the AU interview: Johnny Toogood of Shihad (New Zealand)

Shihad have been rocking New Zealand and the rest of the world with their addictive and experimental styling's for 22 years now and to celebrate are doing a retrospective tour around the country to share all they have to offer with their fans and anyone else their fans care to bring along.

Having released nine albums, the tour takes you from the early metal laid days of the boys teenage years, when their lyrics were inspired by Stephen King novels, through to the current poignant and political music the band have produced in the later years of their life.

Shihad frontman and guitarist, Johnny Toogood took some time out between two national tours to have an honest and frank chat with the AU reviews Charly Lindsay about theie tour, their tunes and the behaviors of Axl Rose.

Shihad about to bring The Meanest tour to Australia, which is a retrospective of your 22 year musical careers. How have you found the first leg of the tour in New Zealand and playing through your entire history?

It's really exciting to be revisiting it all. On the New Zealand leg of the tour we even relearned our first ever songs. They were really speedy little numbers that had about 50 million riffs per song and lyrics that were based on the Stephen King Novels I was reading at the time, because I didn't have any real life experience to draw from. It was fun, but it was also really challenging, both physically and mentally, a lot of work went in to those songs and the only way to get them right live is to be super tight and to do that you have to rehearse a lot. Which is all we did as 17 and 18 year old virgins, it was really all we did, we played metal and we wanted to be the tightest band on the planet, which is what we set out to do. So it's really interesting revisiting it as a 40 year old man. By the end of that tour in New Zealand we were really nailing it though, so that was great.

We did everything in chronological order, from the start of our career through to now, so I really enjoyed that and getting to play through all the different types of music, I really got in to playing the tribal post punk era, it was really different, but still really disciplined and really interesting.

Was it difficult to compile a set list together for a tour like this?

Because we enforced the idea of the chronological order for the set list, trying to get the right transitions was really difficult. The swing from Killjoy, which is quite a brutal record, in to the Fish album, which was when we were listening to the Beatles and Oasis, was a really difficult transition to make, it was a tough little spot, but we managed to make it work. We really had to think about it, but I really like it, it makes it almost like a little theatrical sort of stage show with a whole story line going on, so it's really, really cool and really great to do.

The Shihad documentary, Beautiful Machine, was released in Australia at this year's Splendour in the Grass. What was behind the decision to make the movie and how did you find the whole process?

It's not our movie, a couple of guys approached us from the New Zealand film commission with the idea of making a documentary about the story of Shihad. The second director, a young New Zealand director called Sam Peacocke came on, who had just won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. He asked great questions about the impact music has on our lives, and the drive behind making music and he made a really great movie. Some of the stuff that's in there is really embarrassing for me and really hard to watch at times, looking at it and just going; oh, did I really say that? What a dork, you know, but I'm glad that he did it. It's like a slice of life documentary and it could almost be about any profession where you stay with the same group of people for a long time. He made a really beautiful movie, it's really good. And trust me, it's not exactly complimentary of me at times, or any of us at times, we say and do the most ridiculous things, and it doesn't shy away from the mistakes we've made, or the compromises we've made, it deals with them joyfully. When I was at the opening I had Andy Serkis, the guy that plays Gollum directly behind me and my Mum and half the all blacks, and it was just like, oh god, this scene, and I'm right here and this is just showing some of the stupidest stuff I've done. But at the end it was a great movie and people came up to us and said it was a great movie. I think people have the impression that we made the movie, but we didn't we just happened to be the subject of the documentary.

Shihad have recorded and produced a lot of their albums. How much more artistic freedom does that give the band?

It gives us a lot more freedom, without a doubt, and I think it's the way that a lot of musicians are going because we've all got great technology now. The technology that is on a Mac Book, has the same technology as a high class studio from 15 years ago, and if kids save up, or have nice parents they can have that in their bedrooms now. So it's all left up to the ideas that people have and the way they present them and just working things out for yourself. It's just so much more, do it yourselves now days, which is great and I think it's a really positive thing for music. We just happened to take an interest and watching the people that were recording us, we were thinking, oh we can probably do that, it doesn't look like rocket science, you just stick the mic in the place and make sure it all sounds good and then play good.

How much of an impact has the internet had on Shihad as a band?

I think it's great. For me personally and for the band, I think it is definitely a great way for us to communicate and say, hey we're going to play here, this is where we'll be, this is how much it costs, see you soon. So you already have direct access to all the people that give a crap and then they can share it with people who maybe don't give a crap, but are maybe teetering on the brink, going oh I might go and see them, I've never seen them before, I'm not a massive fan of their music, but sure, why not?

From a record sales perspective, we've obviously been pretty heavily affected, but I've always just strived to be a great performer and tried to write decent songs, about how I feel and the world and myself and that really hasn't changed that. I still get to do that, and our recording budgets have become smaller, but at the same time because of technology, you don't really need a massive budget to record a great album, you just need good ideas and smarts. So I think it definitely hurt the old model of record companies, but as an artist I feel I'm still doing what I need to do.

Having released your first album as teenagers, you've all very much grown up in the spotlight. Has that been difficult for all of you?

I have no perspective on it, I just did grow up in public. From the year I turned 18, I've always done my growing up in public, it's strange. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes it's awful, sometimes you want to be completely anonymous, especially when you're going through things like self doubt, or feeling like you're not exactly a great role model, or lacking confidence in yourself, you just feel like you want to hide from the world. But at the same time whenever I get to feeling like that, I remind myself that I have a really, really great job, a job that a lot of people that would love to do, you know, so I am really lucky. I think as I get older, I just appreciate more and more just how lucky we are to actually make music for a living, it's a great job. The downsides, being things like making your mistakes in public are far outweighed by the positives, you get to express yourself, you get to be your own boss and you get to write your own story. So it's an extremely privileged position. I think when I was younger, I thought it was what I deserved and exactly what I should be, but as I've gotten older I've seen that I am really lucky and that I should appreciate it, and I do, I am really thankful for it every day. I just love being a musician no matter what I'm doing or who I'm playing with.

You supported Axl Rose's lineup of Guns n Roses on their last Australian tour. How did you find the experience?

Um, the crowds were good. Personally I had a massive problem with the fact that he turned up on stage 2 and a half hours late. It was a Tuesday night in Townsville and all these people who have day jobs had spent a huge amount of money on their ticket to see him, and I think it was just the height of disrespect and it was just so rude, and after that I just didn't give a shit. I just went; Really, you're going to treat people like that? Well fuck you! I didn't even watch after that, and you know what it was him and a whole bunch of gun session musicians, not Guns n Roses. I love the playing of Izzy Stradlin, Slash, Adler and McKagan, but you're not seeing that, you're seeing a covers band with the singer from Guns n Roses. It was what it was, it reminded me of watching something on Guitar Hero.

Tickets are available for Shihad's The Meanest tour now.