Shihad’s Jon Toogood has a lot on his mind. Firstly, he is concerned about the rise of right-wing
politics. What’s more, he is angered by white supremacists. Furthermore, he’s baffled by Donald Trump.
Yes, there is certainly a great deal wrong in the world. And Shihad’s latest album Old Gods is their response. One which directly answers all the worst reality has to offer with a resounding, “Fuck that!”
Music Feeds: What is Old Gods about?
Jon Toogood: I’ve just turned fifty. And this is the first Shihad record in seven years. For a while there, me and my wife were watching life fly by.
We had two children. And for the first time in my life since I was eighteen years old, I didn’t want to write a song. My priorities changed. I just wanted to hang out with my kids. And, in the background, writing. Shihad still liked getting together, jamming and building up a library of riff-based music. (Without going into any detail or bothering to arrange it.) Then, about when my son was three and we got him to sleep a bit more, I started to play around with all the music that we had.
I was basically getting sick of waking up every day and checking my phone. Like a lot of people
you know? I knew the world was ending because that madman was in power in America. There were people walking around with torches in American cities saying, “History is not on paper.” And I don't know if you know a lot about my personal life but I'm married to a Sudanese woman. My children are bi-racial and I live in Melbourne.
White supremacy and the legitimisation of this way of thinking? I’m seeing that sort of shit! With two biracial children, it feels heavier having that shit around my kids.
I don’t know. The easiest way to put it is that I just needed to hear music that was going “fuck that.” And so that’s what I did. I went and wrote a whole bunch of music around that.
MF: Were there moments you were sitting down watching the news and feeling you needed
to write a song?
JT: Do you know the song ‘Little Demons’? I took the first line of the chorus, which is “call the police and have them hauled away,” from a Q+A episode I was watching at the time. The Liberal Party had a woman called Teena McQueen on the panel.
And there was an Aboriginal woman, a First Nations woman, who was talking about how she is regularly hit with and yelled at with racial abuse from cars in her part of town. And Tina McQueen went, “Oh! I don’t know why you don’t just call the police and have them hauled away.” Yeah, that works for you but it doesn’t work for this woman.
They are living in two different realities. It was a classic situation of watching someone talking
from inside their bubble and not realising someone else's reality. And I was just like, “I’m going to use that image, that line because that is so fucking ridiculous.”
Ultimately if I spend too much time looking at things on phones it makes me feel alone in what I
am thinking. It makes me feel like the bad guys are always winning. And so, I was just like, “Fuck
In 2020, it was weird watching things like Jair Bolsonaro taking power in Brazil. And then hearing him say that if his son was gay he would kill them! Like, what the fuck is going on? People are following these overly macho, really racist “strong man” figures. And they are so full of shit. Meanwhile, we got a fucking planet to save.
Last year, Australia was on fire for fucking three or four months! We don’t have time to waste going down these crazy sexist holes. I’ve got kids. Having kids gives it a bit of urgency. And, luckily, I’ve got a band. And it suits this sort of writing, that fighting of, or at least sorting out of, the bullshit. We can point out the hypocrisies of these ideas.
MF: Can a song make a difference? Can it change people's lives?
JT: I learned about the world through music. Even listening to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ as a two-year-old and going, “I wanna be that!” You know? Going, “This is speaking directly to me!”
MF: The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night?
JT: I know The Beatles’ ‘Hard Day’s Night’ is not protest music. But that band spoke to me as a kid. And watching them move into being influenced by people like Bob Dylan (who is not a fascist)? That’s completely relevant to me!
Or Bob Marley. He was completely relevant to me and still is. Even as a child I would listen to him if I was in any mood. If I wanna chill, if I'm angry at the band, or like just something to make the bed with – basically, I am just looking for music that sees the truth.
Bands like Fugazi. When we started Shihad we started off light. We did Metallica and Slayer covers, the harder and faster the better. And then all of a sudden The Gulf War started.
Then there were bands like Nirvana, Fugazi and My Bloody Valentine. We realized there were powerful things you could do with guitar. So, we did that.
For me, I need to hear music that makes me feel like I am not going insane. Music that makes me feel less alone. That is what music is to me. I still like guitar music. So I guess I’m creating it from the selfish desire to hear music that makes me feel like there is an alternative point of view. Or that this one thing is insane.
I need to hear music that says, “You’re right.” It is insane that Donald Trump was the president of America. That’s fucking random! And it is madness that he is still kicking it hard on coal. We are still in a world where our society has a racial hierarchy. All this gender inequality is happening and it is 2021! That is fucking crazy. So I just need to hear hard music that does that. You know?
The closest I would get to a modern band with writing like that would be Idles. They are a little
bit more realistic but still punk rock. And then on the other side of things, Kendrick Lamar and
others are actually speaking truth to power.
MF: Your songs reference demons and gods. Is there a religious or mythological dimension to Old Gods?
JT: I think for me the Old Gods are the sacred cows of society. They are the ones we assume are always going to be there or that is just the way it is. And that we just have to accept the way we live. And we are just like, “Well, actually no.” We have got to question that shit.
I have also just converted to Islam. I am a Muslim. The woman I married, she is Sudanese. When I met her I was a staunch atheist. I considered myself a humanist and that there was no God that governed the way I behave.
An atheist approach focuses on what we don’t have. My wife Dana is grateful for what she has been given, rather than concentrating on what she has or what she doesn’t have. She definitely did have an effect on the way I view the world.
Maybe there is still a humanist in there somewhere. I have always hated watching powerful people exploit groups of people. I have always had a problem with that. I don’t know why.
MF: Is there a message you would like to share with Shihad fans before we close off?
JT: Go easy on yourself. And go easy on each other. Also, realize that change does not come from winning arguments on social media. The only way you can make a real change or change your life is face-to-face with another human.
Take it easy because we all have got to come together and deal with these existential problems. Especially, when it comes to any sort of inequality. We need to try being kinder to each other,
to be gentler with each other. That would be good.
‘Old Gods’ is out now. In January / February 2022, the band are set to embark on their first Australian headline tour since 2018.