Kiwi legends return
Jon Toogood says it was never Shihad's intention to be pushed around by American politics.
He and drummer Tom Larkin were just a pair of teenagers watching the David Lynch movie Dune, he says, when one of the characters used the term "shihad".
For 17-year-olds, just coming into their own sound and identity and looking for a name, the word jumped out at them.
"We were just young bogans who thought 'Shihad – yeah', like it would be something that would go with speed metal.
"We totally didn't know it had any meaning. Then we grew up, and later on you're sitting in a hotel room going 'OK, so I'm in a band called Holy War'."
And in New Zealand, it worked. They played for a 20,000-strong crowd in Splendour in the Grass, opened for Evanescence in 2006, and in 2010 for AC/DC on the New Zealand leg of the Black Ice world tour.
Following the band's eighth album, Ignite, Toogood and Larkin, along with Phil Knight and Karl Kippenberger, were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame and won the Legacy Award at the 2010 New Zealand Music Awards.
Almost 25 years later, the New Zealand rock band with the controversial name is planning a return trip to Nelson, before heading to Spain to record its ninth album. A documentary on the band is also due for release this year.
Shihad have earned their title, Toogood says. And they've learned their lesson: the name isn't something they plan to mess with again.
The band members had the unfortunate timing of arriving in the United States, fresh from the success of their fourth album, The General Electric, just weeks before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"Impeccable timing," Toogood says. "All the ducks were lined up. Then the war happened – in 2001 the name Shihad wasn't going to fly."
Under pressure the band changed its name to Pacifier, the name of a song on the album, which Toogood says was basically a sellout move.
"From a business standpoint, changing the name of a band was retarded."
They set out on a tour of the American south, which he remembers as being "the sum of everything we stood against".
"We ended up playing at this Support the Troops show in Florida with all these WWF bands ... we were so anti that ... we were supposed to be the antithesis for the recruitment.
"There were these guys with paintball guns destroying posters of bin Laden – which made sense, I got that – but then of [French president] Chirac as well, just because they wouldn't go to war with America, which was stupid.
"I remember looking out and thinking `this is not what we're here for'."
Ironically, some of the kindest people he met on the tour were at the rallies.
"There was genuine hospitality down there. Our tour was through the southern states and even though we were disagreeing with the politics we were meeting people who were genuine and good to us. I think it was a growing up time for us ... there were a lot of realisations that life isn't always black and white."
Shihad haven't toured the US since.
"It's hard listening to Pacifier records. It still reminds me of that whole time."
Back in New Zealand in 2005, the band – still called Pacifier – was preparing to go on stage when the crowd began chanting "Shihad".
"The chant got louder and louder and I was totally with them," Toogood remembers. "I just turned to the guys and said `let's just turn the f...ing name back – it's not worth it to me'."
It was the turning point for who they are now as a band, Toogood says. Now based in Melbourne, a decade later all of them are returning to Shihad with a sound that is more powerful than ever.
"It's become a behemoth. It's become a name that is who we are; what our band is. We're not changing."
Playing a "rough around the edges gig" at Coro Gold 2011 made him realise how good it was to get back together on stage after a period of working on their own projects. "It's ended up being this really powerful thing – maybe because we've had that time away from each other. We come back together and there's this real positivity."
Shihad's highs and lows have been compiled in a documentary, Beautiful Machine, by film-maker Sam Peacocke.
"I saw a rough cut three months ago and to see your life on a film is pretty incredible. It's got the friendships in it; the mistakes we've made. It's more about family and people in our lives and he's done it in a way that it's almost incidental that we're musicians.
"It's definitely not a boy-band movie."
- Shihad play at the Trafalgar Centre's Victory Room on Thursday, April 12. Tickets from Everyman Records and ticketmaster.co.nz. See shihad.com.
- © Fairfax NZ News