributed to the band burning out and created an environment where they found it difficult to write anything at all. “We just thought that the magic had been sucked out of us,” she says wryly.
After a three-month break from music, the band travelled to Stradbroke Island, off Queensland’s coast, to focus on reconnecting and writing for their second album. While ultimately their time on the island didn’t produce material for Watching the Sky, it did succeed in getting Sheppard back on their creative track. “We decided that we started this whole thing because it had been fun and we enjoyed each other’s company and we enjoyed writing together. We tried to get back to that headspace. And we made a commitment to finish songs without throwing them in the bin because they didn’t sound like ‘Geronimo’. That’s why Stradbroke was so key for us.”
One listen to Watching the Sky makes it clear that Sheppard have grown in confidence since Bombs Away, maturing into a band that is unafraid of moving in new directions and getting comfortable in their sound. With a more funky, more poppy, and at times more electronic feel, Watching the Sky marks the first time the band has worked with outside songwriters – something that they weren’t initially comfortable with. “We were really apprehensive about it,” Amy admits. “It was quite intimidating at first, but after the first session we really loved it. It adds extra ideas and embellishments onto your own ideas.”
The writing process was a long one but it was something that Sheppard didn’t want to rush. “The long gap was there because we didn’t want to just pump out fourteen songs,” Amy explains. “Bombs Away was just a collection of songs we had written over our lifetime. So on this next record we really took our time and honed in on our own style and our own sound.”
After the release of Watching the Sky Sheppard will jump back on the tour bus, clearly recovered from the bruising two-year run of shows after ‘Geronimo’. “We will be a doing a promo tour just around Australia, doing some signings and meeting some of our fans,” Amy reveals. Then a full national tour is looking likely, plus a stint in New York in August to play the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival. And what’s more, Amy says, their songs are now stadium-ready, something the band hadn’t been prepared for when ‘Geronimo’ first launched them into mega-capacity venues: “At first, we really noticed that some of our songs didn’t translate as well to these massive stadiums,” she says. “That’s something we’ve really worked on with this new record – making sure that all of these songs are going to fit on a large scale.”
So stand by for Sheppard, coming soon to an arena near you – because on Watching the Sky, they have well and truly found their groove again.