Shihad’s Tom Larkin chats about their latest album, mental health as a musician, and career

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Shihad’s Tom Larkin chats about their latest album, mental health as a musician, and career

Words by Garry Seven

Also including their collaboration with Birds of Tokyo's Adam Spark

With several number one albums and their recent cover of the Split Enz classic ‘I Got You’ topping the charts for a record 26 weeks in their home country, Shihad has become one of New Zealand’s most powerful and enduring musical exports.

With album number 10 out, it’s a time of reflection for the band, but also a time to maintain the rage. Founding member and drummer Tom Larkin talks about mental health, the recording process, the new album Old Gods and their 30-plus year career so far.

Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.

“Well, the teenage me was pretty determined but would not have foreseen such longevity, I put it down to the fact that we have a really positive working relationship within the band,” Larkin said.

“Everyone in the band has an ongoing relationship with music and culture, so there’s always new ideas to explore.

“To write Old Gods we booked a room, set up a few mics and all just jammed for a few hours a day, recording everything, then we isolated sections we liked, grabbed snippets, 30 seconds, two minutes or whatever, maybe five or six ideas each session.

“We worked on those and then handed them to John (Toogood – vocals) to find a direction for the lyrics.

“John recently got married and become a father and, in this case, it was reflections during the pandemic and a collective anger towards the rise of conservative politicians and the vision of what the world might look like if they have their way untethered that inspired us.

“A sense of outrage, that’s what works for Shihad,” he said with a smile.

Larkin is also a strong advocate for mental health, especially for those struggling within the music industry and said “it’s about trying to resolve problems”.

“The music industry is sort of having a day of reckoning at the moment, music is a creative industry that might, perhaps, be more unstructured than others and this can have negative outcomes on people’s health and livelihoods. Whichever aspect of the industry you are in, we need to look at things so that people can have longer and more sustainable careers.

“There are organisations like Support Act that you can reach out to for help that understand the dynamics of what it’s like to have a life in the industry and not a 9-5 type job, we still have a long way to go but talking about things that affect your mental health as a musician is becoming more normal,” he said.

Larkin runs a recording studio, Homesurgery Recordings in Melbourne, so was he tempted to take control of his own band’s project?

“You can get a producer but you also lose a musician because you may end up overthinking it as a drummer and as a participant in the overall band,” Larkin said.

“Basically, I know enough now to let it go.  It’s great for other bands but the bottom line is that I try and step away from being a producer of my own band.

“You don’t want to be thinking about the mic set ups and thinking three steps ahead all the time during your own recording. I don’t want to be in the studio thinking like a producer, I want to be in there thinking like a drummer! It’s much better if you just play, create and follow your instincts”.

Enlisting Birds of Tokyo guitarist Adam Spark for production duties on Old Gods may have been just the thing for Shihad due to his communal approach on the project.

“We just loved working with him. He’s a deep rich human being and also funny and that helps. I think he’s one of the most talented producers in Australia by a long shot.

“He fundamentally understands what it is to be in a band and how those relationships work. He didn’t behave like a producer, he behaved more like a band member becoming like a fifth member of the band who was responsible for the recording side of things.

“We were really fortunate to work with him as he brought so many strengths to the table. He also mixed the record beautifully. The whole experience was just great”.

A new album is usually accompanied by a tour and the band very much hopes that can still be a reality.

“We hope to tour the album in Australia and New Zealand in October but of course there are no guarantees at the moment. It’s ruinous what is happening to the music industry right now but you’ve just gotta try and turn up where you can and do your best”.

With such a successful and enduring career, how does Shihad keep their fires burning?

“After such a long time, it becomes a family, like brothers. We have discovered that if we focus on the high energy stuff that seems to be a better fit for us. We’re not necessarily angry people by nature but we’ve found it can be a positive outlet for frustration and rage to get that out through the music,” he said.

Old Gods is available for stream, download and on CD & 180-gram vinyl.