UPDATED: Amy and Emma Sheppard: the sisters at the centre of a remarkable Australian musical success story. AND! whose band has just been announced to support Justin Bieber
Sheppard have just been secured as a support act for international super star Justin Bieber when he is out for his Purpose Tour. This is a huge stage for this band, and no doubt a result of the ties Sheppard already have with Justin Bieber. In case you missed it, check out our interview with members Amy and Emma Sheppard from late last year, below. Congratulations Sheppard! Tickets and dates via Frontier Touring.
Sheppard, the happy, hooky family band from Brisbane (three of the band's six members are siblings) have been playing together for the better part of seven years thanks to a series of lucky breaks that have seen the group go from strength to strength. Let's start with break number one. Amy Sheppard was cramming for a music assignment and needed to record some harmonies for Angus and Julia Stone's popular song Mango Tree and solicited her brother George to help. Their dad walked past and heard the music. That was the point that mum and dad Sheppard decided to invest into their children's music career - younger sister Emma was employed as a bass player and backing vocalist, along with a couple of extra band members - and helped pay for a sound recording which leads us to break number two. Sydney-based band member Jay Bovino (who had met George Sheppard while George was studying acting) decided to give a copy of the band's single titled Let Me Down Easy to his brother who worked at Channel Nine. Jay's brother passed it along to David Campbell, host of Channel Nine's Mornings program, and son of Jimmy Barnes. Campbell was so impressed, he invited Sheppard onto Mornings to perform the song. Which directs us break number three. Campbell passed on Let Me Down Easy to his contacts at Nova and the song was instantly added to commercial radio rotation. And the rest is award-winning, chart-topping history.
Sheppard are probably most famous for their triple platinum hit song Geronimo which stayed at number one on the ARIA charts for a lengthy three weeks. The band were nominated for seven ARIA awards in 2014, and won Best Group of the Year.
Which brings us to what has been perhaps Sheppard's biggest break - an out-of-the-blue phone call from pop act manager Scooter Braun who has over four million followers on Twitter and who represents a guy named Justin Beiber, as well as other huge hit-makers in the US. Scooter Braun introduced Sheppard to the United States where the group's catchy songs have been incredibly well received by fans far and wide.
To date, Sheppard have toured with Meghan Trainor, Keith Urban, Michael Franti, played on the USA's widely popular Today Show as well as a popular show on the Disney Channel called Girl Meets World. Whoops, I nearly forgot to mention Ellen. Oh, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
The glamorous arenas and sparkly television studios of the world are a long way away from the gated community the Sheppard family lived in while growing up in Papua New Guinea. Amy, Emma and George's dad has worked in the dangerous pacific nation as a lawyer for very high-profile clients for some twenty five years. It was in PNG that they were taught guitar by a member of Australian band Yothu Yindi. Amy told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014, "I think having him teach us was a massive influence," adding, "A lot of our harmonies come from PNG."
Sheppard have seen good fortune every step of the way but it is their dedication and determination that means Amy, Emma, brother George along with friends and fellow band members Michael, Jason and Dean will probably be around defying odds as independent pop sensation Sheppard, for a very long time. And just a few weeks ago, the pop harmonies are back in a brand new song called We Belong Together.
Amy and Emma took some time to talk to Music Love about their success to date, life in PNG, and what it's like to crack America.
Amy, Emma and George Sheppard at the 30th Annual ARIA Awards. Photo Alex Carlyle for Music Love
What does music mean to you?
Emma: Music is life! It's so great to be apart of something so universal that can speak so many languages. Music makes me so happy and I'm sure many others as well and it's so great to be a part of it.
Amy: To me, music is freedom. It’s freedom of speech and an opportunity to retrieve or relieve powerful emotion. Music commands me to feel.
The ARIAs were held last week. What is one memory that stands out for each of you after your awards and nominations?
Emma: It's soooo exciting. Everything about the ARIAs is fun... from finding outfits, getting your hair and makeup done to the red carpet. I would have to say that being announced as the winner of the Best Group award in 2014 was just so amazing, and a moment I will never forget.
Amy: Wining an ARIA is embedded into my memory as one of the biggest highlights of my life. Although the awards and accolades aren't why we write music, it is a huge honour to be recognised by your industry in your own country. I feel very humbled to be a part of the history of Australian music and I hope that our achievements bring great inspiration to young Australian musicians.
How did you individually handle such a quick ascent into fame?
Emma: Everything still pretty much feels the same to me... although there are a lot more early mornings. It's a lot of hard work but having your family around you and great people really helps.
Amy: As they say, it can take years for an overnight success to happen. I have been working at this my whole life. I have been musically inclined since I can remember. That being said, nothing can ever prepare you for the whirlwind a hit song brings. Our lives changed when we released our first single Let Me Down Easy. In one day, we performed on Channel Nine and instantaneously were added to commercial radio around the country. It was totally unexpected and has been exhilarating and overwhelming ever since then. We feel so very grateful of the experiences we have had and wouldn’t change it for anything.
Tell us about your success in America – performing on the Today show, and your many fans there.
Emma: It's exciting to make a bit of a ripple in the American music industry as it is the biggest in the world. We still have a long way to go but it will be good to get back there for more shows.
