With a post covid world almost upon us and having survived the most recent variants and lockdowns, Australia’s new rock fest, UNCAGED, is finally ready to be unleashed on the east coast of Australia in April/May in some of Australia’s most iconic live venues. Packing a punch of rock diversity with classic rock, alternative, metal, pop punk and prog represented in its line-up, UNCAGED features a who’s who of Australian rock royalty alongside a diverse line up of emerging rock acts.
Led by the likes of Wolfmother, You Am I and Shihad, UNCAGED also features Twelve Foot Ninja, festival favourites Magic Dirt, Tumbleweed, The Superjesus, Killing Heidi, Bodyjar, 28 Days, the newly incarnated Hard-Ons (with Tim Rogers up front) and the iconic Tex Perkins with the Fat Rubber Band. They will be joined by some of our most promising up and comers, including: Ocean Sleeper, Banks Arcade, The Black Cardinals, El Colosso, I Built The Sky and plenty more. Shihad are ready to get uncaged and Hi Fi Way spoke to front man Jon Toogood about playing Uncaged and playing new album Old Gods for the first time in Australia.
The countdown is on now to Uncaged kicking off, you must be excited about getting back on the big stage?
Totally bro! It has been a while, too long!
Do you get nervous about playing a big festival such as Uncaged?
I’m not nervous, I just miss what I do, I’ve played in a band since I was eight and I’m fifty now! I feel way more comfortable walking on to a stage than I do going shopping at Coles which is way harder!
Uncaged must feel a little like the Big Day Out’s of old and a bit of reunion catching up with everyone?
For sure, it is a great line up and I can’t wait to see Timmy from You Am I. I’m looking forward to seeing them play, I haven’t seen them play in ages.
Were you ever worried that big shows and even festivals would ever come back in the same way pre-Covid?
The jury is still out on that for me, I’m in New Zealand and just passing this Omicron wave but we are still right in the thick of it at the moment. Everything is still not what it was. I think it still needs a re-think on how to keep people safe while having this communal rock ‘n roll experience. I know there are shows going on in Australia but I think it will still be a while before it comes back to what it was, if it comes back at all, I’d love to see it but the world has been so fucked up we’ll need to re-think how we do things. In saying that I miss that communal experience, I miss playing the music that we have made to a whole bunch of humans and seeing how it bounces off them. I definitely have missed being around lots of other people, enjoying the same thing at the same time and there is nothing like a rock ‘n roll show to do that. Yes, it has been a crazy two years for the artists, everybody actually not just the artists.
At Uncaged how will you squeeze in all the Shihad hits plus the new album?
We have only played one show since we released that album and that was on the side of a mountain in Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand. It was like everything is going to be awesome then everything closed down. It is crazy to make a record that focused, designed for big PA’s and then to not play it for a band that has made its whole reputation on playing big live rock ‘n roll shows it is really weird to be actually not able to play that. So yes, we are super amped to play that music and out of a thirty year career we are spoilt for choice about what songs we do play from our catalogue that will move the crowd, move us and excite us. It is going to be fun picking the songs but I do want to play the Old Gods songs the most because they are the freshest stuff for me. I’d be right in to doing a tour playing the new album start to end. It is one of those records where I don’t regret any particular moment, thirty eight minutes start to finish and it doesn’t let off. When we first reached out to Adam Spark who produced it from Birds Of Tokyo, I sent him the demo, he said he loved our band right from when he was younger seeing us play the Big Day Out in Perth and has been a fan ever since. He wanted to get that same feeling or close to that similar to standing in front of the PA at that Big Day Out in Perth. I think he pretty much did what he set out to do. The guitars are loud and everything is exploding and all ten tracks need to be there. After thirty years in the band it is my favourite sounding records. I’m super looking forward to playing it at Uncaged.
On reflection was this the most satisfying album to make?
Given how shit Covid has been out of this came working with Adam, when we were listening to the demos for what would make it on to Old Gods it was like let’s go to New York to get Steve Albini to produce the drums and stuff like that so they are the best sounding drums ever. I’ve always wanted to hear Tom Larkin recorded by that guy and tick it off our bucket list. Then everything shut down, borders shut down and it was like who produces heavy music in Australia. Caleb our manager who used to guitar tech for Birds Of Tokyo said Adam is really good at producing the Birds stuff. He said sure why not commenting on these huge behemoth riffs in a big Rubiks cube slowly moving. That was a positive thing to happen after being trapped in Australia and having to make a record. I would never have thought of Adam at all and now he’s made my favourite sounding Shihad record.
Has the last two years tested your own personal resilience because the heart and soul of Shihad is playing live?
It has been frustrating as all hell, not just for our band but for every artist that has released an album over the last two to three years. You make that record for that peripheral experience on your car stereo or whatever. For a band like ours we are doing it so we have ammunition to play through big PA’s and see how it bounces between the audience and us. That’s where it really comes alive so it has been frustrating beyond belief not being able to do that. Having said that I’m not in to putting our fans in an unsafe or unhealthy situation either and at the time we were doing the right thing not playing. I have been focusing on all the little things, writing heaps and enjoying family time.
Writing for another Shihad album or solo album?
I just write any way, I’m constantly writing and that’s my way apart from playing PlayStation and hitting the bongs it’s what helps me make sense of the world and it is really pleasurable to me. Some of it is quite gentle especially after that primal scream of a rock record I think I needed a bit of healing time. In the middle of last year my mum passed away and I was stuck in Melbourne. I literally had to watch that on a fucking phone and it was unbelievably painful not to be able to be there. There was no way around it, I couldn’t get tickets or out of Victoria let alone Australia. A lot of the songs have been for me really to make sense of a surreal situation. I know I’m not the only one who has been through some crazy shit like that.
Does the amount of traction the Split Enz cover I Got You the band did continue to amaze you?
It’s a funny one, we were asked to do it and I play it in my solo show because I knew the words which was great. I’m glad no one else put their hand up for that song and all we were doing was using it to try out Adam as a producer. We had to record the song so let’s try out Adam which is what it was. The fact that it sounded as good as it did and on top of that took off was a bonus. It wasn’t really supposed to do that! it was meant to be a proof of concept and will Adam give us the sound we want. The best things to come out of that was that I bumped in to Neil Finn backstage at a show I was doing with his son Liam and I sheepishly asked him do you think I should tell your Dad we’ve done a cover of his song. Liam was like “tell my Dad? My Dad came to me and said have you heard Shihad’s cover of I Got You is fucking awesome’. It was great he loved it and when I finally caught up with Neil, we he heard we were going to do that song I knew we would do a good job but wasn’t expecting it to be that good. That’s awesome, he is the man!
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch Uncaged on the following dates, tickets from https://uncagedfestival.com/