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INTERVIEW – Phil Knight, Shihad, August 2014

| 17 September 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Phil Knight, Shihad, August 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

New Zealanders Shihad have dropped a bomb with album number nine, FVEY – a bristling, shouting, angry, heavy, dark slab of rock n’ roll that threatens to destroy all in it’s path. Lead guitarist Phil Knight told SHANE PINNEGAR that Perth fans could hear the album live at The Rosemount Hotel, Saturday November 1.

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There’s nothing light or ‘pop’ about Shihad’s mighty new album: from the title on down they’re tackling some weighty issues head on, as Knight explains.

“Well, it’s FVEY,” he says, “it’s actually an acronym for The Five Eyes, which is an intelligence-gathering alliance between five countries – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, UK and the US. They abbreviate FVEY, Five Eyes.

“I guess as far as the songs [go], there is a general overarching theme of paranoia about the use of surveillance, the collection of metadata, people listening and tracking [what we do]

“We just recently had this bill called the GCSB, which is the Global Communications and Security Bill, passed in New Zealand, which was sort of an overarching legislation on more powers for surveillance gathering on people through their mobile phones and web use and stuff. It sort of snuck in and [NZ Prime Minister] John Key’s comment about that was ‘I think, Kiwis are more concerned about the price of their fish than worrying about being spied on!’ That whole, ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide then you don’t need to worry, mate’ mentality…”

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It’s happening here in Australia too: the massive conceit & condecension from these people who have power and money towards the people who don’t. It’s scary.

“Yeah, I’m actually an Australian citizen as well,” Knight exclaims, “I’ve got my passport back and I got my citizenship back in 2007 – I was keen to vote in that election… yeah, so it’s not my fault that he’s in [power]!”

Knight says that some of the lyrics on FVEY were influenced by singer Jon Toogood marrying partner Dana in her homeland of Sudan midway through recording the album.

“Jon went and got married [to partner Dana] in Khartoum in the Sudan. That was sort of in-between the recording of the album and him laying down the vocal tracks. Seeing that side of life and how people live over there, that definitely had an impact on his lyric writing when he got back, for sure.”

Touted as their most uncompromising album since debut Churn, recorded a surprising twenty years ago, FVEY sees the band working with producer Jaz Coleman of the band Killing Joke for the first time in those two decades. Was he the same kind of guy to work with all those years later?

“In some ways, but in some ways not,” Knight says. “He’s still the same guy that he was, but he was a bit more… what was that? 20 years ago? He was 20 years younger [then]! He was still drinking and stuff back then – he gave up drinking 10 years ago. So did I, we sort of clicked on that, we’re sort of simpatico on that level. We both sort of mellowed out a little bit. Both have been easier to work with. But he’s still the same passionate, opinionated sort of old punk rocker guy that we worked with back in ’93.

“He’s just been an amazing energy to be around, very energetic with what he brings to the mix as a producer and an orchestrator. When we met him, he’d just started learning how to orchestrate and how to write music for orchestras and symphonies and he was learning how to conduct. He’s been doing that for the last couple of decades, flying around the world and conducting orchestras in Prague and London and everywhere.

“He’s got this whole punk rock thing where he also knows how to… he was standing in the middle of the room sort of conducting us as we were playing,” the guitarist laughs. “He has that side of him, but he’ll sort of look at you and shout at you to get the best out of you. If you stuffed up in the middle of the take, you don’t want him to come over and knock your block off. He’s the sort of character who grew up in the East End of London in the 70s.”

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Coleman has been vocalist for anarchopunks Killing Joke since 1978, recording fifteen albums with them, and currently has join citizenship of the UK and New Zealand, as well as owning residences in Prague and Switzerland. More topically, he has a reputation to be a wild eccentric, to say the least.

“Yes, yes, he’s still very much into this whole mystic worldview,” agrees Knight. “He’s quite a spiritual guy without being in any particular religion or anything. He’s very spiritual, he’s right into this whole vibe of the shamanism of the music… creating the music and that vibe; that’s the spirituality. That has the spirituality when we’re jamming music and playing music and when we’re doing a live show. There’s that intangible vibe in the room, that feeling that gets everyone moving. That’s the common spirituality that we’ve tapped into with him, for sure.”

When pushed, Knight admits that Shihad and Coleman fell out in the wake of the Churn album.

“Yeah, because we sort of had a deal that he was going to do the first two albums. We did Churn with him and that was great, but then we decided we wanted to produce the second album Killjoy by ourselves. He’s a very hard guy to communicate with, especially back then because it was fax machines, and what have you, and there was a bit of miscommunication. We sort of went ahead and did the album without him. He came back and said, ‘you signed this contract, so pay me some money.’ So we paid him off. Over the next few years, it was water under the bridge. It was all cool.”

Be it shamanism in the live music arena, summoning a special kind of magic, or just good playing, some of Shihad’s shows are burnt forever into the minds of those present. Personally, several Big Day Out afternoon sessions saw the Kiwis threaten to steal the show from the later headliners, and a headlining gig at The Rosemount Hotel in the late 2000’s remains one of the finest pub gigs I’ve ever seen, to this day. One of the best Australasian live bands ever, that hasn’t always translated to Shihad’s albums.

