2002 - Whammo


Date: 2002
Author: Unknown
Featuring: Chris Cheney


Rather than write a flowery introduction to prove that I know grammar, I've decided to only state the necessary facts concerning The Living End. This interview will do the rest. Fans will know that Australia's finest 3-piece were sidelined for most of 2002 when Chris Cheney was injured in a car accident. Most music-lovers will also know that the band were on the verge of mainstream success on most continents and are already one the most popular acts in Australia. Virtually every other fact can be found in the following interview, which I have purposely included in its full entirety. Chris Cheney and I had an awesome conversation and through most of that chat we were oblivious to the recorder lying on the table. I can tell you that he loves this band and its fans; he's an approachable guy with a lot of music knowledge; and he can't wait to record a new album, which hopefully will lead to a world tour. This is a true treat for fans of The Living End, covering: history, future plans, loves, disappointments, inspiration, production techniques, songwriting and attitudes toward the thousands - possibly millions - of Living End fans around the globe... A conversation between G and Chris Cheney, Vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for The Living End:

Whammo: With your demos, how much do you do before you record the finished product? For instance, for the four tracks you did recently.
Chris: We’ve had the whole of last year off from touring and I’ve been writing songs at home. With those four tunes (One Said to the Other), I’ve been bringing in the tunes for the guys - in a rough form - and we bang it out for a couple of hours. Nine times out of ten we make it into a song. There’s a recording facility where we’ve been rehearsing and we were in there for a week to record those four.

Whammo: And was that the only plan, to do those four?
Chris: We couldn’t book time to do the album 'till after the Big Day Out. We knew we had to get something for here (Australia), so we wanted to try and do a single. It was really back-to-front the way we did it; we had to try and pick the single from the demo. Normally, as you’d know, you do fourteen tracks or so and pick the single off that, once you record the album. We’d played a couple of small shows and that was one of the songs that was a stand-out. The other ones, we didn’t think were anywhere near up to par with some of the other tracks for the album, so they were chosen as B-sides.

Whammo: All four tracks are kickin’ though.
Chris: Thanks. Yeah, a lot of people have been saying that they can’t wait to hear the album if they’re the B-sides. We’ve demo’d probably 40 songs but I wrote, probably, 70. I tend to throw out a lot and just keep writing all the time. I figure the more we throw away, the better quality the one’s we keep will be. We’ve nailed it down to about 20, for when we go over to The States. We’re going to do pre-production and maybe record sixteen or seventeen. Then we’ll pick the bunch from that.

Whammo: Where will you record that?
Chris: At Ocean Studios in L.A. At this stage we’re doing it over there. If war breaks out, I’m not goin’. I’ll be staying home in Melbourne I think. I won’t be part of any of that.

Whammo: I’m sure your label will love that.
Chris: Well, they probably wouldn’t mind because it’s a lot cheaper to record in Australia. Yeah, I don’t know what their take on it would be, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll have to speak to Mr Bush.

Whammo: You recorded at Birdland in Melbourne with, producer…
Chris: Lindsay Gravina, who we did the first album with.

Whammo: It’s so crisp.
Chris: Right.

Whammo: ‘Cause I just go for maximum volume at all times.
Chris: There’s no other way.

Whammo: The production is probably the best I’ve heard on any recent Aussie stuff.
Chris: Lindsay would be wrapped with that because this is his ‘new’ Birdland. The old one was in Chappel Street, Prahan and he was there for years. It was the legendary place where he recorded Magic Dirt, Cosmic Psychos and all that sort of stuff. There’s a lot to be said for all those bands and their recordings. We decided to go with him because we recorded the first album with him and thought, ‘let’s try and go back and capture a bit more of the grungy, live feel we got with the first album’. Either way, it was great working with him because he’s got so many good ideas.

Whammo: So, you can still introduce stuff when you’re recording?
Chris: I don’t like to be too anal about it and say ‘that’s the song, that’s how I wrote it’. That’s the reason we get someone like Lindsay or Nick Launay because it’s an outside point of view. I’m happy to listen to opinions and whether we take it on board, is another subject entirely. You should never get too precious or you just get caught up in your own existence.

