Growing up in Manchester, Shepherd was constantly upheaving his parents’ house, turning it into a makeshift studio that allowed his highly curious mind to do as it pleased. There would be a drum kit in the living room – a cello in the kitchen – wires trailing every nook and cranny all the way up to his bedroom. When he eventually moved to London to attend university, he lost that creative freedom, yet refused to let the ensuing years of limitation affect his work by making idiosyncratic electronic music on his computer – a move that put him firmly on the radar with records like ‘Vacuum’ and ’Shadows’. “The first stuff I put out was around that time,” he explains. “All this time, I wanted to be sharing my other, live music – but recording was prohibitively expensive.”
It was these prohibitions (and a lack of space for his ever-growing collection of equipment) that led Shepherd to relocate to a London-based studio. Having more room allowed Shepherd’s music to reach much grander and ambitious heights, his work with the Floating Points Ensemble paving the way for things to come. Shepherd’s collection of equipment continued to bloom, and on Elaenia, the range of instruments he played himself is astounding: the Oberheim OB8, Arp Odyssey, piano, Fender Rhodes, vibraphone, marimba, Rhodes Chroma, Buchla 101, 200e and100 series modular synthesizers were all performed by him, resulting in a distinct and personable sound that echoes throughout the whole record. “I was lucky enough to spend some time in Vancouver with Richard Smith, who has the most formidable early origin Buchla setup,” he says, ‘For Marmish’ came from there, but a lot of the noises that came out of the sessions ultimately bent my mind and served to refresh my use of electronics. The Mood Hut guys introduced us – spending a few days at his recording studio was a dream.”
The more time he spent in London and DJing around the world, the more friends Shepherd made and recruited for the current incarnation of his band. On Elaenia, Tom Skinner and Leo Taylor contributed drums (Skinner playing on ‘Silhouettes I’, ‘II’ & ‘III’), with Susumu Mukai taking up bass, Qian Wu and Edward Benton sporting violins, Matthew Kettle on the viola and Joe Zeitlin on the cello. Help was also on hand for vocals, with Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne and Layla Rutherford both lending their voices alongside Shepherd’s own. Every moment on Elaenia is intricately and meticulously executed – every noise finely tweaked and tuned to perfection. “I got the Rhodes Chroma in the middle of recording,” he remembers. “It’s a funny machine, since it only works properly for thirty minutes every six months. When it’s working though, it’s phenomenal! I had bits on the record I was waiting months to record just because there was a particular sound I wanted from the Chroma.”
Like his contemporaries and good friends Caribou and Four Tet, Shepherd has nurtured the Floating Points name into one renowned for ambitious and forward-thinking DJ sets, having performed all over the world at events and clubs such as Output NYC, Trouw, Sonar, Unit Tokyo, Panorama Bar and, of course, Nuits Sonores (which lent its name to his seminal track from summer 2014); as well as the much-missed Plastic People, where he held his monthly residency for five years. His love for digging through recordings from around the world is just as huge as the venues themselves – Shepherd has an ear for everything from Brazilian legends such as Jose Mauro, Gal Costa and Hareton Salvagnini right through to the 1970’s Embryo Records band Air. Overall, influences on Elaenia run wide and deep and are charmingly eclectic – Shepherd names Laughing Stock by Talk Talk as a critical influence in the making of the record, for example, as well as the leftfield leanings of Circles by William S. Fischer.