“I think [it has] definitely with this album,” he affirms, “definitely more than on the previous albums. I mean, we’ve played together for so long as a band, and having Jaz there, we always knew that we could record live and get it down, but especially over the last couple of albums we just found ourselves just getting caught up. Because Tom owns his own recording studio and we just found ourselves spending months overdubbing guitar after guitar after guitar, just trying to make everything perfect. We can play a great live show, we can record great live tunes. But, yeah, we just got lost in the whole production of things.”

That problem was most obvious on last album, 2010’s Ignite, which pretty much failed to follow its title’s advice. Overproduced by the band, the Shihad sound was diluted, watered down for Ignite, and it performed poorly on the charts as a result. FVEY waters nothing down: it’s a heavy album in subject matter, and a heavy album musically.

“I think the heavy thing was a natural progression,” Knight explains. “It goes back to [when] we did that greatest hits album [Meanest Hits, 2012] and so we played a lot of the early stuff and we were touring for that. I think it started there, where we were playing the Killjoy stuff and the Churn stuff and we were just literally having so much fun on stage playing it. It just triggered old feelings in us.

“Then we were lucky enough to get on the Black Sabbath tour. We just wanted a really heavy set for that tour and we didn’t really play any of Ignite or the softer stuff. And just watching Tony Iommi every night playing all those [heavy riffs]… all that just led to us sort of reconvening in Melbourne, [and] jamming some very heavy stuff. We decided to tune the guitars down to A, which we hadn’t done before, so that was a new sound for us.

“Yeah, we just jammed,” he continues excitedly, “we just decided we were going to have some fun in the practice room, and just come in for an hour or a couple of hours every day and not sit around, bang our head against the wall trying to write the next song that’s going to get played on the radio! Then the Jaz thing just sort of fell into place – that was sort of the last piece of the puzzle, really.

“So, like you said, we got lost in the overproduction on previous albums, but with this one, we could really… like Tom, who’s a producer in his own right, he could really take that producer hat off and just be a drummer. Jon could just be a guitarist and singer, and the same with me and Karl. Let’s leave the production up to Jaz – he’s got the old sort of punk sort of ethos, you know, just getting in there and getting the energy right and just laying it down… and he’d be screaming at us if we stuffed up any of the parts, you know?”

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So with the band obviously excited about the new record, what are Shihad planning to play on their nationwide tour in October and November?

“We’ve got a couple of shows in Melbourne and in Brisbane – not part of the FVEY tour – and then a big show at Christchurch in New Zealand, [where] we’re doing the whole album from start to finish, with a few hits after that. So maybe, I think, we’ll probably do the same sort of thing for the FVEY tour. We play for an hour and 40 minutes to get everything in there, we’re more than happy to do that.”

A couple of years ago Shihad had a documentary movie made about them, Beautiful Machine. Knight says it felt “pretty weird” to see his entire career laid out on the big screen like that, especially when it came to some of the low points in their career, such as manager Gerald O’Dwyer tragically dying in his hotel room before their 1996 Auckland Big Day Out appearance.

“Yeah, it’s pretty weird. It’s amazing watching something like [the film] being edited together. You can do something like that in so many different ways. They chose a particular narrative for that, which worked really well – a narrative of love and loss and rise towards redemption, that sort of thing. So, yeah, it was interesting to see the whole thing come together like that.

“I mean, guess the main thing that I watched, it was a lot of that old footage from the early ‘90s touring New Zealand and stuff, that was pretty amazing. Seeing our old manager [who died] and stuff… I hadn’t seen pictures of him or anything for years. So that was pretty tough.”

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After twenty years as a band, a documentary film, induction into the New Zealand Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, FIVE number one albums in New Zealand and a few in Australia, what is next to try and cross off Shihad’s bucket list?

“I just want to get out there and play this album,” laughs Knight. “I just want to get out there and play this music – that is all I’m thinking about at the moment! I don’t know, I guess at some point we’d have to [think that] we’re all still pretty keen to do another album at some point. I think it would be very hard to top this one. We would have to step it up somehow, maybe potentially go and record an album in Egypt or something!”

I remind Knight that the next album would be Shihad’s tenth, which would be special in its own right, but he’s too in the now to consider it.

“Yeah, it is. We’re just really right in the middle of this one at the moment.”

If it all ended tomorrow, what do you hope Shihad will be most remembered for?

“Geez. I don’t know,” he says, referencing their short-lived renaming to Pacifier in the wake of the September 11 jihadist terrorist attacks. “I hope it’s not the name change anyway – but it probably will be!

“I don’t know. I mean, just tight lines, heavy band. That’s sort of what brought us together: watching our early influences, like Metallica and AC/DC and Motorhead. I guess we just want to be a kick ass band live, really. I mean, that’s it, yeah.”

Shihad present “FVEY – LIVE”
Oct 24 – The Hi Fi, Brisbane
Oct 25 – The Metro, Sydney
Oct 31 – Mojos, Fremantle
Nov 1 – Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Nov 6 – The Gov, Adelaide
Nov 7 – 170 Russell, Melbourne
With Special Guests on all dates High Tension & Cairo Knife Fight


Category: Interviews

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