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We Interview Jon Toogood- The Adults

The Adults is the first solo project for SHIHAD frontman Jon Toogood and includes some of his favourite New Zealand musicians.

The Gorillaz-esque project features an all-star kiwi cast of TIKI TAANE, LADI 6, ANIKA MOA and members of STRAIGHTJACKET FITS, THE MINT CHICKS, DIMMER, SHAPESHIFTER, TRINITY ROOTS, JPSE & THE SKEPTICS.

This week our very own Danni L got to catch up with Jon Toogood!


The project started as a solo effort, but became a collaboration. When did you first realise what you'd gotten yourself into?

Basically, I took a song that I'd written called "Anniversary Day" around to Julia Deans’ house, who is a friend of mine, and also a great musician. She was just down the road. I thought okay cool, she can help me with this bit that I'm stuck on. She said she'd be up for it. We worked on it for a day and came up with this really beautiful song which actually ended up being on the record. At that point, it was like, it was actually a lot better and more interesting than I thought it was going to be, and maybe we should have another jam, and we ended up writing over a couple, or over two or three days we wrote "Every Day I Wake Up" which ended up on the record, and also a song called "Only Beginning" which also ended up on the record, both songs I really loved, and just writing those completely from scratch, and it was like at that very moment it was like this is way more interesting and way more inspiring, and I'm learning way more by writing with somebody else than if I'd got some musicians to play on stuff I'd already written. It didn't sound like me. It didn't sound like her. It sounded like something completely new, so I thought right, if that's going to be what collaboration's going to be like, I'm going to run with this idea for the rest of the record and actually email all the people back that I'd initially emailed to say, ‘hey can you jam on my stuff?’ and just go, ‘actually I want to write stuff from scratch with you guys’. You know, and that's pretty much how it went from there, and thank god it did because it's become a way more interesting and layered and wonderful record than I would have written by myself.


So you're obviously best known as the frontman of Shihad, and you've written a very different type of music for this project. What was your intention when you started working on it? Did you want to do something different, or just see where it took you?

I mean, it was totally dictated by the people I was with, you know, the way the record sounds. I, like a lot of musicians I know who play in bands, listen to music that's very different to what they do in their jobs. Whether that be escapism from what you do every day. . . I don't know why that is. I tend to listen to a lot of Electronic music, a lot of Dub music, experimental music, and that sort of keeps me interested in music. I'm always searching for something different, but really the way The Adults record sounds is totally dictated by the musicians on it, completely. Down to Redford Grenell’s drumming, (4min 15sec) Gary Sullivan's drumming, Ricki Gooch’s drumming, me writing with someone like Shayne Carter who comes from a totally different world than me . . . and the fact that he was in a Flying Nun band called  Straitjacket Fits who were a really unique sounding band . . . from years back, before I was even in a band, and people like Ladi6 who come from R&B Hip Hop world to having Tiki Taane co-producing the record and also doing a lot of the writing as well on top, who comes totally from Dubstep and drum and bass, and dub music world, so it's just a mish-mash of brains and experience, and taste, but the common thread being that we're all friends and just people that love music, and I think all love what we do. That's the common thread.


Do you feel that your music in general has benefitted from your recent collaborations? Will you take a different attitude to your future projects?

Oh, without a doubt. I totally learnt so much in the last two years it's insane about this art form I've been doing since I was a kid. I've been playing and writing music since I was eighteen years old, even if it was, when I started, generic speed metal. It was like, you know, I made 7-8 studio records with Shihad, written vastly different styles of Rock and Roll, and at times, fallen in and out of love with music, felt frustrated, had writer's block, thought that I've used every note in the scale, and every beat that's out there, and this just taught me that it wasn't about that at all. It was about what you had to say. It was about where your head's at, and all of a sudden it's like there's a million new paths open to me because of me being lucky enough to work with all these really talented people from totally different musical worlds. So, as a fan, these are people I genuinely listen to their music as a fan. So, not only am I learning from them, and writing these really interesting bits of music, I'm basically getting an inside view of how they make their music. As a fan, that's a really lucky thing to do, you know. I've always wondered how someone like Shayne Carter would write his music, and now I sort of have an insight into how he goes about it. I've always wondered how Ladi6 comes up with the way she does the vocals. It's still a mystery to me, but I’m closer to understanding how it happens. I just feel really really lucky to have done this album, and really really really lucky that at the age of forty, I’ve now got this new bunch of ideas running though my head and these new songs running through my head that make me feel completely alive and  refreshed and in love with the art form I’ve been doing since I was a kid.


When I last spoke to you, you expressed that the process was different and more natural and less precise in this recording, and that it was more important to just get that moment down.

Yeah, get the moment down. It was all about the magic that happens when you get humans beings in a room together and those weird idiosyncracies that just happen. Sometimes It doesn’t happen, sometimes it does happen, but all I wanted was to set up environments where you at least give yourself the opportunity of that happening, you know, down to things like, when Julia and I had written the lyrics to “Anniversary Day” we both had a lyric sheet in front of us, and we sung at the same time, so there’s no autotune, there’s no punching in, and we had to do it from start to finish to get it right, so if we made a mistake, we’d stop and start again from the start, so you get that story going on, rather than these fragmented pieces of beautiful takes.

