Not many bands make it past twenty years with any semblance of relevance, much less get the cinematic treatment. That’s especially true here in New Zealand, but since the ’90s we’ve had the pleasure of watching Shihad defy the odds in many different ways. Their music’s been heard all over the country and indeed the world, and now cinemas around the country are gearing up for the band to hit the big screen with Shihad: Beautiful Machine, opening May 17.
Shihad: Beautiful Machine sets out to accomplish a couple of different objectives, seeking to condense Shihad’s decades-long story in the meager running time of a film and then, perhaps even more of a challenge, explore what it means to be in a band on a personal level. Flicks asked Shihad frontman and Flicks contributor Jon Toogood to shed some light on what it was like to be the subject of this documentary.
FLICKS: What does it feel like to have a film about your band going into movie theatres all over the country?
TOOGOOD: Completely surreal. We didn’t give it much thought when we were first approached about it by the production company. Our thing was ‘as long as it doesn’t get in our way while we get on with doing what we were gonna be doing anyway then sure’. The point where we started to take it seriously was when Sam Peacocke was brought into direct. He’s someone we all knew, were all comfortable with and we all thought if anyone could make a great movie out of this then it’s gonna be him.
When I watched his rough edit, after I stopped blubbering, I turned to him and said “thank you” as I was so blown away by the amount of care and respect he’d treated the subject matter with and also because I just thought, as someone who’s a fan of film, that he’d managed to make something really unique and beautiful. But it still feels really weird having a film about our lives going into theatres. Truth is stranger than fiction I suppose.
Which aspects of the Shihad story do you think best make the transition to the big screen?
I think it really shows how much work and sacrifice it takes to follow a dream like this one. It also shows the impact this career has on personal relationships both internally and externally. My favourite scenes are of the parents of the band members just because it’s so honest and also because they are outside of the industry and therefore just tell things like they see them without thinking about having to fit what they think into a certain format.
There are many revealing personal moments in the film. What was it like opening up to Sam Peacocke about these?
One smart move the producers of the film made was to suggest Sam Peacocke to us as a potential director for the movie. As soon as we saw his name we were like “him please!” We already knew Sam as we had worked with him on a couple of Shihad music videos (after seeing his awesome work on a couple of Mint Chicks videos) and knew he was super talented, extremely passionate about film making and was a generally all round good human being.
Which, going back to your question, meant that we could open up to him because we could trust that he would treat the subject with care and respect and would be out to make the best film possible. He also wasn’t a ‘fan boy’ at all. I think Sam has a lot of respect for what we do but his music taste is quite different. This meant he asked different questions than what we usually get asked which made the whole experience way more engaging and interesting for us.
How did it feel to see your bandmates doing the same thing? Were there comments or moments that surprised you?
I was really proud of the way everyone opened up on camera. Even when our stories contradict each others’ or someone’s got something negative to say about someone else. It makes for a far more balanced take on the Shihad story and a really interesting movie.
“I found watching it quite an emotional experience and it was weird which bits got to me.”
Was it strange seeing your career condensed into a feature film length? Which things stood out the most for you?
It is quite surreal to see such a big part of your life onscreen like that for sure. I found watching it quite an emotional experience and it was weird which bits got to me. The scene at the end of the movie where it’s just the four of us backstage waiting to go on and the way it has been edited to include each one of us summing up the experience in our own way really got to me and made me realize just how much of our lives we had put into this band.
Apart from that I think the thing that stands out the most for me are the family parts – especially anything that has my Dad in it as he passed away a few months after the filming was completed and I really miss him so it’s really nice to see him talking.
Shihad: Beautiful Machine looks like a very reflective process to go through at times. Has the film changed the way you feel about your experiences in Shihad at all?
It was. A lot of our career has always been about the future and what was coming next whether it be the next show, the next recording session, the next song you write. We’ve never been a band to spend much time looking back at what we’ve done because we always considered that to be boring as we’d already done it. But this film came at the right time, quite by accident, and I think we all found it to be a cathartic experience.
I was actually quite surprised at the amount of different stuff that we’d been through as it all seems to have flown past so quickly. That’s life I suppose.
“Anyone who loves film, whether they love us or hate Shihad with a passion, would find it an engaging movie.”
What do you think audiences will take away from the film? Particularly people who may not have followed your career closely.
I think Sam has made a really interesting and very unique documentary which is beautifully shot, brutally honest and, for want of a better term, very uniquely ‘New Zealand’. It’s almost incidental that we’re musicians at times and I think anyone who loves film, whether they love us or hate Shihad with a passion, would find it an engaging movie.
What do you look for in films about other musicians?
Stuff that I didn’t already know.
Have there been music films that you’ve watched over and over during the years?
The Filth and The Fury. Control. 24 Hour Party People. Westway To The World. Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Purple Rain. Stop Making Sense. Gimme Shelter. This Is Spinal Tap. Some Kind Of Monster. No Direction Home. Tom Petty Runnin’ Down A Dream. Dig!
What’s going to happen in the sequel?
Thankfully I have no f*cking clue.