Shihad turns 20 this year. Frontman Jon Toogood tells Scott Kara the band has spat out the venom and is feeling positive

Key Points:

Jon Toogood has sold his beloved house in Wellington and moved to Melbourne. It was a big move for the Shihad frontman, but it came down to love.

Yes, he loves his bandmates, who have lived in the Australian city for years, but this decision was based on love for his wife, Ronise.

After five or so years of doing the long distance thing, with her in Wellington and him dividing his time between New Zealand and Melbourne, or being on tour, they finally resolved to live across the ditch together.

"Basically we couldn't face another year of doing the separation thing," he explains in his usual excitable lilt down the phone from his new apartment in Melbourne.

Despite being gutted at selling their house in hillside suburb Brooklyn he's just happy the new Scottish owners were glad to take their cat as part of the deal. "We can go and see him anytime we like. So cool."

Of course the move to Melbourne also shows the dedication - and love - he has for the band he started with drummer Tom Larkin 20 years ago when they were at Wellington College. The story goes that Larkin gave Toogood an AC/DC tape and said, "If you like it, we should jam," and the rest is history.


On April 21 they release their seventh album, Beautiful Machine, which is a far more optimistic and brighter sounding one than 2005's fiery and sometimes sombre Love Is the New Hate. That record was about getting back in touch with who they were as a band following some bad decisions and experiences in the early 2000s.

You know the story. With ambitions of conquering America they changed their name to Pacifier - taken from a song on 1999's The General Electric - because in post-September 11 times Shihad was too close to Jihad.

They released an album as Pacifier in 2002. Then, in 2004, realising the name change was a silly idea they changed it back to Shihad, returned home, and wrote Love Is The New Hate.

"We got a whole weight off our shoulders doing Love Is the New Hate, which was a good thing, and I love that record and love playing those songs, and it performed a function," says Toogood.

"It was cathartic and got all that bad feeling out in the open. We were ready to move on after that, we felt more optimistic and hopeful about the world and our place in it when we started writing this record.

"I think Beautiful Machine does have dark places at times but it's always followed by something that pulls you back up. It's got balance, whereas Love Is the New Hate was all about spitting venom out. This one's got venom but it also has hope."

Songs like melodic and catchy single One Will Hear the Other is a good indication of where Shihad is at these days.

"I can write sad, broken-hearted love songs until the cows come home, but only every now and then can you write a song without thinking too much about it that is actually positive like One Will Hear The Other."

That song not only set the tone for the album but was also a catalyst for the band members, made up Larkin (whose Melbourne studio the album was recorded at), bass player Karl Kippenberger and guitarist Phil Knight, to open up and share musical ideas they wouldn't normally bring to the band.

"It was one of those songs I'd had on my laptop for ages and I thought I would never play it to the band because it's not what Shihad do."

But Toogood says this time round they "could speak to each other as adults".

"There's four pretty strong egos in this band and a lot of the time, even though we're great friends, it's hard to admit stuff to your brothers and sisters."

Not many bands, especially in New Zealand, last 20 years.


Toogood doesn't think too much about the anniversary. All he knows is when he walks on stage "there will be a quality to the thing we do and I'm not going to f*** up half as much as I did 10 years ago".

If anything, says Toogood: "It's a f****** weird job. It's this great weird path that I managed to walk down when I found three relatively like-minded people who wanted to walk down it too. And also, from day one, money was split four ways. No resentment.

"And I think this band is still together because we can say, `Right, let's do something different on the next record'."

From the melodic industrial metal of 1993 album Churn, the rousing stadium pop rock of Shihad from '96, to the raging angst of Love Is the New Hate, they have been diverse while still remaining uniquely Shihad (see discography, E5).

Beautiful Machine might sound like a new direction for Shihad, but they have always used technology and keyboards as far back as Churn, and on the beautiful Deb's Night Out from second album Killjoy.

