Shepherds Reign is a Kiwi metal band with a difference. The group’s five members all live in south Tāmaki Makaurau, but their heritage lies in Samoa, and lyrics to the music they make are sung in their native language. The lead single from their upcoming sophomore album is Ua Masa’a, an intensely fierce and furious look into a subject matter too often undiscussed. Nur Lajunen-Tal catches up with the band. Made with support from NZ On Air Music.
Shepherds Reign consists of Filiva’a James (vocals/keytar), Oliver Leupolu (guitar/production), Gideon Voon (guitar), Shaymen Rameka (drums), and Joseph Oti-George on bass. Their musical journey began back in 2009 when James and Leupolu first met.
“Me and Oliver actually met teaching together,” James reminisces. “We were piano tutors at a school and we sort of got close there, and we started talking about making a band together. Me and Oliver were tutoring while we were still in school. We were looking for members and then he brought up our drummer, who is Shaymen, and they went to school together… me, Oliver and Shaymen have been together ever since.
“I went to MAINZ and met Gideon. It might have been 2015 or something. And then we added Gideon along for the ride. Oliver’s a teacher at Manuwera High, and that’s where we met Joe, who was a student at Manuwera High. Oliver said that he had good skills and listened to everything that we listened to. So it was the perfect fit. He was only 16 years old, so we waited until he turned 18 and finally told him that we’d like him to be in the band!”
Although their band plans had been in place for a few years no real thought had yet been given to a name.
“It’s actually one of the hardest things to do,” says James. “Because you’re gonna take that name everywhere with you. I sort of thought of us as leaders, thinking of our family and friends and us taking care of them. I was trying to think of something or somebody that does that as a living, so I thought of a shepherd, and how he takes care of his flock. He looks after them and feeds them and all that. So I was like, ‘Well, we can’t be called The Shepherds, that would kind of sound funny. So we sort of thought of ourselves as individual shepherds, how we’re sort of reigning onto the world now. So we put the two together and we got Shepherds Reign!”
The genesis of the new album’s lead single Ua Masa’a was found in a riff by Rameka – Shepherds Reign’s drummer.
“He’s a great guitarist as well, and he comes up with really cool riffs, so he kicked that one off,” smiles Leupolu. “It was a really gnarly kind of riff. It’s really windy, and grating, I find. There’s no nice harmonies in it. It’s a real in-your-face kind of riff!”
James’ lyrics tackle the often uncomfortable topic of domestic violence from a personal angle.
“I felt that this riff deserved a real serious subject to sing about,” he confesses. “After listening to it, I kept going through my head. I was like, ‘What’s a subject that’s real serious, sort of devastating, that will hit people right in the heart?’ Then one night I was just like, ‘Oh damn! I’ve always wanted to write a song about my sister who was murdered in Samoa.’ And so I thought, okay, this is gonna be it.
“You know how songs for loved ones who have died are usually nice and soft and real emotional? Well, this one, I took the emotional side but flipped it, and made it the most angry-sounding piece that we could write. The lyrics are actually me speaking as if I was my sister, at the very end of what happened between her and her husband. What she would have been thinking, and what she would have been saying, before she passed away. Which is why there’s a lot of anger there, a lot of frustration in my lyrics that I wrote.”
The song’s title, Ua Masa’a, translates to ‘it has spilt’.
“In Samoan language, there’s an old saying, ‘ua masa’a le ipu vai,’ or ‘the cup has spilt’, explains James. “It’s a metaphorical look at trust that’s been lost. You put water into a cup, the cup breaks. You’ll never be able to get that water back into that cup. That’s what we’re trying to say in this song. She had loved him once, the cup has broken, her love is spilt. She’ll never be able to gather it.”
The song’s darkly cinematic, NZ On Air-funded music video was directed by Dave Thomson of Imaginary Friends.
“It was a two-day shoot,” Leupolu relates. “We shot it out in the mud flats in Titirangi. The first day was the band shoot. We just played out on the mud flats, and the second day we had our warrior character (Tom Tedrow-Natoealofa), and did some filming in the same spot. Then after we did that Timothy Armstrong added the CGI and special effects.
“We had this concept of this alien object emerging from the sky and causing havoc underneath it on Earth, and so that’s what that big orb is, and it starts dropping debris and little meteors and stuff, and so those are what’s dropping and smashing the ground around us during the performance. That’s also why we’re kind of performing and singing upwards to it, kind of like fighting back. At the end, Fili gains some magical powers and starts sending some rocks back up to it! And there’s also a theme of drawing power from the earth. We’re fighting this thing from the sky, and we’re trying to get power from where we are.”
“The orb was a symbolic take on sin of the world, and evil presences, and stuff like that,” adds James. “It sort of ties in with the lyrics. There are people out there who are just pure evil, and our job is to fight them. As you can see in the video clip, we were drawing energy from the ground, but for the band, it will be drawing energy from our ancestors, which is one of the main ideas that we’re trying to portray in our song.”