2001.03.31 - Kerrang (Interview)

Kerrang (UK)

Date: 31st March 2001
Author: Unknown
Featuring: Chris Cheney, Scott Owen & Travis Demsey


In The City

It's teatime on a busy Friday afternoon, and three men are causing a scene in central London. As the rush-hour traffic grinds by in both directions, Australian psychobilly punks The Living End - that's guitarist Chris Cheney, double bassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Dempsey [sic]- ham it up at the junction of Kensington Church Street and High Street Kensington for the pictures that accompany this piece. As K! photographer Pat Pope scurries, snaps, clicks and frets about losing the light, The Living End seem happy to run through one manic pose after another, like desperate out of work actors auditioning for the worst job in kids television.

There's Scott, standing on a hired double bass, arms astride, as if he's never felt the cold before. There's Travis, pulling a gormless face hands stuffed into his pockets. There's Chris, grinning like he should know better but somehow doesn't. There they all go, jumping in the air, as passers-by lift their heads and catch an eyeful, then trudge off toward the nearby tube station.

And here comes a traffic warden, cocking an eyebrow in suspicion. Here comes a police car, slowing up as it approaches... No problem, the officer just wants to know who the band are, and if they're famous? (Answer: well, yes and no). Here comes an Australian bar worker who has heard of The Living End and wants to know if they're playing in town, and if he can get tickets? Oh, and here comes a Londoner, a middle-aged woman in a long coat, carrying a shopping bag. She asks me who the three men are.

"They're Australian's" I reply.

She nods her head, like that's all the answer she needs

The best word to describe The Living End would be "uncomplicated". A household name in their native Australia - the band's eponymous debut album sold 450,000 copies there, so the term 'household name' is, for once, valid - their gritty and talented mixture of punk, rockabilly and rock (together with more than 600 live shows and many road and air miles clocked up since 1995) has earned them fame at home and a keen underground fan base here in Europe and in certain parts of the US, such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles.

The band are also set to release 'Roll On', their snappy second full-length album, through the Warner Brothers label. Produced by English ex-pat Nick Launey [sic again] (who, among other things has worked with Midnight Oil and as 'tea boy' on the Jam's classic 'Sound Effects' album) the album is a confident mix of sounds and tempo, style and substance - all held together by Chris Cheney's (the Living End's principle songwriter) instinctive ear for a strong song and a memorable tune.

"We're all about the music," is how Cheney tells it.

The Living End came together from the sprawling suburbs of Melbourne. The first incarnation came to be when Scott Owen and his parents moved from the suburb of Dandenong - "a real working class area. Pretty criminal as well, you wouldn't want to be hanging around the train station at night there..." - to the slightly greener, slightly more prosperous suburb of Wheeler's Hill. It was there, at High School, that Owen met Chris Cheney, and where the pair formed a band.

The original carnation of The Living End was a rockabilly band. The band - with original drummer Joe Piripitsi - gigged around Melbourne, playing places such as the Royal Derby Hotel's Sunday rockabilly afternoons - "you could tell it was a rockabilly arvo 'cos all of the Hot Rods lined up outside," recalls Scott Owen - and friend's birthday parties, wedding receptions and any other gigs they could force themselves into. The Living End would just show up and play 'Blue Suede Shoes' till their hands were raw and their eyes stung from sweat.

It wasn't until drummer Travis joined the band, however, that The Living End sprung to life. A couple of years older than his two bandmates - Travis is 29, while Owen and Cheney are both 26 - the drummer grew up 90 miles outside of Melbourne, in the rural community of Warragul. Warragul is an Aboriginal word, meaning 'Wild Dog'. Apt.

"My hometown is a tough place," says Travis, by way of an explanation. "It's a rural farming town, tough in a way that Newcastle or Manchester is tough, where men are men and women like it that way. It's not even about being working class, because the people there don't even know what working class is. It's very rough. If you stand up for yourself and generally be a rude prick then people will go 'Oh, that guy's alright!'. If you don't then people walk all over you. People commit suicide in that sort of town."

In a familiar story, Travis found a love for rock music, held it close to his heart and helped it to get him through those hot days and long nights in the country. Expelled from four schools for fighting and misbehaviour, Travis used to play in bands - rock cover bands, that type of thing - and steal cars to get the bands to their gigs. He also sunk his mouth into drugs and drink. It didn't take long for him to understand that he was going nowhere.

