Category Archives: Interviews

Interviews with Rock and Roll artists

You Are Lovedrug – A Chat with Michael Shepard

Lovedrug has taken a novel approach to funding their upcoming album release. The Alt-Rock veterans have been sharing their distinctive sound for nearly a decade, but now they’re taking a creative new approach that re-defines Indie music. Michael Shepard, the engaging and talented front man stopped by the farm to share the I AM LOVEDRUG experience, as well as to chat about a few other things.

Cretin: So, before we get into the I am Lovedrug experience, can you explain the group’s name? I’ve heard that it is not a reference to an aphrodisiac, but more about your passion for creating music?

Michael Shepard: You’re correct. It’s funny, a lot people do think of it as we’re slinging ecstasy or something. That’s not really what our M.O. is. It was really a time when I had gone through a lot with my old band and decided to get out of the game and spend some time away from music. I realized it was something I couldn’t escape. My passion or whatever that inner desire is that exists in people when they have something they know they should be doing. It’s just something you can’t walk away from. The name is really derivative of that concept. The love for something sort of drags you along whether you want to or not.

Follow @rarasfarm

Cretin: You guys went the major label route and had some ups and downs. Now, you’re taking a novel new approach with a Pledge Music campaign.  How did you choose that route, is it something new?

Michael Shepard: I had never heard of the concept until a friend of mine went through a Kick Starter campaign to raise money to record her album. I thought it was really fantastic how the fans could get involved and help the artist.  I thought it was a wonderful concept so we started doing research and found several sites that do a similar thing. Some are more geared toward businesses, others are for the arts.  Kick starter is about anything you can imagine.  Pledge is strictly music. The inner workings are a bit different and made the most sense for us and where we’re at.

Cretin: looking at the website, iamlovedrug.com, it looks like you had a great response to it.

Michael Shepard: We really did.  It was above and beyond our expectations.   We raised enough money to record our first album and everything that we were shooting for we got, and it was all thanks to the fans that pledged through that site.  It worked 100% – more than 100%, we were ecstatic.

Cretin: I was looking over some of the things you did and some of them were off the wall. Answering machine messages, postcards from the road, standard stuff like autographs and liner notes, but then I saw you had an afternoon of bowling thrown in there. Where did those ideas come from?

Michael Shepard: Yeah, haha.  Well some of them we thought up, and our manager was sort of cooking up some of those schemes.  Bowling was mine because I love to bowl and thought what a better way to celebrate an afternoon than to hang out with someone who digs our music and go bowling.

Cretin: I thought that was out of the box – an awesome idea.  Was there any one item greatly appreciated by the fans or that had a great response which really surprised you?

Michael Shepard: Well, yeah, the biggest response was for cover songs. We got so many requests for covers because it was not an astronomical price(it was only $150). It was something that if someone wanted to donate kind of above and beyond, but not crazy they could get this cover song option.  We were shocked at how many responded to that.  It was a challenge, because they would pick the song, we’d do it the way we do it, personalize it and send it to them.  We got songs all over the map to cover which was a challenge to me personally, but a lot of fun, too.  That’s why the tail end of all that we put together The Best of I Am Lovedrug CD which is actually just  a compilation of  some of those cover songs so that everyone could hear how they turned out.  It was a lot of fun.

Cretin:You guys were offering videos at a reasonable price too weren’t you?

Michael Shepard: Yeah, that was another option we had. In retrospect we probably should’ve shortened it a little bit more just  because of the amount of work that went into it we were shocked when we have tons and tons of cover songs to record, but it was worth it, at the end of the day it was all worth it.

Cretin: I was talking to Eric James of The Last Royals and I asked him what his favorite cover song ever was and he picked your cover of “Pure Imagination.” I first thought “someone covering Willy Wonka? That’s insane.” But it was really cool; you put your own spin on it, an interesting approach to the song.

