It was 2002, the September 11 attacks in New York City, USA, had rocked the world just a few months earlier and the wave of anti-Islamic sentiment had reached fever pitch both in America and around the Western world.
At the same time, popular New Zealand rock band Shihad were busy planning their future domination of the American continent, looking to replicate their success in their home country and in Australia and take the yanks by storm.
But there was one small problem that threatened to derail those plans. Shihad, unfortunately, sounds a lot like ‘jihad’ – an Islamic term for warfare against unbelievers, and dissenters renouncing the authority of Islam.
In fact, the similarity is no coincidence. “Well, see that’s the biggest cock-up out,” says drummer Tom Larkin. “When we were 15 we were all into this sci-fi movie Dune. See, Dune uses all these Arabic words throughout the movie and the end battle is a Jihad.”
“We were stupid and thought it’d be a great name for a band so we called ourselves Shihad cause we couldn’t even spell it,” says Larkin.
Representatives for the band looking to crack the US market were worried that any association with Islam could prove a career-killer for the band, who had been playing under the name since 1988.
“It was like, shit A or shit B,” frontman Jon Toogood recalls in an interview with TheMusic. “Okay, option one – don’t change the name, but say goodbye to your dreams of America, which you’ve had since you were a kid at school and not find out what it was like, even though we found out anyway.”
“Or, option B – change your name, make yourself look like cockheads and feel like you’ve compromised. But, have a chance to have your record released in America on a big label with a big push behind it and get to find out what that was.”
“After six months of telling everybody, ‘Fuck off, there’s no way we’re changing our name’, we finally compromised. I hated it; I regretted it as soon as we did it. I felt like I was in another band, like a fraud. It made me question everything about being in a band,” says Toogood.
But the name-change, to Pacifier, was short-lived and the group went back to using Shihad in 2004. “I’ve done my two years of regrets; I did it at the time,” recalls the frontman.
“The only positive thing to come out of it was we copped so much shit from everybody – from fans, media, ourselves, our friends and families – that it made us go out and be quite ballistic live at the time, just to prove everyone wrong.”
“It was just like self-destruction. Any regrets I’ve had I’ve sort of lived with them, gone through them and got rid of them. It is what it is, it makes for an interesting story, and you move on.”
Shihad will head out on tour for the Meanest Hits Tour to support their two-disc greatest hits collection of the same name, playing four dates nationally in September.