Michael Shepard chats about his new Boys on the Radio project, writing poppier music, the future of Lovedrug, and whether he regrets never making it big.
So I guess we’ll start at the beginning of this project. Lovedrug released Wild Blood in 2012, and you spent most of the year touring behind that. After that cycle was wrapped, how did you get from there to Boys on the Radio?
It was kind of interesting towards the tail end of that Lovedrug tour for Wild Blood. We had talked about maybe taking a break from touring, everyone taking a look at some other projects they were wanting to be involved in. So when we got home, that short break turned into a long break. The other guys really got involved in some other projects.
I won’t say I was losing faith in Lovedrug by any means, but I think it was just time for a hiatus. I’d been working on some material that was very, very different from the Lovedrug material. I knew I wanted to try and do something with it, I just wasn’t sure what. Initially, I went into the studio with this producer to make what I thought was going to be a solo album. It very quickly snowballed into a full-fledged new band.
Were the other guys just local musicians from Nashville that you picked up?
Yeah, yeah, just kind of friends of friends. When I realized that I wanted to put another band together and do this thing for real, I just asked buddies around town who were connected to the machine and working in studios and stuff. Met one guy who knew another guy, and before I knew it I had a room full of musicians who were killer and wanting to play with me. I feel pretty lucky about it.
I know a lot of Lovedrug fans are going to be curious about how this compares with that band. What would you say are some similarities and differences between Boys on the Radio and Lovedrug?
Well, I would say the similarities are it’s still very much rock and roll. It’s not a stray from that, in a sense. It’s still got a very edgy, loud feel to it. My voice is still very prevalent, and a lot of the elements are still there.
I would say what balanced out Lovedrug, as far as the writing was concerned, was the other guys in Lovedrug were very much more into the indie side of music, the cooler underground music. I was always kind of the pop guy who brought some of the hookier stuff to the music. So when I sat down to do a record by myself, essentially I’m writing pop songs.
I’ve been going through this huge ‘80s thing lately. I was largely influenced by artists like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, stuff like that, that I grew up loving, kind of writing from a modern standpoint but with a little bit of that tinge to it. Basically, I would say it’s rocking, but it’s definitely a lot more pop and has a pretty big ‘80s influence to it, but it’s got my voice over top of it. That’s what they have to look forward to.
Yeah, it definitely has an arena pop-rock throwback feel. So I knew you used PledgeMusic for the Wild Blood album, and you used it for this as well. What did you learn from the first go-around that you then applied to this project?
Honestly, the reason I even did it a second time was because we had such a positive response from the fans the first time around that I realized the system could truly work. It gave me enough belief in it and enough faith in it that I could try it on obviously a slightly smaller scale. Still, I was so pleasantly surprised by how many of the fans came through for me and pledged to make this new project come to life.
What made you decide to use PledgeMusic over something like Kickstarter? Are their advantages of using something that’s just geared towards music?
I’ve researched Kickstarter a little bit, but honestly it’s mostly just the personal relationships with the people over at PledgeMusic I had established through that last time we did it. They have a really great staff. They care about each project individually, so you essentially get assigned someone who works with you directly on your project when you start one, whereas I don’t think Kickstarter works like that. It’s completely independent and you do everything yourself.
With Pledge, they’re a little bit more hands on with helping you reach out to your fans and make sure your page looks right, making sure you’re dotting all your I’s and crossing all your T’s so you’re getting the most out of your campaign. I really appreciate that about PledgeMusic, not just because it is solely music, so it’s a little bit more concentrated, but that they are a little bit more hands on with helping you reach your goal.
They’re not like Kickstarter, where you only get the money if your goal is fully reached, right?
No, they are like that now. They didn’t initially do that when they first started, but they do do that now.
Oh, they do, gotcha. So the record is completely done and everything. What is the plan now to get the music out there? Will you be partnering with a label or anything like that?
We are. We actually are talking to a few different labels at the moment and basically assembling a new team to get this thing launched. We’re going to independently release two singles off the new record, and those are going to be released this Thursday, the 27th, which will go along with our first hometown show here in Nashville. That’s going to spearhead the whole thing, and then we’re hoping to potentially sign with a label here midyear and get the full record released before the end of the year.
I assume there will be some tours going along with all that as well.
Yeah, absolutely. We’ll be touring to support it and all that good stuff in due time, absolutely.
I believe the two tracks you selected to release first are “Youth Anthem” and “You’re the Remedy.” What about those two jumped out at you that made you choose them as the first two?
There’s a lot of tracks on the record that are very radio friendly, very synchable, I guess you could say in the commercial sense. It was kind of a tough decision, but really it came down to a consensus. We gave a few select tracks to a bunch of people we trusted, just in the industry and friends, family alike. The unanimous vote was those two stood out a little bit, just slightly, just a few more votes than some of the others. So we were like, “Well, we’ll just run with those.” We don’t really have another game plan in mind at this moment. We want to get some music out there, so let’s run with those two. It’s as simple as that.
As far as lyrically goes, did you have a different approach when writing this album than you did on some of the Lovedrug stuff?
Yeah, absolutely. With the Lovedrug stuff, I kind of had my own style I favored over the years. I was slightly more bent on the darker side of things, a little bit more metaphorical. I chose this producer, Allen Salmon, to work with on this record because I knew he would stretch me in ways I normally haven’t been stretched and lyrically was one of those ways, definitely.