Michael Shepard: Thank you, we really enjoyed doing that one.  It was actually our guitar player’s brother who requested we do that one. It was sort of a little poke because Jeremy Gifford, our guitar player is a huge Willy Wonka fan – one of his favorite films of all times.  So we were pretty excited to cover that one.

Cretin: During that whole event was there one song other than “Pure Imagination” that you really enjoyed recording for one reason or another.

Michael Shepard: Oddly I really liked the way “Nights In White Satin: turned out, we did that, too and it sort of pulled on my heart strings. I can’t even explain why. It just sounded a lot more melancholy than I meant it to sound, but very cool and is actually one of my favorites.

Cretin: That’s an interesting choice. I grew up with an uncle who is a huge Moody Blues fan so I listened to that music a lot when I was a kid.  Is that cut on your The Best of I Am Lovedrug record?

Michael Shepard: Actually I don’t think it made it on there.  There were a bunch we had to choose from and it was a collective choosing to figure what should go on and what  shouldn’t. It didn’t quite make the cut, but it still remains my favorite.

Cretin: Very cool. I’ll definitely look for that. (I did look but could not find a copy anywhere, but there are a slew of very creative covers on the album). Going back to your approach on the forthcoming album; in the past you were with Columbia then before that you were with Militia Group but now you’re really on your own.

Michael Shepard: Yeah, we’re really doing everything ourselves. It’s us and our manager. It’s a lot different than when we started out.

Cretin: Different in a good way or bad way? I imagine it’s a bit of both?

Michael Shepard: It is a bit of both but mostly positive. I’d say 90% is positive actually just because there is no red tape. There is always a certain amount of waiting room effect. “OK, great you turned out a record now sit out here while we do our thing,” and things seem to get sort of lost in the cracks and its unfortunate but when you’re working completely independently like we are now there is more freedom to make decisions like we did to connect directly to fans and say “hey we want to make a record, we need your help or we want to cover a Moody Blues song and throw it up on the internet.” We can do these things and there are clever ways to propel ourselves.  There’s a little bit of freedom that’s lost when you’re dealing with a label.  It’s been a blessing honestly, maybe in disguise at first, but we really enjoy the freedom now.

Cretin: It has to be rejuvenating to go through that process and do what you think makes sense. It’s really all riding on you guys and your manager whether this album makes it and the album is successful.

Michael Shepard: Absolutely. Not that there was finger pointing before, but you only have yourself to blame. We know that if we’re giving 100 percent and working hard, there’s no way the ball’s going to get dropped unless we drop it. Really that whole concept is so indicative of where we are at right now as a band.

Cretin: A new approach?

Michael Shepard: Yeah, everything. We’ve been a band for ten years now, but at the same time, this feels like our first album. We feel like a new band, and that same energy is still there and I feel like it’s becoming even more intense and bubbling up like it used to when you first strapped on a guitar and start a band for the first time. That feeling can kind of wane, but fortunately for us, we’re at a point where we’ve rejuvenated ourselves.

Cretin: So, now that you’ve been doing this for ten years, any major shifts in the way you approach things?

Michael Shepard: There’s been a lot of changes.  The way we approach writing is a lot more relaxed now. A lot of the pressure used to be on me, just because I was working with musicians that were hired to be on call and it wasn’t much of a band but more a solo thing, whereas now it’s way more of a collective effort. The group of guys in this band all put their equal input into the creative process and it makes for a much more enjoyable song in the end.

Cretin: Sounds like you’ve now got a band with a lot more passion about what they’re doing?

Michael Shepard: And it translates in all kinds of ways. It certainly translates live, because inevitably someone is just going to play more passionately when they had a part in the making of what you’re playing.

Cretin: So, I noticed “Pink Champagne” off of your recent EP will be on the new record.  Are there any other songs we’ll be familiar with?

Michael Shepard: There will be a couple. The songs “Ladders” and “We Were Owls” were on the EPs and they made the record, and then there were a whole bunch that we hadn’t released that we wanted to save for the final album.

