The peaks and the troughs of NZ's hardest-rocking band

Belinda McCammon talks to Shihad frontman Jon Toogood about the highs and lows of the band's 20-year career.

Twenty years after alternative metal rock band Shihad formed, lead singer Jon Toogood has only one rule - to keep reinventing.

It is a rule that's working.

The band's seventh studio album, Beautiful Machine, debuted in April, at number one and went gold on its first day of release.

Toogood says every one of Shihad's albums has deliberately been different, playing a large factor in why the band is still here 20 years later.

"We've reinvented ourselves every time."

Toogood says the reinvention challenges the members of the band, which comprises himself, Phil Knight, Karl Kippenberger and Tom Larkin.

"While we're together with this group of four guys making music, who pretty much get on really well, we might as well use that opportunity to go on a journey and discover new ways around music.

"When it comes to a new album, the rule is: 'What haven't we done?'."

It is that attitude, Toogood says, which gives the band "a pretty broad palette to draw on".

Originally from the cosmopolitan kiwi capital city Wellington, Toogood and Larkin formed the band in 1988 while they were still in school.

In 1999, the band relocated to Melbourne, where all four of its members now choose to live.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, with the band wanting to tackle the North American market, they decided to change the group's name to something less contentious.

They settled on Pacifier, releasing an album under that monicker in 2002.

However, after failing to make a dent in the US, and with much outcry from fans in Australia and New Zealand, the band announced it was reverting to Shihad.

Toogood says he is not surprised that 20 years later Shihad are still together: the only thing he is really surprised about is that it's been 20 years.

"We've spent our whole lives looking forward. We're constantly after a show going 'Right what are we going to do tomorrow night that's better than our last show? What can we do differently?'

"It's the same when it comes to records. "I'm not sitting there going 'wow, that third album we made is wicked' or whatever. It's more like, 'What can we do to make this a better band?'"

Toogood says songs he writes have to mean something to him if he's going to be the one going out and singing it every night.

"It's got to be a reflection of what I think or what I believe."

Over the lifespan of Shihad there have been peaks and troughs, and slow builds, he says.

"These are guys I've known since I was a kid and now they're all fully grown men. We've all changed a lot in those 20 years.

"Now the band is really focused and everyone seems to be saying 'yes' a lot more than they have in the past to each new idea."Toogood says the band is a reflection of life:

"Sometimes you're in tune with the person you're hanging out with, sometimes you're off on different tangents."

- Belinda McCammon

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