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Shihad

It’s difficult to believe, but Melbourne-based New Zealand alternative hard rock band Shihad have been around since the late '80s. Across the last two decades-plus, they’ve released an incredible eight studio albums, a double live album, played some of the most bombastic live shows this country has ever seen, changed their name, changed it back again, tried to crack America and generally become one of the leading lights of both the Aussie and Kiwi rock scenes.
 
However, hyperactive and highly talkative lead singer Jon Toogood is far from one to rest on his laurels and simply look back on his band’s illustrious history and celebrate his success. Quite the opposite in fact. So much so that when Shihad were recently presented with a Hall of Fame Induction and Legacy Award at the 2010 New Zealand music Awards, while honoured and humbled, Toogood didn’t quite know what to do with the accolades. He and his band are seemingly far more concerned with being creative and moving forward (at all costs, it seems like) than just reflecting on past glories. As the man himself explains from his “home away from home” in Melbourne, “This is what happened recently in New Zealand,” he recalls, “we got awarded what’s called the ‘Legacy’ artist. It’s like a lifetime achievement award.
 
“I had mixed feelings about it, because, I sort of went ‘well that’s a real honour, man. That’s my country saying you guys have been around for 22 years.’ But I never spend any time looking back…” he muses. “My head’s constantly working on what’s next.
 
“I’m more interested in the artwork for (new album) Ignite than having people go ‘well done for 22 years.’ I really not that interested in it,” Toogood shrugs. “At the same time, it keeps my parents happy!” he laughs, “and I do appreciate it from a level of it being for anyone who’s helped or supported us; it’s vindication for them as well. It’s really cool, but I’m only interested in Ignite at the moment, and the songs on that record. So I found it a little confusing.
 
“It doesn’t feel like I’ve been in the band for 22 years,” he continues, on the band’s longevity in the industry, “it just feels like another day: ‘what’s happening today?’ ‘What new song is happening today?’ ‘What show’s coming up?’ That’s what I’m interested in… I don’t spend much time looking back; it’s not really what interests me.”
 
The new album Ignite is another titanic slab of bludgeoning but very catchy rock, in the grand Shihad tradition. There are elements of the past two Shihad albums, the raw anger of Love Is The New Hate, and the slightly softer, more introspective Beautiful Machine. In fact, Ignite seems to fuse the two to perfection. It’s a supremely rockin’ work, but with moments of real dynamics and variation. It’s yet another bold statement from New Zealand’s finest, and it’s creation had a serious ‘home grown’ vibe to it.
 
“We recorded the drums at Sing Sing, which is close to where I live,” Jon explains, “but that’s all we did in the ‘big’ studio. We moved over to Brunswick (to drummer Tom Larkin’s home studio), and just worked away at our own pace… it’s so nice having your own place; it’s such a different way to record a record.
 
“This time round it was self produced,” he adds further. “Tom’s got his sonic side of things down. When we did the Beautiful Machine record, Tom cruised over to London and watched Alan Moulder mix the record – who’s very British!” he chuckles, “[and] they mix very differently from Americans.
 
“Americans are very dry, in your face, straight up, which is cool. But British mixes are slightly ethereal, slightly less defined, so slightly more magical,” he laughs. “I think Tom’s mixes do that. It’s exactly what I wanted it to sound like. Big as fuck, but also quite beautiful.”
 
In a bit of an about face for Shihad, as the band recently actually did reminisce briefly, doing a tour on which they only played tunes from their classic '90s albums Killjoy and The General Electric. From all accounts it was massive fun and a massive success. But of course, after a brief sojourn into sentimental territory, now Toogood and his coompadres turn have turned their full attention to the future.
 
With that brand new album to release and a massive tour to promote it, which will feature a decent smattering of the Ignite album, it’s clear the dial is firmly set to ‘the now’. “That was way more fun than I even thought it was going to be,” he remembers, regarding the Killjoy and General Electric tour. “I was so wrapped up in the new record that I forgot that we’d promised to do that tour!” he laughs.
 
“It was like ‘oh shit! I’d better fuckin’ have a look into those records man! I’d better do some practice, man!’ ‘Cos that’s some pretty intense playing on Killjoy, and on General Electric… but we played those shows and they were a blast man!” the singer enthuses.
 
“I really think,” he continues, concentrating on the upcoming tour, “there are some really strong songs on this record. When we release a new record we’re keen to play quite a bit of it live. But there’s always gonna be songs from other records that I want to play live as well. It’s like ‘fuck me, we’ve got eight studio records,’” he grins.
 
“So we’ve actually got quite a bit of back catalogue to go through, and pick out songs that we like. And if you do a bit of practice, you can do any song off any record… there might be a few interesting things in there from our back catalogue as well. But, yeah I would like to play quite a bit of the new stuff, ‘cos I fuckin’ love it!”
 
Indeed, make sure you check out Shihad live when they come to play again, because in the flesh they’re an absolute sight (and sound) to behold. In fact, they’ve been consistently one of the most entertaining and exhilarating live bands on the Aussie/Kiwi scene for over 20 years. Here’s to another 20.
 
SHIHAD play The Corner Hotel on November 19 – ticket from The Corner box office, 9427 9198 and cornerhotel.com. Their latest record Ignite is out now through Roadrunner.