Thirty years is a long time in anyone’s books let alone being the head of the most successful New Zealand rock band in history in Shihad. Jon Toogood, frontman, guitarist, realist. We recently spoke to the mild-mannered kiwi to get his thoughts on the band’s 30 year celebration, whilst he also gets excited for the band’s new vinyl release for The General Electric and gives fans a little insight on when we might hear some new music following 2014’s FVEY album.
Jon, thanks for your time mate. Firstly congrats on 30 years as a band with Shihad, an amazing achievement for any rock band and it’s great you guys are on the road again to celebrate it. What’s been the key to your longevity?
There’s a few things. We’re all still curious about music and what we can do with it. We’ve always been a band that has been loyal to our fans and what’s acceptable for a rock band to pull off, so that keeps us interested too. The biggest thing is probably a financial decision we made when were kids. We decided, no matter what happens, no matter who writes what, who does what, everything gets split four ways. So, I reckon that is one of the main reasons why you have a band like Shihad 30 years later. There’s no resentment or anything. Everyone has equally as much to win or lose. So there’s no animosity between the band members. It’s like we’re a gang, on the same mission. I know other bands do it differently, but we set it up like that, so every decision gets voted on and that’s kept us cool with each other basically. No biffo’s, no fights, we’re a family. I mean, brothers fight at times but on a whole, the older we’ve got the more we’ve appreciated the fact we get to do this amazing thing, which is Shihad, a really awesome live act. It’s like jumping out of an aeroplane or riding a dragon. So we’re gentler with each other. A little less judgemental with each other, forgiving.
With the anniversary shows there is, of course, another celebration, 20 years of The General Electric and with it, what appears to be an awesome vinyl release of the album (buy it here). 45rpm press, 180 gram and a red and white vinyl gatefold. Now, that will either send you to sleep or get you very excited Jon, which is it? Are you a vinyl fan?
I’m a massive vinyl fan dude. It’s weird. Nowadays I consume music in two formats. If I want convenience I just listen to Spotify and I find that a really fucking good interface and it gets me listening to a lot more music than what I normally would in the past, or it’s vinyl. I spend a lot of time and a lot of money on vinyl. That’s my immersive, “me time”, music and experience. I still get that same thrill of losing myself in an album and looking at the artwork.
That’s music to my ears. Our website, Wall of Sound has just kicked off a monthly article, The Vinyl Odyssey, where we track down some cool variants, rarities, pre-orders all on vinyl, so I have to ask, what is the prized piece of wax in the Jon Toogood collection?
I was really stoked when Warner Brothers bought the rights to all the David Bowie back catalogue. I’ve pretty much got everyone of those new box sets by Bowie with the Tony Visconti remasters. Those for me are my prized possessions. Really expensive but they are worth more than money to me. That’s my blueprint for me, my childhood. Even though I ended up playing in a metal band or rock band, Bowie was my man and nowadays when I’m stuck creatively, his music is my ‘go to’ path. So, those box sets to me are fucking priceless. I’ve also got a clear vinyl version of Bowie’s Greatest Hits, which I was pretty fucking happy with.
And did you personally have any input into The General Electric vinyl release?
Absolutely. It’s the reason why the vinyl is red and white. Also, there was talk of doing the whole album on three sides and putting some ‘B sides’ on the fourth side of the vinyl and I was like, fuck that. If I’m a vinyl collector looking for The General Electric on vinyl, I want The General Electric on vinyl as it was, you know. So that’s why we went to 45rpm and distributed the record over four sides. So that was my call as I’m a complete fucking nerd about that shit.On a purely selfish personal level, will Shihad fans have to wait 20 years for FVEY to get a re-release on vinyl? I’m still kicking myself for not ordering it back in 2014, I missed the boat, and it is a highly sort after collectable in the vinyl world.
It’s so funny. That is the best sounding format of FVEY by a fucking mile. It sounds way better than the CD, definitely better than the mp3. The vinyl sounds fucking amazing. I’ve got two copies but I’m not going to part with one (laughs). I know you want it. I’ve got one opened and one unopened. For me, that’s a real proud moment that record. For a band that’s been around that long, to write a record that fucking brutal and relevant, I was like, good on us (laughs).
