When Shihad frontman Jon Toogood received the first cut of new song Think You’re So Free, which references the Government spy agency the GCSB, he jumped straight into his car.
He drove onto the motorway and sang along freely to it.
“It just felt, yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted to say and that’s exactly the music I wanted to hear,” Toogood says.
Shihad’s 10th album FVEY (pronounced Five Eyes) is released today.
It’s a political statement against the widening gap between the rich and the poor, injustice and the “soulless” conclusion of free market capitalism.
Injustice is the album’s main lyrical motif but Toogood doesn’t want to be the poster boy for any cause. It’s a personal record for him.
“I’ve been dreading doing interviews for this album. I’m not really that politically minded but I hate being lied to. There’s an attitude of ‘let’s just stick it to the poor, it’s their fault they’re poor anyway’. It’s wrong. We need to wake up and speak up.”
Full of momentum, juggernaut riffs and epic melodies, FVEY is one of Shihad’s best albums to date. It is the Killjoy for 2014.
In many ways FVEY’s title also represents the five minds who crafted it.
“Out of a 25-year career we make one of the best albums we’ve ever made,” Toogood says. “I didn’t expect that at this point in our career. I think it was lots of things coming together at the right time.”
It was recorded in December last year at Auckland’s York Street Studio with Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman as their “personal trainer of rock”.
Last year Coleman told GO that he would take the band to Egypt to record so they could “see poverty and what a revolution looks like” but this plan fell through.
Toogood describes York Street Studio as the perfect alternate venue for the reunion.
Last year Shihad celebrated 20 years since the release of their debut album, Churn. It was recorded with Coleman in February 1993 at York Street Studio.
They parted ways afterwards and Shihad’s 1995 album Killjoy included a nod to the rift on a song about Coleman – Silvercup.
“To be back there again, making an album with Jaz after 20 years, it felt right. With the studio to close for good it had to be there. Jaz is still gnarly but without alcohol or drugs now. He is straight and so powerful because of it.”
Several things happened in Toogood’s life which led him on his righteous lyrical path.
“I watched my father pass away, a 77-year-old man. I realised there is no time for mucking around here at all. There is no time to sort of do something. Each time I’d circle the water rather than dive straight in. It was time to dive in.”
Watching the selfless nurses tend to and care for his dying father proved inspirational and infuriating: “What they are paid is criminal.”
He also began doing mentoring work at high schools and found himself spending a lot of time with teachers just as their new pay system, Novopay, was introduced.
“This is another profession which is so selfless and giving and which is so extremely important to society. These people kept turning up for work week after week even though they weren’t being paid because of Novopay.”
But when he began encountering ridiculously wealthy people who spent their time “playing with shares” something sparked inside him.
“I say nothing on this record that all of my friends aren’t saying. Everyone’s talking about it, but instead of just putting it on Facebook and grumbling, I’m lucky enough to be able to scream it over this loud rock. It’s time to speak up.”
A visit to Sudan with his new bride was also motivational and he says he returned with a different perspective.
Lyrically honest, these heavy-hitting songs with big themes boast titles such as The Big Lie, Grey Area, Song For No-One, The Living Dead, The Great Divide, Model Citizen, Cheap As and Wasted In the West.
“I never enjoyed writing words so much. I wrote pages and pages and we fit the music to that.”
Toogood, drummer Tom Larkin, bass payer Karl Kippenberger and guitarist Phil Knight regrouped in Melbourne last winter for a writing session.
They worked on the music every day for two months from 10am-1pm.
“Less time, more focused,” Toogood says. “Jaz drilled and drilled us. He had the volume so loud you could weld steel with it.”
They got together 60 “cool ideas”, nothing over a minute long and nothing which was laboured over. Then they went into a “crappy” rehearsal space.
“Jaz had us doing the songs again and again and again. He’d say, ‘up the tempo’ until he started to dance. That moment where you’ve got nothing to hide is where genius lies.”
After getting 20 songs together that way the band went straight into York St with Evan Short of Concord Dawn engineering.
“We recorded it all live. Rock and roll needs to sound urgent, do it right, do it quick, do it hard and with everything you’ve got. Spit it out.”
Befitting a democracy, each band member gave each song a rating out of five. The scores were collated in order of preference and that’s the order they were recorded in: “Popular to least popular.”
When his dad passed away Toogood had a moment of clarity. Life is not a financial race to the finish line.
“Without sounding like a hippy, a bit of love, care and respect would go down so well right now in this age of aspirational meanness.”
Shihad chose to hold a one-off concert in Christchurch next month.
On September 12 they’ll make New Zealand music history with the live show which fans around the country will be able to see via SKY Arena pay-per-view.
They will perform the new album FVEY in its entirety as well as hits from their stellar back catalogue which spans several decades and notable albums.
To contribute to the Christchurch rebuild, the band will donate their share of pay-per-view proceeds to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.
“The last time I was in Christchurch I felt as if there was a real sense of community, of people looking after each other because they had to. Let’s turn some eyes towards Christchurch.”
More than 20 years since making first album Churn with Coleman, all five of them have changed yet many things remain the same.
“There is an adult way to be angry.
“We are losing our freedom and there’s an erosion of care of people in the most need. People need to care.
“This is an angry record without a doubt, because everyone who made this record cares.”
Shihad’s album FVEY is released today. Shihad perform a one-off concert at Horncastle Arena on September 12.
They will be in the Stuff office for a live chat at midday!