Christmas Without You is out now!
Last month, Sheppard treated us all to an early Christmas gift with the release of Christmas Without You. To celebrate we caught up with George Sheppard to chat about the song, performing at the Brisbane Lord Mayor Christmas Carols, all things Christmas, their 2022 plans and more!
You guys have dropped your first ever Christmas song which is exciting! It’s quite a reflective, gentle, and emotive track, and offers up another perspective to the Christmas season. What prompted that thematic exploration for the song?
To be honest people have been asking us for years when we're gonna do a Christmas song. There's a million Christmas songs that come out every year and we definitely didn't wanna do a cover of a classic because you know, Michael Bublé got that covered already. We kind of wanted it to be something authentic, something original, something new that we could offer to this time of the year. And from a personal perspective, we haven't been able to see our father because of the pandemic and he's in another country. This will be our second Christmas that we've spent without him and it's just one of those things where Christmas doesn't feel quite as magical. It's lost some of the charm of Christmas when you're missing somebody that you really love and that you're supposed to have there at Christmas. So that's kind of how we were feeling going into this Christmas. We definitely took a leaf out of that book and decided to write about that personal experience. We knew that there would be other people around the world this Christmas that would be feeling exact same thing. And it's not just for the pandemic. Every year there are people that are trapped overseas or stuck without their loved ones or they've lost somebody this year, and then Christmas comes around and it's a really difficult, challenging time of year for those people. We wanted to write a song for them.
It's lovely of you to create a piece of art that will resonate with those who aren't feeling the Christmas season for a variety of reasons.. Last year, I recall Miley Cyrus recorded a song for Dolly Parton's Christmas album and she recorded it in like June and she said it was so bizarre to record a Christmas song six or seven months before the festive season because you're not really in that zone. Did you feel similarly to that? I'm assuming it was written months ago...
Yeah, a hundred percent it was Christmas July for us. We decided in June that we wanted to do a Christmas song.
How did you guys get into that mindset?
Well, to be honest the music itself was something that really got us into that mind space. The song began with that little piano twinkle at the beginning of the song, that was like the first piece of the puzzle that came together for the song. It was just like this very Christmasy vibe to that piano line and so it was kind of easy once you have that. Because music is like the biggest trigger of emotions and memories and all this stuff. So just hearing that piano line over and over again, it was easy to get into that Christmas spirit. Yeah. We also had friends in the blue mountains and where it was kind of a bit snowy at the time [laughs]. So we just FaceTimed them and they would show us out the window we'd be like, 'yeah, it's snowing somewhere in the world right now. This is great'. [laughs]
Love that! The song arrives alongside a stunning visual, it’s so beautiful. Could you tell us a bit about how the concept of the clip came to be and its evolution? Obviously like lockdowns would've played into the animated approach.
In this day and age it is just a risk because you run that that gauntlet of like is it gonna get locked down or are we gonna get canceled or whatever. But by having it completely animated, we've kind of done that a few times over the pandemic where we've just had a video clip that represents what our music's doing, but we're not necessarily in the clip. I mean there's photos of us that sort of get formed with icicles in the clip, but in terms of like a traditional music video we probably wouldn't have been able to be in it any more than we were.
How did your creative collaboration with Ars Thanea begin? I know Christmas Without You isn't the first time you've worked together.
So we have been working with this graphic design firm in Poland, they're called Ars Thanea. I found them randomly on a DeviantArt webpage and I contacted who I thought was like this beginner graphic designer being like, 'Hey man, we're looking for art for our second album. What do you like charge? What do you think?'. He got back to me in 15 minutes saying that he not at DeviantArt anymore, it's like a 15 year old account that I've emailed. He now runs and owns his own graphic design firm in Poland but he knows our band and would love to bring his team together to see what they can bring for our second album. This is like a team that are doing stuff with Nike and Uber and Lenovo, these huge corporations that would be spending hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars on this incredible team. But it's been this really happy marriage with Peter, the guy that I've been connected with in Poland, he's the CEO of this company. Him and I have just been going back and forth. It is actually really nice because we get this beautiful visual accompaniment to our music, while at the same time, they get to just really explore their creativity and have full control, which is something that they don't get with those other bigger artists. So they get to do all the research and development with our projects, and we've just been working with Ars Thanea on every single cover, every album cover us since the second album. We've just kind of reached out to them and they've helped us out and this was the first time they've done a video clip for us. So we were like, alright, I really wanna give these guys the opportunity. They've never let us down in the past. It's such amazing visual work. Let's just see what they come up with. Let's just kind of hand the creative Baton over to these guys and see, see what comes back. It was beautiful, looked like it was made by Pixar.
I agree with that, it does! Christmas is such a massive part of childhood, what was your go-to Christmas song or album that when you put it on it felt like the festive season?
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko. I think that just straightaway, as soon as his voice comes in "so this is Christmas", you're just like it's Christmas! It's Christmas time. My dad would just blast that through the house. He used to wake us up for school with music, so he'd just go downstairs and turn on the hi-fi system and then just blast like country music, Christmas music, whatever time of the year it was, through the house to wake us up instead of just setting an alarm or coming and waking us up for school. So at Christmas time that song would just get blasted through the house to wake us up [laughs]. Kind of traumatic now that I think about it.
