Have you turned on your radio lately? Have you flicked through the auto-tuner in your car, trawling stations in the desperate hope that something might just land in your lap to fill that empty void?
If you’re anything like us, the odds that the pure satisfaction from outstanding music is just going to magically arrive in your FM tuner are slimming like a gym junkie at a lettuce farm. It’s all no power, no flow, no guts and in many cases, no heart.
The missing piece, the key or even the cog in the wheel of audible inspiration has often been right under your nose the whole time, close to home and ready to blow your mind over and over again – enter one of New Zealand’s very finest exports, the mighty boys from Shihad.
Over the years their shows have been legendary, especially on the Gold Coast where the New Zealand people are a staple sub genre of life and culture here. From massive festival performances at the Big Day Out to destroying half the pubs in South East Queensland, their reputation for live shows and simply as a killer band is everything it’s said to be.
It’s blazing, it’s melodic and it will grind on the gears of your soul with a sense of real purpose and heart – it’s got more genuine constitution and framework that two dozen pop singers on a shitty reality TV show, and for Shihad and their music, it’s as fired up and switched on as it ever has been.
On the eve of their national tour of Australia, we got a quick call from their drummer and production master Tom Larkin who shared his take on not just Shihad, but the state of the modern digital music environment. Exuberant and intelligent, Tom wants you to know that there’s never been a better time to be an up and coming musician than right here and now in the digital millennium …
LiQUiFY MAG – Hi mate, we just had a quick look at what you’ve been up to … very busy! We saw Shihad just did a crazy 3-show one-day tour from one end of New Zealand to the other – that would have been an immense task?
TOM LARKIN – Well yes and no. It was put to us as an idea and collectively we looked at each other you know, and after 28 years you’re constantly looking to raise the bar and raise the threshold on how you can entertain and challenge yourselves so we all kind of went well, we’ve never done that before, may as well do that, right? We have to defer to the fact we had a really strong team that allowed us to execute that really efficiently, having said that though, yeah it was hard. The hardest show in fact was the first one because it was so early for us – it was 12 in the day – and we were kind of exhausted through the set up as it was. So that felt the most difficult, with the sunlight streaming in, and what you’d think would be the hardest -the last show – was in fact probably the best, and we all just fucking died on a sofa after that point haha.
LM – No doubt. Speaking of longevity, a lot of people still wouldn’t realise that you guys truly are a long-haul success story, that you’re pretty much an 80s band that’s still growing from strength to strength which is rare these days.
TL – Well originally yes, I mean the first year this band existed was 1988, we were a high school band, we actually started in 1987 but didn’t play a show until 1988 and that’s how long we’ve been at it.
LM – That’s a really difficult thing to achieve these days. Not many bands can really succeed in sticking around as a unit for more than a decade. Is there any kind of key method that binds you guys together and allows that to happen for Shihad?
TL – Look, at the end of the day, there’s a certain amount of chemistry – I think that the most important thing for a band to operate properly is if the finish line looks the same for everyone. You’re going to have problems if people’s sort of long-term aims start to become so divergent as to not be possible. You have a chemistry and you have to respect your chemistry, and ways to respect your chemistry are things like sharing, splitting the money right down the middle. A lot of bands get caught up in songwriting royalty disputes where one person takes the lion’s share and all that kind of stuff, and I can guarantee that that kind of internal disparity over resources can negatively impact the longevity of the act. A lot of acts that have achieved longevity – that have had that kind of success – have usually had business practices that recognised the chemistry, and the split between the band members has usually been an even thing. The other thing is that commitment to the work and that commitment to the goals – like I said, the finish line has to look the same to everyone. You know, we are a family, we operate like brothers. We may not see each other for say 3 or 4 months, but when we see each other we can be, you know, pretty honest with each other and also pretty harsh on each other, but we’re also kind of friends. We can have arguments and know that it’s never a final thing, we can have an argument and over the next few days we’ll know how to get on with each other and it won’t linger. There’s a sense that we’re bound together, and we respect that.
