Interviews : Shihad (Tom Larkin) – 24/01/2011
SHIHAD – Tom Larkin
MetalObsession chat to Shihad’s Tom Larkin about life in the band, the bands latest album Ignite, touring endlessly, and the decisions around the name change to Pacifier!
MetalObsession.net: So Shihad’s new album ‘Ignite’ is being released this weekend. Are you excited about it and have you had much feedback on it?
Shihad: Yeah, look, I’m fucking stoked. Obviously it takes a while to do, you work on it for a while, so you’re both kind of relieved that the process is over but you’re also stoked how it works. Feedback at the moment is pretty premature at this stage because it’s being released in New Zealand this week and then it’s being brought out here this weekend.
The feedback so far has been really positive, so that’s been great. It was a refreshing album to make and it was an album we challenged ourselves on and we took responsibility for the production of the album. So we can’t turn around and blame other people for how the album turns out. It’s our own product, we stand by it. So I think thats a very important thing to do and at this stage late in our game i think its an important challenge to set yourselves
MO: Is that a first for the band, taking over, you mixed the album, the band produced…
Shihad: Yes, that’s a first. We’ve obviously always been involved in production of our albums but never to this extent.
MO: It’s been said that the new album is a return to the earlier sounds, and after a listen I can kind of see where thats coming from, but I can also hear a lot of Love Is The New Hate. Was this a more conscious decision after the more pop rock sounds of beautiful machine?
Shihad: It’s a very active decision. I think that once we had … Two things to point out are that Shihad has always been a kind of reactive band, in that we tend to move against what we’ve explored on the previous record. And also we like to challenge ourselves so that we’ve accomplished something, if we’ve done something a certain way we don’t like to repeat it. We like to move ahead and try something else. Having said that you know the last alum was difficult to tour and a lot of tracks on the album sounded great on the record but they didn’t work live and i think that was one of the principle components so that when we came to this album we wanted to make sure that the material we were doing we’d feel comfortable to play live. So the first kind of thing around these tracks was, you know, can we pull this out live and feel comfortable playing this to an audience, and not feel that they’re too soft for the set or break up the momentum of a series of door slammer tracks and i think we got that and that sparked i suppose the way we wer
The album style thing. I think it sounds new to me. I take what people say about how its a return to the older style stuff. I don’t think thats necessarily the older style stuff, i think its just what the band does. We produce the heavier stuff, but thats just the sound of the band.
MO: Yeah, you’ve got like the thumping bass lines, the awesome riffs, the pounding drums.
Shihad: It’s kind of the sound of the band, as i said, and i think that earlier material is what we did then and what we do now is just part of the band ended up sounding like but i think that you know, this record doesn’t sound like the older records there’s just these genetic threads, the tones, the approaches, the subject matters and all sorts of things that are refreshing you know, and that move forward, and i think that thats the important point, that at any stage we look to kind of make ourselves uncomfortable in the recording process so that we’re challenging ourselves.
MO: You recently changed from Warner to roadrunner records, hows that been going for the band?
Shihad: Fantastic! They’re a really great team. And it just so happens that the Roadrunner headquarters are 100m from my recording studio, so we’re constantly running into them around the area. They’re a great bunch of people, and the work ethic and environment the company exists in is really positive, and the way they think of marketing records and working with bands is pretty refreshing after coming from the Warner machine, which not to say Roadrunner Records don’t have a slick business like operation, but its that everyone in the Roadrunner office loves music, whereas in a larger office like Warner you’ve got a large mix of people who love music, and those who are careerists and they’re not really concerned about the music, but making a name for themselves, and thats a very different environment. So with Roadrunner you have music fans running a music company. And you can have a honest conversation with them, its not all about the hype and bullshit, where its all fucking amazing, and awesome, and as soon as something goes wrong they don’t wanna talk to you any more. I’m just too old for that fucking bollocks [laughs]
MO: This decade Shihad’s albums have been released with bonus cds of unreleased songs, yet with Ignite there’s just one extra song, and 4 remixes. Were there no extra songs recorded, or were they just no good?
Shihad: Its a standards thing. And its making me reshape the game plan for when dealing with albums in the future, and a lot of the pre production stuff that we did it was about getting the material done, and I didn’t think for a minute that fuck, maybe we should just take the extra half hour and put a few more mics up and make sure that we capture this really well, so that we have more b-sides, so its really my fault. [laughs]
MO: So you’ll be all set for the next album then?
Shihad: Oh the next album will have kick-arse b-sides! [laughs]
MO: I guess a change is support slots the band can get with roadrunner being more of a hard rock label than warner, with upcoming tours supporting Korn and Guns’n’Roses? You also supported AC/DC earlier in the year, how was that experience?
Shihad: Its fucking amazing. AC/DC is overall probably my favourite band ever. And thats actually the third tour we’ve played with them on. We started with Razors Edge in ’91, then in the mid 90’s, then we’ve come back with this one. And its just been awesome.
MO: The band recently toured to sold out crowds playing in full Killjoy and The General Electric albums on consecutive nights, any plans for the rest of the catalogue to be played in such a manor?