That's so good. All Christmas songs are popular, but what song do you think is the most underrated? Any tracks you think are hidden gems?
I think Mariah Carey's All I Want fFor Christmas Is You. I think that's about to have its day. I think that's kind of under appreciated that song. No one's ever heard that one. That's an up and comer [laugh].
I love every year, whenever Halloween she starts posting all this Christmas stuff and she's just in her element. It's her time. She's just waits those like 10, 11 months and then she's full force.
Yeah, she thaws out [laughs].
Do you have any family Christmas traditions and if so what’s your favourite tradition?
We used to open our Christmas presents the night before on Christmas Eve just so we could wake up on Christmas day and we could just be together and have breakfast and do all the other stuff that you do on Christmas day, apart from opening the presents. I don't why we did that, but we'd always do it the night before and we'd get to play with our toys for a little bit before going to sleep and there were more presents because Santa had been obviously. But yeah we opened our presents from our parents the night before. I can't remember why to be honest. I think it was because, you know, they had presents from Santa and presents from them and they didn't wanna get 'em mixed up. [laugh'
That's a great idea, but that's also so lovely opening presents together twice.
I think it was just a nice thing to do for the kids to be like, wake up and then there's more presents again, and you're like, 'oh my God'. So that was probably the reason for that.
You’ll be performing the track in your hometown at the Brisbane Lord Mayor Christmas Carols on December 11. What can we expect from the performance?
We're gonna be doing the original Christmas song obviously, and then we're doing a cover, we're doing a classic Christmas song. One of the ones that I mentioned, I dunno if I'm allowed to say, but one of the ones I've already mentioned. We're doing a cover of that. Lord Mayor Christmas Carols here in Brisbane, I think it's got this like prestige to it. If you get asked to do this, it's a huge honour and we are very stoked and excited to be able to get up there and just see the families in the crowd. I think that's been like the biggest thing for us. We've done very few of our own shows in this pandemic over the last couple of years, and we did a show recently and the thing that surprised me the most was how much joy I felt looking into the crowd and seeing families having a good time together. Just like after what must be such a challenging, tough, hard time, to see people in the crowd smiling with their kids and everyone's together, everyone's happy, everyone's safe. It's just like this nice wholesome vibe and I'm looking forward to that in the crowd at the carols.
That's so lovely! What's on the agenda in 2022 for Sheppard?
I think we are hoping and praying, fingers crossed, toes crossed, for the ability to actually tour nationally. If not internationally. We've got an album we still haven't toured yet, so we're waiting for the borders to open up. We can't wait to get over to Perth, to hit up Adelaide again, all the regional places we played on the second album tour. Then middle of the year we're talking about going to Europe and doing something of a tour there because we've seen quite a bit of success come through for us in Holland, Germany and all those surrounding countries. So we'd love to get back there and see what it would be like to play in Amsterdam, for example, see if the crowds grown over there. So that's kind of where we're at, but obviously we're gonna be recording new music if none of that happens. We've already booked some studio time in for the beginning of next year. So that's what we'll be focusing on.
Can you name all 12 things in The 12 Days of Christmas?
Oh, we had this [laugh] we had actually had this argument the other day. We couldn't remember what number two was. I can only remember from like six, no it's from the five golden rings bit, you know, the "five golden rings". Four turtle doves, three French hens. Oh, four something birds, three French hens, two turtle, doves, and a Partridge in a pear tree. It's the fourth one I can't remember. But anything above five golden rings, I'm useless.
Favourite Christmas movie?
Home Alone. I think it's hard to go past that classic, you know, just being a kid, watching that movie and being like, 'oh, imagine being left home alone'. I think Home Alone 2 was my favourite as a kid. Just because the idea of being stuck in a city on adventure as a kid, having your parents credit card, being able to go to the toy stores, do whatever you want. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
The last Christmas movie you watched?
We watched The Grinch the other day. I think that's probably my sister Emma's favorite. The one with Jim Carey directed by Ron Howard, we watched that the other day. That's just one of those movies you can just put on and no matter how many times you've seen it, you can just watch the entire thing. I think anything that Jim Carey's in, I'll just watch it from start to finish.
Prancer sounds like a lot of fun [laughs].
Favourite Christmas treat?
I reckon just like a honey baked ham. Just put a slice of that on a bread roll and you're good to go. That's Christmas done.
Do you wrap your presents or put them in a bag?
Depends on how much time I have. Emma's birthday present last year, I had a box party the night before and Emma decided to book a birthday breakfast. So I was like, [laugh] feeling a little worse for wear, and I just quickly just picked up her present and just put it in a plastic bag and wrapped it around [laugh]. Brother of the year.
Can you name all the reindeer?
Blitzen, Vixen, Rudolph, obviously Dancer, Prancer and... no, that's, that's the extent of my reindeer knowledge.
Christmas Without You is out now!