2003.01.24 - Big Cheese

Big Cheese

Date: 24th January 2003
Author: Simon Nott
Featuring: Scott Owen


We met up with Scotty at the Fox Studio complex in Sydney just after The Living End had been interviewed on Australian Music TV ‘Channel V’. We had been just sorted for a beer by their EMI Australia Press Officer Jolie when Scotty rocked up. He was dressed casual as you like wearing T-shirt and Jeans and clutching a plastic carrier bag we were later informed contained his duty free bootie from the New Zealand and first leg of the Big Day Out Tour. The first thing you notice about Scotty is he looks you straight at you with piercing pale blue eyes and at least seems to be totally engrossed in every word you say and replies as if he’s known you for years and you are his best mate. It went something like this with Scotty supplying the nicotine and beer throughout…

The past year had been a pretty rough time as far as the Living End as a band. Singer guitarist Chris Cheney came close to death in a car accident and was subsequently laid up with his injuries and long time drummer Travis decided to quit the band, how had Scotty coped with an imposed period of inactivity?
"Well it was pretty rough on Chris really, he had a very serious break in his leg and it was thought for a while that he may not be able to walk for months but he was pretty lucky in the end and has made a full recovery. There was a never any question of the band coming to and end though, even when Trav quit there was never a doubt that we would continue. We didn’t fall out or anything he just got fed up with looking at the schedule, was unhappy and wanted to do his own thing which is perfectly understandable and good on him for not just hanging around for the sake of it. With a three piece if someone’s not happy you can tell, if you were in a big ska band with nine members or something you’d probably never tell someone was unhappy, but there’s no hard feelings and good on him. We looked at it all as hurdles that you have to get over and just keep going, me and Chris have been doing this for over ten years now and we’ve always been pretty driven about it all and know that this is all we really want to do with our lives and there was never really anything that was going to stop us. Looking back on it it may have been something of a blessing in disguise because in the past six years or so we have been constantly touring and recording, so it was good for something, though it’s a shame it had to be an accident, to come along and say look you have to take time off, we’ve never had time off in the schedule we always knew what we were doing for the next year at least. It was pretty welcome to be able to have a break for a while and throw the schedule out of the window (laughs), for a change. It let us sit back and get a bit of perspective on the band, we were planning on going straight into recording a new album after the last tour in 2001, we would have had to rush into doing that and quickly write some songs in a few weeks or a couple of months and go straight in and record the album and then back out on the road. But now we have had basically the whole year in a rehearsal room with Andy (Strachan) the new drummer making demos and more demos with no schedule breathing down our necks just concentrating on what kind of band we want to be and what we want to do with our new tunes and what we want to do with the next album and everything. Now after having the time off and having to find a new drummer after Travis quit we’ve just come out a better band now we’ve had time to reflect and think about it and other shit as well which we never did always just thinking about the band. We’re really pleased with Andy he’s a really solid drummer and really easy to get along with and we’ve been able to work on stuff behind closed doors rather than being out there playing every night, I can seriously say we’ve come out a ten times better band and ready to go again".

Do you know in your minds what the new album is going to sound like?
"It’s definitely going to be a lot more stripped back than Roll On because with that album it seems now like we might have a had a point to prove that we could play and we could put all these tricky arrangement things in it our songs and layered it and layered it with sounds and with harmonies and all this stuff, it didn’t seem like it at the time but listening back to it it seems that we must have had some kind of point to prove to get away from the whole three chord Prisoner Of Society thing I don’t know. We did go nuts making that album as far as getting everything as tricky and our best playing that we could put down on it and now through doing all these demos and stuff and also having to go out and play after putting that album out, playing all those songs is hard because a lot of those songs you have to just stand there and concentrate on getting every note because we put all those tricky bits in! This time we are going to strip it back more and try and make songs that are more fun to play, a lot easier on the brain to play, more about the feeling than the intelligence of it all. We really want to get back to what it sounds like when we get into the rehearsal room and just play as a three-piece band. English bands like the Police and the Jam had that mastered, they could still sound huge by stripping it all down and when they do play hard it sounds really big they didn’t need all the overdubs and studio trickery it’s just flat out three instruments we want to go back to that sound I think. As far as the songs and what kind of style they are I don’t think we are going to change much, we are still a rock n roll band at heart we still love melodies and big choruses and all that kind of stuff. We are still into style switching too, just trying to play as many different kinds of styles as we can not just have a formula and stick to it but try to use loads of different ones, we’ve got 50 odd songs that we’ve demo’d god knows which ones we are going to pick, that’s the hardest thing about making this next album is getting 50 songs down to 15 or whatever. Throwing songs away is the hardest thing because you become attached to them and you like ‘em for certain reasons and we spent so much time on every song. We’ll still pull them out every now and again and use them for b-sides and still try and do something with them so they don’t go into oblivion, (laughs) yeah we are going to have to throw some songs away because there’s just too many there but it’s not a bad problem to have".