Cretin: Tell me about directing the video for Dinosaur, the first single from the new album.

Michael Shepard: I went to film school during my break from music.  That video was a short story I had kicking around for awhile so I thought it would be fun to bring it to fruition via a Lovedrug video.

Check out Lovedrug music on iTunes

RARA’s Six Pack (six quick mindless questions):

Cretin: You grew up fairly close to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  When you are inducted, who do you want making the induction speech?

Michael Shepard: If he’s still kicking around, Billy Corgan. I was a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, One of the first bands I heard that really turned my world upside down.

Cretin:  Your favorite cover tune?

Michael Shepard: That’s a tough one. One that always made me chuckle was The Deftones cover of Freebird. That was pretty hilarious and awesome.

Cretin: What’s your high score in bowling?

Michael Shepard: I’m very proud to say my high score was 269.

Cretin: Do you have a favorite city where you like to play?

Michael Shepard: I could name dozens that I love to play.  The ones that stand out are Chicago, I love playing Chicago, and we always get fantastic responses playing in New York. And, actually Nashville which is one of the many reasons we moved here.

Cretin: Of all the bands you’ve toured with over the years, who left a lasting impression?

Michael Shepard: We’ve toured with some fantastic bands, and some not so fantastic bands, but we won’t name those. We got to play with The Killers a long time ago before they were big and that was cool. They were really nice guys.

Cretin: What’s your favorite roller coaster?

Michael Shepard: Probably still The Magnum at Cedar Point. Not the tallest one any more, but it scared the living shit out of me when I rode it.

Cretin: Thanks for visiting with us and best of luck with the album.

Michael Shepard: Thank you. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has helped us out and pledged along the way. I know it’s been a long process, but I wanted to thank everyone for their patience, and let them knwo the record is going to be out by March.

 

Eric James of The Last Royals Visits RARA’s Farm

Featuring infectious melodies and riveting vocals, The Last Royal’s are riding high on the recent success of their addictive alt-rock hit “Crystal Vases” from their self-titled EP.  They’re currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on their eagerly anticipated debut album, tentatively titled Twistification.  Along with Mason Ingram, Eric James make up this dynamic new band. James, the lead singer and the creative power behind the songs on the EP, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with us.

Follow @rarasfarm

Cretin: I first heard you guys on Sirius XM’s AltNation, when they played “Crystal Vases.” How did you guys get that break? Were you targeting AltNation?

Eric James: We had signed with, Ooh La La Records, and their radio promoter was targeting college and FM specialty radio.  Regan, who’s a great DJ as well as the program director at AltNation heard the song and actually tracked me down personally through Facebook. He loved the music and just simply wanted to work it because he liked it. They just started playing it; it caught on and they got good feedback from listeners and that’s where we’re at.

Cretin: The characters in your songs seem real, and you can feel a real connection to them. Is there anything autobiographical in the lyrics?

Eric James: It’s all real; from living around Manhattan for the last four years. Crystal Vases specifically I had in mind an Upper East Side type of woman. Nothing in any of the songs was directly from a friend or acquaintance, but it’s all real characters.  I’m sure you kind find a match somewhere in this city of 4 million if you looked hard enough.  I love to weave story telling with my own sentiments in that Dylan style where he’s singing about the Jack of Hearts and all these characters and you’re wondering if he actually encountered these people.

Cretin: You mention Dylan and in other interviews you reference other acts from the 50’s to the present. It sounds like your musical background is pretty diverse, any piece of that background that has most influenced you?

Eric James: Everybody kind of grows up listening to what their parents listened to. My dad was a Beatles guy through and through. The musical pop elements were implanted in my brain as a young kid through the Beatles.  Lyrically speaking I feel it was Dylan who always explored the most territory.  He had that way of challenging people with hard concepts through whimsical lyrics (pauses) and also through whimsical melodies. Ultimately I feel that’s what my favorite bands do. It’s sort of the beauty of rock music. You can sing a very depressing line or very hard concept and put it with a beautiful major melody and somehow that juxtaposition is a beautiful thing.

