Anyone who grew up in New Zealand in the 1990s and 2000s will be able to agree on one thing – they grew up listening to Shihad. As one of the biggest bands to come out of New Zealand ever, and arguably the biggest rock band from the country, 2018 brings with it cause for celebration. This year marks 30 years as a band and to celebrate they’re heading out on tour around Australia and New Zealand, as well as releasing a limited edition vinyl of their 1999 album, ‘The General Electric’ for its respective 20th anniversary. Whilst it’d be impossible to cover 30 years in a single fifteen minute phone call, we did our best to cover as much as we could when we sat down with frontman Jon Toogood to chat all about it!
Diving straight in, Toogood tells us that the part of the celebrations he’s most excited about is simply being able to get back on stage with the rest of the band (Phil Knight on lead guitar, Karl Kippenberger on bass, and Tom Larkin on drums) to play a good old rock show. “Seriously, any time I get to walk on stage with those guys is really exciting for me. It’s pretty nice having the luxury of playing with three guys that you’ve played music with for that long. There’s a certain level of tightness and togetherness and unspoken synergy that you just don’t get without spending that much time playing with the same people. To me it feels like riding a dragon,” he laughs. “It’s fucking great fun. I still get that same feeling whenever I’m on stage with the guys.” He goes on to describe that the band’s longevity hasn’t been without its bumps in the road. “It is a family, y’know? As like any family and bunch of brothers, we’ve definitely had our moments where we’ve wanted to kill each other. There is a reason why brothers tend to move out of home and go their seperate ways but they still love each other. We don’t live in the same house – if we did, there wouldn’t be a band. We’ve all got our own lives, we’ve got heaps going on outside of Shihad, so it means that when we do come together we’ve actually got stuff to catch up on.”
With a mammoth back catalogue, Toogood admits that in 30 years as a band he’s personally never had a ‘we’ve made it’ moment and goes on to explain why. “I’m always thinking about the next thing. I’m always thinking about the next album we’re going to make. It’s quite funny actually, we were inducted into the New Zealand Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame and I was actually quite insulted. I was like, ‘far out, I’m not that old, am I?’. I’m still thinking this is a shit-kicking rock and roll band and I want to find out what the next Shihad record’s like, so I find the idea of looking back really weird. I don’t think any of us have really been that interested in looking back, so this 30 years, it’s a cool achievement, but it’s not something I dwell on,” before cheekily adding, “We’re Kiwis man, we’re not allowed to be successful.”
Toogood admits that it was a conversation with Larkin that made him realise that this year sees the big anniversary as his focus was elsewhere. “We’re in the middle of writing a new record, so I didn’t even really think about it. For me, ‘FVEY’ (pronounced ‘five eyes’) was one of the better records we’ve made for years. It’s like a focused, mean, modern rock record as far as I’m concerned and I just want to get on and ride another one of those. Not exactly like that obviously, but the next version of. The world’s even crazier now than it was when we wrote the last record so there’s plenty to sing about.” As for the anniversary tour, you can hear the excitement in his voice about being able to get up on stage and play all of their favourite songs off their entire discography.
One of Toogood’s personal biggest highlights of his career within Shihad was during the mixing of their fourth album, The General Electric, back in 1999. He elaborates: “In Vancouver in Bryan Adams’ studio, while AC/DC are downstairs tracking their record and I’m having to walk past AC/DC every day while I’m checking mixes with Randy Staub, the guy who mixed Metallica’s ‘Black Album’. For me that was like living the rock and roll dream.” He then goes on to tell us about supporting AC/DC at Western Springs in Auckland and playing to 62,000 people. “Having everybody sing the chorus to Run, and hearing a song that you’ve written sung by that many people. I mean, that’s bigger than Palmerston North man, that’s a city of rock.”
“We’ve got a standard we’ve got to keep,” says Toogood, turning his attention back to the upcoming anniversary shows. “Shihad have played some pretty good live shows so we’re going to make sure it’s awesome. Predominantly for us, because we like it when we play an awesome show because it makes life totally worth living, it’s really life affirming and it’s a really positive experience. I think it’s going to be an uplifting, heavy as fuck rock ‘n’ roll show with shitloads of energy. It’ll be defining songs of our whole career, songs off every record, going back to the first EP we released, pretty much anything we like.”
While it’s been no secret that Shihad are working on their next album which they plan to release next year, we tried to dig a little deeper and find out a little bit more about the direction of the new material. Toogood admits that he’s feeling the pressure to write the right lyrics. “FVEY was really focused for me because I was watching the world move hard to the right. I married a Sudanese woman and my kids are half-Sudanese, half-Kiwi, so anytime I see people start waving flags around saying this country’s better than that, or this group of people’s better than that group of people, that’s not a good thing for me because I want my kids to grow up in a world where people don’t give a fuck about race or religion or shit like that, they just take them as people. FVEY addresses that already, I think this next record is going to be heavier. We’ve got so much music I’ve got to write words for, but I’ve been a bit hesitant to write until I’ve got a clearer idea of where the world’s heading because I could easily repeat what I said on the FVEY record and it’d still be relevant. Maybe it’s a time for being a bit more personal about that.”
The last few years have seen Toogood being super busy, playing Shihad shows, solo shows, completing a master’s degree, writing an album and playing shows with his new project The Adults as well as welcoming a new baby to his family. If the thought alone of all of that makes you tired, rest assured he did apologise for that! We tried to find out what keeps him so motivated. “As I’m getting older I’m realising how precious each day is and it makes me realise I’m not going to be here forever. I’m really curious about the world, I’m curious about music still. Music’s been my religion since I was a kid, that’s the thing that’s kept me from doing something stupid, it’s what’s kept me interested in being alive. It still does. Going to university at 46 was a real mental challenge, and it’s helped me understand more about what I love about music. I could live about 100 lifetimes and still not do all the shit I want to do.”
Shihad kick off their anniversary tour in New Zealand later this month before jumping the ditch to continue the celebrations in Australia in November.
Tickets and the 20th anniversary ‘The General Electric’ limited edition vinyl can be purchased here.