Shihad may have been going at it for almost three decades now, but the Kiwi-bred alt rock veterans aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. After releasing their ninth studio album FVEY in 2014, the lads are now saddling up to tour Australia in celebration of their seminal self-titled LP, affectionately dubbed The Fish Album, turning the big 2-0.
Their breakthrough disc has just been re-mastered and re-issued both digitally and on vinyl, and prior to hitting the road this July & August, frontman Jon Toogood took some time out to chat with Music Feeds about the upcoming tour, as well as everything from the state of world politics to the loss of Channel [V], how inspirational genius/”whingey bitch” Thom York helped him survive his first world tour, the status of album number 10 and getting older but never quite growing up.
Watch: Shihad – Home Again
Music Feeds: Hey mate! First off, big congrats on The Fish Album turning 20, does it actually feel like 20 years have passed since you released it?
Jon Toogood: No, not at all! This is the third record that [label] Warner have re-released at the 20 year mark, and it’s starting become a joke to me, it’s absurd. I can actually remember – clearly – making those records. I feel like the same dude, you know? It’s like, I’ve got a few more grey hairs. But yeah, it’s weird. Some of those songs we still play now, even without the prompting of a 20 year re-release. I really like some of those songs on that record and it still feels and sounds fresh to me so yeah, I find it absolutely bizarre to tell you the truth!
MF: And has much changed within the band during that time or do you still feel like the same bunch of high school kids making music together?
JT: Oh I think we’re definitely different people. Wait, no, that’s wrong – we’re the same people, we’re just a little bit older and wiser. And like, when I hear the work, I still go “Ah I know exactly where my head was at [at the time I wrote that]”. You know, every record’s like a fucking journal anyway, it’s like a diary, and that’s what’s so weird about listening to [old songs], because you go ‘Oh right! That’s what I believed at that time!’ And then there’s times when you go ‘Oh, I got it so wrong!’ and then other times where you go ‘Ah! I forgot how right I was!’ You know?
Just before we made [The Fish Album], our manager at the time, Gerald Dwyer, he died of an overdose and it was totally out of the blue, and we were left without a manager. We always had someone – like an older brother figure – saying ‘Hey, you should do this’ or ‘Hey you should do that’ and we trusted him, you know? And for the first time we were sort of flying ourselves. So for me, that record – I still felt like a kid, even though I was probably in my twenties at that point! I was like a kid pretending to be a man…
So yeah, when I listen to that record… sometimes you actually get wisdom out of the fact that you were so naive.
MF: So you guys have been together for almost 28 years – which is way longer than most bands last! What’s the secret to staying together for so long without killing each other?
(Laughs) It’s because we made the decision – even when we were these young little dudes learning Slayer covers – we went: ‘If we’re gonna be in a band, everything’s gotta be split evenly. So, even though I do the bulk of the songwriting, and Karl [Kippenberger – bass] does the bulk of the artwork and Tom [Larkin – drums] managed us when our manager died, it’s like everyone’s sort of got their own role to play and we always split everything evenly.
So out of that, I think there’s this loyalty that everyone’s got. And everyone’s also got as much to lose as the next guy. And because of that, you get a band sticking together for that long because everyone’s invested. It’s cool, you know? So I’m really glad that we made that decision really early on.
MF: Now the first place I ever saw – or heard of – you guys was on Channel [V] when you released The General Electric (I was a little too young for The Fish Album) and of course, we lost that platform recently. Do you think that’s going to have a negative impact on the Aussie music industry?
JT: I think it’s just a re-jigging of the way people consume music. I mean, I do a weekly radio show on a New Zealand station and they pretty much let me play whatever the fuck I want, but I tend to use playlists on Spotify… I find that format really works for me. And as a consumer, it makes me really listen to music a lot. And it’s funny because, on the other side of the coin, vinyl makes me listen to music more as well… I went and bought [a record player] and I haven’t had such a splurge on new music – and also getting back into buying music, like really buying music – in a long time.
I keep going: ‘well, I’ve got to get that record!’ You know, I’ve got five of Bob Marly’s back catalogue, but I don’t have all of them so I need to get all of them! It’s making me consume music again… So I’ve got both outlets, I’m discovering new bands and then re-discovering old shit that I’d completely forgotten about.
So I suppose, do I miss Channel [V]? I mean, yeah, there were some really cool things about that. But you’ve gotta roll with it, the changes, things move really fast.
MF: So just on the subject of new artists and the music that you’re listening right now, what are your thoughts on the state of Aussie music at the moment? Are there any new bands or artists whose music has particularly connected with you?
I’ve got to be completely, bluntly honest. Since having my son, who’s now 10 months old – and moving to the suburbs of Melbourne – I’m a little bit out of the loop with new stuff. But, in saying that, I did play a Gang Of Youths song the other day, which I really liked. I saw a picture of them and thought ‘Oh they’re kind of these yobbo punk rockers’, but it was just quite a moving, emotive tune, I thought it was really nice.
In terms of other stuff I like? I recommend track 2 of the new PJ Harvey record [The Hope Six Demolition Project]… it’s fuckin’ ballsy man, it’s really good. And I recommend pretty much all of the new Bowie record, Blackstar. It’s uncanny how awesome that record is, considering he knew he was dying. and maybe that’s probably because he knew he was dying? He wasn’t going to do anything average, you know? It’s actually a fucking great record.
