Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Jon Toogood talks new Shihad album: 'It will slay people'

Shihad have been quiet of late, but they're about to unveil a new album that's so brutal recording sessions left the band nursing injuries. Jon Toogood talks exclusively to Chris Schulz.

Jon Toogood says Shihad's new album is 'brutal'.
Jon Toogood says Shihad's new album is 'brutal'.

Jon Toogood was leaving his central Auckland hotel and walking towards York Street Studios with one thing on his mind - the new Shihad album. Then something stopped him in his tracks.

"I saw this huge queue and I thought they must be queuing for tickets to a concert," the front man tells TimeOut.

"It went all the way down the street and around the corner down to Queen St. As I got closer I realised it was for the City Mission.

"I walked past and thought, 'this is ridiculous'. Meanwhile, I get to Parnell and there are guys having meetings, hopping in their Audis. It's too much. What's broken here?"

Moments like that have informed FVEY, Shihad's ninth album.

TimeOut is today exclusively announcing that FVEY, produced by Churn's Jaz Coleman and recorded in the now-defunct York Street Studios, will be available on August 8.

The follow-up to 2010's Ignite is hotly anticipated by fans: it's being talked up as a return to Shihad's bruising metal roots, and as the first single Think You're So Free shows, it's a jarring, jagged, raw - perhaps even nasty - recording but still retains Shihad's knack for including killer riffs and hooks.

At an exclusive live Barkers Sundae Session attended by TimeOut, the four-piece performed seven songs that were so intricate, sweaty and intense they left us wondering what had the Kiwi foursome so fired up.

Now we know. In one of the first interviews about FVEY (it's pronounced "Five Eyes"), Toogood tells how Shihad patched up a 15-year beef with debut album Churn producer Jaz Coleman, of the album's intense recording sessions that gave band members OOS-like injuries, and the messages that informed the music.

TimeOut: First of all, how would you describe FVEY?

Toogood: It's a brutally honest take on how we think the planet's going at the moment and it's the soundtrack that suits it. It's focused and powerful.

The album's billed as a return to the days of Killjoy and Churn. What fires Shihad up now, compared to 20 years ago?

Social injustice really pisses me off. This game's been rigged. No wonder people don't vote, the blue guy or the red guy will always be looking after the people who pay them the most money. I don't have any answers but just as a concerned citizen, I'm going, 'This is bullshit'. The music's how we feel about that. It's f****** frustrating.

Was the idea from the start to make an angry, aggressive Shihad record reminiscent of Churn and Killjoy?

Look at our career: heavy record, pop record, heavy record, experimental record. We always come back to heavy because that's where we started. With this one, I managed to purge all that pop stuff during The Adults project.

When we did the greatest hits tour, unanimously the band's favourite part of the set was the Churn stuff. It was so heavy and rhythmic but not metal and that suited us as 40-year-old men. There was something brutal and clean and powerful about it. It was exciting.

They look like complicated songs to play - is that the case?

They're actually quite simple but we have to play them super-tight otherwise the magic doesn't happen. To play it tight, everyone [has to play like] a machine. You have to really focus. What we're saying is very important to us [and] the music is very important to us. That larger-than-life sound is something we love, and we can do it when we're focused.

Shihad's rift with Jaz Coleman is well known. How did you patch things up?

Three years ago we were at the Metal Hammer awards. I hadn't talked to Jaz for ages. We'd had a falling out, I just didn't have time for him. Tom [Larkin] went and chatted to him and was like, "come over and talk to him". I was like, "F*** that guy". But he was softer - he doesn't drink alcohol anymore. He's still gnarly and idealistic and brutal but minus the alcohol that makes him this focused machine. It was just the perfect meeting of what we wanted to do and having the right guy to do it with.

How did things go in the studio? Was there any tension?

It was like bootcamp for a bunch of guys who know how to play their instruments well, who've had moments of being really focused in their career and other times when they haven't been. Jaz said: "I'm going to work you until you've made a great record." Because we were all up for it, we did it until we all had rotator cuff injuries and tennis elbow. It just didn't stop. I don't think any of us had a day off while he was here, not even a weekend, for two months. It was excellent. He just drilled it into us.

How did the band approach recording sessions?

It was all done live, and Jaz would orchestrate. He'd be screaming at us, like, "Come on you f****** c****," right in our faces, and if anyone messed up, it was like, "What the f*** are you doing? You know how this f****** goes. Don't let anybody down, do it right." It's exactly what this band needed. We needed someone to crack the whip. This was, cellphones off, no outside world, there's only this song, there's only this riff, don't f*** it up because your life depends on it, and this is the last time this awesome studio is going to be used, and it sounds amazing so let's make it sing.

Is it a risky move making an album like this, this far into the band's career?

I don't think so. It's brutally honest [and] it's exactly the record we wanted to make and I can't wait to play it live. It's a musical representation of exactly where I want to be. Commercially? I don't know - Coleman was saying the whole time, "Forget about that, forget radio, you're a rock band, let's not even think about making a record, let's make a set that you can play live that will slay people. I am giving you the artillery to destroy other bands on stage."

How did you feel after finishing the album?

Shattered, but I felt really clean, like I'd purged myself of a lot of poison, a lot of fat and a lot of denial. I felt lean and mean. We've all gone off and done other things [so] it was so nice to go, "Tom's an awesome drummer, Karl's an awesome bass player, Phil's really stepped up on this record." It's great to hang around guys you've been hanging around with since you were 18.


Listen to the first single from FVEY, Think You're So Free, here:

Who: Shihad
What: New and ninth album FVEY
When: Due out August 8; Pre-sales available June 27
First single: Think You're So Free, due out tomorrow
Also: Watch them perform live in York Street Studios in an exclusive Barkers Sundae Session available on nzherald.co.nz from August 8.

- TimeOut

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