Brisbane’s music scene has come a long way since the ‘70s, when the Queensland state was ruled under the conservative iron fist of one Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who was the longest serving Premier of Queensland from 1968 till 1987. His uncompromising conservatism has bruised the more left-wing industries in the state, one of them being the music industry. From the ‘80s through the ‘90s, Brisbane saw the coming and going of a lot of homegrown bands that never achieved international status; while pioneers like The Saints and The Go-Betweens managed to break out, many bands were formed and quickly fell apart under the watchful eyes of Big Brother Joh and his preferential law and order. It’s been 20 more years since the days when Brisbane was kept as a “police city”, and over the decades, many more bands managed to garner international attention, like Savage Garden, The Veronicas, Powderfinger and Pete Murray, albeit having to head out of Brisbane – and even the country itself – to the States before getting the attention of their fellow locals. But today, indie pop band Sheppard pretty much has everything handed to them on a silver platter, with debut album Bombs Away quickly peaking at the top three position on the ARIA charts and subsequently being certified four times platinum. Their hit single ‘Geronimo’ was also the first chart-topper to be recorded within the confinements of Brisbane, ever. Is it sheer luck what Sheppard is going through, or the happy result after generations of governmental repression? JUICE speaks to vocalist Amy Sheppard and guitarist Jason Bovino on their rocketing success thus far.
Your debut album is definitely as the title suggested! Did you expect the album to be this well-received during the premature days while cutting the record?
Well, we definitely did not expect ‘Geronimo’ to knock a single as loved by the world as Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ (laughs)! And it’s quite exciting for us when things like that happened. All we ever did was put together a collection of the best songs we have written for the past two to three years. But the songs on Bombs Away are all songs we’re very proud of, and we’re lucky that each song happens to be music for everyone, aged six to as old as 80! I mean, what are we? We’re just a small indie band from Brisbane. So, when big things like that happen to us it does feel great for us.
Sheppard sort of introduced themselves to the Australian crowd when you toured with Keith Urban during his Light the Fuse tour back in June, about a month before Bombs Away was released. After that tour, you guys straight away did your own rounds all over Australia. What’s the difference, would you say, between opening for someone as big as Keith Urban, and performing on your own?
Well, obviously our crowd was significantly smaller in comparison with Keith Urban’s, but I think it was a good move for us to open for him first, before going off on our own tour. It’s because of his shows that we have gained some new fans, and another portion of our fan base was built because we opened for him. The thing about new bands that go on tours with only their debut album to play on, is that the people that come and see you don’t necessarily know the words to your songs. So, it’s good to see fans coming to one of our first solo shows, and already we see them singing along to our songs! For a new band like ours, it’s definitely gratifying to see people already know the words to all our songs.
How do you think the music scene in Brisbane has changed, since its pioneering days back in the ‘70s when bands like The Saints and The Go-Betweens first broke the scene?
I can safely say that Brisbane is definitely in its prime, when it comes to supporting the local bands. From time to time, you’d see young indie bands coming up, and right now, I’d say that there are already five more bands in the making, like Ball Park Music. In fact, if you were to compare Brisbane’s music scene to that of Melbourne and Sydney, I think we’ve got the better end of the bargain. Whilst those cities may have great opportunities for local bands, but it’s easy to get lost in the state of things over there. In Brisbane, it’s good that our city is still small enough for us to grow, while at the same time, still getting the chance to get to know our fans on a more personal level, and individually, build a stronger rapport with our fan base. You definitely don’t get the personalisation as you do in Brisbane in the more developed cities. Not to mention, the unrequited support we’ve been getting from the local radio stations, like Triple J. They always provide airtime to unsigned bands, and a lot of the Australia bands actually had their first big break through their station. We owe a lot to them – to hear our songs being played out of the blue, and to be given the chance to shine – it’s very note-worthy to us, and it’s every airplay is a sign that what we’ve been doing is finally paying off.
Would you say that Sheppard is on their way to shaping the future of the local music scene in Brisbane, like how predecessors Powderfingers and Savage Garden once did?
As a matter of fact, we’ve just gotten back from our tour in Los Angeles, which we performed at The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and the one in Europe. We’ll be heading off to the States and Europe again soon. Yeah, of course we miss home, but you know, home will always be there when we get back. Our opportunities are happening right now, and we have to just make it work, no matter what. The last band that did it for Brisbane was Savage Garden, and that was ages ago. So, for an indie band from Australia, it’d definitely be great to create waves overseas. Whatever we’re doing right now, we do hope that it’ll go into shaping the course of Brisbane’s music scene in days to come.
Sheppard’s debut full-length Bombs Away is out now via Universal.