Whammo: You’d reached a stage, just before your enforced rest, where you were peaking. Even on a global scale, you’d done a lot of touring, broken into College radio in the US. It must have been very disappointing to have to take a rest. I assume you’re okay now? 
Chris: Yeah, all good now; one hundred percent. You wouldn’t know that I’d been through what I’ve been through, except for a few scars on my leg but no-one’s going to see those…unless I wear Speedos on stage. 

Whammo: I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do the Speedo thing on stage.
Chris: I’ll wear a long t-shirt though.

Whammo: I’m not sure the Whammo visitors want to hear about that. Speaking of the Whammo mob, there seems to be an unprecedented amount of overseas interest in Aussie and Kiwi music at the moment.
Chris: It’s at an all-time high. As you said, we had made a lot of inroads over there and it definitely wasn’t ideal for that to happen. In a way I’m glad it happened ‘cause we’ve written so many good songs and we’ve got Andy (drums) on board now and the whole thing with Trav wanting to leave; it had to happen. I think we’d been touring for ten years straight, from high school. We always had a schedule and then all of the sudden it was…nothing. It’s only made us a stronger band and it’s made us appreciate things a little more. I can’t wait to go back overseas ‘cause we’ve done quite well in Japan and we’ve made in-roads in America. There’s definitely a down-side to have the break but hopefully, if we come back stronger than ever – like we have on these Big Day Out shows – it won’t be such a bad thing.

Whammo: Your German fans are nuts, in the nicest possible way. They’re absolutely crazy about The Living End. It’s good to see that kind of passion.
Chris: It’s because we’ve been over there several times. The first time we went over there was with a band called Totenhosen. They played on the first Warped tour in Australia. They’ve been playing for about twenty years and they’re basically like the U2 of Germany. We thought they were a small-time punk band, then we get over there and the first show is 13,000 people. We’ve gone back a few times. I love going to Germany. It’s a fascinating place: a lot different to growing up in Melbourne. It’s one of the advantages of being in a band; some of the places we’ve seen. We’re really lucky…really blessed.

Whammo: So what do you think the album will be more like: Roll On or the raw style of the latest single?
Chris: It’s hard because we’ve been trying not to get into too much of a formula. We’ve been writing whatever comes out and see where the bands heading, naturally. The one thing we have been trying to do is make sure the songs work in a rehearsal room ‘from the word go’, so we can pick up our instruments and go ‘bang, that sounds amazing’ like The Police or The Jam; so it sounds like a classic three-piece. We didn’t want to have to rely on overdubs and all the vocals and strings. That’s kind of what we did with Roll On. We wanted to experiment in the studio and see how much we could do there. We’ve taken a reverse slant on that. I think this time the songs will be better and a bit more Rock’n’Roll sounding. The whole thing about The Datsuns and The D4 is really great. It’s really inspiring to see guitars back at the forefront. We’ve got a few songs in that vein too, more of our AC/DC influence. Roll On, people thought that was a bit like that, a bit more Rock. It was more like us trying to do a 10…1 (Midnight Oil); all the tricky little changes and odd timings, which was cool but it was a monster to reproduce on stage every night. You almost stop enjoying it cause you’re looking down at the next little change or the next chord rather than ‘let’s just hit one chord and rock out for ten bars’. We’re going down that road a bit more, which is better for the live energy of our band.

Whammo: The arrangements in the new songs are excellent. So do you think ‘let’s do something a little different in this verse’ or ‘let’s lead into the next chorus with a little more dynamics’…
Chris: Very much. I got quite offended the other day. I probably shouldn’t have gotten offended – it was a pretty good review – but it said something like ‘I’ll give this the thumbs up because it sounds like some thought’s gone into it’. What do people think when they see The Living End? I know they think of the punk thing, that it’s three-chord punk, but it’s not. I can spend weeks on one song and I put a lot of hard work into it, so I do get a bit disgruntled when people automatically think that we just slam the songs out and there’s not a whole lot of depth, cause there is. My favourite songwriters – apart from The Beatles – are people like Paul Weller and Brian Wilson; stuff like that. So I’m always thinking. There’s a million different ways of doing it and we’ve spent a bit of time, particularly on those four songs (One Said to the Other), because we’ve had so much time off. We’ve come in leaps and bounds in the arrangement and songwriting department. I’m a sucker for a good Pop song and there are some really clever songwriters out there. That’s been my thing this year, to get involved with that.

