“For me personally, this is the direction I’ve been wanting to go in for quite a number of years.”
I’ve called up George Sheppard, the singer of his namesake band, on his birthday, but his passionate turn of phrase makes me think that he’s only too happy to spend his day talking about the new direction Sheppard are going in.
There’s something in his voice that leads me to believe that he’s hiding a secret.
But it almost wasn’t to be. Less than twelve months ago, Sheppard were on the verge of collapse. ‘Die Young’ would be an appropriate swan song, as they farewelled a public that would forever wonder what might have been.
“The thing I thought I was put on this earth to do (was) actually really hurting me,” George admits.
“I really thought it wasn’t for me anymore.”
Thrust into the limelight
Brisbane-based family band, Sheppard, first shot to acclaim back in 2014, thanks largely to their 7x Platinum hit, ‘Geronimo’. The single, which ruminates on that feeling of taking the plunge into something huge, was a fitting debut for the five-piece.
Indeed, greatness was in store – the track has since become a staple of FM frequencies and dance floors worldwide.
Tours, two albums, an ARIA, and critical acclaim followed, but it’s hardly been smooth sailing for Sheppard in the years since.
For one thing, pressure from higher-ups began to take its toll.
“I think on the second album we were trying to follow up ‘Geronimo’ and we had that pressure on us,” George says.
“We were lucky enough to get a song called, ‘Coming Home’ out of that which is still kind of growing every day.”
But the pressure to generate pop hits was the least of Sheppard’s worries this year.
A bumpy 2019
Just two months ago, George underwent complex vocal surgery, a type fraught with the potential for error. The surgery, to restore damaged scar tissue, was similar to procedures undergone by Adele, Björk and Sam Smith.
Famously, Julie Andrews had the surgery in 1997, in the hope of restoring the soprano voice that made her a star. Instead, it damaged her voice irreparably.
Sheppard was under no illusions. And he knew that the road to recovery would be a long one, should the surgery be a success. Thankfully, it was.
“The first two weeks was just complete silence,” George says. “I couldn’t talk at all for two weeks which was interesting.
“I had to remove myself from society. I just went out into the middle of nowhere, took my drone and my music equipment and just had a kind of really introspective time on my own.”
Just after George’s diagnosis, the band received more bad news. Michael Butler, Sheppard’s lead guitarist since 2011, had decided to quit.
“It was like a one-two punch. It didn’t feel good… the band was not going to be what it used to be,” George recalls.
Sheppard won’t be dying young
But Sheppard’s recent turbulence has led not to dissolution, but to renewed appreciation for their foundations, and their artistry as individuals. In the hope of exploring his own creativity, George spent some time writing solo in Sweden.
Meanwhile, his sister and bandmate, Amy, journeyed to Nashville where she worked on a country EP.
“We had a lot of time this year to really explore our own individual artists. We’ve just come back together in the last few weeks and we’re trying to see where it takes us.”
Now, the band are poised to take these building blocks and use them to chart a new path for Sheppard.
“I feel like a lot of bands go through this,” George says, speaking of the band’s reinvention.
“This is the first time it’s happened for us, and I just kind of got a bit dramatic with it and thought that it was going to be the end of Sheppard, but I think at the end of the day, we’re family.”
New single, ‘Die Young’, has therefore become a slight misnomer. In reality, Sheppard are alive and kicking, and looking forward to the release of their upcoming album.
George is still keeping his cards close to his chest, however. But he acknowledges the freedom that has come from throwing off shackles and embracing the road to recovery.
“We can sort of be a bit more experimental and I think that’s what’s exciting. We’re just making music that makes us happy.”