Interview with Phil Knight from Shihad
We spoke to the one and only Phil Knight from Shihad about Cherry Rock, drunken antics that could have changed the band as we know it and planting the seed of a great idea for The General Electric’s 20th Anniversary Tour.
First up, Shihad are about to play Cherry Rock 17. How excited are you to be playing? And what bands are you are looking forward to checking out?
Looking forward to checking out a bit of The Dwarves, they sound pretty heavy and Nashville Pussy.
The offer for the festival just came up and we’ve never played Cherry Rock or Cherry Bar inside or anything connected with it so we thought it would be cool to finally do something with them – just for the heck of it really.
Jon had to recently cancel his NZ Summer tour for health reasons. What happened? And is he all ok now? Ready to rock?
Yeah no he’s fine. Since then, we have done two big festival shows in New Zealand a couple of months ago. He’s got a 1 ½ year old kid and he’s just been burning the candle.
Around that period, he was just really stressed out and burning the candle at both ends – he just ran himself into the ground.
Him and his wife, they’re not as lucky as me over here. They don’t have any in-laws over here so they don’t have any babysitters to help them. He was out working and he just got…but yeah he’s really good now.
You have previously shared tour stories with me but do you have any horror tour stories that you can share where things just went completely wrong?
I have my drinking stories and my sober stories. Not long after I was sober, we were playing at the Newtown RSL in Sydney and the stage that they had there was just shiny floorboards on stage so it wasn’t like a rubber carpet or anything.
We were playing the song Run I believe and someone threw a drink on stage so the stage was wet and I slipped over and banged my head on the metal corner of the drum riser. I got through the last few songs and I came out and I was talking to people.
They were like “Phil, your head’s bleeding. You should really go to the hospital”
So I went to the hospital, whatever one is near Newtown and they scanned my head and everything and I had a mild concussion.
So I had stopped drinking a year ago but this concussion was like the worst hangover I’d ever had. It took me back to having the worst hangover that I’d ever, ever had. That’s how I can describe the concussion – like a really bad hangover.
Hangover’s aren’t good at the best of times either!
I’ve also had Glandular Fever on a tour bus in 1995 and that was fun too. Apparently my throat and glands were so swollen that Tom (Larkin) likes to recount the story and say that I sounded like a Dalek.
I woke him up early in the morning out of this bunk and say “Tom, Tom, Tom, I’ve got to go to the hospital! Tom! Can you take me to the hospital?”
He said I sounded like “Exterminate! Exterminate!”
He loves telling that story.
I can imagine he does
Shihad fans tend to be extremely loyal and have more than likely seen you guys play many times. Why do you think this is?
There’s a bunch of them – they call themselves the Had Squad. I don’t know, we’re just a band and I guess, the music has just really clicked with them at some point in their life and it’s just really stayed with them.
They must hook into the same level of whatever it is from the performance that we do and that’s why they just want to keep coming back.
There’s a woman called Janice that has seen us, wow, must be getting towards 90 times or something.
Wow! That beats me
There are other people that have seen us 70 or 80 times you know. They must be there for similar reasons that we are still there – just vibing on the energy.
Wow – I thought I was doing good. I’ve seen you guys well over 20 times now.
That’s a good effort, that’s a really good effort! I don’t know who I’ve seen over 20 times.
What do you think is the secret to Shihad’s success over the years?
Just blind dedication – just blinkered, blind dedication. We’ve never wanted to do anything else, we just would never take no for an answer.
Every show, I mean, most of our career, we’ve never been a super-huge radio one hit wonder; we’ve got some strong songs that have stayed with us for years but every performance, whether it’s been in Dubbo to 16 people or down south in America in a bar in like, Jacksonville, Florida.
We’ve always given the same show that we would have given if it was at Western Springs supporting AC/DC in front of 60,000 people you know? It just means that much to us. We love it that much, it’s that powerful, spiritual vibe – a pseudo-spiritual vibe or whatever, the music.
It IS a spiritual thing for us. It’s very much a spiritual thing and powerful.
