It’s fair to say that when Sheppard first gave fans a taste of what was to come on album number three with “Die Young” back in late 2019, the events of the next year and a bit looked a little bit more clearer than what they became.
By February, the group had embarked on a massively ambitious project which would see them record and release a new song each month. Just weeks later though, the events of 2020 changed the gameplan significantly, resulting in more than an ample amount of uncertainty, while their release plans gave Sheppard something to focus on.
As the music continued to arrive, and Sheppard found themselves taking a longer break away from the live stage than they had planned, it soon became clear that what we were hearing was the lead-up to the band’s long-awaited third album, Kaleidoscope Eyes. The follow-up to 2018’s chart-topping Watching the Sky, the preceding years had been nothing short of gruelling for the familial band.
Not only were there professional highlights – including submitting a song for Eurovision – Australia Decides, and widespread global touring – but there were some personal lowlights – including an uncertainty over the band’s future following a throat and vocal chord injury for George Sheppard.
But despite these obstacles the group were forced to endure, they’ve come out the other end with one of their most euphoric and anthemic records to date, with Kaleidoscope Eyes not only serving as an example of their musical skills, but of their resilience and desire to overcome.
With Kaleidoscope Eyes officially released into the world tomorrow, we spoke to George about the path to this new album, and all the highs and lows in between.
Firstly, congratulations on the new album. It’s been a rather long journey from your last album to here, so it stands to reason you must be feeling incredibly excited to finally get it out there?
GS: Thanks so much! It has been quite the effort. Over the last two and a bit years since we started recording this album, we’ve had a Eurovision competition, some vocal surgery, a songwriting trip to Sweden, a trip to Nashville, LA, and NYC, we’ve played on the main runway of the Gold Coast airport, we’ve performed the AFL Grand Final and released 15 singles! To say we’re excited to finally be at this point of releasing the album would be an understatement. We’re feeling absolutely ecstatic!
Once everything had wrapped up with Watching the Sky, what was the initial plan? Were you aiming to get right back into new music, or were you wanting to decompress and attack album number three with some clear heads?
GS: I think we definitely needed some time to clear our heads. The Watching the Sky album release and subsequent tour in 2018 was a massive undertaking, and it’s all just so fast paced that once you finally hit the ground back home, you definitely need to give yourself a little time away from the band and the music to stop your head from spinning.
We needed to give ourselves a chance to soak up the creative sponge, so to speak – enjoy some of life’s experiences. I think we took about three months off to decompress, which was lovely. We then started 2019 with a fresh outlook and feeling inspired to start a new album cycle.
You first announced back in February of last year that you’d be releasing a new single each month. You’d already released “Die Young”, but what made you decide that this was the way you wanted to make and release music?
GS: So at the start of 2020, right before the pandemic crippled the global economy, we decided that we were going to convert a room in our house into a mini studio, and spend our year writing, recording and releasing a song every month (with a video) and this would eventually become our third album. It was a hell of a challenge but looking back it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. It was a profoundly rewarding and liberating way to release our music.
The reason we decided to do this was because the way people consume music has changed so dramatically in recent years. People seem to focus on the singles, and the rest of the album gets somewhat glossed over as a bit of an afterthought, it’s not given as much attention. Releasing every track on the album as its own single solved that problem. Every song got its month in the sun.
We were also getting fed up with how long it took to build up a single for release in the conventional way. For example, “Die Young” took 10 months to release from the moment it was written. It’s just such a long build up that by the time it’s released, you might have moved on as artists, so by us doing it this way, you know that you’re hearing the band at their most current.
There’s also a tonne of pressure riding on the performance of a “lead” single and how much of its success relates to the album – it can be very stressful. By releasing a single every month, we didn’t have time to care about how well a song was doing or how it was performing in the charts, we just got to work on the next release. We honestly loved the process. Those 12 singles + some extra tracks are the songs that comprise Kaleidoscope Eyes and we feel they’re some of our best songs to date.
Not long after you’d announced that plan for monthly singles, the world was stricken down by the impact of COVID. Did this have much impact on the plans – be it recording or touring – you had in place for 2020?
GS: Honestly, we were so fortunate that we’d made that decision to release a song a month. Essentially, we were planning to spend most of our year locked in our studio, releasing music, so once Covid hit we had already set ourselves up well for what most people had to try and figure out after the fact. We just stayed the course we’d already plotted out for ourselves.
We’ve also been quite fortunate here in Brisbane, as we haven’t been affected too badly and life has been able to go on in a somewhat normal capacity. And as devastating as Covid has been, we did get to experience some pretty unique shows because of it. Air traffic was practically non-existent in March/April, so a radio station on the Gold Coast (Hot Tomato) organised an epic live streamed show for us on the main runway of the Gold Coast airport. Surely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We also scored the halftime slot at the AFL Grand Final which is possibly the biggest event you can play in Australia, so as a band dealing with a global pandemic, we feel we’ve been very fortunate indeed.
It did also provide something of a rare chance for the band to step back a little bit and rediscover a bit of “normal” life away from the continuing grind of touring. How important was that for the band during such a difficult time?
GS: It was incredibly important. We really welcomed the chance to spend so much time in Brisbane with our partners and friends. International touring can be an extremely gruelling, hellish lifestyle. Zero sleep, living out of a suitcase on a bus for months on end, early morning flights, late night shows – it’s certainly not all rainbows and unicorns like it seems on social media.
