Few musicians who set out to be in a band together are ultimately suited to the job, to each other, or to the audiences they're trying to reach. So it's a rare thing indeed to find a band together after 20 years, still smart, still restless, and still plugging directly into the most recently switched-on listeners.
Shihad, however, started young. They were signed in high school in New Zealand and in their 20th year together are still only in their mid-30s, with no sign of stopping for the next 20 years.
“We were basically a speed metal covers band,” explains John Cusack-a-like frontman Jon Toogood, “and then we started writing our own music.” This process, it seems, didn't take long, and by the time they were 18 they were signed and had released their first album, 'Churn'. “Jaz Coleman, from Killing Joke, who we loved, produced that and it was a post-punk industrial sounding record which, for our age, I think stands up pretty well.” Indeed, considering most 18-year-olds can barely stand up.
So have you ever had a proper job? “No never, this is what we do. I feel very lucky.”
Lucky, maybe, but it's worth noting that Rolling Stone Australia voted Shihad their 'Hardest-Working Band' alongside 'Best Rock Act'. Seven albums later, with Europe, Australasia and America given a good going over, and with all members still present and raring to go, it's easy to see why.
The material, rooted in metal, has escaped sounding dated. “We write a record every one and a half to two years and your head changes so much, you listen to so much different music, especially if you're a music lover. You have to change to stay in a band for 20 years. I'm constantly looking for new stuff, feeding that addiction to music, and you meet different people along the way.”
The way has been exotic and lined with brilliant faces. Second album 'Killjoy', widely proclaimed Shihad's best album to date, incorporated more indie, and led to Shihad being signed to a German label and moving to Berlin for six months. They toured with Ash, Silverchair and Faith No More. Then there was a spell in LA during which too much pot was admittedly smoked, leading to a more flat-sounding album three, 'Shihad', than the band would have liked – the first and last time 'rock n roll' was allowed to interfere with rock n roll.
Then it was back to a shared house in Australia, surely cracks must have appeared? “Rather than get on each others nerves, we just made music”. Bo-ring. Except that this particular music was album four, 'General Electric', produced by Garth Richardson – knob-twiddler of Rage Against The Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers – and recorded in Vancouver. Ever the fan, Jon enthuses: “It was a buzz for us because it was where Motley Cru and Aerosmith recorded, and I got to meet ACDC – for me, that was like a Catholic meeting the Pope.”
Then came Europe, including a stop in Hackney, and later America, where the band released 'Pacifier', to which they briefly changed their name, fearing negative US press for sounding too much like 'jihad' at invasion time.
Back to album six: “'Love Is The New Hate' was written on a farm in the north of New Zealand, completely desolate with all these mountains around. You don't get a song like 'The Saddest Song In The World' without having that around you. It's humbling but it's also invigorating and inspiring.”
Album seven, 'Beautiful Machine', is the latest effort, and while there are emotional ties between past albums and places, Jon describes this one as “more worldly”.
What is it about Down Under, I want to know, that can produce a band as explosive as Shihad and support them for so long, gaining new and younger fans all the time? Jon puts it down to a lack of pressure on bands and audiences. “The scene is so small people do it for love rather than a job option. They don't think 'what would the radio like' or 'what would the audience like', it's more like 'what do I fucking like?'.”
It seems someone who wears the trousers on this side of the planet agrees. Despite their lack of profile in the UK, after their latest triumphant London gig the news is that Shihad will be releasing stuff over here very soon.