It was Saturday afternoon at half past four and I was strolling down Clinton Street on my way up to East Houston. My formal shoes were digging into the back of my feet; I should’ve worn sneakers. A stream of cars passed to the left. The sweet smells of street corner cafés were in the air. A few more paces and a couple of crossways until the stoplight to change street directions.
“Pop goes the charts!” a cheerful voice bellowed behind me. I froze, then turned around to George in the front seat of a black mini van, hair sticking up in clumps, cracking a smile as mother Linda and band mate Dean watched on. I laughed. “You kids!” “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” he replied. “It’s alright, I like a good scare. Halloween’s coming up, you scare people.” The three nodded. I finished with a “You all better have good costumes this year,” which gave them a chuckle. Linda pulled out a phone to snap a photo of me and I grinned, giving a thumbs up as egged on by George. “Have a good one!” one of them called out. “You too!” I said and waved them a fond farewell. After one more round of waves, their car crossed onto the opposite of the street as I took off down to Washington Square, walking through the park and reminiscing.
Does this read like the start of a bad fan fiction piece to you? I’d think so too, but it happened, even that guidance by the Little River Band. (No dancing in the dark, it was still light out.) Point is, if you end up at a music conference and you see any band that you like three times, that’s dedication, and perhaps reasonable grounds to call yourself a fan girl or a stan or whatever their loyal base call themselves. What would that be here? A “Shep Brother” or “Shep Sister”? It has a ring to it. Humor aside, the Australian sextet Sheppard rocked it at CMJ Music Marathon over the last few days, and it really was an honor to see them live and get to know them a bit before they flew off to England. They were electric on stage and down to earth off stage. I certainly wasn’t going in with the intention of being won over; they already did that for me months ago, but there’s always something about putting the full package together that makes you feel satisfied. So, the dream became reality.
You may ask, how did you get interested in them in the first place? Well, I refer you back to this post I did in April. Being the chart surfer that I am, I came across that week’s edition of the Australian airplay chart and noticed that a song called “Let Me Down Easy” debuted on the entire 100-position survey at #39. That’s a big entrance for anyone, especially for an independent act. I was under the impression that the song was a cover, specifically because of this single which charted in 2002 from Chris Isaak of the same title. Well, surprise! This was no remake. It was an original, and I dug it from the first listen, and then wrote the profile in the hopes that something could come of it Stateside in 2013. The band shared it on their social media profiles and I thought maybe, just maybe, something was in the works.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened so far. However, in Australia, “Easy” ended up peaking at #12 on the airplay chart (currently #94 in its 27th week) and the Sheppard EP, certified Platinum for shipments of 70,000 copies, went as high as #18 on the Singles chart in a 15 week run. (ARIA rules state that a single only available on an EP rather than as a stand-alone release enables the whole EP to enter.) It was an admirable success, especially for a release that had been out since August of the prior year, and one that secured them a nomination at the ARIA Awards for Best Independent Release. Meanwhile, “Easy” spent three weeks at #10 on my chart and 20 weeks on, and is holding up pretty well in the data I’ve crunched so far for my year-end survey. Followup “Hold My Tongue” is faring even better, now at #5 on my most recent chart thanks to CMJ.
It’s weird to think that one comment a month ago on one of my chart posts from May by George Sheppard, father of three of the band’s siblings, led to my first solo trip to New York City and everything that happened this week with the band. First, it was an intimate acoustic performance at the Klimat Lounge on Wednesday, a big mixer for the management group behind Sheppard and a couple of other bands like The Griswolds, Chugg Music. Then, it was a Planetary Party at Pianos on Friday afternoon, and lastly, an Australian BBQ over at The Delancey on Saturday afternoon. There were a lot of Australian accents going around and very few American ones, and I wasn’t about to start faking something out of “Crocodile” Dundee. That being said, they were quite warm and friendly and liked to have a good time. (There were a few characters in the bunch.)
As a live act, I can’t say enough about how good they were at all three venues. Lead singer George Sheppard (the son) is a ball of energy, and the six of them together bring the fun. Several songs to be included on their forthcoming studio album were highlights in all three shows, including the anthemic “Geronimo”, with an emphatic sing-along chorus of a “Say! Geronimo!” chant and “Bombs away!” as singers George and Amy Sheppard traded off harmonies and leads. I don’t know what the studio cut sounds like, but that screamed single material to me based off how involved the crowd seemed. Also, the faces drummer Dean Gordon was giving us were (a) like he was in pure ecstasy and (b) adorable. Also topping my list was stomper “Halfway To Hell”, in which the band went full-out tribal in last 45 seconds of the song, banging away to a thrilled crowd. They have an image: lots of flourescent colors and printed shirts, and how could I neglect to mention that they have shakers shaped like pineapples? Plus, their fan base continues to grow. When I initially did my article, the band’s Facebook page had a little under 2,500 likes that were generally from Australia; that total is now at over 13,000 and on a more global scale. I’m really, really proud of them for what they’ve accomplished in such a short time.
It’s hard to return back to normalcy after a week like that, but I’m certainly hoping that this isn’t the end for myself and the band. A part of me is always going to remember that sudden “Pop goes the charts!” creep up from a few car lengths behind and think back to a great time and how cool it was to be recognized like that. It meant a lot to me in the moment and now and gave me a reignited reason for what I do. They’ve done particularly well for themselves in their homeland and I wouldn’t be writing about and praising the six so much if I didn’t think there was a place for these guys in the U.S. music market. There is very much a spot waiting for them. As for how they’ll get there, well, I do have something in mind for how it can be done, a plan that would at least give the group a fair shot here. That, however, is something only to be discussed between myself and their management. You have to keep some things a secret, right? Amy, Dean, Emma, George, Jay and Michael, it was a pleasure to meet you, mates, and thank you to Andrew Stone for coordinating the events, though I didn’t get a chance to say hello. Come back soon; you’re welcome here any time.