Cretin: The way your band does that reminds me a bit of the Smiths from back in the 80’s.

Eric James: They were great at that.

Cretin: More recently, Foster The People’s “Pumped up Kicks” is kind of like that: a whimsical song with dark lyrics.

Eric James: I listened to that song for months before I realized what he was saying, and then I read the lyrics and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Cretin: On the EP, all of the songs are very different.  Do you have a personal favorite, or any one style that you really enjoyed more than the other?

Eric James: I love the remix of Backseat, the Crayon mix. It’s real off the cuff.  It reminds me of the fact that one of the great qualities of being a musician is that you get to recreate these songs night after night. I have a bad habit of altering songs as we go along and the band learns them. Some of the label people don’t like that I keep doing that, but I can’t seem to stop.  The fact that made the EP was a big win for me.

Cretin: Are we going to hear any of these songs on the forthcoming album?

Eric James: We’ve re-cut “Come Take My Hand” and nobody has heard it yet as it’s still being mixed and we remixed “Backseat” in a whole new way. “Crystal Vases” will remain the same, as it seems to be working. And we’ll also have seven or eight new tracks. Almost everything is done, still working vocals and synths, but we’re getting there.

Cretin: Will we see this album before the end of the year?

Eric James: We’ll be done and in our hands in a few months, and then it’s up to the record company. It depends; the sooner the better for me.

Cretin: What’s the attraction to playing those older analog keyboards?

Eric James: It’s that those instruments are so volatile. We literally don’t know what it’s going to sound like day to day, because the circuits are constantly changing with the weather. It creates an excitement, a sense of newness. It’s a living art, and if we don’t capture the sound this hour it could change, or be a sound that does not inspire us.

Cretin: Being from Philly, have you ever heard the Hooters?

Eric James: I know Eric Bazillian a little bit. We were going to collaborate on something, but it never worked out.  I wrote a song with their keyboard player and I know the band, but I don’t know the music real well.

Cretin: They were famous for using a melodica.

Eric James: Yeah, that’s great stuff. We use an old thrift store air organ that’s out of tune. It’s actually what we used on the Backseat Lovers remix. It’s a 1970’s toy air organ that cost me about $20.

Cretin: OK, let’s wrap this up with some quick questions.  Do you smoke two packs a day?

Eric James:  (laughs) Absolutely not, I do not smoke.

Cretin: Favorite place in NYC to see live music?

Eric James: Rockwood Music Hall. It’s always free and for that reason you see a lot of musicians every night.

Cretin: You have a teepee as your EP Cover Art, as you were shooting for the TP-EP theme, did you ever consider a roll of toilet paper instead?

Eric James: (laughs) No, our hope would be that some crazy fan a few years from now would make a version like that.

Cretin: You guys have some great covers on your website: EMF, OMD and Prince. Is there one cover form a different artist that you really enjoy?

Eric James: I have some friends in a band called Lovedrug– they were doing a kick start campaign to raise some money to record a full-length. Someone who donated money asked them to cover a song from Willy Wonka a song called “Pure Imagination.” It was amazing, and I love the idea of throwing the wackiest song possible at a band and seeing what they can do with it. I was inspired. (It is cool and different. Check it out: Pure Imagination)

Cretin: When your album comes out you hit it big and you’re doing the festival circuit next year, who are you ready to share the stage with?

Eric James: We’ve talked about Arcade Fire sort of being the top of the game right now. Why not shoot for the top?

Cretin: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Eric James: I just want people to know that I’m thrilled that the music is getting out there and we feel very blessed to be staying alive and doing this music. We hope to become great songwriters someday and keep it coming.

To hear or purchase Last Royals music visit one of the following websites:

Check out my recent interview with Lovedrug’s Michael Shepard