Deland’s Roadkill Ghost Choir has quietly grown into the band most expected them to be: hard-rocking, sentient, and fully imbued with a sense of Central Florida rock. That doesn’t mean the band are Tom Petty ripoffs, but their sound and, in particular, the vocals of Andrew Shepard, do call back to a young Petty and an old, stripped down, unpretentious rock 'n' roll.
Shepard didn’t dive into his local music history until his early-'20. In that exploration, he gained the confidence to break from his then musically hermitic life and onto a stage. The combination of his later bloom with his introverted nature resulted in a pure Americana sound informed by alternative rock — fans of the Avett Brothers or Dead Confederate will tune in immediately.
Taking their name from a member’s former outfit, Lester Possum and the Roadkill Ghost Choir, Shepard remarks, “We thought it was interesting, so we tried that out and it stuck. Some people love it and some hate it. We’ve come to accept the name.”
Formed in 2011 by Andrew and his brothers Zach and Maxx Shepard (bass and drums, respectively), and joined by lead guitarist Stephen Garza and pedal steel and banjo player Kiffy Myers, Roadkill Ghost Choir has gone through the motions of releasing a pair of EPs and a full-length, 2014’s In Tongues. A busy touring schedule that's seen them support Band of Horses and an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, as well as the viral popularity of their track “Beggar’s Guild” helped the band reach the national consciousness.
While those were valuable experiences, according to Shepard, they weren’t always positive. The band’s first tour was particularly bleak, though they soldiered on and took lessons. Perhaps having family as an anchor has helped. “They're good kids,” Shepard says of his brothers. “We can fight with each other, but nothing usually sticks or carries over into the next day. We've done it all our lives, so it's nice to know after a big fight that in about three hours, we'll be friends again. It's both a positive and a negative, I guess. The other dudes hate us. We got all the good looks.”
This camaraderie and humor speak to the band's maturity. Their LP is a deliberate and balanced effort. Recorded in Athens’ Chase Park Transduction studios, Shepard gives insight into the process: “It was honestly a very quick writing process. We set a recording date without having all the songs written or demoed. We just stuck ourselves in a room and wrote and arranged as many songs as we could in a short period of time. It was an incredibly stressful period but a great exercise for me and how I write under time restraints.”
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Where other young bands have buckled, Roadkill has learned in its relatively short lifespan, and Shepard continues to hone his songwriting style. Their upcoming appearance at the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival is a big step for a band that’s looking ahead to a busy year. With the new album completed and awaiting a release, the quintet is looking to get its touring legs together.
“I am really proud of what we've done this time around, and I can't wait to put it in people's ears,” says Shepard about the upcoming LP. “We'll be most likely hitting the road this spring and summer, but nothing is set currently.”
As for Okeechobee Fest, Shepard says, “We'll be trying out some new tunes. We're all excited to play these songs and get back into the groove of playing on the road. We'll play really loud and eat raw meat on stage. Rock ‘n’ roll will never die.”
Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival
With Roadkill Ghost Choir, Mumford & Sons, Kendrick Lamar, Skrillex, Bassnectar, and others. March 3 to 6 at Sunshine Grove, 12517 NE 91st Ave., Okeechobee. Three-day advance passes start at $269.50. Visit okeechobeefest.com.