Brissie siblings George, Amy and Emma Sheppard – along with their bandmates Michael Butler, Jason Bovino and Dean Gordon – took the plunge into worldwide recognition with their 2014 mega-hit Geronimo. Eight ARIA Award noms and a win, multiple tours (including supporting Justin Bieber and Meghan Trainor), and a five-times platinum certified single later, George gives STACK the skinny on eagerly awaited second album Watching The Sky.
Since 2012, your touring roster has just been mind-melting. Are you all experts at packing your stuff in under 10 minutes these days?
You’d think so! But no. It still takes us the majority of the night before we leave to figure out what we need, then our bedrooms are always left looking like a bomb site, and we always leave something behind. The main pieces of advice we have for you: 1) Fold your clothes and organise them in stacks before you put them in the suitcase, so you can see what you’re bringing and what you might have missed. 2) Pack a laundry bag so your smelly clothes can be kept separate.
Single Coming Home contains the lyric “Meet me in the Valley” – are you referring to Fortitude Valley? Does Brisbane make you feel as grounded/ excited as the track suggests?
Can confirm! It’s referring to Fortitude Valley. Coming Home was kind of like our love letter to Brisbane. We’re pretty passionate about our home city. We’re convinced it’s the best city in the world. It’s big enough that you have all the advantages and services of a world class city, but small enough that you aren’t constantly fighting for personal space. We love spending as much time in Brisbane as we possibly can.
There are some super funky spoken word bits in Edge Of The Night (they remind me of The Real McCoy). Who performed them? Were all band members into the idea right away?
Haha. Yeah, that song is a bit random… We had been in the studio writing songs for a few days straight and things were starting to sound a bit too same-same, so we decided to shake things up, and spent the afternoon listening to a bunch of old skool funk records. We ended up finding this groovy bassline which was calling out for a super deep voice. We managed to find this vocal processor, which lowered the voice, and then had an absolute blast talking into it the whole rest of the afternoon acting like Barry White. The person performing the voice is Pete Thomas, one of the song’s co-writers. He had the American accent, which those lyrics absolutely needed to sound cool. “Milk and honey, sunny delight” sounded way too weird in an Aussie accent.
You’ve said: “It’s fun for us to make this kind of music, so hopefully it’s fun to listen to.” It seems many artists operate in the opposite way – they only create when they’re feeling low, in times of pain. Why do you think it’s different for you guys? Is it an association thing?
I know it seems that way, and we do make music for fun, but we create music when we’re feeling down too.
A lot of our ‘fun’ songs come from taking an optimistic look at a bad situation.
Let Me Down Easy for example is a super upbeat, overly happy sounding song, but if you listen to the lyrics you notice the song is about this guy coming to the grim realisation that he’s about to be broken up with. We’ve always found it found it easier to deal with tragedy by laughing at it, so I guess that’s an approach we sometimes take toward creating music.
Live For You and Sorry are certainly both melancholy ballads (the former in particular). How does the approach to writing these ones differ from the most joyful tracks?
Yeah, see, we do get sad! Haha. We’ll usually take a few sittings to write the heavier songs. Obviously, we try to make every song as authentic as it can be. We always make sure what we’re writing/singing about is coming from a real place. Whether it’s a slick pop song about keeping a fun night going, or whether it’s a stadium rock song about alcohol issues, it always comes from events and emotions happening in our own lives. The songs that are about heavier topics usually take a little longer to write because it’s can be hard to access/ deal with those feelings, and we want to make sure the song is hitting the right tone lyrically.
We Belong has a tiny bit of beatboxing in there, just before the final chorus. It sounds like it could be your voice… is it something you practise?
Haha, yeah, rapping has never been my specialty. But I’ve always had a rhythm in my head, so beatboxing is something I did a lot through high school, knowing full well it would never truly have any useful application in adult life. Turns out, it had one…
Similarly, in Riding The Wave I’m sure I can hear a mouth-trumpet noise. Was that a placeholder, but you decided to keep it in?
That’s something I used to do all the time in writing sessions – I used it to work out melodies. It just so happened that the producer we were working with at the time heard me doing it and was like, “Wait… Do that again into the mic. We need to record that.” We spoke about replacing it with a real trumpet eventually, but ended up deciding it was a unique enough sound to keep as is. So yeah, it was kind of a random experiment which then got left in. There’s actually a bunch of random things like that on the record. There’s a tiny toy frog that was in the studio that made this weird croaking sound whenever it was shook. That features as part of the beat on Love Me Now.
Are there any songs on the album that almost weren’t included because it took you some time to find their groove?
It’s safe to say we had our struggles making this record; the whole thing nearly didn’t get made numerous times, but anything worth doing properly is going to demand heartache and sacrifice. In the end we actually managed to squeeze more songs on this record. We probably could’ve cut a song or two, but we just couldn’t do it. We’re so proud of these 14 songs and they worked so nice together as a whole experience, that we couldn’t bear to lose one. Plus we’d taken a little while to make this record, so we figured we owed a longer listening experience to our fans.
Which songs are you most excited to play live? Are there any which you found (or anticipate finding) more difficult than the others to translate from studio to stage?
There’s a bunch I’m excited for people to start hearing and getting to know live. Choke has these tongue-twister lyrics that I feel like people will love to learn, and sing along to live. There’s all kinds of sing-along moments. In terms of songs that were more difficult to transition from studio to stage, that was actually a lesson we learned from the first album. We wrote Watching The Sky with big live venues in mind, making sure every moment would be able to translate well in a live scenario. So far it’s been great! We can’t wait to share it with the rest of the world.
Watching The Sky is out June 8 via MGM.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.