I really like the new Radiohead stuff I’ve been hearing too, I think that sounds really, really good. Burn The Witch is a really good song… I’ve got friends who think [Thom Yorke] is a whinging bitch, but I think he’s got a really graceful way of stealing cliches, and then placing them in this arty context and making them mean more than what they mean.
I remember hearing OK Computer when we were touring and that record fuckin’ helped me through… We were touring through Europe and I was having to do all these interviews and meet all these industry people and I was like, ‘Fuck, this isn’t what I got into this job for. I got into this job to be an awesome live band and making songs’. I just remember hearing OK Computer and going: ‘Oh, thank god, a bit of fuckin’ art. A bit of art that doesn’t give a fuck about the commerce.’ It’s just music, you know? And it opened all these doors for me. So ever since then I’ve always had a soft spot for Radiohead and I always listen out to what [Thom Yorke’s] got to say. It doesn’t work every time (laughs) but i just like where he’s coming from as a human being.
MF: So let’s talk about The Fish Album 20th anniversary tour that kicks off in July. Is this gonna be a show especially for those fans who’ve been with you from the start?
JT: We’ll put on a show that pretty much anyone who likes guitars will probably enjoy. We’ll definitely be playing our favourite tracks of The Fish Album but then, just because of the state of fuckin’ world politics and the fact there’s an election on, I imagine that we’ll be playing a shitload of songs of the FVEY record, which to me actually sounds more relevant now than it did two years ago when we released it, especially now that The Panama Papers have come out and we’ve found out that our democracy’s a complete sham, because all the rich people of the world aren’t paying their fuckin’ tax.
So while we are paying our tax and being asked to tighten our belts by these governments because they need money for schools and hospitals – which is what our tax money’s supposed to go to – the rich people amongst us aren’t paying their tax because they can afford really good accountants to put their money offshore. And FVEY was dealing with that shit, but now it’s like in plain sight. And this shit affects Joe Normal in the suburbs who doesn’t give a fuck about politics…
It affects everybody’s lives. If you’re being asked to front up money to keep the roads good and keep the schools good and keep the hospitals good, but meanwhile the people who can afford it the most are not doing that, and then you’re being asked to pay even more tax? It’s like, ‘Why should I even be fucking paying tax at all?’
It’s finally getting to a point where it’s actually a bit of a farce. It’s like kings and queens and paupers and I just don’t wanna live in that world.
MF: It’s actually really interesting that you say that because it feels like there’s this really strange paradox happening right now where, on the one hand, things seem to be more fucked politically than they’ve ever been before. And yet, on the other hand, music is the least angry than it’s been in decades. There’s no anger or calls for revolution – the majority of new music we hear on the radio is pretty chilled, with the exception of you guys of course. What do you reckon is with that?
Well I think that music – as well as being something that can change the world – it can also just be escapism. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I really like putting on chill music, I really like listening to Aphex Twin, because it takes me away from everyday thoughts, you know? So I think that’s what just is happening at the moment, that there is an escapism element to the music.
I mean, I can fucking scream and shout about [what’s going on in the world], but I’m an older man, you know, I’m 44 years old, I’m turning 45 this year. People actually need someone of their generation to be able to get out there and become politically active…
I’ve got no doubt that it’ll happen because it’s a generational thing, it just needs to happen pretty soon, and it needs to come from the mouth of someone who’s fuckin’ 20 years old. You can see it in the fact that Bernie Sanders in America has actually got all of these young people in the political process – he’s telling the truth! And the truth has been missing from politics for so long, and finally it’s giving the younger generation something to believe in, and they need to have that. And I think out of shit like that, you will get music that can be a bit more angry. And I really can’t wait to hear it myself, because I love that cathartic experience of hearing an artist go ‘Actually, these guys have got it fuckin’ wrong. There’s a better way’.
And it’ll happen, it’ll happen, hopefully sooner rather than later. Because personally all that shit about parties and haircuts and my iPhone – I mean, I like all those things – but it ain’t gonna fucking save the world. And it’s not gonna change the world. It’s just keeping us distracted, just like watching Master Chef, it’s the same fucking thing. You want music to be jolting you out of that shit, you know? To remind you that you’re awake and alive.
Meanwhile, I’ll just make my own older gentleman’s version of that shit (laughs).
MF: And on that note, after the roaring success that was FVEY, will there be an album number 10?
JT: Absolutely. And I’m interested to find out what it’s gonna be. We’re actually gonna start writing in late June and yeah, I’m really interested to see what’s going to come out, because I feel like the state of the world has intensified since we wrote FVEY so maybe the music might be more intense too? Which will be interesting because that was a pretty intense record!
Shihad hit the road this June, grab all the dates and deets below.
Watch: Shihad – Think You’re So Free
Shihad Australian Tour
Thursday, 23rd June
Settlers Tavern, Margaret River
Friday, 24th June
Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Saturday, 25th June
Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Sunday, 26th June
Newport Hotel, Fremantle
Friday, 1st July – NEW SHOW
The Triffid, Brisbane
Saturday, 2nd July – NEW SHOW
Pigsty In July, Hunger Valley
Friday, 15th July – NEW SHOW
The Factory Theatre, Marrickville
Saurday, 16th July – NEW SHOW
The Croxton, Melbourne