The Frontman

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music
img_jontoogoodShihad’s Jon Toogood is still New Zealand’s best frontman. Plus, the Datsuns.

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ALEXANDER BISLEY: I saw you guys at the Hutt, Boxing Day 2012, and Homegrown 2013, and you’re still smashing it—no competition between you guys and the other local rock bands. The second best local act is The Datsuns, and they’re back with you this summer, for the first time since 2006. The Datsuns are back with you this summer, for the first time since 2006. Cairo Knife Fight are exceptional, too.

JON TOOGOOD: Cheers, thank you very much. We definitely pride ourselves on making sure the live performance is as good as it possibly can be.

AB: That’s why you still get people turning up after all these years?

JT: Yeah, I suppose so. Especially when you’ve got eight records. We’ve always got to have enough ammunition to make sure the set always kicks arse from start to finish. We pride ourselves on it; it’s a matter of life and death to us. The standard is—if we ever went under it we wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.

AB: Watching Shihad on stage, I see you guys give it everything, indomitable passion and pride. There’s also the need to earn a living?

JT: Definitely. That’s where you can actually still make a living out of being a musician. It’s tough. It’s a totally different game to when we first started… I think people love it. That hasn’t changed at all. I think for people hearing music, whether it be legally or not, there’s just as much passion now, if not more, than there ever was… Trust me, its hard work. But you know what? At the end of the day we all fucking die and we’re not going to be taking our money with us. We’ll only be taking our stories, our friends that we made, and the experiences we had, that’s all we’ve got at the end of the day. It’s really important to fight to do what you love.

AB: ‘Home Again’ is such an anthem for New Zealanders, being the travellers that we are?

JT: Yeah, I’m really proud of that song… It feels good to sing those words and it sums up how I was feeling at the time, living in London and missing home.

img_shihadAB: It’s fuckin’ physical the way you guys do your stonking new album FVEY.

JT: This is the most physical record since Churn. Getting back to the styling of the music for this new record, it came out of doing the greatest hits tour, which you saw. What was really exciting was playing ‘Factory’, ‘Screwtop’, and ‘Derail’—the three songs off the Churn record—because it was like, “Wow, this requires discipline, a level of physicality we haven’t had for years.” You have to be so tight and play until your fingers bleed to pull that music off… that big wall of sound that got us into playing.

AB: Creativity is important as a response to mediocrity and apathy?

JT: Without a doubt… Even though there’s a lot of anger on this album, there’s also a lot of love.

AB: Watching your absorbing documentary, Shihad: Beautiful Machine, I discovered Shihad was a misspelling of jihad?

JT: Yeah, totally. We didn’t realise that Frank Herbert, the guy who wrote Dune, had basically stolen that idea from the ‘jihad’ from Arabic, which means ‘struggle’. It’s not a bad name, and if any word sums up this band’s career ‘jihad’ would be about right.

AB: Life’s taking you everywhere, Jon. You’ve been to Katowice Metalmania, the Viper Room, Woodville Mountain Rock, and got married in the Sudan. You’re coming up to 30 years of it. And it’s still happening.

JT: All of a sudden we’re making this record, it’s like, “that’s right, we’ve got to go touring!” But life’s different and I think we were surprised by how good it was. I knew it was going to be good but we didn’t know it was going to be that focused. I’m gonna ride that beat while I can.

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Reviewing the Datsuns in 2004, NME snidely said calling a band great live was like telling a chick she’s got a great personality. “What does that even mean?”, guitarist Christian Livingstone ripostes. Fellow guitarist Dolf De Borst is sharper: “I’d rather hang out with people with great personalities. Wouldn’t you?”

IMAGES © Catherine Bisley 2013. All Rights Reserved. Shihad photographed at Homegrown 2013.

Shihad’s summer tour of ‘FVEY’ opens in Lower Hutt at the Station Village on December 27. The Datsuns are also touring nationwide in December.
Thanks to Alice May Connolly and Thomas Phillips for transcription assistance on this article.
Filed under: ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music


Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.