1998 - Australian Musician
Featuring: Chris Cheney
The Living End having picked up the award for Highest Selling Single for "Prisoner of Society/Second Solution" at this year's ARIA's, and with their debut album sitting pretty at number one, Chris Cheney and his mates are loving every minute of their new found fame.
"It's amazing" Cheney says of their number one status. "We just heard this morning that the album went back to the top. It debuted at number one a couple of weeks ago and then went out and now it's back!"
His voice is full of enthusiasm for the moment. "Yeah it's incredible because we're the last band that I thought would ever be seen as a mainstream band let alone number one."
On this sunny spring day, Cheney is sitting in the Melbourne office of his management company, Sideline, conducting interviews like the veteran musician he is. The Living End may have just shot into the charts, but Cheney, at 23 years, has been playing music since he was in primary school.
"Mum enrolled me in guitar lessons when I was about six years old. We did the lessons at lunchtime. Classic training, finger-style stuff. I still have my first guitar, a no-name brand, K-Mart Special" he laughs. "I'll never get rid of it."
The way Cheney tells it, he heard Elvis and saw God! Influenced by the great man, Cheney says he "went crazy on it" laying his hands on everything from the fifties rock & roll era. Sure he listened to "radio pop stuff, and got into Bon Jovi like all my friends", but his interest in rock & roll laid a firm base for his professional musical direction. Discovering Stray Cats, "our biggest influence" sealed his fate.
"I didn't get into anything else, just really loved that rockabilly, jazz punk style." "When we started we were playing covers mostly Elvis, Carl Perkins, Stray Cats, Johnny Burnett that kind of stuff. We just plugged in and went for it. There were no distortion pedals, it was just like a flat reverb, a real traditional sound."
In 1994 they adopted the name, "The Living End" and began performing more original works.
"Now we're probably more influenced by The Clash and The Jam, but that doesn't mean we've left behind the fifties style. We've melded our influences, so we play more rhythm style rather than the finger picking Scotty Moore style. We play a lot harder, but we have the elements of where we've come from in the song construction."
Keeping with their rockabilly roots all three members of the band favour vintage gear.
"Scott has this fantastic old German Double Bass and Trav has an old Ludwig sixties style drum kit. We love the sounds of those instruments" enthuses Cheney, " The only change is that now we just play them a bit harder and faster."
Cheney has two Gretsch guitars; a Gretsch Tennessee '63 and a recent purchase, the Gretsch Double Anniversary '61.
"The Gretsch is terrific. I got the sixty three when I was about fifteen. I worked at the supermarket to save up for the thing, typical musician type story", he laughs at the cliche. "I've only recently purchased the Gretsch Double Anniversary 61 guitar."
Gretsch is an established American company whose guitars have been around for decades. They rose to prominence in the 40's particularly amongst jazz musicians. Gretsch are famous for their semi-accoustic guitars which are made from wood and polished plated metal. Their "electro-tone" hollow produces the fullest resonance and is well suited to rockabilly style. Gretsch guitars are used by some of the world's greatest musicians including George Harrison and Cheney's idol, Brian Setzer from The Stray Cats. So the Gretsch was a natural choice for this rockabilly fan. Originally Cheney teamed his Gretsch 63 with a Fender Twin Amp and later a Crate Vintage Club. Today he uses a Fender Dual Professional and has just bought a Matchless Amp.
"I picked up the Matchless in the States and it's fantastic. On stage I use a Matchless Cab and a Crate Cab, you know mike up the Matchless and use the Crate for on stage sound." Scott Owen hooks up his Double Bass to two Galleon Kruger Heads. "Scott runs a click, which is the slapping sound on the bass, and the strings (bottom end), through the two heads and through a big Ampeg Fridge Amp with a speaker on the top. That's for the click" explains Cheney. "And now we've got a crew to set up all the gear which is terrific."
The words are spoken with the appreciation of a musician who has lugged his own gear around for years. After their lightening tour of Australia in November, "the first time as headliners", they are off to Germany to support Die Totenhosen.
"We played with these guys on the Warped Tour earlier this year and got right into their music. They're like a seventies punk band and they really got into us, so hey, we're off to Germany."
Cheney still clearly has his feet on the ground despite the rocketing success of the album and the heady attention being laid on the lads. "It's not a bad problem to have," he muses of all the attention. "But my life is the band, it always has been. We're about doing things the right way, the honest way."
All the way to the top.