Frontman Michael Shepard chats about the new progression the band took on Wild Blood, the process of falling in love with music again, and staying off the beaten track without a record label.
You are in the middle of a month-long residency run in Nashville right now. How have those been going?
Oh man, it’s been really spectacular. The first show, which was last Tuesday, we played Pretend You’re Alive all the way through. There was a moment, maybe an hour before doors, where we were all sitting around thinking, “Oh my God. What if nobody really cares about this at all and it’s a complete disaster?” It ended up being really amazing. A bunch of fans showed up. It was a packed house and everyone was singing along. It was really emotional and an incredible experience. We’re so glad we decided to do these residencies. It’s been really, really great for us and the fans alike.
And you played another show last night, I believe.
Yeah, we played the second record, Everything Starts Where It Ends, equally as great. It was a fantastic night. That one was a little bit more of a journey, because that record was a little bit more grandiose, but just as fun. Again, we were shocked and surprised that it was a full house. People came out and supported us, sang along, and everyone had a good time. We’re definitely looking forward to next week, doing the third record, playing that one through as well as some of our b-sides and EP songs we’ve released over the past couple years. Then of course leading up to March 6, which is the following Tuesday and the record release day for us. We’ll be celebrating our new album that night.
You’ve said you want to get to the point where you can play any song from your catalogue, like if someone was to shout out something on a whim. What does it take to prepare for something like that and have you noticed anything about revisiting all the older material?
Yeah, man. It’s a lot more work than we thought it was going to be, just because our conflicting schedules with the band here in Nashville. Everyone has day jobs and lives right now. We have this little window Monday morning, which is basically our only time that we all have available together. We have a four-hour window of time where we rehearse like mad men together. It’s a little taxing, but it’s made us a better band for sure, going over the old songs, sort of picking up all the old nuances we forgot about. It’s been a good experience and made us a better band.
It is a good feeling, just to have all that stuff back on our plate to be able to play it for people when they would shout it out. In the past, we’ve gone through spurts where we didn’t play songs for a really long time. This lineup in particular, even though we’ve been together for four plus years now, there’s older songs that these guys have never even played live before. We’re glad to be able to play those songs for people that want to hear them. It’s worth the work.
You funded this Wild Blood record online through Pledge Music. You put a lot of effort in that, and gave away a bunch of acoustic songs and covers and stuff. What was that whole process like for you to go through and how did it turn out?
It was a really wonderful experience. Again, it was a lot of work. It wasn’t just a simple matter of putting up a campaign and waiting for money to roll in. We did a lot of leg work in reaching out to our fans and getting people involved, recording songs that people wanted us to record, personalizing different things, and so on and so forth. There were all these different packages people would basically purchase, so to speak, and help us finance the making of our record.
We’re doing everything on our own now. It’s just us and our manager. We’re booking shows ourselves. We are advertising ourselves. We printed our own records. We don’t have a label, so literally the only thing we have to financially push us forward is the support of our fans who come out to the shows, who buy our CDs, who pledged through this pledge campaign over the last year. It’s really paying off. We’re putting out a new record in a couple weeks and it’s because of the fans that are out there that cared enough about us to support us.
Do you know how much you were able to raise in total?
I don’t really know what the final dollar amount was. It didn’t quite cover everything we were hoping, but it was enough to pay for the recording costs of going into the studio, working with the producer that we wanted to work with, and coming out with a great record at the end. Beyond that, we’ve had to get creative, playing shows and so on to raise a little bit more money for mastering and marketing and things of that nature that are just sort of part of the game. None of it would have been possible without that initial large support from our fans.
Obviously, self-releasing something is different for every band, and someone like Nine Inch Nails can do it easier than a much smaller band. What have you taken away from it so far? Are there things that you didn’t necessarily expect or realize that would come into play?
Well, it took a lot more work is really what it boils down to. We have to be a lot more hands on. We always have been in the past, too, but we’ve been on a label in the past. There’s certain things as band members we never had to worry about or think about as much, whereas now we do. We have to think about some of the more business aspect things, and how we’re going to approach releasing the record and so on. It’s good because it’s making us all far more aware of what needs to happen. I think in the end it’s going to make the victory that much more sweeter because we’re doing all the work. Whether it succeeds or fails, it’s by our own doing at least, and we can take pride in that.
You spent two years working on this record. It was a really interesting process because you released those three EPs in the middle of it, so you could see the progression of how you got from Sucker Punch Show to Wild Blood. What was that like for you and how did that time shape the record?
It shaped it a lot. Initially, before we came up with the idea of putting out the EPs, it was really a very simple idea. We started demoing songs we were writing right after The Sucker Punch Show. We started showing some of the songs we were recording in our rehearsal space to close friends to get their feedback because we really wanted to take a different direction, stop, take a breath, and figure out what we wanted to sound like again. We had gone through so much over the past several years, with Sucker Punch Show and the previous records, that we knew we needed to get back to a place that was fresh.
Anyway, we started showing some of our close personal friends these demos we were doing. We would get really honest feedback, like, “I love this. I love this direction. This one not so much.” That was really, really helpful initially to help us wrap our heads around what we wanted to do and what felt good to the people that cared about us.
