Navigating dicey vocal surgery, rage at love’s pain, appreciation for extraordinary experiences, and a duet filmed over oceans, George Sheppard (with a little help from sisters Amy and Emma) gives us a compelling insight into Sheppard’s new album of pop pearls, Kaleidoscope Eyes.
1: Kaleidoscope Eyes
Before we’d written anything for his album, we knew that we wanted it to be a bit more experimental than your average pop offering, and we wanted it to be a cohesive listening experience from start to finish. Even though we released 12 singles last year, we always intended for people to treat this as an album to be listened to from beginning to end. Having long had an infatuation with cinema and epic orchestral movie scores, Jason and I got together one evening and created this lovely orchestral intro that brings the listener into the world of Kaleidoscope Eyes, and leads nicely into the opening track, Die Young.
2: Die Young
At the very start of 2019, during the very first writing trip we did for this album, I was diagnosed with a vocal injury. I had to undergo surgery, then I had to be completely silent for two weeks (that was an interesting experience), and then it was going to be six months until I was ‘hopefully’ back to full vocal range. Right at the start of this album I was forced to confront the terrifying reality that my voice was incredibly fragile, and that there was a possibility I could lose my passion and my livelihood. So, the headspace when we wrote Die Young was as though it was a ‘final’ Sheppard song – but it wasn’t sad. It’s really a song of fearlessness and gratitude. It’s about being grateful that up until this point, you’ve lived an interesting life filled with love and adventure. You can appreciate each day as though it might be your last, because even if you were to die tomorrow (or lose your voice), you could be happy and content with the life you lived, the magical experiences you had and the wonderful things you accomplished.
3: Don’t Believe in Love
Don’t Believe in Love is somewhat of an ‘anti-love song’. When it’s right, love makes the world an amazing place to be, but love can also hurt us in a way nothing else can. We’ve all been to that dark place where we feel like true love was never meant for us, so this is a song of defiance that you can scream when it hasn’t worked out. This song is about those times where it just feels easier to build up the walls and pretend not to care – those times where being ‘too cool’ for love is easier than letting your guard down and risk getting hurt again.
4: Somebody Like You
Somebody Like You was actually the very first song we wrote for this album. It was written in Brisbane by Jay, Amy and myself about a time in my early ’20s when I lost the girl I believed was the love of my life. I don’t think I’ve been that heartbroken before or since. She was the best thing that had ever happened to me at the time. Over the course of the next few years I slowly began to realise that I wasn’t actually moving on, even though I had started seeing other people. It was clear to me that although I wanted to find someone new, every time I did it was just because that person reminded me of her. We released a duet version of this song with a Taiwanese artist named Sammy, which was cool! We got to make a video clip from different parts of the planet! I was on a beach in Australia and Sammy was on a beach in Taiwan. Worlds away, but singing to each other across the sea – it suits the song perfectly!
This was the first song we ever wrote over Zoom! It’s a lockdown baby, haha. Animals is a song of self-love and embracing that you are who you are. No matter how crazy or weird or different you might be, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. A song written for all the free spirits and old souls out there, it’s about rejecting the social norms, finding your ‘tribe’, and living your life as authentically and wholeheartedly as possible.
We really wanted to feel the primal nature of this tune in the production, so we used lots of tribal percussion, marimba sounding synths and hooky group vocals. There were definitely some serious Lion King vibes going on in the studio that day.
6: Brand New
This was one of the most fun songs to record on this album; it’s certainly the fastest bpm on the record, by a long shot. The tempo is supercharged and energetic and I can only describe Brand New as a high-octane banger of a love song. It’s kinda like Bruce Springsteen and The Killers had a lovechild that Coldplay babysat from time to time.
We love making music like this, simply because of the euphoria it generates when we play it live. Because it’s so energetic, it’s just a tonne of fun on stage, and you can really feel the crowd. The song itself is written for those who have been lucky enough to find the kind of love that has a seemingly never-ending honeymoon phase. No matter how old you grow together, the love always feels brand new! We decided to use these super punchy drum sounds that feel straight out of the ’80s, and the vocoders and synths we’ve used are super bright and shimmery, so there’s nothing more to say about this song except that it’s just a damn good time.