It’s like one take, so you’re getting the poetry of the whole thing. You’re getting the interaction between two people who are singing to each other in realtime, nothing that hasn’t been done before. That’s how records used to be made. I’ve been in the sort of high produced, bombastic rock world, and I love it, don’t get me wrong, I love being in Shihad. I love it, but this was something I needed to do because to make those big-sounding records, you have to be very pedantic and there’s attention to detail and so takes a long long long time. It’s long times of concentration and it’s another art form entirely. With this, I was like what I want to do is make sure I get an engineer that I trust to set up an environment where if we do something good, it’s captured and I can take it to Tiki and we can mix it, but I want to do it live. I want to rehearse. I want to play it. I want to tune up at the start of the track, and I want to play it, and I want to play it with these other people in the room, and if there’s a little mistake here, or some sort of thing that wasn’t planned that happened here, and it sounds good, great, we’ve got it on tape. That was the thing. It was a totally refreshing, different way of doing it for me.


Now you’ve also said that you played a lot of other instruments on this album, whereas with Shihad you were predominantly a guitar player. How has that opened up music for you?

When you play another instrument, especially with things like keyboards for me, I don’t even know what the names of those notes are. I don’t know if I’m playing a C or a G or a D. I just know I’m playing that white one or that black one, you know, so I’m reliant completely on my ear to write music. I’m not thinking about theory. I’m not thinking. With a guitar, I know it so intimately I know that if I’m playing a G chord, if I go to a D chord it’s going to kick arse. Whereas when I’m a keyboard, I don’t even know what that note is, so it sounds good when I play it with that note, when I press that button down so it’s like I’m blind, and therefore I have to rely on my ears to tell me if something works or not, which is really really liberating as a writer. It means that you’re not relying on the logic of music.

You’re relying on purely the spirit of it, or the sound of it. Also on the bass, I know it’s the bottom four strings of the guitar, but you’re usually only playing one string at the time, so it becomes uber important where you’re playing it, rather than with a guitar where you can just spangle around and try the notes and stuff like that which is great fun. I do like the guitar very much but with a bass you’re actually setting the whole tone of everything, as well as being part of the rhythm section. I love playing bass, especially in the jamming situation, because you can sort of subtly push people in the direction you want them to go without actually being overbearing about it, and everybody knows that the bass players get all the chicks anyway.

I’ll tell that to a lot of the bass players I know who complain of exactly the opposite.

I love playing the bass.

Yeah, I love bass players. I’m an addict. It’s terrible.

You’re part of both teams. You’re part of both worlds. You’re part of the melody and a part of the rhythm.

And you’re telling us what our hips should be doing, and that’s important.

You are. You’re telling people how to move, but you’re also making . . .  with the simple movement from one fret to another, you can change something from a happy feeling to a sad feeling, from a sad feeling to an uplifting feeling, to whatever, but for just a simple move. It’s actually a very powerful, understated instrument. It’s really cool.

I’m glad to hear a lead guitarist confess that about bass. That’s very refreshing to hear.

Oh no, I’ve always been a massive bass-head.

I found that interesting when you said with the bass that you can sort of subtly control where things are going because when I spoke to you before, you described yourself as a “complete control freak” when it came to Shihad. Have you learned to manipulate more with this latest album?

I’ve learnt to let go of the reigns a lot more and trust other people’s instincts and trust that when you do relax your control of things, music being what it is, which is art ultimately, and collaboration being what it is, which is a meeting of minds, and conversation between human beings, you get far more interesting information out of it when everybody gets a chance to speak, rather than when somebody controls a whole conversation. Rather than it being a lecture, it’s more a conversation, and out of those conversations you can get a good idea, and that is something I’ve learnt big time, and I’m really looking forward to writing the next Shihad record because of learning that simple but very powerful truth.


I’m sure the lads will be excited about that too. They won’t know what to do with themselves.

Yeah for sure, they will. They will.


So, my final question relates to the tour and what the punters can expect?

It’s still going to be a very live feel, except we’re just going to be ripping off the dance acts in the fact that we are using technology to supply the rhythm section. I mean, basically, it’s quite a weird use of the dance idea in the fact that me and Tiki bounced all the drums, the original drums off The Adults album onto a hard drive, onto a computer, and it sounds opposite to playing live, but then we’ve got me, Shayne Carter, and Julia Deans, all front people in their own bands, up the front, a line of mic’s. We all take turns at lead vocals, backing vocals, playing bass, playing electric guitar, playing acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboards. We swap around, and noone’s taking a lead role, or everyone takes turns at taking the lead role and it works really well.

What it means to me as far as the technology side of things is not only am I getting to play with one great drummer, I get to play with three, you know, and because they’re not cut up electronic things, they’re actually live recordings of a live take, I still, when I’m playing bass along with them, or playing guitar along with them, I have to move with these drummers ‘cause they’re not perfect, so I’m still having to play organically. That means it’s a complex, very mobile, and very powerful unit. I mean there’s three pretty strong characters on stage. If any hecklers give us shit we can destroy them within seconds. We can tag-team that shit, but it also means it’s a very musical experience, and again it’s like as in the recording process, it’s using technology for good rather than evil.

There’s still a lot of live stuff going on onstage all the time. There’s not a moment when I’m not playing something or singing something or doing something, and it’s almost like I’m doing more, but not having to be that focal point where I am in Shihad. There’s two other awesome shoulders I can lean on, and they’re both very capable, in fact explosive musicians in their own right, and it makes for quite a cool chemistry onstage. We get on really well, which is really cool. It means it’s always on a buzz. We actually look forward to hanging out with each other. It’s great.


Danni L - AAA Backstage

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