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Love Letter To A Record: Sheppard On Coldplay’s ‘Viva La Vida’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

George Sheppard, Sheppard – Coldplay, Viva La Vida (Prospekt’s March Edition)(2008)

Dear Viva La Vida,

There’s so much I want to say to you, but I guess I should start by saying thanks for coming around at the time you did.

I was at drama school in Sydney and hadn’t ever planned on becoming a musician. I was the most annoyingly determined actor you’d ever met. In my head, I was absolutely going to be in theatre, movies and tv. It’s the only plan I ever had. Even so, you came along at a point in my life when my artistic mind was impressionable, ready to soak up some good influences and get inspired.

I remember listening to you from start to finish for the first time during a rainy Saturday afternoon in 2009, having a few cheeky beers with my flatmate on our balcony. Coincidentally, the song ‘Rainy Day’ came on through a random playlist through this fancy new streaming service I was testing out called Spotify. The intro of the song immediately perked my ears, and when I checked who it was, I was shocked. It was Coldplay, but it didn’t sound anything like the Coldplay I had heard. I turned to my friend (who decidedly was NOT a fan of the band) and warned him I was about to buy and chuck on a new Coldplay album. He rolled his eyes. “Anyone but Coldplay dude… I’m having a good day.”

To be fair, I hadn’t given the band much thought either until that point. I didn’t care too much for ‘Yellow’. I was quite into ‘Clocks’, but the love of that one song hadn’t developed into a proactive interest in the band. Safe to say that opinion changed with that song – by the time the orchestral chorus of ‘Rainy Day’ made it to my ears, I was floored. I’d never heard pop music like this. Being an actor, I’d always had a love of cinema and movie scores, and this felt like someone had taken a cinematic movie score, and written a really cool pop song over it. The melodies and chords were super fun with those jumpy strings pulsing in the background. After my first listen through, I was deeply hooked. All of a sudden I wanted to make music. Like THAT.

I started sitting down at the piano every lunch break for the remainder of my days at drama school. At first, it was just 5-10 mins at a time on my own. But as I slowly gained confidence and learned how to put chords together, I was able to keep a small audience of my class entertained for the majority of the lunch break. One of the first songs I learned and performed in front of that 5-person crowd was ‘Lost!’. By the time I graduated, I’d written my first original song.

Not long after finishing acting school, I was back in Brisbane visiting my family when my sister Amy came to me with an assignment she had for university (she actually WAS studying music). She had to write and produce a pop song and wanted my help. I had been dipping my toe into the songwriting pool, but now I was keen to jump in. That was the very first moment we started making music together.

Needless to say, you ignited a musical spark in me that ended up changing the course of my life – a spark that still hasn’t faded. You practically laid the foundations for what I have since strived to be as a pop/rock musician. You’ve served as a benchmark for which I’ve strived to reach with my own band. From the very first track, the instrumental ‘Life in Technicolor’, you’re a gorgeous, experimental pop-rock album that manages to tie all of the class, sophistication and musical intricacy of an orchestra to a world-beating, high-energy, commercial pop band at the top of their game. You brought them to the height of their popularity because underneath all of the lush production you served us up a universally accessible buffet of quality pop songs. The song ‘Viva La Vida’ itself is the obvious standout, being the first Coldplay song to have strings as the main instrument (rather than the typical guitar or piano as was with older Coldplay recordings), but my favourite tracks are the outliers. ‘Yes’, ‘Strawberry Swing’, ‘Violet Hill, ‘Death and All His Friends’ are all gorgeous pieces of music that challenged what I thought pop music could be at the time. You taught me what it means to be able to make good quality, accessible pop music that relies on experimentation – not cookie-cutter, formulaic methods.

You’re an incredible album that’s gotten me through many a rainy day. Thank you for taking a band like Coldplay and turning them into something like you, and more importantly, thank you for changing the course of my life.

I’m not sure how far I would have made it as an actor.

Regards,
George Sheppard.

Sheppard’s latest single, Come Back, examines the effect isolation and a lack of human contact can have on a relationship. Stream it, here.

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