Andrew Sheppard Hits The Bull's-eye on Steady Your Aim 

Local country-rock musician Andrew Sheppard called the title track for his new album, Steady Your Aim (self-released, 2018), "one of those lucky ones where I probably wrote it in 10 minutes." The song came at a price, though: Sheppard found inspiration for it after he was hospitalized during Treefort 2016.

"An ex-friend of mine—we won't name names—asked us [Sheppard and his then-girlfriend] if we wanted some drugs," he remembered. "He asked if we wanted cocaine, particularly. It was two in the morning; we were like, 'Yeah, that would help.'"

This former friend ended up giving Sheppard a "speedball"—a mix of cocaine and heroin—laced with drain cleaner.

"I got resuscitated in the ambulance," Sheppard said. "I went straight to the ICU, and I was in the ICU for two days. When I was in there, I asked them if I could leave. They were like, 'Why do you want to leave?' And I was like, 'I want to go see [soul singer] Charles Bradley.'"

Sheppard didn't get to see Bradley, but he swore off hard drugs. He tried to write a song about the incident after leaving the hospital, but he had trouble finishing it.

"I didn't want to go to the dark place," Sheppard said. "So 'Steady Your Aim' kind of just came out, and it was like, 'Oh, this is a little easier to write about.' I didn't want to do that whole 'Woe is me, I made this huge mistake' [thing]."

Weary but determined, the title song sets the tone for the rest of Steady Your Aim. The 10 tracks on the album dissect failed relationships and bad decisions but also celebrate enduring bonds, integrity and hard work. Online music outlet Trainwreck'd Society declared Steady Your Aim "will be known as one of the best albums of 2018."

Sheppard will have CDs of Steady Your Aim available during his Treefort Music Fest 2018 set, and it will be available online starting Friday, March 23.

Growing up, Sheppard never envisioned becoming a musician. He played bass in punk bands as a teenager, but his first love was skateboarding.

"When I didn't have school or I had summer break, there was this place in Twin Falls called George's," he said. "They had skate ramps in there. And my dad was friends with somebody who was the manager there or something. He just dropped me off, and I would be there for eight hours a day."

Sheppard quickly earned recognition for his skills. He skateboarded at the Warped Tour for seven or eight years in a row and caught the attention of sponsors. He also joined a skate team organized by local artist Kelly Knopp.

"His girlfriend at the time worked for Redbull, so Redbull would give us a company car and support all our tours," Sheppard said. "We'd go [to the] West Coast, all over the place. And it was actually filming for Kelly on a tour that I tore everything in my knee—ACL, MCL, meniscus, all of it."

The knee injury marked the end of Sheppard's skateboarding career. After his sponsor dropped him, he started learning how to play guitar.

"My mom was a rock-and-roller; she sang in bands and stuff," he said. "And my dad was a straight-up cowboy. All my family from that side are Wyoming ranchers, farmers and all that. So growing up, I had the juxtaposition of honky-tonk and rock and roll. ... And when I picked up an acoustic guitar, I don't know, that's just the music that I acclimated towards."

Sheppard moved to Los Angeles and played in the band Gypsy River Haunts from 2007 to 2012. The LA Weekly ran a feature on the group in September 2012 and praised its EP Forgive Me (self-released, 2012) as "[a] solid effort, earnest rather than ironically pleased with itself." After GRH broke up, Sheppard moved back to Idaho and began performing as a solo artist. No Depression called his first solo LP, Far From Here (self-released, 2015), "an honest and soulful country rock album."

Sheppard and his band will be busy promoting Steady Your Aim over the next month. After playing Treefort, they'll hit the road for a Western U.S. tour, which will include a set at the Roots Roadhouse Festival in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 8. Sheppard will celebrate his 30th birthday by co-headlining a show with The Herbert Bail Orchestra at Neurolux on Friday, April 20.

Sheppard hopes to do some work on his third album soon as well; he has already written 25 new songs. He doesn't know how many will make the cut, but in any case, he'll keep aiming for the bull's-eye.

"You know what, I'm actually happy," Sheppard said. "I made the record I want to make. I've never said that before. I want to be able to say that again."

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