It’s hard to remember a time when New Zealanders Shihad weren’t rocking Australian audiences – the band are, astonishingly, almost thirty years old! They’re back for shows in Margaret River (Settlers tavern, Thursday 23rd June); Perth (Rosemount Hotel Friday & Saturday 24th and 25th June) and Fremantle (Newport Hotel, Sunday 26th June), so SHANE PINNEGAR got lead guitarist Phil Knight on the blower for an update from the Shihad camp.
After dispensing with the small talk Phil tells us that not only are rehearsals for the tour sounding great, but Shihad have been working on new material for album number ten.
“What have we been doing since the [Black] Sabbath tour? Having babies and all that stuff!” he chuckles. “Jon’s got a one-year-old baby so he was sort of out of action a bit for that. He’s been doing a bit of his solo acoustic malarkey, too.
“We just got back into the rehearsal studio, and we’ve been jamming and laying down some very fat, heavy, Black Sabbath-ish riffs. [We’ve] been really impressed with what we’ve been coming up with, actually. We’re starting the process of thinking about album number ten.”
Despite being excited about the new ideas they’re coming up with, Knight won’t be drawn when album #10 might be ready to release.
“I don’t know – you can’t predict these things,” he says, shrugging the idea off. “You sort of set your recording dates when you’re ready and when you’ve got enough [material]. We’re just sort of jamming down the riffs and Jon will have to think about vocals at some stage, even though he sort of leaves that to the last minute these days, he’s writing a lot of the lyrics in the studio.”
A couple of months ago Shihad re-released their breakthrough self-titled third album – more commonly known as ‘The Fish Album’ due to its cover image – digitally and on vinyl to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Knight says that although this tour will lean on that album, they’re not playing the whole thing.
“[We’re] mixing it up. Probably fifty percent of the set will be The Fish Album songs and another song, Interconnector, which was on the EP that came out slightly after that album. The rest of the set will be, FVEY songs [their 2014 album] and then all the other hits that we’ve gotta play.”
At the time they recorded The Fish Album, Shihad had released two albums and started building a reputation. What made that album such a game changer for the band?
“The first two albums were quite heavy, Churn and Killjoy, and we had a set number of songs [prepared] when we did those first two albums. We only had one or two weeks for each of those albums – we just went in there and smashed them out. By the time we got to The Fish Album, we were starting to feel a bit relaxed and starting to think, you know, let’s try and experiment a bit, I think.
“Me and Jon especially had been starting to get into a lot more Indie Rock and be more heavy Indie Rock, and listen to The Beatles and Indie bands. We were writing and he was starting to dally a little bit in pop songs, pop rock and then I was listening to a lot of Indie stuff at the time. Tom’s head space was still very much in the heavy stuff, I think.
“We approached the songwriting with all those mixed influences, but also, it was the first time that cash was really starting to flow from the record company so we had a bigger budget for the album. We had six weeks in the studio in Auckland. We had a lot more time but we wrote half the album and then went in there and sort of wrote the other half of the album in the studio, just almost jamming in the studio.
“And it was the first album where we had an official marijuana budget! [laughs] There was a lot of that going down and the engineer was getting into that a lot as well. Things were a bit wishy washy – the production wasn’t… there was some, sort of, fruity parts in the production – it wasn’t the biggest, heaviest production that we had out of all our albums.
“After [the album] came out, I think it was our first album over here [in Australia] that really started to connect. The likes of Triple J and the other independent stations, Channel V over here, they all really started supporting the band. That was when things really started to kick off for us over here. We had the Big Day Out tour in ’96.”
There’s no denying that although their fourth album The General Electric was the one which really cemented Shihad’s name in the rock pantheon, that The Fish Album was the one which first truly gelled with rock audiences, crossing over between rock, metal and Indie listeners to great effect. Was it an instantaneous success upon release, or was it a bit of a sleeper?
“It’s funny you should say that ‘cos we started off [with a] first single, a song called It’s A Go, which is really… we don’t even play that any more, because it’s just a really strange song to us and it doesn’t really work. I think the second single was La La Land and that’s still a very good song, we still play that. – we’re going to be playing that [on this tour].
“Someone – I think our record company guy in New Zealand – suggested Home Again should be a single, but it just sort of passed us by. It doesn’t have the right structure of traditional verse, chorus, verse, chorus. We just didn’t see it. That would be one of our most popular songs of all time. I think that was the fourth single off the album. That one really connected with everyone – we didn’t really see that coming. We didn’t pick that for a single at all until later on, it was a big surprise.”
Perhaps instead of tapping into the current zeitgeist you were just that little bit ahead of the wave and it took a short while for people – including yourselves – to see that?
“Yeah, I guess so… yeah, I guess so!” Knight ponders. “It was just a very experimental album for us. That’s the way we look back at it. Some things worked and some things didn’t work. Really, the four of us really don’t think that second song, It’s A Go, we don’t really think that worked… but then Home Again, which was just a jam and Jon wrote the lyrics for that very, very late in the recording process – it almost didn’t make it onto the album. You just can’t predict [what will work and what won’t.]”
That’s the essence of experimenting and taking the music into a different direction: you’re not following anyone else, you’re blazing a trail. Some of it’s going to work, some of it’s not. What we know for sure with the benefit of hindsight is that The Fish Album really laid the ground work for The General Electric, which was the album that really got things happening.
“Yeah, well, that’s the thing. It was quite a different approach by the time we got to [that album],” Knight elaborates. “I think we demoed something like twenty-something, more like thirty songs by the time we got to The General Electric. We’d demoed thirty songs and we had that many to pick from to whittle down for the songs for The General Electric as opposed to going into The Fish Album recording with maybe only six or seven finished songs and then coming up with the rest when we were in there.”
Originally published on 100% ROCK MAGAZINE