7: Looking For Love
Looking For Love is the ‘bonus’ track – the only song that wasn’t one of the 13 singles from this album, but one we simply couldn’t bear to leave off the record. It’s been floating around for the last few years and we finally decided this album was the perfect home for this beautiful tune. A song like this is a bit of a guilty pleasure for a pop band – it’s more experimental, grand and atmospheric (particularly the middle section), but we love this kind of music and it fit well with the theme of the record, so we had to include it. It uses this great pounding swing beat, with this organic sounding percussion, and these soaring, reverberant vocals and blissed-out guitar and piano… ahhh. I’m all about it.
Possibly the most unashamedly “happy” song on the record, Symphony is about someone who was living without inspiration, but finds himself bursting with music, colour and creativity after finding the love of his life. With massive, anthemic vibes, pounding drums, huge group vocal hooks, and not a single minor chord to be found in the entire song, it’s probably the most classically Sheppard tune on this record. It’s just a massive, uplifting declaration of love. We also got to feature our home town of Brisbane quite extensively in the colourful video clip, which was awesome cause it’s a truly beautiful city and we’re always proud when we get to show it off to the rest of the world.
It’s here we’ve reached the halfway point of the album. On the vinyl, this is where you have to flip the disc over to Side B, so Midsommar is an ‘intermission’ of sorts.
Right before my vocal surgery, I took a solo writing trip to Sweden, and my visit fell during a time of the year they call ‘Midsommar’. It literally means the middle point of summer, and the vibe in Stockholm is just incredible. The sun doesn’t ever really set, and it’s still light at 3am. Students are graduating, working are about to close up shop and leave for their holidays, it was a magical time to be in Sweden. A few of the demos I recorded over there eventually made it onto the album, so I thought it would be cool to have an instrumental track that captured how it felt to be there in Sweden, walking through the flowery sprawls of Djurgården in the warm golden glow of the sunshine.
M.I.A. is a song about the need we all have for escapism. We’ve all been fed up with our lives at some point. Sick of work, routine, responsibilities. Throwing the peace sign at it all and completely disappearing off the radar is an enticing thought sometimes. The freedom to go wherever you want, and then follow your nose once you get there. Setting off on a real adventure. That feeling of wanderlust is what we wanted to capture with this tune. It’s also the first track I wrote over in Sweden, so it feels a little more personal to me.
I really love the production on this one – feels super tropical and bouncy. Then there’s this awesome funk-out section in the middle which I can’t wait to play live. The video clip was a fun one to shoot too – we built a fake ‘office’ that I get to trash and cover with paint; definitely check that one out!
Catalina was first conceptualised three years ago in LA, during a month-long writing session. It was one of the first trips we’d made to LA for songwriting, and being over there just felt cool. At the time we’d been listening to a lot of Californian-tinged rock ‘n’ roll and honestly the song almost wrote itself in the session. It’s a kind of song we’ve definitely never done before – slamming, distorted guitars, heavy drums, dynamic lead vocals from Amy – it’s the closest we’ve ever come to full-on rock n’ roll. The song depicts a racy story of two lovers, sunglasses on, roof down, and driving a vintage car across the Californian desert with the sun blazing on their faces and their past lives in the rear view mirror. This track isn’t your typical Sheppard sound, but we can’t remember the last time we were this excited to show people a new song. It’s a tasty ear snack that can only be played loud!
12: Solid Gold
This song was a bit of a slow burner. We had a demo and we loved the chorus, but we weren’t sold on the verse. We aren’t that great with rewrites – usually what we have is what we have, and if we don’t like it, we’ll just start a new song. We were so close to not including this one with the album, but because we just loved this chorus so much, thankfully we took another crack at the verse and it quickly became one of our favourites on the record. It’s just one of those songs that feels… easy? I’m not sure what it is, but there’s just something about this tune that really makes us feel really, really good.