Amy: It all started with Let Me Down Easy. It got picked up by a radio station in Portland, Oregon and went straight to number one on their charts. We continued to build a steady fan base in the US and then we released Geronimo. Once it had gone to number one in Australia, a man by the name of Scooter Braun discovered us and literally called us up one morning. We couldn’t believe it. Within a few weeks we had signed a US management [agreement with] him and he helped to get us onto shows such as Ellen, Jimmy Fallon and The Today Show. We owe a lot to Scooter and his team. Our American fans are passionate, persistent and fun. We love them for that.
Amy has branched out on her own to release a single. Will there be any more solo projects in the future for either of you?
Emma: I don't really sing a lot but I would never say no to any opportunities that come my way. I may or may not have a solo line in a song on the new album ;)
Amy: Once we had come back from touring for a couple of years, I was asked by my friend Chris Watts to co-write a song with him. I thought, why not! It was just a fun project. We are all very creative people so I think you can expect to see more collaborations, solo projects and more Sheppard tunes.
How do you take care of your voice?
Emma: I've been having vocal lessons all year just trying to strengthen my voice. Technique is very important from preventing damage to the vocal chords!
Amy: Obviously, it is essential to look after your voice. I try to take care of it as much as I possibly can without living a recluse life. I make sure I warm up before singing, I drink a tea called “throat coat” and also see a vocal physiotherapist (YEP! You’re reading that correctly). His name is Jim Bostock and he has developed a technique to release muscles around your neck and jaw line to release strain from your vocal chords. It’s fascinating and I wish he could tour with us!
Do you have a songwriting process?
Emma: I don't write songs so I couldn't tell you haha!
Amy: Not really. It is different every time but it usually starts with an idea such as chord progression, riff or melody. Sometimes I nut it out myself or I go straight to George and Jay to further develop it with them. Three heads are always better than one.
What advice would you give aspiring young people who want to be a professional musicians?
Emma: Just be confident in what you do, even if other people don't approve. We are constantly getting told how "uncool" pop music is but we love it and you gotta do what you love!
Amy: Learn to perfect your craft. Write your own music and be relentless.
Are you drawn to other genres of music?
Emma: I really don't have any favourite genres, if I like a song I'll listen to it.
Amy: It really depends on what mood I’m in! I’m a huge fan of music from the 70s and sometimes I get into heavy rock or metal when I’m exercising. It all depends on what I’m doing.
What was life like growing up in PNG?
Emma: So much fun! I have so many great memories from growing up in PNG and am so grateful we got to grow up on a tropical island!
Amy: We had a great lifestyle in PNG. Although we lived behind locked doors and barbed wire most of the time, I will always feel like PNG is my original home. Papua New Guinea is so rich in culture and diversity. It’s a country like no other. We grew up in a school which really valued the arts and I truly believe I wouldn’t have gained such a strong passion for music had I’d grown up elsewhere.
And then what was it like moving to Australia?
Emma: Australia was so cool... I remember coming to Australia for holidays and how excited [I would get] over a Frozen Coke, haha. We weren't allowed to go walking along the streets in PNG so it was very different moving to Australia. I think we transitioned pretty well into the Australian culture but I'll always miss the tropical life.
Amy: To be honest, it was a struggle. Because my family still lived in PNG, I ended up in a private, all-girls heavily religious boarding school. It was a massive culture shock. At twelve years old, I was overweight, cripplingly introverted and thrown into a world of uniform, beautiful girls and dreaded cliques. Although this was a very uncomfortable time in my life, the whole experience only strengthened my songwriting and I eventually found my feet.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
Emma: I love Rottnest island in WA. There are so many great places around Australia, we are so lucky to be living in such a beautiful country.
Amy: This is such a hard question. Australia has got to be the most beautiful country in the world. Am I bias if I say Queensland? I just love nature and I love being around water and I have a keen interest in marine life. I absolutely love north Queensland.
What is your favourite Australian café or restaurant?
Emma: Love a place called 'About a Boy & a Girl' and also 'Dalgety Public House'
Amy: Again, there are SO MANY! I love this café in West End (Brisbane) called “Morning After.” They do a breakfast carbonara which is now my favourite way to eat bacon and eggs. For dinner, my favourite restaurant is the Spaghetti House. If you get the chance, do yourself a favour.
Favourite Australian fashion designer?
Emma: I would have to say a favourite brand called A.J.E
Amy: I have a few favourite Australian fashion designers and labels, can I list a few for you all? Lisa Gorman, Christie Nicolaides, Romance Was Born, Macgraw.
Who are your favourite Australian women in music (whether behind the scenes or other artists and musicians)?
Emma: I love Jessica Mauboy. Everything about her, she is has such a positive energy and she is so sweet.
Amy: Sia is the best damn thing to come out of Australia. She is SUCH a talent and her music is so genuine and heartfelt. I’m also a huge fan of Jessica Mauboy, Kasey Chambers and Tina Arena. I have had the pleasure of meeting this beautiful women and they are all such lovely people despite their legendary status.
Favourite non-music thing?
Amy: Coral reefs. Cheese platters. Sophia Webster shoes.