Well, I’m yet to see a shit show from you guys
Well that’s great news! Of course, we’d argue with you that we have had plenty of shit shows but that’s the whole thing, it’s like a product that we put out there.
One crap show can really spoil it for everyone. Sitting in the back of a van, driving for 12 hours to get somewhere, then in a scummy hotel for the night. That’s 23 hours and then you’ve got 1 hour on stage where you’ve got to make it all worthwhile otherwise it’s all a waste of time.
Throwing back now to the Meanest Hits Tour, it was noted that you guys didn’t play any of the songs from Beautiful Machine. Why was that?
Yes, well….maybe because it was a recent album that had fallen out of favour with us a little bit. Maybe there were some poppy tracks on that album that we, Beautiful Machine was getting towards the end of really trying to, I guess, still have a stab at commercial radio over here.
I think it’s a great album, there are some great songs on it. It’s hard, it’s not always about the songs standing on their own merit – putting a setlist together is not always about the individual songs – it’s about getting a setlist that works together, that flows together.
We’ve played many of those songs from Beautiful Machine live of course and we know how they go down live so that’s all taken into account when we put a setlist together.
I hope that answers the question, or rather, skirts around it successfully (laughs)
Who are your biggest influences?
When we started, of course Metallica was one. I met Jon and Tom in 1988 and Karl came along in 1991. We played half originals, half covers – we were covering Metallica and Slayer so a lot of that mid 80s thrash metal and that’s really where we cut our chops in learning how to play really tight, how to play our instruments better – the thrash metal scene.
Then we started to get into bands like Killing Joke – an English band. Jaz Coleman, the lead singer, produced our first album and the last album we did and then stuff like Ministry – the industrial heavy stuff so all those bands had a big influence on us.
AC/DC of course and AC/DC were on of the first big bands that we supported in 1991. We’ve grown up with them of course and being little bogans in New Zealand, we loved AC/DC but seeing them live – it was like Geez! We wanna be like that on stage; we wanna be that tight, that powerful and groovy and heavy.
With your videos for What’s Phil Worried About Today, do you get nervous recording them and if so, how do you deal with those nerves before you start?
I guess I was a little bit nervous when I was first doing them years and years ago. I used to get pretty nervous before interviews too to be honest. With making a video before I start recording myself really, I can edit it and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to do anything with it.
It’s not as nerve-wracking really. It’s weird, I do feel like I am putting myself out there sometimes but it can’t be any more naked and revealing like Jon writing lyrics for the band. I know he used to find that very nerve-wracking and getting critiqued in the media about his lyrics back in the early days. You just build up a tough skin I guess.
I’ve had so many positive responses with about the What’s Phil Worried About Today videos and if I’m having a tough day and I turn the iPhone camera on and start rambling, takes my mind off things and makes me feel better straight away.
Any tricks for when you do get nervous, for example, when you are about to interview someone for the first time?
It’s just practice hey, you know how it is. You’ve been doing this for long enough. It’s just cutting your teeth and repetition and practice.
Apart from that, I mean nerves, I know when I stopped drinking on stage, for awhile there I really had to concentrate on doing a bit of meditation and saying affirmations and stuff and doing a bit of yoga before going on stage because it took me a good year or so to really re-train myself how to get up on stage and project and be confident without having a bottle of red wine before hand.
You mentioned on one of your last videos that it took a decade to apologise to your band mates for drunkenly destroying performances for years. Why do you think you destroyed performances because when we saw it, we were probably too drunk anyway to realise.
I was drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing you know. A lot of the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. Sometimes I guess that I did and I was doing it to get back at them.
Tom, Tom would always get very upset. As I said, you spend this hour on stage and you wanted it to be the best because it’s our life, that’s our life and he would get very upset understandably.
He’d try to coerce me, in a nice way, can you tailor back the drinking and play in time and then fair enough, he’d get angry and we’d be arguing on stage and stuff and I’d get all self-destructive and self-righteous and feel sorry for myself and I’d get more drunk and try and make a mess of it in a victimising kind of way.
