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INTERVIEW: PHIL KNIGHT, SHIHAD – June 2016

| 23 June 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW: PHIL KNIGHT, SHIHAD – June 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

Shihad - Phil Knight 01

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 another lap around the country over the next few weeks, so SHANE PINNEGAR got lead guitarist Phil Knight on the blower for an update from the Shihad camp.

Thursday, 23rd June – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River
Friday, 24th June – Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Saturday, 25th June – Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Sunday, 26th June – Newport Hotel, Fremantle
Friday, 1st July – The Triffid, Brisbane
Saturday, 2nd July – Pigsty In July, Hunger Valley
Friday, 15th July – The Factory Theatre, Marrickville
Saturday, 16th July – The Croxton, Melbourne

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.

“What else? Kids and we’ve been just doing things… I’ve been making my funny videos and podcasts and things [Editor’s note: more on this later]. Karl [Kippenberger – bass player] lives over in New Zealand now, and he came over [to Australia] a week ago. We just got back into the rehearsal studio, a week ago, 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.”

Shihad 2010

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.”

Was it daunting to realise that the four of them have well over twenty years of history together as a band?

“Not really, ‘cos it just sort of creeps by, you know?” he says thoughtfully. “It’s like… I’m forty-three. I’m not daunted by being forty-three. It’s just one day at a time.”

Shihad - The Fish Album

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 song writing 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.

Style: "70's look"

Style: “70’s look”

“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.

“We were playing a lot of the stuff that had become Fish album songs. Home Again – that was a big song later that year over here and in New Zealand as well. That was when things were really starting to kick off.”

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.]”

Shihad 02

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.”

When you re-released The Fish Album this year on vinyl, it wasn’t just a bog standard slab of vinyl: it was on not one but TWO heavy vinyl discs, to be played at 45 rpm for maximum fidelity. That’s just the shit for audiophiles!

“Yeah, you know, it’s awesome. I heard it on vinyl for the first time on average monitors in the studio and it sounded amazing. We played La La Land, Ghost From The Past, Time Again – I didn’t remember it ever sounding that good.”

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. We’ve asked him to come up with some of the basic melodies and choruses beforehand…”

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of British Punk rock. Unarguably a heavy rock band with metal in their bloodstream, I ask Knight if punk is in their DNA as well.

“Yeah, definitely,” he says adamantly. “I think Tom and Jon are very much Sex Pistols fans. Jon will often say that his big sister introduced him to Never Mind The Bollocks by The Sex Pistols just before he got into Iron Maiden and stuff. Yeah, definitely. Songs like La La Land – that’s a very punk song, I think, very traditional punk. I love the Sex Pistols and punk.

Shihad 03

“That whole New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, that was definitely influenced by punk. I guess we evolved more into post punk bands like Killing Joke and Wire. The first Wire album was very punky but then the second two after that were a bit more post-punk with an industrial founding. Yeah, we wouldn’t be here without the Sex Pistols and punk and everything else that came after that like Killing Joke, Metallica, and Slayer.”

Earlier in our chat Phil mentioned that he kept busy recording a podcast: What’s Phil Worried About Today in which he talks frankly about his problems with anxiety and panic attacks, depression and other mental health issues. As a recently diagnosed fellow sufferer, I’ve found a lot of useful information through his video and audio archives on his website. I’m very interested in how the rock n’ roll lifestyle – travel/ hotel/ gig/ hotel/ travel – with its inherent late nights and long periods of waiting around, is conducive to healthily dealing with anxiety and the like.

“No [it isn’t], not necessarily,” admits Knight. “The studies show that people that work in the music industry and do those sorts of hours – not just the musicians, but the roadies and techs and tour managers and everything else – can [face] a real struggle not having a geographical foundation or a set routine. I think as humans we like to have a set routine.

“I don’t know… it can be very hard on the body and mind some times. Yeah, I think like one in five average Australians suffer from anxiety and depression, but if you’re an entertainer, it’s more like one in three.

“For me, I find touring and stuff, the tiredness, being very tired can trigger my anxiety. I can be more susceptible to anxiety and panic when I’m tired, like in the morning, having to get up early to get a plane. It’s tough, it can be very hard. I have mechanisms and treatment and just work on having a healthier lifestyle to mitigate all that stuff when you’re touring and what have you.”

Knight says he appreciates that people can get something positive from his podcasts and videos, and goes on to talk about the culture of “manning up” so prevalent in our male society in Australia and New Zealand.

“I found this new movement of people that are just being open about their experiences with mental health and being part of the process of destigmatising mental health amongst guys. I think in Australia and New Zealand guys are very stoic and this whole sort of mentality of, ‘take it on the chin,’ you know, ‘suck it up’?

“Whereas I think in places like America and Europe, definitely in America, you’ll hear people going on about how, ‘I’m going to go see my psychiatrist and have a session.’ They’re much more open about it than here. In New Zealand and Australia, we’re just sort of tougher, blue collar guys and stuff – rugby players! We’re less likely to be open about it and to talk about it with our mates.

“[But] you’re fine when you start sharing this stuff in a group. Other people will come to you one-on-one and say, ‘oh, I’ve been struggling with all of this too.’ It’s about building those networks and support groups. Not everyone wants to go out there and say, ‘oh, I suffer with this stuff.’ It must be hard for some people like airline pilots and stuff [whose professions carry a stigma about such things] – they probably don’t want their colleagues knowing they suffer from anxiety and depression.

“I think we’re part of an Australian movement in the entertainment industry and we are starting to destigmatise. If Shihad fans, or whatever fans – I interviewed Drew Goddard from Karnivool on one of my podcasts, so Karnivool fans – can listen to the podcast and hear that they’re not alone and that one of their people that they look up to suffers with mental illness and is still successful and vibrant and creative, maybe that’ll help them too. It’ll give them a bit of a confidence boost and maybe go and seek some treatment, or change their lifestyle a bit too, to move forward and treat themselves.”

Shane

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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