Feels Good To Be Home Again

Melbourne-based New Zealand rockers Shihad are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their self-titled album – affectionately known as The Fish Album – with a vinyl and digital re-issue.  The album, which features monster hit Home Again, is well known by Kiwis and Aussies living all over the world. Gold Coast-based New Zealand music fan Mella took a trip down memory lane with lead guitarist Phil Knight ahead of their gig this Friday night at The Triffid in Brisbane.

Congrats on the 20 year anniversary of the Fish album. I listened to the album for the first time in ages and it brought back a lot of memories – good and bad. Are there any particular memories good or bad that stand out for you when the album came out?

The Fish album was a break up album for me. I take a while to get over things, I brood on things for a while and a few months before I had broken up with my first long term girlfriend, and through that period I was searching for a new identity personally and I think the band was too in a way. The first two albums we had a strong vision, they were very industrial/metal based and by the time we got to the Fish album, we had more money and five to six weeks to spend in the studio, pretending to be the Beatles, sitting around jamming and experimenting.
Some of those experiments worked, like Home Again but other things didn’t work out so well, it was a very mixed up album.

Home Again is kind of like the NZ Anthem for expat kiwis living overseas and according to Wikipedia is one of “NZ’s biggest hits of all time”. What does Home Again mean to you 20 years down the track?

Home Again was a very rough idea when we went into the studio and Jon Toogood (lead singer) didn’t write the vocals for it til the very end of the mixing which was a nice surprise. The song came about when we were living in LA around ’95, surviving on $5 a day, in between tours, jamming and rehearsing, we didn’t think much of it or do anything with it at the time until we went back to NZ.

I read that you based yourselves in Germany around the time of the Fish album. That must have been pretty cool. What made you guys decide to hang there?

We were signed to Noise Records through that period and they funded us to base ourselves in East Berlin around the time of our European tour. In the 90s the Wall had just come down and nothing much had changed since the second World War, there were lots of buildings that still had bullet holes in them but it was also cheap to live, full of art spaces and nite clubs, lots of young people and artists lived around that area at the time.
The Fish album was recorded at York Street Studio in Auckland. Did that have any influence on you guys deciding to record FVEY in the same place almost 20 years later?

It was closing down and we thought it would be cool idea to record there again. York Street was roughly based on the classic American big rock drum room studio, there’s nothing else like it in NZ, so it was a real game changer for recording. It had an amazing desk which came from Abbey Road in the 70’s, one of four in the world, Dave Grohl wanted to buy it and take it away from NZ, but lucky enough Tom Larkin bought it (Shihad drummer) and has it in his studio in Melbourne.

We got back with Jaz Coleman, who produced our first album and that was an amazing experience. He gave us a boot up the arse, some of us are jaded musicians and a couple of us are record producers in our own right. Tom is a record producer and he produced our last two albums so he could just relax and focus on playing the drums and being a great drummer and not have to worry about production and it ended up sounding like a live album.

What’s it like touring as a sober person opposed to back in the day?

It’s excellent, no horrible hangovers! The first year or second year of playing sober, we were playing so much around that time I had stopped drinking, it was like learning a new sport, so it was repetition of doing it and by the second year it didn’t cross my mind about wanting to have a drink to get on stage. In other bands it could have been tougher, but in my band no one would drink before getting on stage, we were very professional, I was the odd one who used to ‘think’ he had to drink to get on stage to bring on that ‘rock star’ persona or whatever you want to call it but in the end I didn’t. I had convinced myself that I needed to get drunk to get onstage or date or a woman or do anything. I just had to relearn these things. Took a little while but it just doesn’t cross my mind anymore. We’ve always been really professional about it, it’s always been sacrosanct that time on stage and we want to be as tight and focused as possible and I was the weak link in the band for a long time because of my drinking but it’s upwards and onwards when I finally stopped and my playing got so much better obviously, I just had to work on my confidence.

What can we expect at this Friday’s gig at the Triffid in Brisbane? Will you be playing your hits from the Fish album like Home Again and La La Land?

We kind of always have to play Home Again but I always love playing that song. It’s extra special for Kiwis but it also speaks to Australians as well. La La Land was inspired from a conversation that Jon had with a jaded taxi driver who thought LA was full of dreamers living in “lala land”.

Catch Shihad on Friday 1st July, The Triffid, Brisbane. Tickets via Oztix.

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