The new-charted single in Australia ‘One Said To The Other’ was recorded in Melbourne is there any particular reason why the new album is going to be recorded in the States?
"We wanted to use Mark Trombino, we are recording at Ocean Studios in LA and that’s pretty much his preferred studio and he’s done a lot of stuff there. We don’t really care where we record, it doesn’t matter to us what city or studio or whatever it doesn’t really matter, it’s pretty much up to the producer he’s the one that’s got to use the room and the shape of the room and whatever mikes and gear and stuff he needs is all there so, anyhow it doesn’t bother us it’s getting us to LA for a couple of months!"

How do you feel about the progress you have made in the UK, are you happy with what you have achieved there?
"We’ve really got our sights set on taking it as far as we possibly can, as far as it’s come so far (in the UK) we played for years and years before we could play on the main stage in a festival in Australia. I think it was only our fifth time in England when we played the main stage at Reading, I remember that day distinctively just walking out there and going ‘fuck’ even though we were the second band on there were still thousands of people there to watch us play and I remember thinking ‘shit man I can’t believe we are at this level, especially in England’. We’ve always looked up to England as a bit of a mother country as far as music goes. (laughing) not necessarily the Queen factor! It’s been a bit like it in Japan and America too, I mean five times?! Five times out on the road in Australia meant nothing back in those early days before we made a name for ourselves. But to be able to go to England then five times later be able to play on the main stage at Reading was, yeah such a big kick especially as I prefer the whole English music scene to anywhere in the world and equal to Australia I suppose as I love all those Aussie rock bands, but the whole punk explosion in England had a huge influence on us and England makes so much more cool music than anywhere else in the world. If would could get accepted by the UK public with their mentality and history of music that would feel like a pretty big accomplishment We’d like to come back to the UK this year, we don’t have anything down on paper but that’s the plan, as soon as we get the album out we are going to do a massive Australian tour and go every where, do all the major cities but do all the country towns too and get back into the Northern Territory like I said really do everywhere in Australia again. After that the plan is to go abroad and give it our best crack. We’re not getting any younger but we’re not too old to give it a red hot go again, we’d love to come back to the UK and do the festivals and get back into the Astoria again".

Is there anything different or weird that you notice about playing in the UK that sets it apart from other places?
"The first thing that struck me as being weird was that are so many Australians! Especially in London, I guess they just came out in droves to see us. We played at the Borderline and there were more people outside than there were inside all crammed in like sardines. A lot of the Aussies never thought they would ever see us in place that only holds 150 people again so said they had to do what ever they could to get in there. But no, people ask that question a lot and not really, Japan is the only place where the crowd is well, just different. Everything is different in Japan, it’s like another world. It’s pretty much the same as anywhere in England but I’ve just got this thing in my head that the English music scene over the last thirty, no forty years has produced the best bands in the world and I’ve got this thing in my head that the English people have this thing in their head that they hear music better than anybody else in the rest of the world. It’s always like we get over there and we say we’ve got to fuckin prove ourselves over here, you can’t get away with the shit the Americans get away with in England because the English papers and people know what they are talking about as far as music goes".

The whole thing that seemed to set the Living Ends self-titled album apart from the rest was the use of the prominent double bass, but on Roll On it took more of a back seat. Do you ever see yourselves reverting to the bass guitar?
Na it’s always going to be a double bass because…….. Um…….. I can’t really play a bass guitar, I never really paid it any attention! So that’s one reason. There are songs on Roll On that are really just straight rock songs that don’t have that ‘Slap’ ‘Swing’ ‘Rockabilly’ thing to it but I still feel more comfortable playing any kind of music on the double bass. Na I never really gave the bass guitar a crack, I just don’t feel as comfortable with it you know, I grew up with the double bass and I’m not going to change now".

Were you ever influenced by the 80s Psychobilly Double Bass Bands?
"Oh yeah at first me and Chris were into all the old 50s rockabilly then the Stray Cats but when we heard Psychobilly we thought ‘hey this is it’. I used to love bands like The Guana Batz, Batmobile, Meteors, Demented Are Go oh and I particularly liked a band called The Happy Drivers but my favourite bass player was the guy from The Frantic Flintstones (Gary Day), he was great. I spent hours working out those songs and how to play as fast as that! I’d have loved to have gone to some of those psycho gigs. We were also heavily influenced by Melbourne band the Fireballs who we used to support and hang and get drunk with. Oh I actually met the guys from Demented Are Go at the Borderline, that was great, we stayed up all night and drank tequila".

