Latest release: Against the Brave (Riot!)
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“It was overwhelming just to be driving along and hear it out of the blue,” Shinobi vocalist/guitarist Eric Grothe Jnr says of the first time he was caught unprepared by the band being played on a major radio station. “It actually sounds really different when you hear it like that, you kind of get a scope for how things are just as a listener and not be married to the songs, so to speak. That was a real buzz mate, for it to be continually played (on Triple M) over the last couple of months is something we didn’t expect to happen so early. It’s just one of those feelings; a big accomplishment. You get the tingles, the proud moment and all that. If I hear it today, I still feel the same way.”

That might sound slightly unusual coming from Grothe, who spent more than a decade in the high-profile world of the National Rugby League competition playing for the Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters. Given he also represented NSW and Australia and was a semi-regular part of The Footy Showyou’d assume he’d be accustomed to the media glare. However, the joy derived from receiving airplay is a reflection of the sheer enthusiasm the frontman pours into the Sydney rockers’ debut LP Against the Brave.

Loud suggests making the transition from professional sportsman to music since retiring in 2010 may be easier due to his previous career. For one, after having his every move, on and off-field scrutinised by the savage, unforgiving Sydney and Brisbane sporting media, any jabs a music journalist can throw must pale in comparison.

“Yeah, that was good training for anything after football, hanging around dressing sheds and every little flaw you had was spoken about loudly by all of your mates,” he ponders. “I’m used to ridicule and criticism. Especially in like, Sydney and Brisbane with that particular sport. It seems like if you fart, someone writes about it the next day, because they’re always struggling for news out here. We used to make bets and have jokes about, like if something happened, it’d be, ‘shit, I wonder what the headline will be tomorrow?’ It was funny, because quite often we were right.

“Initially I was, ‘I don’t know if I want to read reviews’. I remember reading years ago a bad review for Nirvana’s Nevermind. I thought, ‘bloody hell, they’re getting bagged. Imagine what they’ll think of bands like us’. It’s just the way it goes; you get the good and bad. We’ve actually been pretty lucky thus far; we’ve had pretty much positive ones. I dare say there’s some bad ones to come, but bring ‘em on, we’ve got thick skin.”

Grothe emanates a vibe of being free of the weight of expectation on the new material, revelling in expressing himself in such a manner. Actors who embark on a musical career have been trotting out the “it was my first love” line for so long now it’s become empty rhetoric. Sportspeople aren’t immune either; ever heard Six & Out? However, the ex-winger is quick to assure Loud that in this instance, it’s really the case.

“I have only just recently given in to the fact that I’m just going to have to sometimes go with that; that some people may know me because of that only, and it might help get them to listen to the CD. But I was over paranoid with always completely separating the football thing from the music, because I didn’t want to just be thought of as a footy player who tried to play music. Because music’s been the first thing I’ve ever done, since I was little, the first thing I can remember is music. I always wanted to keep it separate, but it’s not really going to happen in Sydney or Brisbane, so just got to cop it on the chin. Some people say shit, here and there, but having a thick skin doesn’t hurt.

“Growing up, I was lucky enough to have kind of a musical family. Dad (Parramatta legend Eric “Guru” Grothe) used to play his Yes, Genesis, Police, Led Zeppelin and Sabbath albums all the time. So when I started playing guitar when I was 15, 16 and I learnt about drop-tuning, I was right into riff-y songs with melodies. I guess the melodies come from all over the place and the riffs just come from… It’s probably an easy way to learn guitar. Not being an excellent guitarist it was easy to make up songs with tuned-down guitars. Early 90s was when it all happened for me. I was 15; it would have been 94-95 when I started getting into it more, all the 90s bands were at their peak; Helmet, Prong and Silverchair. I loved Silverchair because at the time we were about the same age and I was spinning out about how much success they were having.”

The gestation of some of the album’s material dates back more than a decade, the frontman explains. “There’s probably four or five songs on there that I had riffs for, but not finished, complete songs from about ’99, when I was 18, 19, just before I started playing football. So obviously they went on hold for a while. It’s just great to get them finished and out of my head, because they’ve been there so friggin’ long,” he laughs. “The rest would be newer songs, so it’s a bit of a mix of the last 15 years of my life pretty much.”

What’s it like, essentially listening back to your life in that manner? “It’s cool actually. Our EP was the first recording we’d ever done, so I was pretty proud of that for what it was, we didn’t have a big budget or anything. But to hear the album back and all those songs finally on the CD, something we can keep forever, and for how good jENK (Darren Jenkins) produced it… We’re not sure how it’s going to be received on a larger scale, but personally we’re really proud.”

The band, whose lineup is completed by Grothe’s brother Daniel on bass, Wayne Langfield (drums) and guitarist Darren Stapleton spent 40 days in the studio with Jenkins, a diehard Parramatta fan.

“I met him through a friend of ours, Anthony Henning, who was in Cryogenic with jENK. I met him because we wanted to record some of our stuff years ago, and Henno just said, ‘You’ve got to try my mate jENK’. Ever since we’ve been with him every time because he just teaches us so much, he’s so good at what he does. So it was awesome to go and do an album with him and learn about it all the hard way, by just throwing your hat in the ring.

“Because we did the EP I kind of had a semi idea about how to be… Not how to be a studio band, but how to go about trying to be a studio band anyway. This time we prepared heaps better. But going in and doing an LP, we just went, ‘Shit, we didn’t expect that’. He’s so particular and his ear is so specific, we just learnt how much more we had to be prepared next time. I’d dare say next time if we’re better prepared it won’t be as long and won’t cost as much.”

The record makes few if any concessions to trends either, exuding a refreshing honesty. “We actually spoke about that,” the former league cult hero explains. “But at the same time, in the 90s, when we were first writing some of these songs and playing the odd gig, we used to think, ‘Oh, do we sound like everyone else? Everyone’s kind of doing this’. But we just loved it so much that we kept doing it and probably will continue to. I’m sure we’ll change little bits here and there, but I don’t think I’ll ever lose that love for a fat riff with a big beat and a hook.”

It’s jokingly suggested that if the band really wanted to test whether their music stood up aside from the attention afforded by any other affiliations, they should head to the AFL heartland of Melbourne. Speaking of the road, Shinobi has plenty of touring in the pipeline.

“Next year we want to do a South Coast tour, a North Coast tour, maybe do all that in one. Then we want to do a regional tour. I just think not a lot of bands get out to regional places and it’s a really good market to target. They just appreciate it more. I just watched one of Parkway Drive’s old DVDs and they talk how important it is to get out to the regional areas.

“This is probably the only time I’ll relate it to footy and stuff, but in our trial matches we used to go out there and do like a week of promo before we’d play a game. You can just see in their faces how much it means to them. Because they’re out in the middle of nowhere and they would never dream of people on their TVs or radios coming out to spend time with them. So it means a lot more to them than some people who live in the inner city who take things a little bit for granted. Hopefully anybody who knows football will listen to our album with an open mind and like it enough to come to a gig. It’d be great to play everywhere possible.”