If anger is an energy, then ‘Old Gods’ – Shihad’s 10th studio album – could singlehandedly power our capital city for a year. ‘Old Gods’ is a step into fury for frontman Jon Toogood whose lyrics encapsulate our collective anger at recent world events, an album that states its intent from the moment the crushing, grinding riff of opener “Tear Down Those Names” explodes to life, and just one song later Toogood urges for the killing of the ‘old gods’ in the title track. Elsewhere, Toogood takes aim at conservative talk radio, the legitimization of racism, and the radicalization of a generation fueled by misinformation.
At home in Melbourne, Phil gave us a call to chat about the new Shihad album ‘Old Gods’, its content, touring, and more…
So I decided to start my day with the album and boy howdy was I awake very quickly! This album just jumps straight into it… this is a heavy record, was that the intention going into making it?
Yeah. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t, yeah it was I mean when we were writing the music instrumentally as we do at the start of the process, back in 2016 everything that was coming out was all just very heavy, low-end sort of heavy. Not like the FVEY stuff we were trying to move on from there and step it up again.
It’s been seven years since FVEY, in that seven years what do you feel helped shape what has become Old Gods?
Well on the musical side we had over that time about half a dozen jamming sessions where we just recorded everything we do and just jam down riffs and not think about it too much actually, we just recorded everything that we do. We write the music before the lyrics and Jon will go away and do the lyrics by himself, he just wanted to concentrate on being the guitarist and having fun while we’re making the music, and so that sort of shaped that. Then I guess the anger, the lyrical anger of the album Jon’s point of view, well from all of our point of view, we’ll tell him if we don’t like something that’s for sure but we’re mostly happy with everything that he brought to us. You know we had the four years of Donald Trump for a start *laughs* we weren’t too thrilled about that where we come from, and yeah just watching, and I know Jon personally as we all were, I know Jon was affected by the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd and being brutally murdered on the streets. We’ve always been a very political band, we are a multi-cultural band with Karl in the band who had experiences in the past growing up. He hasn’t always written songs about it but as far as the racial stuff is concerned, he has more of a perspective now and he’s been looking at what’s happening in The States and stuff with Trump and that, and with a totally different perspective. Even though we’ve always been a political band wanting to sing about equality and against injustice and everything from the beginning, and still do.
This is the band’s tenth album, looking back over your catalogue it can be very easy to say what can change within a band over time but what for you is the one thing that has always remained the same about Shihad?
I mean just off the top of my dome, the importance of delivering live 100% and just getting off that stage and leaving everything on the court, leaving everything on the stage, whether you’re playing to five people in Ballarat in 1996 or playing to a Big Day Out crowd in Sydney at Homebush in 2001, or supporting AC/DC to 60,000 people in new Zealand, you give it everything and that’s our sacred moment and that’s something that’s never changed with Shihad.
I was going to say that a Shihad live show is where you guys absolutely shine, and with a tour hopefully still on the cards this year, what can people expect when they come out to see you this time around?
Well we were lucky enough to get away to New Zealand a couple of weeks ago luckily on our New Zealand passports, and get away to do a show in Queenstown and for the first time ever we played two new songs off the album, we started with ‘Tear Down Those Names’ and we were like OK, that was a good idea this is going to be the opening song for a while I think. I think we’ve been opening our set with ‘Think You’re So Free’ for the last five years or longer *laughs*. In the past we’ve had a couple of albums that hasn’t really captured the raw intensity of the band live, people listen to the albums and there are seminal songs we play live and they’re like wow, essentially we’re a live band and it’s always been very hard to capture that fire in a bottle in the studio that is the live intensity of Shihad and I think we’ve gotten a lot closer to it on this new album and our other album FVEY and stuff.
I always like to pick a song that stands out for me, and ‘Feel The Fire’ is the one for me, it just has that hook and groove, what do you remember about that one coming together?
Jon had this song buzzing around he wrote most of it on a beach in New Zealand when he was touring by himself and he was very excited about it, he’d played it to other people and played it to Adam Spark and I’d heard it too and we said well we’re going into a very heavy album and a very combative album how do we fit this in because this is a great song, and lyrically it ties the whole thing together very well you know? It’s about a lot of things, about being locked down in a hell hole of a situation that you guys are in now. I mean we can jump there with all the huge sounds we’ve gotten from other songs and delivered with the same intensity really? I mean I like to think of it as if you’re familiar with our second album ‘Killjoy’ it’s a very heavy album as well but it has ‘Deb’s Night Out’ in the middle and it works, and this works in the same place in terms of listening lines. We made a video for it in New Zealand when we were there too.
Now it is a rare feat to be the same unit for over three decades so what’s one thing you haven’t yet had the chance to do that you’d still love to?
Well there’s many parts of the globe that we haven’t had the chance to tour yet like Asia and Japan and places like that, so maybe when things open up again that would be cool. I mean we’ve been pretty lucky we’ve supported AC/DC eight times, we’ve been really lucky and spoiled by supportive people. I mean like everyone we’re just eager for the world to open up again and get out there. We had a small tour in Great Britain in November 2019 not long before the shit hit the fan and would just love to get back over and get in amongst it all.
Lastly, let’s look ahead to the future, finish this sentence for me, by the end of 2021 Shihad will…
Be very good at playing the new songs off the album that we haven’t played in their current version with Jon singing and playing guitar at the same time.
Well when we do finally get to see you it’s gonna be one hell of a show!
Yeah totally, it’ll happen at some stage.
From: New Zealand
Band members: Jon Toogood – Vocals / Guitar, Tom Larkin – Drums, Phil Knight – Guitar, Karl Kippenberger – Bass
Latest Release: Old Gods (Warner Music Australia)