1999.05 - Alternative Press

Alternative Press

Date: May 1999
Author: David Weiss
Featuring: Chris Cheney, Scott Owen

 

PISTOL-WHIPPED AND 'BILLY-CLUBBED

The world would definitely be a safer place if we would just let The Living End run it. The Australian punkabilly trio's sonic agenda is decidedly non-violent, and their philosophy is simple: Rebellion is music; music is rebellion.

"We have songs that sound aggressive, but the lyrics aren't trying to change the world," says bass player Scott Owen, phoning from a hectic Los Angeles photo shoot. "it's in the music, what we play with our instruments. The rebellion part comes in where we just want to sound like ourselves."

In a general where bands can just as easily be distinguished by their haircuts as by their playing styles, The Living End actually succeed in standing out. True, their self titled debut for Reprise has given them a radio anthem, "Prisoner of Society," which sounds pretty darn viscous - think London circa 1977. But after 5 years of playing hard and fast, Owen, singer/guitarist Chris Cheney and drummer Travis Demsey are the last ones to be comparing themselves to the Sex Pistols.

"It's weird when people ask us questions about punk," Cheney says, his thick Aussie accent cutting through the phone line. "We're not really in that scene. The first song we wrote were just kind of rockabilly Stray Cats tunes. Then we thought, screw that. We love the Clash, Rocket from the Crypt. Why don't we write what comes out?"

What came out was a surprisingly rich collection of songs, capitalizing on the slacker slap of Owen's upright double bass, Cheney's fuzzy rhythm lines, and Demsey's ballistic drumming. Playing off that additional rockabilly bass, The Living End also throw in blues, ska, swing - in short, anything that can smoke.

The trio made a conscious decision to meld rockabilly and punk, two in-your-face musical genres that the band recognised as being blood brothers. But the means to the End's stylistic range wasn't part of any contrived marketing scheme. The band see their varied sound as indicative of Australia's more intimate music scene.

"Australia doesn't quite go as far as America in respect to subcultures and little minority groups," Owen says. "It seems that in America there's a tight punk thing, a tight ska thing and a really tight rockabilly thing, where as in Australia you'll go to a ska gig and there'll be rockers, guys in zoot suits, punks... It's more spread out. People jump into other scenes."

The band's lyrics hit on some emotionally charged topics that any music fan can relate to, from the aforementionable teen frustration of "Prisoner of Society" to capital punishment "Second Solution" to the plight of POWs "Have they Forgotten". Cheney knows the subjects are important, but he strongly suspects that songs don't cause revolutions anymore, they just make people dance.

"I don't think anyone will ever change the world with songs," he says. "The Beatles came close. I heard something the other day about how the Clash were out to change the world. Unfortunately, they didn't do it."

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