Of course you’ve been busy touring with The Adults as well as a solo tour back in March, now its Shihad’s turn once again, three drastically different beasts, musically. Does it make it easier or harder switching between these three kinds of shows or is it providing the passion for you to continue making music and playing live well into the future?
I reckon each one of those things feeds into the other. With the solo stuff I get to learn how to talk to human beings. Shihad is more about making sure people lose their shit, and my job is like a master of ceremony and to push people to get lost in the moment. Whereas solo, I’m sitting down saying hello, not blasting through a set, talking to the crowd. I’m going to react with whats happening in the room. That’s a totally different skill set for me. Not having a wall of volume to hide behind, just an acoustic guitar and my voice. That’s a frightening prospect for a guy that is usually behind a wall of sound (Editor – nice plug). On top of that, doing something like The Adults, playing with an amazing jazz guitarist, a female guitar player, only 25 years old, which is almost younger than The General Electric album (laughs), that band just has totally different energy. I play bass as well and I’m a massive bass guitar fan. I write most of Shihad stuff around bass lines because that is the fucking song. So to actually be able to play bass in a band, that’s a thrill to me. I’m learning all the time, and using things I’ve learnt into Shihad music. Having this break away from Shihad, I can appreciate the band more what it is, and that’s a monstrous rock n roll band! So I’m looking forward to playing with the band after these experiences.
Now you released the live album, Pacifier Live in 2003, releasing it on vinyl to 1000 copies, another hard to find gem in the vinyl world. Has the band contemplated doing another live album at some point?
That is a really good sounding live record. I’m not sure how better we could make it. The only bummer for me was it came out while we were named Pacifier. So that pisses me off whenever I see it but it’d be hard to top. Good performances, great sound, but I’m always open to it and technology is getting to the point where you can record things pretty amazingly in any situation so I’m not totally going to write it off, but the next thing for Shihad is a brand new record.
Speaking of which, FVEY is now four years old, and I remember reading an interview you did somewhere a long time ago now of you guys recording new music. So, when can fans expect this new Shihad album?
Basically this what happened. I did a masters degree, I had a child, I made the Adults record. The music we (Shihad) have done is so heavy, which is perfect for what’s going in the world but I’m still agreeing with everything I said on the FVEY album so I’m thinking how best to update that without repeating myself. I’ve been waiting for a space in my schedule to actually sit down and have a think about of the state of the world right now. I’m probably angrier than I was when I wrote FVEY. Its (the world) getting worse than it was. FVEY ended up being quite a prophetic album in hindsight. It is everything I was singing about x 50 at the moment. One thing for sure is that it will be a fucking heavy record!
Of course you famously changed the band name to Pacifier in 2002? I still remember, Jay from Frenzal Rhomb saying they were changing their name to Shihad and being the gullible kind of guy I was back then, I actually believed it for a little while. Where you guys in on the joke back then and looking back at that name change and what have you, any regrets there?
(Laughs) I walked around like I’d been scarred for life. I was the last hold out of the band. I didn’t want to change the fucking name. As soon as we made that decision, as soon as I caved I felt like a sell out. At that time though, we had tried to get into America for a long while, that door was going to be closed if we didn’t change the name. It was shit option A, shit option B, both were terrible. It was a branding nightmare. All the work we had done in Europe was thrown down the drain, people associated (because of the political climate) us giving into America, which at that point in history was George Bush, Dick Cheney and everything we were against. So we compromised ourselves, politically.
One thing it did was make us the underdog again and I like being the underdog (laughs). It makes me work harder. So even though it was the wrong decision it made us a better band and not rest on our laurels.
…and any parting words for Jay?
No (laughs). That was a fucking good move. It was hilarious.
All the best with the tour mate and keep digging for vinyl!
Interview by Jim ‘Plugga’ Birkin
The General Electric vinyl re-issue is out October 12 via Warner NZ. Pre-Order here
Shihad – Anniversary Tour 2018
Fri 16 Nov – Rosemount Hotel – PERTH WA
Sat 17 Nov – Metropolis – FREMANTLE WA
Sun 18 Nov – Fowlers – ADELAIDE SA
Fri 23 Nov – The Triffid – BRISBANE QLD
Sat 24 Nov – The Metro – SYDNEY NSW
Fri 30 Nov – 170 Russell – MELBOURNE VIC