Shihad: The idea started like that. The idea was every album, on consecutive nights, and logistically with everything we had on recording wise and what was going on in our lives, I had a daughter who is now 18 months, and it kept getting put on the b-list, and it finally came up and then when trying to work out when to rehearse it so that each album is absolutely stunning it just didn’t work, with our schedules and our lives, and we couldn’t make it happen all together so that was tough, so we tried numerous things but just couldn’t find the time to fit in the production time, for that level of show and so we settled on doing those 2 albums.
MO: Flicking through old issues of Rolling Stone and other magazines from a decade ago, everyone had Shihad down as the next big thing, what do you think happened that stopped you guys cracking the mainstream and rolling in cash?
Shihad: I guess a mixture of circumstance, internal difficulties, bad decisions and all those kind of things. I think the psychological impact internally of things going wrong meant we made bad decisions and didn’t kind of see the forrest from the trees, and id say thats what it was more than anything else. Its easy to go this was fucked, that was fucked, and sure it was, but really it was our internal decision making process and our own reactions to it, sometimes I think we got stuff pretty wrong. We had a good support network, particularly in Australia, but we were handed situations that were very difficult to negotiate, and its easy to look back on and say thats what we did wrong, the joys of hindsight, but some of it, fuck it was hard, I mean the whole name change thing, Jesus Christ, that was the most insane circumstance! And everything around the band was fucked up, and in the end of it it was clear to everyone we made the wrong decision, and thats why we went back on that decision. We didn’t have the experience to define our long term goals properly.
MO: Do you still dream of cracking the american market, or are you happy with dedicated following you guys already have in australia?
Shihad: I’m just grateful to play music. Thats really where i’m at now. Sure if things came along in the states that allowed us to go over there, and have another crack then sure, but at the end of the day I just love playing music and I love playing with the guys in the band and I love the music that we make. And I think cracking it in the states is a very hard thing to do, and its really about having everyone on the same page, and I think one thing was that it really defined everybody’s level of commitment to that cause, and it wasn’t even. Its like being in an army regiment and landing at the battle and some running towards the battle, and some running for the hills [laughs] or some running for the hills, returning to lead a charge, then backing out again, and this was happening all the time. So its very hard to make headway when internally you’re in that situation.
MO: Its also such a time consuming thing, if you look at bands like Karnivool who are trying to crack the market, they’ve been over there recently on so many tours, trying to get in peoples faces.
Shihad: Thats the thing, you can do the states on the short cut, or the long way, and I think Karnviool represent a very effective way of breaking into the states, and if they can hang in there, and I think they’ll need to hang in there for at least another 5 years, then it’ll show huge returns for them. At the moment they have credibility, they have people coming to see them, they’re not losing a ton of money over there, and people are talking about them in a positive way, and I think they’re doing it very smartly.
MO: As much as I love you guys on cd, nothing compares to a live show. What do you think it is that makes Shihad such an awesome live band?
Shihad: Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and determination. You’ve got a couple of people in the band, who are more scientific, and a couple who are more instinctual, and that balance creates control and excitement at the same time. And I think thats really what it is. You’ve got John who is an absolute fire cracker, when he plays he cant help but move, he plays with his whole body, then you have a guy like Karl who just effortlessly is able to pick a groove, so theres a really natural thing going on with John and Karl, and then Phil and I are a little more cerebral about it, getting things on the dial, so those two things colliding together give you a strong base with the craziness over the top.
MO: Do you think this connection would have been lost had you guys been playing arenas? It was awesome catching you guys in the small confines of the NSC, and the band really seems at home playing in such small venues.
Shihad: I think we would have lost our fucking minds, but I don’t think that would have been lost. And I think we would have been fucking arseholes and crashed in a heap to be honest, given where we were at as people, I don’t think we would have been nice people. But I don’t think that side would have been any different.
MO: Its surprising to hear that after seeing you guys and the appreciation you have of your fans thanking them and shaking hands with everyone…
Shihad: I think that comes to down to maybe the maturity and the gratefulness, being grateful for what you have as opposed to feeling entitled to it, and I think that that’s something that comes with experience, and it doesn’t mean you have to be all christian about it, just understanding that when good things happen its actually great [laughs]
MO: After 22 years how do you go about choosing the setlist?
Shihad: Through a mixture of stubbornness and arguments, and resignment to your fate [laughs].
MO: I read at the beginning of this year about the shihad doco/live dvd ‘loud as fuck’, whats going on with that?
Shihad: Well thats an interesting thing. They’re making a movie about the life of the band, and I think it’ll be really revealing. I think its the right time to do it, the band are in a head space where the people can talk pretty freely about the things that have gone on, and the insights that’ll be gained will be pretty good.
MO: Thanks a lot for the chat tom, and we’ll see you on the stage soon.
Shihad are touring the country again this February, and you can catch them at the following dates:
Feb 3 – Waves, Wollongong
Feb 4 – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
Feb 5 – Beach Road Hotel, Bondi
Feb 18 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Feb 19 – FTG Hotel, Ferntree Gully
Questions: Scott Boelsen
Answers: Tom Larkin (Drums)