Sheppard’s flock is fast growing, and its going global.
Just 18 months ago, the band was riding a wave of buzz back home in Brisbane, Australia, when their breezy singalong song “Let Me Down Easy” took flight and was certified platinum. Now, the six-piece is one of the hottest new indie-pop groups on the scene.
They’ve got a quadruple-platinum selling, chart-topping single Down Under in “Geromino,” a No. 2 charting debut album with Bombs Away, they’ve had a stint on prime-time U.S. TV, they’ve scored a management deal with Scooter Braun, they’re signed to Universal worldwide (excluding Australasia). Not only that, they became the first Aussie act to sign to Decca in the U.K., they landed a tour support with Keith Urban and they’re up for a bunch of ARIA award nominations. That’s just for starters.
Billboard.com caught up with frontman and percussionist George Sheppard just days after the group performed “Geronimo” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, their U.S. TV debut. Sheppard are flitting around between promo appearances and media duties in California. They’ve just cut a performance at the Disney Animation Studio (“It was all decked out in the movie that’s just about to be released, Big Hero 6″). George is indulging in an ice-cream, before boarding a flight. It’s been a cool time. Many of the high points don’t “feel real,” he admits.
It’s their fourth or fifth visit to the U.S. But George isn’t counting. “We’re living it day to day and we’re pinching ourselves everytime an amazing thing happens.” They’ve all been pinching themselves a lot lately.
Sheppard is like a big family. George’s sisters Amy (vocals) and Emma (bass) are in the group, alongside Jason Bovino (rhythm guitar), Michael Butler (lead) and Dean Gordon (drums). Their career has been guided by Michael Chugg, the powerful Aussie music promoter, manager and indie label chief. Earlier this year, Scooter Braun took-on a piece of Sheppard’s management in the U.S., while Strange World Management’s Steve Strange and Martin Tibbetts represent the band internationally. “We’ve got a dream team, my friend,” quips George. On a dream visit to L.A., Braun, who has worked with the likes of Justin Bieber, invited the band to his home for a BBQ. It turned out Ariana Grande was having a cookout the same night. Change of plan. The Aussies set off to the Grande house. It was another “pinch-me” moment for George and his bandmates.
Sheppard got in shape for the big stage when they supported Keith Urban on his Australian Light The Fuse arena tour mid-year. Urban, who was raised in Caboolture, a small town just north of Brisbane, was a big early supporter. “Not only do we get to perform to 20,000 people in these massive arenas every night, but we also got to look at Keith’s performance every night,” notes George. “It was like a masterclass in that sense. That guy is such a gem. He’s probably the coolest guy in the music industry. He’s so humble and down to earth. He let us use the full lighting system and the full speaker system where usually a support act would get to use just the minimal production.” Urban’s supporters turned out early to catch the rising young band. “We’ve had heaps of fans come through those Keith gigs. Those shows have been really good for us.”
The group now hit a bunch of U.S. cities before heading off to the U.K. and Europe, where “Geronimo” is a border-hopping hit. In late November, the group return to Australia to perform at the ARIA awards. They’re a strong chance to take home at least one memento from the night; they’re up for five awards. Last year, they had just one nomination.
Sheppard’s “Geromino” EP continues to climb in the U.S., where it’s released through Republic. “Geronimo” sold 10,000 downloads in the week ending Oct. 26, up 35 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That was its 12th consecutive weekly sales gain. The song also appeared in a lip-dub wedding proposal clip promoting NBC’s new series Marry Me. The viral video has now enjoyed more than 4.5 million hits on YouTube. Sheppard’s debut album will be released in the U.S. in 2015.
They bandmates are enjoying the ride, and they’ve tipping more Australian acts to follow. “It used to be for a long time you had to break overseas first before Australia would take notice. Which I always thought was frustrating,” Emma told Billboard in an earlier interview. “We hit No. 1 in Portland, Oregon before Australia took notice. And when ‘Geronimo’ was No. 1, the top 5 were all Australian. To be honest it was so thrilling for me. It’s the start of a new era.”