Toogood says that song was the band's ode to beautifully brutal Palmerston North band the Skeptics, who were a big influence on them. "We all loved the Skeptics. You listen to the guitar lines and they're not exactly chunky riffs, they're fruity one-note things that accompany this massive bass line, f****** up beats, and big keyboards.


On the new album is When You Coming Home?, one of those keyboard-inspired tracks which has an eerie, yet peaceful vibe to it, like trippy electronic act Boards of Canada.


For fans of heavier Shihad songs there's Chameleon, with a rough and ready riff mixed with an 80s new wave jaunt, and best of all, Count It Up, like Shihad doing the Mint Chicks.

Then there's the epic Waiting Round For God, a song Toogood describes as a "hymn for non-believers".

He has been surprised by the number of young people who take it as a given that stories in the Bible are true.

"I mean I'm a product of the 90s, and listening to Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Jane's Addiction, and before that Metallica and Slayer, I remember realising that, `Hey, the universe is too big for these human stories to explain it for me'.

"My friends on the whole are atheists, but still relatively spiritual and very optimistic, and very positive about the fact we have 60 or 70 years on this dot and they're grateful that they're here. But I just find the whole switch back to the right-wing, Christian, hyper-religious scene very weird and it made me feel quite alone.

"I've got no problem with people believing what they believe, I just don't like it encroaching on my life or decisions that affect me because of someone's beliefs.

"That song [Waiting Round For God] is just what I believe and it builds and builds to this huge place. The first time we played it Tom had a lump in his throat, and isn't that cool that 20 years in a band and we can make a song that makes us actually feel something?"

LOWDOWN
Who:
Shihad
Line-up: Jon Toogood (vocals/guitar), Tom Larkin (drums), Phil Knight (guitars), Karl Kippenberger (bass)
New album: Beautiful Machine, out April 21
Playing: Vodafone Homegrown, Wellington, April 26

20 years, seven albums, one name change...
Churn (1993)

Harnessing their love of Metallica and Slayer, primal post-punks Killing Joke, industrial metallers Ministry, and the sonic noise of local band Bailter Space, they came up with something strikingly unique. It's telling that a song like Screwtop is a crowd-pleaser at Shihad gigs 15 years on.

Essential tracks: Screwtop; I Only Said.

Killjoy (1995)

Shihad learned about subtleties, and Killjoy made for a much more refined beast than Churn. The "fruity" influence of the Skeptics came through and it fluctuates from beautifully heavy (You Again) to fearsome (Gimme Gimme) to abrasive (Silvercup).

Essential tracks: Deb's Night Out; Gimme Gimme.

Shihad (1996)

After two heavy albums you can forgive them for going a little poppier and, um, softer. This self-titled record includes Home Again - Shihad's answer to the Exponents' Why Does Love Do This To Me? - and proved Toogood writes catchy hooks that still rock without the trademark heaviness.

Essential tracks: Home Again; La La Land.

The General Electric (1999)

This album combined great tunes with slabs of heaviness to back them up. It was heavy in a weighty sense. From its spiralling set-the-scene intro, to the berserk My Mind's Sedate, to the perfectly paced plod of Pacifier, it sounds like a beautiful machine.

Essential tracks: Pacifier; My Mind's Sedate.

Pacifier (2002)

This is when it started going a little hairy. They say American-produced albums sound big and polished; the truth is The General Electric sounded far better than Pacifier, which was more watered-down than weighty. Still, a song like Run is classic Shihad - just listen to the version on Pacifier Live.

Essential tracks: Run; Semi-Normal.

Love Is the New Hate (2005)

Not since Killjoy had Shihad sounded so venomous than on tracks like the all-in shouting chorus of Day Will Come. It's angry - and opening song, None of the Above, about the funeral of a friend, also sets a sombre yet somehow uplifting tone.

Essential tracks: All the Young Fascists; Saddest Song in the World.

Beautiful Machine (2008)

If you thought the Fish album (Shihad) was Shihad doing catchy pop then Beautiful Machine is probably the band's most accessible album yet. Find out on April 21.

Essential tracks: Count It Up; When You Coming Home?.