Satellite 05-05 Int.
Date Published: May 2005
Title: NZ Music Month interview
Writen by: Chris Leggett
Original Link: 
What better way to kick off New Zealand Music Month than with New Zealand’s favourite rock export, Shihad? Chris Leggett spoke with drummer Tom Larkin shortly after the band’s performance in Aotea Square on May 1. As the fifth New Zealand Music Month draws to a close, there can be no denying that the local industry has experienced an overhaul of sorts. Tom Larkin contends that none are more aware of this than local musicians themselves. He leans back in his chair inside the Warner Music offices and reflects on exactly how things have changed.
“About [five or six years ago] when the National party was still in power, [APRA] held these seminars,” he begins. These meetings presented an opportunity for musicians and industryfolk alike to express their concerns of the current state of the industry. “I got up at the end of it, and I kinda just went – ‘there’s all these musicians in the fucking room. Anyone who’s actually making a living out of music right now put their hand up,’ and there was not a fuckin’ single hand up in that room.” Tom appears to fire up as he casts his mind back to those days and utters these words. “You’re talking about a capital city, with all of these musicians. Not a single musician could actually… actually be a musician - go ‘I’m a musician,that’s what I do’.” Five or six years later, Tom is confident that this is no longer the case. A considerable number of Shihad New Zealand musicians can now not only make a living out of their passion, but also take it to the world’s stage. So what is different? Has New Zealand suddenly become a breeding ground for talented musicians? “New Zealand has always been a breeding ground for talented musicians,” declares Tom. “This harks back to the early Flying Nun days. What you’re actually getting is pure unadulterated creativity made by people who essentially either have no choice or no other motive but to create music that they enjoy,” he says. So the musical talent has always been here. Why then, does New Zealand music appear to be bigger than ever right now? “What’s happening on a whole is that there’s been a huge shift in the New Zealand music industry,” he explains. “People are making enough money to survive out of being musicians, which wasn’t the case in the past. We’ve lost a lot of great musicians… because they’ve had to get a job and they’ve got kids to support.
We’re developing a skill base over here - people are learning how to deal with record companies and legal stuff. The infrastructure is slowly coming up and it’s getting better and better. And we’re starting to get independent labels that can actually account!” At this, Tom bursts into laughter, almost in disbelief. “Professional independent labels – that’s massive!” And while the past five years has seen the local industry go from strength to strength, for Shihad it has represented the most diffi cult period in the band’s career thus far. Since the band’s inception in 1988, Shihad has made no secret of their desire to crack the lucrative US market. Thirteen years later, along came their fi rst real opportunity to do so – but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Let’s just say that post-9/11 America was not the best place to be a touring band named Shihad, a name that bears more than a passing resemblance to the word ‘jihad’, or ‘holy war’.
In a previous interview, singer Jon Toogood informed me that while unloading and sound-checking their equipment in American bars, patrons would simply stop talking to them upon asking what their band was called. The decision was made at the time that a name-change was necessary if the band was serious about their dream. But the band’s signing to Arista, which deals primarily in hiphop, was not a successful venture. And to top things off, they had pissed off more than a few fans (with their choice to compromise their name) in an attempt to win over what was a very unpopular country at the time. Although it was a rough time for Shihad, Jon Toogood feels that the band has come out of the whole ordeal much stronger and wiser. “Ultimately, the lesson learned was this - no one knows better about your music and the way it should be presented to the world than you.” Jon describes Love is the New Hate as a “purging experience.” “More than anything, we needed to prove to ourselves that we were still a shit-kicking rock band and decided early on to challenge ourselves and come up with stuff we’d never tried before while retaining the sound of Shihad live. That’s what pissed me off the most about the Pacifier album. I love the songs on it but after all the time spent in the studio (eight months) it lacked the fire of how we are onstage.” On Love is the New Hate, the band focused less on getting each note perfect, opting instead on capturing their live feel. “It is definitely a step forward and fucking fun to play live. The band is probably the most focused I’ve seen it in ages and we are all very proud of the album. It doesn’t sound like anyone else.”
We have three Shihad prize packs to give away thanks to the good folks at Warner Music - each including a poster, t-shirt and a copy of Shihad’s rocking Love is the New Hate album. To be in to win - answer this trivia question: what year did Shihad form as a band?