He really made me reapproach the process of writing the lyrics. Who am I appealing to? What’s the message I’m trying to get across? Is it a little too metaphorical? Is it not metaphorical enough? He really stretched me in ways, where normally with the producers I’ve worked with in the past never meddled with my lyrics whatsoever. I loved that he pushed me to think maybe a little more outside the box. I would say if anything this band, this record, is far more universal than some of the Lovedrug stuff was.
I have to ask about one song in particular, which probably won’t be officially released for a while, which is the last song, “Bound for Heaven,” and my favorite off the record. It ends with this epic sax solo, which I didn’t expect at all but works so perfectly. How did that song come together?
That was actually a song I had written a while ago on piano. It was a heartbreak song, coming out of a rough relationship situation. I had the general lyric outline for it. It was really just a broken-down piano song and probably could have been on Lovedrug’s first record. That kind of vibe.
When I brought it to the studio, Allen kind of took it and said, “Let’s just go super ‘80s with this. Give it the whole electronic keyboard vibe.” We would go back and forth, trying to one up each other on the whole ‘80s theme. I was like, “Dude, we got to throw a saxophone solo somewhere in here [laughs].” So he called a guy who came in and nailed it in one take, and I was just like, “Yes!” That was the cherry on top of that song.
Did most of the stuff you do on your own before the other guys were involved, or were they also able to contribute?
As far as the band’s concerned, they kind of came into the picture after the record. The entire record was written and made before I put a band together, so it was just me and the producer who made the album. We played everything on it ourselves and put it together.
It was really at about the three-quarter mark, where he sat back and looked at me and was like, “I know you’re thinking about doing this as a solo album, but it’s turning out pretty epic. Maybe you want to try and get a band together and do this legit.”
There’s that feeling that I had, like Oh, man. You’re totally right, even though I so do not want to start another band. It was like the last thing on my list, but I couldn’t deny it. I was so stoked with how the album turned out, I wanted to give it a go. Finding the right guys happened pretty quickly.
Another song I wanted to ask about is “Red Hot.” That chorus is one of the catchiest I think you’ve written and really gets stuck in your head. How did that one come about?
I started that one as a co-write with a friend of mine here in Nashville named Adam Agin. We’d been doing a few songwriting sessions together, and I had this little riff that ended up becoming the chorus of that song. We started talking about how provocative a lot of pop songs are today, especially the ones being sung by female pop artists. It’s like, Man, the dudes don’t get enough of that provocative song material to bring forward.
So we kind of sat down jokingly, lightheartedly, writing a song about this chick that you’re crazy about who has this red-hot lipstick, or whatever. We ran with it, and it turned into one of the poppier songs on the record. I love it.
One thing I’m curious about is being that you haven’t toured for a while, as far as financially goes, have you had to get supplemental jobs to help you out, or have you still been able to keep on making a living just doing music?
It’s funny, because I think a lot of people have this notion of Lovedrug that it was this massively successful thing. We did well for ourselves. We had a great following, and a lot of fans and stuff, but there were really only a couple years during that run where we were able to do it full time, and that was when we were on the road all the time. Any time we weren’t on the road, we had to come home and get the day job thing, do that whole nine yards.
Since I’ve been home and haven’t been hitting the road, I’ve had to go back to the day job thing and do the music on the side. I’m open to switch that back the other way here shortly [laughs]. It’s part of the grind. When you’re trying to live that dream of playing music for a living, it’s not an easy thing to do.
What kind of stuff do you do?
I’m a painter. I paint houses.
Do you ever see Lovedrug getting back together at some point down the road?
Yeah, I’m sure it will happen. It was too good of a thing to not let it happen. We had a great chemistry, those guys and me, and I’d be sad to see if we never got together again. I just don’t know when. Right now, I’m really concentrated on this project and excited about it. I know the other guys in Lovedrug are definitely busy with their other projects.
But yeah, I could see it happening at some point, maybe making another record or doing a tour. I know this year is actually the 10-year anniversary of Pretend You’re Alive, which is crazy to think about, so I don’t know. We had some talks about doing maybe a special release, a rerelease on vinyl or doing maybe a short run, but it’s all talks at this point. We’ll see that happens.
You guys, and a couple other bands you came up with on Militia Group, like Copeland and Cartel, all seemed to be on the cusp of breaking out, and yet looking back none of you were able to take that next step. Are there any regrets with how that worked out and not getting huge or anything like that?
Sure, of course. Ultimately, anybody who’s in a band who writes the type of music that we do and Copeland did, you want to be successful. That’s your goal. You want to make a living playing music and you hope it exceeds your wildest dreams. That’s always something that’s in the back of your mind as an artist.
But, you know, I have to look back at it fondly because I got to do so many things that so many people in bands don’t get to do. I got to tour all over the world, in Japan and Europe, and play fantastic festivals with some of our musical heroes. So many artists don’t get to do that, so in my mind we were really successful and I look back on it fondly.
I mean, sure, would it have been fantastic if we blew up and had been the next Coldplay or U2 or something? Of course, that would have been phenomenal. But I don’t look back on it with a frown, thinking, “Oh, I’m so bummed out that that didn’t happen.” I look back on it and I say, “That was such a great ride. We got to do so many things that so many people never have an opportunity to do.” I feel very grateful, I guess is the bottom line.
What are your goals and aspirations for Boys on the Radio and this Horizons album then?
Ultimately, we’re hoping to procure a label and management here in the next couple months, get the record out there and start plugging away. The goal is just to take it as far as we can take it, kind of the same goal it was with Lovedrug. I wanted to ride it as far as we could ride it.
I feel like we made an album here that’s pretty incredible, and I think a lot of people should have the opportunity to hear it. So, we’re going to go for it as much as we can.
Originally appeared on Absolute Punk