We thought, “Why not do that on a larger scale?” Let’s put some of these songs out there for the fans and see how they react to them. That will furthermore let us know if we’re headed in the right direction. That’s really where the idea for the EPs came out. Some of those songs that are on those EPs actually made it onto the record. Some of them just became b-sides. Those EPs and the feedback from the fans really gave us a guiding light as to, OK, we’re on the right track. It really was helpful.
Another thing it did was it kept the Lovedrug name out there. It was something like three years between records, but you’re still releasing new material throughout the whole time, which is really cool.
Yeah, we didn’t want to be one of those bands that disappear into a black hole and then comes back out of nowhere. There’s a certain level of that that’s inevitable to happen when you stop playing shows for as long as we did. We wanted to remind people, hey, we’re here. We’re working on it. We’re just trying to start over, so to speak, and remember that there’s people out there that still love what we do. We want to do it for them and for us, and for no other reason.
There are four songs that made it from the EPs onto Wild Blood. How did you decide which of those songs did end up on the final product?
It was really easy. We started doing a handful of shows here and there where we would go out and test some of the newer material. It’s different when you’re in a rehearsal space, jamming on a song, because it feels good. It feels rocking. But then you get on stage, and you’re like, “Oh, this song is off. It doesn’t feel right. Something’s wrong with it.”
Inevitably, you can get that quick feedback from the crowd, too, because people either react to it or they don’t. It was super obvious to us which ones were resonating, which ones we were connecting with, which ones the fans were connecting with, and those are the ones that made it all they way through from EP to the record. Those initial songs, too, that made it all the way through were kind of like the anchors to help us write the other songs that went on the album.
I was kind of amazed at how much better they sound when you rerecorded them. It was interesting to compare that with the earlier versions.
Yeah, there’s a pretty big difference between the little four-track recorder I use in our rehearsal space and the million-dollar studio that we went into [laughs].
You also wanted to do live recording for this record. Was that something you had done in the past or were just experimenting with as you went along?
It was a fantastic experience. We had never done that before. We knew it was something we wanted to do. Again, that idea came from going out and playing those shows and playing the new songs live. When we would get that reaction, when we were feeling on stage that it was good, we wanted to capture that feeling that we felt live playing these songs. It’s got this energy. We want to work with somebody who understands that in a studio environment and can facilitate that. That’s how we found Paul Moak and the Smokestack, and it was perfect.
We just went in and set up like we would in a rehearsal space in a live setting almost. We’re all in the same room. We just got comfortable and played the songs live together and rocked out. It just so happens that he’s rolling tape the whole time. We’d run through a song a few times and he’d let us know, “OK, we got that. Let’s move onto the next song.” It was really that simple. It was a blast.
I don’t know if I can ever go back to recording any other way now because it’s so freeing to be in the studio and to do that. You can go through two or three songs a day, and then hear it at the end of the day. It’s so much more satisfying than the typical tweak the kick drum, record the bass, and then on day 23 you finally get to sing on the track or whatever. It’s a way more enjoyable experience. I think it captured the essence of the attitude for these songs far better than if we had done it the other way.
How does that compare with how you write the songs when you’re first starting out? Do you also write all together and jam them out in a live setting?
For a lot of these songs, the way they came about is I would come in with sort of a theme, whether it’s a chorus part, a guitar part, some lyrics or melody, and then we would really just put it together from there. There’s certainly an element of jamming, like a live feel, that was inherent in the inception of these songs, far more so than some of the songs in the past.
On Pretend You’re Alive, almost every song on that album I sat down and penned from start to finish with all the chord progressions, etc. I just needed a band to come in and play with me on them. Whereas this stuff, I might have a guitar part and a melody in my head. I don’t even have any lyrics. What do you guys want to do with this? It was way more democratic, and again it made since to do it live since that was sort of the way we were writing them anyway.
You’ve mentioned Sucker Punch being a closing chapter somewhat for Lovedrug. I know there were a lot of things you got off your chest with that record, lyrically speaking. What kind of impact do you think that had on Wild Blood?
I think it had a positive effect. I don’t think this record would sound the way it does if we hadn’t made that last one. I’m really fortunate to be playing with the guys I’m playing with because they’re very patient. Essentially, most of them joined the band right before The Sucker Punch Show. We wrote that record, we wrote a lot of those songs, and all sort of put them together.
Some of them came into the game at a point where I was very frustrated, and sort of exploding and getting a lot of the stuff off my chest. It was cool that they stuck with me through all that. I don’t think this record would have happened if I wasn’t able to purge that third record out of me, just be done with those feelings and that path and all that stuff, and then move on. It played an important role of the whole rebirth of the band, that closing chapter.
Your writing style, with lyrics and the stuff you write online, has always been fairly cryptic to a varying degree and not necessarily always the easiest to decipher upon first glance. Is that something that is intentional, or more of your natural voice and writing style?
