the AU interview: Tom Larkin from Shihad (New Zealand) talks about their new album "FVEY"

Shihad have just released their ninth studio album FVEY (pronounced Five Eyes) which debuted at No. 1 in New Zealand and is currently sitting at No. 1 on the Australian iTunes Rock Chart. The album saw the band work again with Jaz Coleman, of the band Killing Joke, who also produced their debut album Churn.

Following the release of that album, Shihad and Coleman had a falling out that lasted 15 years. After making amends at an awards ceremony in the UK, Coleman informed the band, "I'm going to work you until you've made a great record” and he invited Shihad to use his York Street Studio, located in Auckland, before the studio's final closure.

the AU review’s Chantel Bann had a chat with Shihad drummer, Tom Larkin, about the different ways the band approached creating the new album, working with Jaz Coleman and the time they created a lamp post shrine where all hope goes to die.

Hi Tom, congratulations on the new album FVEY! It is awesome and certainly packs a punch!

Yeah! It kinda works!

Now, many of the reviews I’ve read mention how aggressive the album is and how it is almost a ‘return to form’. There’s a lot of comparison to your album Churn for instance. Is there anything that the Shihad camp feel about the album that perhaps the reviewers are missing, or that also needs to be highlighted or focused on other than the heaviness?

That’s a great question. I don’t know if people are missing something. When someone reviews an album, it’s their reaction to something. I’m too close in many ways to be able to have that reaction that they do because I’m part of it. It’s like talking about what people think of your hair or something. I suppose the thing is that it was really about changing up and coming to terms with doing things in a different way for us because of where we are at now. Changing up all the ways we went about writing and recording an album that we hadn’t attempted before. In many ways, the kind of approach to making albums that is part of the modern era and that has worked for us in the past was now no longer capable of producing good results. I think that that really came down to three things: one was time. The entire album was completed on limited time on our own choice. We could have decided to take more time but we decided to constrict the amount of time that we’d actually allow ourselves to concentrate on it. That made a huge difference.

Well it seems to have given the music a strong sense of urgency and energy.

Well that was it. I mean the way we wrote meant that we would turn our phones off and only write for 3 hours a day. We’d go in, have a cup of coffee, turn our phones off and then play music for three hours, and then go home or go back to work. That was how we’d write. In previous times, we’d take whole days and write like that which meant that we could be lazy in that time.

The second thing was that when we worked with Jaz, the same thing would apply. We’d go in in the morning for 4 hours, and that was it. The day was over. Then finally when we went to record we did it in 2 weeks and we did it non-stop. We went in and recorded live. We’d do 2 songs a day, no more, and we’d be recording for literally 6 hours, no more. So all that time constriction meant that when you were doing it, you were doing everything possible to make it work and make it sound amazing.

Yeah, you had to get it right!

Yeah and it just meant that there was a hyper-focus and a hyper-concentration and hyper-commitment to each moment that we were working on the music, as opposed to this kind of more laissez-faire, sit around vibe. You get it done, you get it together. It had a real sense of urgency. To get that into a band that is experienced and competent, as opposed to when you’re younger and you’ve got budget restrictions, you’re nervous, you’re not as good at your instruments and so you’re nervous about the outcome, all that stuff creates pressure and tension and hits the album as you’re doing it. When you get good at everything you get comfortable. That was really the third thing,` was that Jaz brought that tension in. He was like a drill sergeant screaming his head off to drop! So you’ve got this trainer, the hyper-focus, everyone on the same page environment and it worked really, really well.

Were there any times where, because it was such a more intense and short period of time, that it became overwhelming or made anyone snap because it was so intense?

I think there was a moment where Phil backed a car into a lamp post where he jumped out of the car and started screaming about how he was going to lose his wife and child because of it. That was an interesting moment! (laughs) We all just kind of looked at each other and went “What planet are you on?! You’ve just hit a lamp post with a car. There’s insurance for that! What are you doing?” He was just screaming at this lamp post at the top of his lungs.

Is there any video footage of that?

No, unfortunately not. We did however make a shrine on the lamp post where the lamp post became the place where all hope went to die.

You’ve obviously been busy running your own studio and recording other bands and even recording and producing previous Shihad records, how was it for you to jump back and just be a drummer in a band again?

Loved it! There were initial discussions about how we’d do this and at some point Jon was actually saying “Why don’t you engineer and do this, and do that?” And I was just like “I do not want to touch that stuff. I just want to play drums”. I think that was a big part of it as well. I just wanted to walk in, play drums and not think about anything else. I wanted to do my job, in my corner of the room the best I could and only be concerned about that.

So how do you think that affected your playing?

Again, it’s just that concentration of energy and it meant that I wasn’t thinking through how this was going to happen or that was going to happen. The only thing I cared about was making sure my drums were in tune and playing well and being in good enough shape to be able to do it because it was pretty physically grueling. By the end of it there were a lot of muscle pains and tears. It’s taken me 6 months to stop feeling one particular thing in my forearm. So it was really full on. You came out of there soaked as if you’d just been at the gym.

I heard an interview with Jon and Karl the other day where they mentioned that you’d go through the song and Jaz would say “Ok, again!” and then 150 times later... So it obviously wasn’t just a physically grueling process but quite the mental game as well.

That was part of it. You’d have this thing where if you made a mistake during the recording, you’d be forced to take the song from the top again. You’d get into these states of hypnosis where you’d be going “I don’t actually know where I am in this song at all. I’m going to guess where we’re going next” and sometimes you’d win but sometimes you’d lose. It would be like “What are we doing? Where are we now?”

Jon’s lyrics on FVEY are obviously quite focused politically to match the intensity and heaviness of the album. There’s obviously a lot to be angry about in the current political climate. How much input do you, Karl and Phil have in terms of directing subject matter of the lyrics?

This time around Jon had really developed the lyrics with Jaz which was really good because Jaz is hyper-political and knowledgeable about that. So when Jon had a lot of his ideas and wanted to express them, Jaz had a lot of resources for him. In terms of us having any input for the lyrics, we basically just try to avoid anything that’s far too cringe-worthy or in particular, with this kind of thing, anything that comes out not clear. But I think the overall tone and the direction of the lyrics is something that everyone agrees on.

You’re about to tour FVEY and your first show is in Christchurch, New Zealand which has been devastated by earthquakes in recent years. But the show is a little bit different than your average rock show.

We’re going down to Christchurch and we’re doing an interesting thing which is a pay per view Sky TV show. So you get to watch it anywhere in the country but the whole thing is that any profits made from the show go back into rebuilding Christchurch. The whole thing is that when you get something, a death, or an event like Christchurch, while it’s in the media, while there’s war imagery and click-bait and news-worthy stuff going on and it’s in people’s minds, people tend to support it and think about. But when it goes back to relative normality, there’s still a lot of work, and a lot of pain and a lot of things to resolve. Christchurch has some really big problems socially and in terms of putting the city back together and people losing houses and are unable to get shelter. It still has an element of being a post-war environment in that respect. So, we just wanted to bring some more attention to that situation and make sure that whatever we could give back could go into bringing that back into conversation.


Shihad Tour Dates:
09 September 2014 - The Zoo, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, QLD AUS
12 September 2014 - Horncastle Arena, Christchurch NZ
The band will also be playing Festival of the Sun in December.

Further Australian Tour dates to be announced.

FVEY out in stores now.