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Sheppard – ‘Keep Me Crazy’
“Give a little heat to the heart that was born to run.”
There’s a story George Sheppard likes to tell about the night his life changed.
It was April, 2014. Sheppard the band had travelled to the United States for MUSEXPO, the music, media and technology conference. But George and Sheppard guitarist Jay Bovino were more concerned with sitting in their shared Los Angeles hotel room, checking the single charts back home in Australia.
The band’s giddy new release ‘Geronimo’ had already been out a month, but was choosing this particular night to begin its assault on the ARIA charts in earnest. Sitting in the hotel room, the bandmates kept refreshing iTunes every couple of minutes. And each time, the song climbed higher and higher. And higher. It reached number 12. “We were thinking, ‘Wow! This is crazy!’”
Then George went to bed.
“I woke up at maybe two in the morning,” George continues. “There was this tap-tap-tap on my shoulder and Jay’s voice in my ear: ‘George! It’s at number one!’ And I fell right back to sleep.”
It wasn’t a dream. Rising in the morning, George opened his laptop and there it was. ‘Geronimo’ sat at number one. “It was crazy,” he says.
Sheppard had created a phenomenon that quickly went international, the song’s call to follow your dreams packing a universal appeal. ‘Geronimo’ went six-times platinum in Australia and raced to the top of the charts throughout Europe. It became a sleeper hit in the United States, eventually peaking at number 53 on the Billboard Hot 100 and achieving platinum status (1,000,000 sales).
A debut album Bombs Away would go gold in Australia, the band would win an ARIA for ‘Best Group’ and complete what seemed like endless rounds of touring, including knock-out performances at Rock in Rio 2015, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. There were sold-out headline shows in New York and Los Angeles, performances for both the Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
All fuelled by little more than three and a half minutes of pop music. The question is, how do you follow ‘Geronimo’?
That’s what the songwriting team of George, Jay and Amy Sheppard asked themselves when turning to record a follow-up to Bombs Away in March of last year. “It’s both a gift and a curse, for sure,” says George. “We’ve definitely gone through a process where we had to get over comparing everything to ‘Geronimo’.”
Initially, an intensive series of writing sessions in April in Los Angeles didn’t seem to help. Sheppard wanted to expand their horizons with new collaborators, but George describes the experience as a “shotgun blast”. “Every day it was a different room, writing with different producers,” he says. “It was so overwhelming.”
But the band ultimately hit it off with two pairs of producers: Peter Thomas and Kyle Moorman; and New Zealanders Gladius and Big Taste. “Pete and Kyle had actually been the first ones we wrote with,” George says. “We got off the plane, jumped in a room and wrote ‘Keep Me Crazy’.”
And like that, Sheppard’s new album had a lead single.
‘Keep Me Crazy’ is a galloping ode to freewheeling relationships that’s both a logical progression from Bombs Away and a giant leap forward in songwriting and musicianship. It also marks a new direction for Sheppard, the band’s signature sense of adventure balanced by a greater romanticism.
“It’s about the importance of keeping youthful,” George says. “I’ve always been a bit uneasy about the idea of settling down. Staying a little crazy and wild is an appealing idea.
“‘Keep Me Crazy’ felt like the right choice [for the first single],” he continues says. “It has a real Sheppard vibe — a continuation of the old, becoming the new.”
Most importantly, ‘Keep Me Crazy’ fits Sheppard’s ultimate brief of writing music that will translate live for their fans around the world. There’s the slinky, danceable riff; the rolling thunder of the chorus; the hair-raising key lyric It was love in a minute / Girl I admit it / Let’s make a break for the door. It’s a song you immediately envision played live at concerts in the United States, or music festivals in South Africa.
“We belong to these different places, these different countries,” George says. “Trying to write music that sticks with our fans around the world — music that is fun but has a deeper underlying meaning that connects — that’s why we do this.”