LM – And does that bond translate obviously onto the stage and into the music that you guys make together? If there’s some tension behind the scenes sometimes you can see, or rather hear it when a band hits the stage – it shows – but with Shihad, every time we’ve been to a show it’s almost as if it was the first show ever and you guys look like you are always having so much fun performing.
TL – Well I think one of the things there is that tension and conflict actually drives, it’s an energy thing that actually drives creative process and actually having some tension and disagreement can sometimes help things develop and ideas move forward. Having the idea that there shouldn’t be any tension is bold. I suppose the point being is what we are at least good at is handling the fact that there’s always going to be tension and accepting the fact that it’s not a personal thing or that it should be eradicated – it’s more to do with the fact; well how do we cope with that tension – how do we capitalise and utilise that tension to our advantage. So that’s really where that comes from and that, as we say, all have the finish line looking the same so when we get on stage, well, we want to get off on that experience, we want the audience to receive the kind of passion we have for it.
LM – And is this something you had instilled early or has it been a growing process over the years?
TL – It’s that whole thing and we learnt it very early on when we were doing European touring and we weren’t necessarily playing in front of a whole lot of people and the shows weren’t perhaps the capacities we were used to in our home territories, and then we suddenly realised that we were spending 23 hours of the day for one hour on stage – so every minute of this day, goes towards that hour and if we don’t make that hour the best we can, we’ve wasted the entire fucking day – we’ve wasted the reason we are here. So we ensure, we pay ourselves by giving it everything, that’s what the whole day is for. Why would you want to half-arse something that you’re spending that much time doing?
LM – And it appears that work ethic has translated into your records with the last one FVEY hitting a few number one spots and demonstrating the sustained relevance of Shihad so many years on. Obviously you get a huge crowd to every show in New Zealand, and Australia is like a second home, but how do places like the Gold Coast and Queensland in general compare for live shows, given the air and beer up here is usually hotter than most places?
TL – You know it was very easy to see when you were doing something like a Big Day Out tour where you’d be doing quick shows in each territory or town, and Queensland would have the most physical movement (in the crowd), and like Sydney would have 50 percent of the movement of Queensland, and in Melbourne it would be kind of the least moving crowd, but also like the deepest listeners. So as you moved north you would see a more physical appreciation of what you did, so it’s exponentially more intense the further north you went.
LM – Oh for sure, we hear from mates in Melbourne about gigs and they start breaking down instruments, who played what type of pedal and the intricate details of the performance whilst we’re up here after a show discussing who got punched in the face, how the singer jumped off the speaker stack and how the band’s double encore incited a brutal mosh pit.
TL – That’s right you know, that’s exactly it, but funnily enough they’re both deep appreciations of a different type. Sometimes people look at Melbourne ad go ‘oh look, everyone’s got their arms crossed and they’re not even moving’ but the reason is because they’re listening so fucking intensely.
LM – You’re based in Melbourne at the moment right, doing some producing and managing with some newer bands? In this sort of new music business landscape, being all digital and such a fluid environment, how difficult is it for new or emerging bands to really break down the wall and get up and out there? We know of some pretty amazing musicians and bands here locally who still seem to struggle to keep their music dream going and growing.
TL – Okay, that’s the second time I’ve been asked this today and it’s a good question, so I hope you’ve got some time here, so … I believe that the current digital era, for the most part and with some glaring exceptions, if you are an independent musician and you have a strong work ethic, and you accept the fact that you’re trying to build a business around what you do artistically – that this era, is fucking Christmas! It is fucking party time, and the point is that there has been such a fundamental shift of how this works and I tend to find that people above the age of 25 really struggle with how shit is now. A simple fact is that the world has changed and you’ve got to change with it, okay, it has changed completely and it’s not going back. A lot of the conversations I’ve had with people, either they’ve been in the music industry a long time or they tend to be above the age of 25, they tend to bemoan the way things are now and wish it was like it was. The problem is that it’s just … READ THE FULL INTERVIEW AND SEE THE PICS IN OUR LATEST ISSUE, FREE RIGHT NOW ONLINE HERE