"I realised that if I wanted to become a professional musician then I was going to have to move to the big city," he says now. Which is what he did, moving the 90 miles from Warragul to Melbourne and landing himself a job in a drum shop. It was from here that Travis started playing with The Living End, in 1995. It was less than an auspicious start; he hated rockabilly and they hated his playing

Somehow, though, they saw the potential in one another and stuck with it.

"We were just happy to play anywhere," says Travis of the band's early days. "What those early gigs did was they made us a band. We absolutely traveled our arses off. And what traveling in Australia means is driving to a certain show that we were booked to do. And we would lose money hand over fist. We would use our own money getting to the show and then lose money playing the show. But we were like, 'Fuckin' yeah! We've been asked to play Brisbane! And they want us to go up there!'. And we would literally travel two days to get there."

It was about this time - just as the band were about to go on tour with their punk friends, Bodyjar, in late 1996 - that The Living End recorded the double-A side single 'Prisoner of Society' and 'Second Solution'. In a scenario that mirrors The Offspring breaking America with the independently released 'Come Out And Play' in 1994, Triple J, the Australian State radio network played 'Prisoner of Society' a few times and were quickly inundated by requests to play the song over and over again. The Living End's independent distributors struggled to keep the track in the shops as the band enjoyed the unlikeliest hit of the season. 'Prisoner of Society' and 'Second Solution' eventually went on to sell a quarter of a million copies.

"We knew things were starting to change because our audience at the gigs were changing," recalls Scott Owen. "It wasn't just people with quiffs who were showing up at the door, it was punk kids and rock kids and even football player types, people who would have hated us in the beginning."

"And people started talking about how our live show was the culmination of everything that was good in rock 'n' roll from the past 50 years," says Travis. "How we had the coolness of the '50s, the jamminess of the '60s, the attitude of the '70s...Then the fucking song went berserk!"

It was the power and influence garnered from their Australian success that allowed The Living End to pick and choose a record label for the rest of the world. Careful to keep the Australian end of the business away from the European and American deal - so the band's profits from their home country are not eaten up by the costs incurred overseas (although this might make The Living End easier to drop if things don't work out in foreign climes) - the band opted to ink a deal with the giant Warner Brothers label. And the band hope that their big label will help them push their new album.

"I'm very pleased with 'Roll On'," says Chris Cheney. "Although it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my fucking life. Compared to schoolwork or relationships or any of that other stuff that's supposed to be difficult in life, well this was much fucking harder. There were times when we were making this album and I just thought 'Fuck, we've created a monster!'. There were so many songs to choose from, which we eventually managed to get down to 14, but it was just such an impossible task. But I suppose it's like anything, the harder it is the more satisfying it is in the end."

"The breadth of what we started with was incredible," enthuses Scott Owen. "During the rehearsals we had songs that sounded like stoner shit, we had songs that sounded like metal, songs that sounded like '70s shit, full on to the floor rock songs...We just went on a massive big exploration. We had such a huge canvas to work from to get the album we wanted to make. It was such a cool experience."

"And it is a fantastic record," believes Travis.

All that's left for The Living End to do now is to work 'Roll On' around the world like they worked the earlier material around Australia.

"It would be nice, but you can never predict anything can you?" is Cheney's non-committal answer to the question of whether The Living End will be able to replicate their antipodean success elsewhere in the world.

Come on, you can do better than that.

"Well, let's put it this way," says Travis, by way of an answer. "We definitely have a goal, a common goal. And that common goal is just to go everywhere. Whoever wants us to play, we'll go and play there. Unfortunately the world is a big place and we can only do so much without killing ourselves. We love to play but we have to go home sooner or later. We're currently booked up until September at least and we haven't even had our holiday from last year yet. I'm not complaining cos this is what I want to do, but it can get pretty grueling."

And with that, The Living End are off, presumably to begin touring the world, content with their success and happy to receive more. It's easy to be superior about a band who enjoys popularity anywhere other than the US or the UK - as if Australian, Japanese, Canadian or German audiences are in some way culturally inferior to ourselves - but this is really just xenophobic horseshit. Although it's difficult to imagine The Living End caring either way. As dull as they are in conversation, this is a proud, hardworking Australian rock band who know, as well as any band that has come before them, that it's a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll.

"I don't care where we play and to how many people we play to," believes Chris Cheney. "And starting out and playing small places again will give us a good kick up the arse. You can't beat going out and clocking up road miles to playing to 200 people. We don't mind doing that cos we're not spoiled. Too many bands are spoiled and that's why so many bands lose their edge. At least we have our edge."

And here Chris Cheney smiles.

"Even if we lose our audience, we'll still have our edge."

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