That’s pretty much just how I’ve always written. I think I do that less now than I did back in the beginning. Pretend You’re Alive and Everything Starts Where It Ends are both extremely steeped in metaphor. I think this record is probably a little bit more clear. The part of it that is intentional is I don’t like saying things in a way that other people have said them, which is really difficult to do. It’s sort of impossible. There’s nothing new under the sun, and I realize that.
If I’m going to write a love song, for instance, I don’t want to use the typical metaphors and clichés everyone else uses that you hear on the radio every single day that everyone’s sick of. I want to talk about it in a different way. Maybe I’m going to set it within a story about something that’s got nothing to do with a typical love story. I’m just always trying to think outside the box. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, so for better or worse I’m a little off the beaten track. I just enjoy that type of writing.
Are there specific things that songs are about, or are they just little bits and pieces that you put together?
No, all of the songs on this new record are pretty specific and intentional in their meaning. Each song is its own entity but it all has a pretty steady theme, which is almost an anthem of youth. Sort of that feeling you have when you’re young that you can do anything. That’s where the title came from, too. The Wild Blood title. The triumph of feeling like nothing’s going to stand in your way. We went through a period where we had to reinvigorate that feeling in ourselves again, and it came through in the music. That’s really about the only steady theme I can think of that’s inherent in the whole record.
It seems there’s quite a few love songs on the record as well. Is that why it turned out like that?
There’s quite a few. It wasn’t really intentional, it just sort of happened that way. Yeah, I don’t know [laughs]. A few of the songs were based on some personal experiences I’ve had, and some stories I’ve written based around personal experiences I’ve had, which is the feeling of nostalgia and being young and falling in love for the first time. It was something that was very easy to identify with because I felt like I was going through that experience with music.
Even though it might not have been a relationship with a person, that feeling of falling in love with music for the first time is really something that I’ve been experiencing again since we did that last record and that chapter sort of closed. It’s like sitting down in your bedroom with a guitar for the first time. The world is completely open to possibilities, and that feeling is very much the butterfly feeling of falling in love. So, I think automatically it was easy to write songs about that sort of thing.
I think I read at one point way back in the day you almost pursued a career in filmmaking. How close did that end up happening and is it cool to be able to still do video stuff with the band?
Yeah, I love it. I have always wanted to incorporate that side of my artistic abilities, just because I love film. I went to film school, and would have probably liked to have followed a career in that arena, but I just couldn’t get away from music. I love it too much. I’m really happy that I’m able to be more hands on now, especially not having a label, etc. There’s certain freedoms that are allowed and that’s definitely one of them. If we need to make a music video, I can do it, and I’m happy to because I really enjoy that stuff.
What kinds of films do you like and is there a style you gravitate towards? Anything particular that jumps out?
Kind of like with my musical tastes, I’m sort of all over the map. It really depends on my mood. I’ll totally sit down and watch a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster, and in the same night later feel like sitting down and watching a noir film or something that’s way off the beaten track. It really just depends on my mood. I can’t really narrow it down to a specific genre of film. I just sort of love them all for different reasons.
One interesting thing about Lovedrug is you came out right at the height of Militia Group. They were the hottest small label there for a while and had such an amazing roster. You were able to live through that until five or six years later it was all gone. What was that whole ordeal like for you to see?
It was an ordeal, you got that part right. It’s hard for me to talk about the Militia Group and not get a little fired up, so I won’t dwell on it too much. There was a lot of negativity towards the tail end of being on that label, a lot of things that weren’t done right. It was just sort of an unfortunate situation.
The way I look at it is it’s an important part of our history and what allowed us to become what we are, but in retrospect it’s probably a decision I wish I wouldn’t have made. They had the greatest intentions but just didn’t have the follow through, and unfortunately went bankrupt as a result. These things happen. But again, it’s one of those things we lived through and helped shape our perception, and gave us a little sharper eye towards the business side of music. In that regard, it was helpful. But all in all, it wasn’t the greatest experience of my life, being on that label.
Would you ever have any interest in starting a label or working with other bands, or is just doing the Lovedrug stuff enough for you?
No, it’s something that is of interest to us. To a certain extent, we are actually doing that. Our manager and ourselve have sort of partnered and started a quote-unquote “label,” if you can call it that. We’re the only band on it, but it’s a way to facilitate things. It really comes down to thinking outside the box and being able to do things yourself on a lot of different levels. It’s just easier to do that these days.
Is that to say we never want to sign with a record label ever again? No, of course not. I’ve got nothing against the machine. I understand how it works. I know where the pitfalls are and I know where the benefits are. I know there’s a certain level of success a band can get to on their own, at which point if you want to keep going further you need assistance, and that’s just the way it works. We’re not naïve to that, but right now we’re very happy to be free of a label. Who knows what the future will hold?
What do you have lined up for the rest of the year? Will you be touring a lot? What’s that looking like for you?
Yeah, we’re going to be touring like crazy. Come March 6, after that last residency show, we’re going to hit the road. We got about three and half months booked out right now and we’re looking to book the rest of the year. We’re basically going to be hitting all the major cities in the U.S., and going to Canada and hopefully overseas after that. We’re trying to just really get back out there, remind people who we are and give this record the best chance it can have to get out there to everybody.
Originally appeared on Absolute Punk