You miss important birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals – life just moves on even though you aren’t around. You start to lose touch with the people you care about back home. So yes, as much as we miss performing live, we’ve very much enjoyed our chance to settle back into home life and rediscover normal, stable routines again!
As the year began to come to a close though, there was something of a return to normalcy where the band both announced the new album and performed at the AFL Grand Final. What was it like to make your return to the stage in such a massive way?
GS: The AFL Grand Final will always feel like a dream to us. To have been trusted with such an historic occasion, the first ever night time Grand Final, and the first to be played outside of Melbourne – it was just a momentous occasion that will never truly feel real. It also fell on my birthday weekend, so it will be a weekend I’ll never forget. To have been able to play a stadium show to 30,000 people in the year of a global pandemic, it’s just truly staggering how fortunate we were.
Beyond all of that, it was the first time we had actually been able to showcase the band in the way that we’d always dreamed. Our music is so anthemic and euphoric, it’s certainly got that “stadium” energy to it. It’s music that’s meant to be shared with as many people as possible and we were very grateful for the opportunity to make it a real spectacle. Hopefully everyone at home enjoyed it as much as we did!
With the album now about to land, it’s undoubtedly arriving in an unconventional manner given that the majority of the songs have been heard as singles already. Was there any apprehension in giving so much away before its full release?
GS: There was a point in the middle of last year where we started to get a bit worried, but we slowly came to realise that there’s a difference between 12 individual singles being released episodically and having them all bundled together on the one album. These songs were always meant to be a listening experience from start to finish, we just so happened to release it in an unconventional way.
There are also a few songs on the record that people haven’t heard yet, plus some really lovely musical interludes – so it definitely feels like a “complete” package, and something more than just the 12 singles standing out there on their own.
The record’s title is also quite special to you all, relating to finding beauty within the world, seeing things in a new light, and finding love within the world. Was this a notion that guided you through the record’s creation?
GS: Absolutely, but it’s not something we decided on very early. Part of the beauty of releasing the album this way was that we were able to discover what it was as we went along. You can follow the journey of us figuring out what the album was as you progress through the year. We just started to release songs that we loved, first “Die Young”, then “Don’t Believe in Love”, then “Somebody Like You”, and we slowly but surely starting piecing together the puzzle of this album.
We realised that the songs all had this underlying theme of love and how it affects the way you perceive the world around you. The title came after we decided to settle on a lyric from the first line of “Die Young” that we thought encapsulated this notion perfectly: “In a world that’s colour blind, we see it all through kaleidoscope eyes.”
There are also some rather heavy topics on the record as well, notably in the first single, “Die Young”, which looks at your vocal injury, and a state of fractured existence for the band. The prevailing message is one of positivity though, and is sort of prescient given the events of the past year. In keeping with the record’s theme though, I assume it must be rather gratifying to write such a personal song and see it providing so much hope to your fans?
GS: I was so glad that “Die Young” resonated with our fans the way that it did. It was certainly a bit of a departure from the songs on our previous two albums. Our music tends to be on the happier, more celebratory side, but at the end of the day we are still real people dealing with challenging situations, and this particular situation was something I couldn’t help but write about.
Sustaining a vocal injury was incredibly confronting for me. The prospect that my passion and my very livelihood could be taken away from me scared the hell out of me. It was very real. So we released a song about not taking for granted the life that you’ve lived. Writing and releasing “Die Young” was certainly a cathartic experience, and I love the fact that despite the dark title, it’s actually a song of gratitude. About being proud of the things you’ve achieved in the past, rather than the future that you might have lost.
How does it feel to look back on all these highlights from over the years? Does it have an almost surreal quality to it all, or is just part and parcel of all the hard work you’ve all put in over the years?
GS: We really do feel incredible fortunate. We’ve definitely put in a tonne of hard work over the last 10 years, and we’ve certainly got a lot more work to do but the fact that we’ve been able to make music our full-time job is a real dream come true. Sure, we’ve had many ups and downs, but success in the music industry is a rare thing, and to have been able to experience it together as a family has been so wonderful.
We just thank our fans and everyone else who has supported us and stuck by us through the journey. Hopefully we’ve got another 10 years of amazing memories to make!
With the album arriving on the 26th, and a launch show in Brisbane that same night, what is on the immediate horizon for the band? Are you aiming to announce a tour soon, are you working on more new music in the meantime, or are you just enjoying more a sense of quiet before things ramp up once again?
GS: Unfortunately, international touring is still out of the equation, but thanks to that one-song-a-month challenge, we’ve really streamlined our process of writing/recording/releasing music. We’ve already started the initial processes of writing album four and even though we hope to take a little break, hopefully we’ll continue the trend of consistent music releases throughout 2021.
Amy has also been quietly working on a country album which will hopefully see the light of day in 2021. Apart from that, we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds for Sheppard!
Sheppard’s Kaleidoscope Eyes is released on Friday, February 26th, with pre-orders available now. Sheppard are also set to pair the album’s release with a performance at Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall, with a live set to premiere on YouTube the following day. Full details are available below.
Sheppard ‘Kaleidoscope Eyes’ Album Launch
Supported by Mason Watts
Friday, February 26th
The Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD
YouTube Performance Times
Brisbane + Gold Coast
Saturday, February 27th – 1:00pm (Local)
Sydney + Melbourne + Canberra
Saturday, February 27th – 2:00pm (Local)
Saturday, February 27th – 1:30pm (Local)
Saturday, February 27th – 11:00am (Local)
Saturday, February 27th – 3:00pm (Local)