1998.06 - Rolling Stone
Date: June 1998
Author: Benedict Watts
Featuring: Chris Cheney, Scott Owen & Travis Demsey
No End In Sight
The Living End gear up for a debut album.
Most bands have a story to tell of a seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time stage antic which resulted in red faces and a desperate attempt to make the folly look like it was an intended part of the show. For the Living End this embarrassing incident occurred in the very early days.
“You jumped up on my bass, playing guitar — and you fucking fell off. It was the second gig we ever did.” Scott Owen, the rockabilly revivalists’ otherwise reticent double bassist, laughs as he reminds his band mate Chris Cheney of the embarrassing double bass-destroying stack. Cheney, the three-piece’s lead vocalist/guitarist, remembers the incident with genuine horror. “I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s the end of our career’. I seriously thought that, I was so upset I was almost in tears.” Cheney has since left the stage tricks to Owen, who has become the foremost exponent of double bass acrobatics since the Sharp hung up their skivvies.
Starting out as a covers band with a penchant for transforming ’80s pop hits into rockabilly anthems (everything from Kym Wilde to the Cure), the trio have gone on to write their own songs with a hybrid of rockabilly and the Clash-era punk. This has proved to be a winning formula, with the latest Living End EP “Second Solution/Prisoner of Society” reaching the top 20 of the national singles charts.
While they now concentrate primarily on original tracks, a couple of covers still sneak into each live show, with a raucous interpretation of the old Soft Cell chestnut “Tainted Love” a regular crowd pleaser. “It’s nice to throw in one or two covers, but any more than that is a cop-out,” explains Cheney before adding with a laugh, “but death to the cover bands I reckon.”
It is evident from their quiffed ’50s hairdos that Cheney and Owen are absorbed in rockabilly culture, not just the accompanying music. “I liked rockabilly because it had everything. It had the image, the clothes — it was like punk,” says Cheney. “Rockabilly was rebellious — I mean Elvis was such a fuck’n way-out looking guy. All those guys were just so in your face, they were doing this 30 years ago before Marilyn Manson or any of those guys came along.”
Progressing from a childhood fixation with Elvis, Cheney discovered the Stray Cats (he bares a striking resemblance to frontman Brian Setzer) and other contemporary bands playing ’50s influenced rockabilly in his teens. After playing his Stray Cats records to school friend Owen, he found a kindred spirit who was keen to wrestle the double bass and form a band.
Cheney believes rockabilly will always have a small but dedicated following.
“When the Stray Cats came here in the early ’90s the scene just went through the roof because all the people that listen to Triple M heard them and were like, ‘Yeah rockabilly — it’s the fuck’n greatest.’ Then as soon as it dies down again they’re back off to see Jimmy Barnes at Transformers.”
After a series of incompatible drummers, Travis Dempsey, who admits he never had a particular interest in rockabilly, was recruited to hit the skins. “I like the whole image. I love the pompadours and the big cars and all that sort of stuff, but I wasn’t into the music. I was into the more skatie stuff like NoFX and Suicidal Tendencies.”
This denser sound and a spot on the recent Vans Warped Tour has led the group to be tagged with that most ambiguous of four letter words: punk. “A lot of the time we are labelled punk,” sighs Dempsey, “but come on, what is punk in our days? It’s sort of thrown around like ‘rock’, can mean anyone from Smashing Pumpkins to Aqua.”
With the band’s chart success and the tracks “Prisoner of Society” and “From Here On In” rating high on the Triple J Hottest 100, there has been much interest shown in the band from major labels. Rumour is they will sign to Sony off-shoot Murmur (home of Silverchair and Jebediah), but all three members refused to be pinned down to a confirm this. US label Interscope is also said to be interested. “We’ve been negotiating with a few people but nothing’s set in concrete yet,” is as much as Cheney will divulge.
Once the record contract is settled, the Living End will concentrate on the release of a debut album. “We recorded 20 songs and we want to put 15 or 16 on the album, because we don’t like albums that have got like nine songs on them — I think that’s just a big EP. And then hopefully we will have five or six B-sides,” says Cheney. The band say they are “flattered” by suggestions that their songs are very reminiscent of the bands they sight as influences, but the reaction is different when the shoe is on the other foot. A mention is made of Green Day (the Living End supported the Californians on an Australian tour a couple of years ago) with reference to their rockabilly-styled single “Hitch’n a Ride”. “Funny you should mention that,” starts Dempsey, then about to continue, he hesitates, looks to Cheney and Owen and decides not to proceed with the sentence. “We don’t want any controversy,” he then proclaims as way of explaining his retreat. Could it be that Green Day were “hitch’n a ride” on the Living End’s train of thought?.