That’s when I would destroy the performances really and it would fuck them all off really. I know it fucked Karl and Jon off too but especially Tom.
Tom was the one who was most instrumental – really putting his foot down at the end of it and getting together with the other two; I’ve just learned recently that they’d lined up a good friend of ours to possibly come and replace me if I didn’t stop drinking. Totally fair enough but thank God, I thank Tom and the guys; I’m so grateful to them.
My girlfriend at the time couldn’t stop me from drinking because I don’t think she really understood just how bad I was and what I was getting up to on the road.
It took the guys threatening to kick me out of the band to finally stop me.
Wow, I’m so glad that it all changed for the better
Yeah, it was all up from there.
You guys have played many shows now. Are there any that really stand out for you and why – whether good or bad?
Like I mentioned before, we’ve been so lucky supporting AC/DC every time they’ve come to New Zealand for the last 20 years. The second to last time they played Western Springs – the Black Ice Tour, there were 63,000 people. That was just amazing, just the sheer size of that crowd and they were really into us too.
It was a real home crowd for us and they were there paying to see AC/DC of course but they really enjoyed us as well so that was really cool.
Other sort of big, life-changing; career changing gigs – when we did the Big Day Out just after we released The General Electric in Australia, I remember playing Homebush Stadium and that’s when I felt that things had really started to connect in Australia on the next level with the fans and that just really sticks with me for some reason – that Big Day Out Tour. I think it was the Summer of 2000.
If you could organise your own music festival, what bands would you have headline it?
Ooooh, that’s a good question. AC/DC would be cool but not sure that if they come back, who’s gonna be doing what in the band. Who else, I haven’t seen Metallica for awhile so I’d put them up there too. Grinners are going out again. Would be good to see them! Get the old Aussie crew back together, Grinspoon, Regurgitator, Spiderbait, The Living End – get them up there and fit us in there somewhere of course. That would be a great run!
I think you guys need to do that; somehow
Yeah I’ll be the promoter, I’ll take the risk on it (laughs)
Lastly, Shihad fans will want to know, are you guys writing any new material and aside from Cherry Rock, when will you be touring Australia next?
Yeah, we are writing. We’ve had three big writing sessions in the last 12 months. Karl lives in New Zealand now so he has to pop over on an aeroplane every time we want to jam so it just takes a little bit more planning to get it organised.
We’ve got a crap-load of instrumental tracks sitting around at the moment. It’s very much still heavy and the vein of the last album and we’re quite keen on doing another heavy follow-up to FVEY that harks back to our heavy stuff.
We’re definitely enjoying playing the heavy riffs on our guitars and everything. Jon’s a very busy man at the moment with his acoustic thing, he’s got a new album coming out soon with The Adults, of course his kid and he’s studying to get a Masters in Music as well so he’s squeezing in time to write some lyrics so I don’t know when it’s going to happen but we are very much committed to doing something that will be a worthy follow up to FVEY.
It will happen when we think it’s ready. That’s all I can promise. I can’t say when it will happen but it will.
No that’s fine. That promise is enough
The Cherry Bar set will be the classics as well as a bit of FVEY songs.
I’d love to come over to Perth again. It’s always held a special place in our hearts since the early days and Perth LOVES their rock in a special way that no one else does for some reason.
Like the last tour with Storytime – that moshpit on the Saturday night was insane
When it kicks off again, we will definitely be there for a bunch of shows.
Thank you so much for speaking to me again. Is there anything else that you wanted to add?
I think that’s just about covered it. Just looking forward to doing this stinky little gig at the Cherry Bar show, it’s gonna be good and a tight little punk show.
We will be back to Perth because we love Perth, we’ve got so many friends over there, we love the scene over there, the Storytime guys etc. We will be back because we love playing there.
I still think you guys need to somehow do the 90s tour with Grinners and everyone – maybe for the 20 year anniversary of The General Electric
It has crossed our minds to try and get a line up like that. There are so many bands we’d love to play with.