INTERVIEW: SHIHAD

By Katie Nagy

Having recently released a new single, a double disc retrospective album and new tour dates – Shihad are back on the radar of fans and music lovers across the country. Ahead of ‘The Meanest Tour’ in early September, Katie Nagy spoke to Phil Knight about the music industry, 9/11 and supporting AC/DC.

How did the band first form?

Tom and Jon met at Wellington High School as little bogans and jammed Metallica and Megadeath covers together. When I was 15, I put up a “guitarist looking for a band” ad in the local music store and Tom called me up. We played together with a couple of different bass players for about 12 months and then Hamish joined.

Why did you guys decide to relocate to Australia from New Zealand?

Well even though we’d done several tours overseas, and lived in Berlin for 5 months, for the first 10 years we were predominantly based in NZ. And there’s only so much touring you can do in a country that size. Melbourne was nice and close, allowing us to get back home and play in NZ as much as we wanted, but over here we could play many more shows.

It’s not uncommon to tour around Aus for 6 weeks, as opposed to just a couple of weeks in our beloved NZ. This also went hand in hand with signing an extensive record deal here, thus opening up a larger market for our albums. We’ve always considered Melbourne to be the live rock capital of Australasia.

The band has been together for 22 years, what changes have you noticed in the music business during that time?

It used to be a lot more expensive to record a releasable quality album for half of that time. Now with digital recording and all the software and hardware available, it’s possible for bands to almost record their first album by themselves, and even release them on the net, themselves.This has definitely evened the playing field over the last decade.

You also had to spend a lot of money to get your band out there visually, with videos as well. Now if you’ve got a smartphone and video editing software, everyone can see you rock.

There’s definitely a lot more crap out there that you’ve got to sift though to find the good music though. Ten years ago, we started noticing a new type of band emerging, that we called “Protools bands”. Protools is the main studio recording/editing software, and we’d see bands that had flashy, and finely edited CDs, but when it came to playing live, they were shit. Sometimes you can “polish a turd”, as they say.

What effects has the line up changes in the band had on the music?

We’ve only had one real line up change. Hamish Laing, our first proper bass player was only in the band for 2 years. Hopefully he won’t read this, but when Karl joined, it was obvious what difference a groovier, tighter bass player could make to the sound the band.

What are your musical influences?

AC/DC, Metallica, Slayer, Killing Joke, Sex Pistols, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, The Verve, Spiritualized, Radiohead, Faith No More, My Bloody Valentine, The Headless Chickens, Bailter Space, The Skeptics, Straitjacket Fits.

You changed the band’s name to Pacifier after the Sept 11 attacks in New York. Why did you feel the need to do this and what prompted you to change it back in 2004?

When living in LA and working on the Pacifier album – we had just signed to an American Record label and management. Even on the night of 9/11, it become obvious to us and the people who were going to manage, promote and get our songs on radio and TV in the US, that Shihad was just too close to Jihad – which was in every news ticker banner running across every news channel over there, for the next 6 months.

It wasn’t a choice I’d wish on any band chasing their American rock dream, but after six months of internal and external debate, we decided to change our name to Pacifier, so we’d have a chance over there.
Then after two years of it just not feeling right, and living back in Australia, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, to change it back.

What goals have you set yourselves professionally for the future?

Lose weight.

Do you enjoy touring and what effect has touring had on you personally?

I got fat on junk food.

What is your favorite Shihad album and why are you so happy with it?

I don’t have a favourite. They’re all my special little children.

What band have you most enjoyed touring with and why?

It was amazing to support AC/DC in NZ last time they came though. I never got to meet them personally (even though Tom got Angus Young to sign the back of my red S.G), but it was awesome witnessing such a huge production and watching them every night. My life top rock moment was playing before them in front of 63,000 people at Western Springs in Auckland, in 2010.

What process to you go through to record an album? And has this changed at all in the last 22 years?

Jon usually writes some bits and bobs by himself. Sometimes it’s just electronic ideas he’s done on his laptop in hotel rooms.

We jam as a band,on ideas, riffs, and chord progressions that Jon has come up with previously, or we just make up brand new stuff on the spot, getting into the moment. We record it all.

We usually come back and have a big arrangement session on all the rough instrumental jams we’ve laid down, after going through the rough recordings.

Either we go into the recording studio and just record the songs before any vocals have been written, and then wait for Jon to write words and melodies that he’s/we’re happy with for that song, or record finished songs.

Nothing’s really changed, apart from the technology.

How do you feel the dynamics within the band have changed over the years?

Older calmer.

How has the fan reaction changed towards the band over the years?

Medium to normal.

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Many thanks to Phil for taking the time to chat to us. You can catch Shihad on “The Meanest Tour” at the following venues/dates:

THURSDAY 6TH SEPTEMBER – THE HIFI MELBOURNE, VIC

FRIDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER – THE METRO, SYDNEY NSW

SATURDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER – THE HIFI, BRISBANE QLD

THURSDAY 27TH SEPTEMBER – THE GOVERNOR HINDMARSH, ADELAIDE SA

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