Melbourne-based New Zealand rock legends Shihad recently released FVEY (pronounced Five Eyes). Recorded in December last year at Auckland’s famous York Street Studio with Killing Joke frontman, Jaz Coleman at the production helm, FVEY is definitely a new direction of the four piece.
When frontman Jon Toogood, drummer Tom Larkin, bass payer Karl Kippenberger and guitarist Phil Knight reconvened in Melbourne during the winter of 2013 for a lock down writing session it was a natural move to conjure up a much more brutal set of songs. “Total brutality from start to finish,” says Larkin.
A band admired by their longevity and their current commitment to still producing some of the greatest rock to come out of the southern hemisphere, it’s almost forgotten how huge the band’s back catalogue is – 10 LPs (nine studio, one live). Now 21 years after their debut LP and on during the year of their 10th, we decided to chat with the band about the history of their releases to give you a crash course to Shihad’s discography.
The Debut Album
“We started life in high school as a speed metal band but being from Wellington NZ were exposed to cool shit like the darker-edged Flying Nun music – bands like Bailter Space, The Skeptics, Headless Chickens etc – which had a massive influence on us. We were also starting to listen to things like Big Black, Fugazi, Skinny Puppy, NIN, The Ministry, and My Bloody Valentine.
After writing a bunch of stuff that incorporated all these influences into what were doing we were then fortunate enough to meet Jaz Coleman from UK post-punk band Killing Joke who lived in NZ and just opened a studio in Auckland called York St Studios and wanted a ‘flagship’ act to record and produce there. He worked our arses of in pre production and taught us heaps about writing, performing and self-belief. It was a magic session and out of it came the album Churn.”
Key tracks: ‘Factory’, ‘Screwtop’, ‘Derail’
The Genre Changing Album
“After Churn was released we toured around Australia and NZ and started to really cook as a band. In Oz we played with The Mark Of Cain who had a big influence on us (check out ‘You Again’) and were also starting to get a clearer picture of what we wanted to sound like. We were completely focused.
We only wrote nince tracks for Killjoy and they’re the songs you hear on the album. Working in the studio was still relatively new to us so we went to town making drum loops out of 2-inch tape (literally splicing and taping multi-track drum takes – Deb’s Night Out), using classic instruments and amps then pushing them beyond their intended limits (including the awesome Neve mixing console at York St that we were recording on),. We were also using different instrumentation – samplers, percussion instruments – whatever we could get our hands on really and just generally having a fucking blast making a ballistic alt metal album that in my opinion still sounds pretty fucking explosive.”
Key tracks: ‘You Again’, ‘Debs Night Out’, ‘Bitter’
Return To Rock Album
The General Electric (1999)
“In between Killjoy and what became The General Electric we made the self-titled album which had some cool tunes on it (Home Again for one) but we were concentrating so hard on trying write songs we sorta forgot how brutal we were live and the production was a bit soft really.
We knew we wanted to make something that captured the size and weight of the live Shihad experience on the next record so, through some friends we’d made in LA while touring around we hooked up with GGGarth Richardson who’d produced Rage Against The Machine’s first album (which we thought sounded awesome).
We’d just signed to Warner Music Australia and part of getting that deal was that we had to relocate to Melbourne where we all lived in the same house and wrote and played music pretty much 24 hours a day which was great because by the time we started pre production with GGGarth in Melbourne we had a whole bunch of material which we then refined into the tunes on the GE album.
We then went to Vancouver (where GGGarth was from) to record at the studio where Motely Crue’s Dr Feelgood and Aerosmith’s Pump were tracked and got that huge sound we were after. The album was mixed by Randy Staubb who had just finished working on Metallica’s Black Album and he made it even bigger. We were stoked when we heard the final thing as it was everything we wanted it to be – A big sounding rock album.”
Key tracks: ‘My Mind’s Sedate’, ‘Pacifier’, ‘The General Electric’
The ‘Pacifier’ Album
“In retrospect this album had some great tunes on it (we still play ‘Comfort Me’ and ‘Run’ live to this day) but the process and all the fall-out surrounding it makes it hard album for us to look back on with any fondness (although we did discover Mexican food, Korean food, Cuban food, Soul food and the Dr Dre 2001 album).
It was a crazy time to be in the US – the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre happened within a week of us arriving in LA to start work on the album and during the (laborious) process of recording the album – it took 8 months! Way too long to make a rock album – the country swung pretty hard to the right and became consumed with fear. I think we all wanted to just get home but at the same time had been given all the opportunities we had be dreaming of since we started this band – a record deal, management company and booking agent in the US, so were torn and didn’t really know what we wanted.
Still, it was a massive learning experience and it put us back in the role of the underdog which always seems to bring out the best in this band so some of the shows toward the end of the Pacifier period were brutal.”
Key tracks: ‘Run’, ‘Comfort Me’
The Latest Album
“So exactly 20 years after working with Jaz Coleman on the first album we were working together again on FVEY in the same studio but with 20 years more experience under our belts and a burning desire to make the most brutal and brutally honest rock record we could.
We worked for two months solid without a day off, writing, rehearsing, doing take after take until Jaz and we were all absolutely buzzing on every track. Outside of Killing Joke had been working with Orchestras and he basically treated us like a quartet, demanding passion and the best performance from every take. It was hard work but it felt awesome achieving that level of tightness and intensity which I don’t think we would have achieved without being pushed so hard by Jaz.
On top of that we felt as a collective that the world we were living in, through unrestrained free-market capitalist thinking and more corporate influence on our governments, had turned into a meaner, less generous, less caring, less spiritual place. We were (and are) as citizens of Australia and New Zealand, completely uncomfortable with this and we wanted to say something about it. Jaz was of the same opinion and really encouraged me to say what I felt and was a great sounding board for these ideas as he’s extremely intelligent and a great lyricist in his own right.
In summary, it was probably the best experience recording an album we’ve ever had. And that’s pretty awesome considering it’s our 10th.”
Key tracks: ‘Think You’re So Free’, ‘FVEY’, ‘The Great Divide’
FVEY Tour Dates
Thursday 23th October – The Hi Fi, Brisbane
Saturday 25th October – The Metro, Sydney
Friday 31st October – Mojos, Fremantle
Saturday 1st November – Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Thursday 6th November – The Gov, Adelaide
Friday 7th November – 170 Russell, Melbourne