Whammo: You’ve mentioned the Jam and Paul Weller. I’ve noticed that the One Said to the Other artwork is very Jam-like.
Chris: I’m a huge fan of them and the way they put their artwork together. I suppose it’s a mixing of the styles. I think when punk first came out they thought ‘oh, this is just a sixties revival band’ but they played like punk rockers, didn’t they? That’s what I loved. They looked sharp in their suits but they gave it their all. We’ve always taken the same kind of strategy. We’re influenced by Rockabilly – I love Buddy Holly and the Crickets and always will – but we idolize The Clash’s energy. We try and mix it all together; throw it all in the blender and see what happens. It’s the same with the artwork. We just got some really cool vinyl done of the single; 250 copies, limited edition, three different covers – one with bass, one with guitars, one with drums. I’m more excited about that than I am about anything else at the moment ‘cause I’m a bit of a fan and collector of stuff like that, myself.

Whammo: Is it true that any initial money you received went straight into touring?
Chris: Always. For the first few years after we got out of high school we were called The Runaway Boys and we were playing 50s and 60s rock n roll covers at weddings and 21st parties, while I was writing stuff on the side. It was at that stage we decided to change our name, thinking that maybe The Runaway Boys wasn’t the most original name in the world. So, we came up with the name The Living End. All the money that we made at those functions, doing the covers, we’d put into the original band and record demo’s, or do posters and t-shirts. It was very DIY to start of with and I’m really proud that we did it that way. It was only after we released Prisoner..., independently, that people started buzzing. It may have been quicker to do it another way but we did it the only way we knew. That was to only take $10 petrol money each gig for our cars and the rest we would put away. I still say that to bands now: ‘just put everything you’ve got back into it, it’s an investment and if you work hard, you never know’. I never thought we would get to the level we’re at. I used to look at bands like Frenzal Rhomb and Fireballs playing the Big Day Out and say ‘imagine if we could do that, imagine if we could headline the Punters Club’...and it happened.

Whammo: It’s cool that you can still remember that. It’ll always give you a bit of a buzz and I guess you’re about to do the same thing overseas because you’ve laid the foundations already.
Chris: But in a way I feel like we’ve already made it. We can go to LA and…well, last time we played at The Palace, which had 2,500 people. If it didn’t get any bigger than that, I’d be sort of happy with that. At first, the fact that we could headline places in Australia was great, but now the fact that we can go to Japan, Europe or America and headline venues is a dream come true. I’ll always be thankful for that, even if it doesn’t go any further.

Whammo: I assume you’ll be doing a full world tour.
Chris: I suppose. After the albums finished we’ll know where we’re going. That’s where our heads are at. If it’s a bad album we can’t go anywhere but if it’s a great album it’s going to set us up for the next couple of years. I think we’ve got great tunes, so let’s see what happens.

Whammo: You’ve obviously got an attitude toward the recent politics. Do you think any of those attitudes will creep into the album?
Chris: With the 'September 11' thing, I haven’t written any songs specifically about that. Everyone knows what happened and what more can you say about it? There are other things like the prospect of going to war. I’m fascinated by issues and always people-watching, so there are probably going to be songs that creep in but I don’t think there are many political songs. We’re not The Oils (Midnight Oil). I love The Oils but while people have thought that we are politically motivated, it’s more like me flicking through the paper or watching TV. I tend to write lyrics from something that actually happen but I would never want to be responsible for writing a protest song because maybe I’d feel like writing a love song. I just keep it different all the time.

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