It’s about longing for a better life of freedom where anything is possible, and making the decision to go out and get it. It’s about taking control, rising up out of the darkness, letting go of your insecurities, forgetting about the worries of the past, stretching out in a warm bath of sunshine and celebrating all the good things coming your way.
13: Come Back
One night whilst I was in Sweden, I was FaceTiming my partner Kathleen from my hotel room. She was in tears from a horrible day at work and we both just felt so helpless… It was clear that she needed me there, and I was on the other side of the world. Sure, I was there talking to her, doing my best to make her feel better, but there’s only so much comfort and reassurance a digital face on a phone screen can provide. It just didn’t feel right that I wasn’t able to give her a hug. I felt completely helpless. So, the next day I went into my writing session with the sole purpose of writing her a song that she could use as a ‘pick me up’ the next time she was having a bad day. A song to lull her out of a bad headspace, a song to make her feel better.
We came out with Come Back and it’s got to be one of my personal favourites we’ve ever written. The production is lush and warm, and serves as a bit of a throwback to the ’90s – the kind of song that would fit nicely on The Beach soundtrack. It’s a song of support, unconditional love, and serves as a reminder to us all that though times might get tough, they won’t be that way forever, and there’s always someone there to call.
14: Thank You
Through thick and thin, our mum has been such an incredibly important member of our band. She’s always been there behind the scenes as a silent assistant, doing her best to make life easier for us in any way she can. She hasn’t missed a single show in nearly ten years! Even though she’s an important part of the team, she’s always felt like ‘just a mum’ (even though a mum is probably the most difficult, selfless, important job there is), so we wanted to do something to make her understand how special and important she is and how much she’s contributed to the people we are today. We ended up writing Thank You.
It was a confronting song to write, and an even tougher song to sing. We unveiled this tune for Mother’s Day 2020, and I was genuinely worried I wasn’t going to make it through a live performance without breaking down and bursting into tears (I got through it, don’t worry). The video clip is very heartwarming too: we decided to put the call out to our fans, asking them to send in footage of themselves with their mums, which we then edited together into a lovely home-made montage of appreciation for mothers all over the world.
15: Learning to Fly
Learning to Fly is a triumphant anthem that closed out our year of music in 2020. It’s about getting back in touch with your inner child; remembering that sense of wonder and play that we used to feel when the world was new, and figuring out how to get back to that. At what point do we learn how to reject that idea? When does the fun and excitement turn into fear and stress? Life seems to be all about ‘facing reality’ and being told to ‘grow up’, but Learning to Fly is all about throwing away the rule book on what society expects from you and to let that inner child inside of you fly. This was an incredibly uplifting song to write, and turned out to be a huge tune! It was written in LA with our dear friend, and fellow artist Forest Blakk.
16: Lazy Love
Lazy Love is a song I started writing last year for a buddy of mine from a past life, who was stuck in a pretty toxic relationship. His girlfriend would condescend and insult him in front of his friends, leave him worrying all night by going out without notice and not picking up her phone when he tried to figure out where she had gone. She would treat him like he didn’t even exist – that is, until she needed him for something. Then she was all over him.
Even though it was clear that she was abusing his good nature, for some reason he was completely okay with it. He always had a smile on his face and continued to love her despite being walked all over. He was either naïve, or he simply didn’t care. Either way, it was endearing to see how relaxed and comfortable he was in the relationship, and how easy it was for him to commit his unconditional love to a woman who clearly didn’t feel the same way. Their relationship eventually ended, thankfully, but it left its mark on me and inspired the final song for the album, Lazy Love.
I love how the production of this song really matches the relationship. It feels like a lazy Sunday song and it’s kinda goofy… but in a groovy way. Because it was the final song on the album, we wanted to do an outro that slowly faded away and let the listener slowly float back down to planet Earth, so we doubled down on the old-school ’60s tape-deck vibe and let the song fade out to a beautiful finger-picked acoustic guitar.
Kaleidoscope Eyes by Sheppard is out February 26 via MGM.
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