How do you see the future of the Living End?
"I’d love to still be playing in this band in 30 years, I reckon this band has a life of its own because we are not tying ourselves down to playing one particular style of music. I don’t know, this band sort of grows as each individual member finds something new it always comes out in the band in one particular angle or other. To me that says we are always going to be finding something new because none of us are interested in anything other than music, people ask me what I do in my spare time and it’s like, nothing, we just get together and rehearse. None of us have got any hobbies or major interests or even know about anything else! So I’d love to be able to say well still be together in 30 years and still releasing records. I suppose if it did all end I’d have to do something to do with music like producing or grow my hair long and become a guitar tech or something!"

Scotty, your song ‘What would you do?’ a b-side on the latest release was a radio play hit over Christmas in Australia, do you have ambitions in the writing arena?
"I have always being trying to write songs obviously not as much as Chris who I find to be a poetic songwriter who has got so many ideas, more ideas than I could ever conceive, but I always give it a crack, that’s what I always do when there’s nothing to do sitting on the couch at home I would rather sit there and try and find a new chord or find a new idea or something, occasionally you get a song out of it, I want to keep learning that’s for sure."

How’s the Big Day Out tour been so far?
"Yeah it’s good, it’s a fuckin’ awesome tour and so much better this time than the last time we did it. There are better bands this year. There’s no macho Korn and Marilyn Manson, we didn’t fall out with them or anything but it’s just the crowd factor, the whole macho thing, nu metal heads, just fucken, big guys with their shirts off who didn’t give a shit who was playing as long as it was heavy just trying to cause as much mayhem as they possibly could for all the wrong reasons. And now it’s like an old-fashioned music festival where people come to see music and there’s not the attitude whole serious mosh pit thing going on and security is better now after a girl died at Sydney Big Day Out. They really have cracked down and it’s better, I don’t dig the whole macho thing.

You must hold some sort of record as the hardest working band in Australia?
"Yeah well before the last year when Chris had his accident it was about four years well from the first album pretty much full on touring, you’d be away for maybe five months then home for two weeks then maybe tour in Australia then a couple more weeks before you were off overseas again. It would always be ok we’ve got this tour around America and we’ll be home in two months then something else would come up and you’d be off to England or whatever, Germany or Japan, just when we thought we were going to go home we’d always go to Japan for a week on the way home so it was another week added on, then we’d get home and there would always be stuff to do at home or whatever. We like to take our girlfriends with us whenever possible but they have got stuff to do at home, jobs and whatever but we take them along as much as possible, it helps, it helps a lot. The thing we like mainly after a gig is a beer but you have to take care of yourself and sometimes you don’t take care of yourselves enough but you have to, it’s like Groundhog Day! It’s been about 15 months now since we’ve been out on the road so now we are all charged up again, for the last six months or so we’ve been in the rehearsal room saying 'fuck we should be packing our bags and getting out there and playing'. But now we are finally getting to do it I can’t wait until the albums done so we can go out and do it again."

Tell us about the secret gigs?
"Oh yeah, they weren’t bloody secrets at all those gigs! We did this one with an old Aussie band called the Meanies who have been around for years who were doing a gig in Ballarat , its an hour and a half drive out of Melbourne, just a country town. I just organised it with one of the guys in the band who are our friends and just said can we come play? We’ve been practicing all these new songs we just want to play but we don’t want any one to know we don’t want the pressure of it being a Living End gig, we just want to fuckin’ get up and play instead of being stuck in a rehearsal room but don’t tell anyone. He was like 'yeah no worries well put you on first', it was a tiny little place that holds about 100 people and sure enough when we got there there were Living End fans waiting outside to get in."

At that point Jolie from EMI came to get Scotty who had talked for well over our allotted twenty minutes. To sum up what a great bunch of guys the Living End are, over an hour later in a different part of Sydney I was sat in a taxi stopped at lights when the taxi driver asked me if the guys in the car next to me were my mates, I looked across to see Scotty waving a beer in one hand and the copy of Big Cheese I had given him in the other, the window came down and all three of the band were shouting and saying hello, the parting shot being ‘See you at the front tomorrow!’ Can you imagine Oasis doing that? The next day at the Sydney Big Day Out I was at the front they put up what was described by many reviewers as one of the performances of the day, praise indeed when the other acts included Queens of The Stone Age, Deftones and The Foo Fighters. The Living End are currently recording their new Album with Mark Trombino in LA due for a summer release in the UK.

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