2004.06.28 - Big Cheese

Big Cheese

Date: 28th June 2004
Author: Simon Nott
Featuring: Chris Cheney, Scott Owen & Andy Strachan


The Living End

The Cheese caught up with the Living End at their hotel early the next day after a stonking sold out gig at the Astoria, bleary eyed and obviously still suffering from the after show shenanigans, strong latte’s and cokes were being ordered, then Scotty Owen looks up at the clock which reads 10.30am a asks in his slow Melbourne drawl ‘Is it too early for grog? Can we get three beers?’ ‘It’s too early to drink’ replied record company Emma ‘Is it? Naaaaaaaaa, just a kick start’ ‘Alright’ says a reluctant Emma before adding ‘Pisshead’. While the other two thirds of The End feel it’s too early the Cheese felt it only polite to join him. Welcome to Punk Rockabilly million-sellers Aussie style. The Living End were on a one night stopover from spending most of the year in the States firstly with the Aussie Invasion tour with Jet and The Vines and most recently opening up for Blink 182 and No Doubt, they must have some stories.
Chris Cheney sipped his coffee ‘We haven’t got an American accent have we? Well America’s a strange place, lot’s of cheese, it seems like we’ve been there all year, we did the Aussie Invasion tour plus our own shows and went back to Australia for two weeks, that went in the blink of an eye then we were back doing our own shows and finally the Blink/No Doubt shows. I’m now well and truly glad to be out of there. Nothing against the place but I’ve just had enough, it’s such a breath of fresh air to get back here. We’ve not been here for three years and I just prefer this place. The scenery is better and the music scene is much better. I wish we were staying here longer, we just booked the show, we are going home to do a bit more recording and hopefully we’ll be back over and do a proper tour again.'
Scotty: We wish we were staying here do a tour, it’s a very nice place to be, we’ve only been on the road once up to Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester, we’d like to do that again, it was good, we got crowds every night.
Cheney: Modern Artillery is out over here in September but judging from last night it seems our fans have already got it! The reaction to those songs was enormous, we were thinking it was going to be a showcase kind of gig, playing new songs that weren’t going to be known, that’s fine but it’s much better for us to have everybody singing along. The reaction was pretty good in America too, at the Blink/No Doubt shows people were pretty unaware of who we were but by the end of a half hour set we seemed to have pretty much won them over, that was the plan this time because it was such a break. We knew we’d have to be pretty much starting all over again, we didn’t expect to get standing ovations or anything like that when we came out on stage so we went into it with that mindset and knew we had to win people over every night and it was a bloody good challenge, every night to try and get them to that level and I think we did that in most places.
Scott: It was great doing our own gigs in between the big gigs, it’s our own crowd and our own gigs it’s not like we have to go out there with a challenge we can go out there and play more tunes and not just a half hour set or whatever. We love playing small clubs and doing our own gigs, we got a lot of new fans there that sort of picked up on the last album.
Cheney: We did a radio show in the US with the Cure and the Darkness, (All laugh), do you like the Darkness? (High pitched voice impersonations and laughter) they were hysterical man, they are definitely a love ‘em or hate ‘em kind of band. So we won’t talk about them then!
Scotty added ‘Jet and the Vines tour we got a pretty good bloody reaction, we were always on before both of those bands but we had full houses, we were a bit worried about that at first, we hoped plenty of people would turn up and it would not be a Jet and The Vines tour with us as bloody support. But it was like that at all, we got a really really good response from that.

How has Modern Artillery been received in the States?
Scott: It’s been good, getting played on the radio here and there, getting some pretty good rotation, the feedback has been really good, a lot of old fans are calling this their favourite album and picked up a load of new ones on the way.

The last gig The Living End played in the States was the Viper Rooms in Hollywood,
Scott: ‘That was a pretty rocking gig, there’s a big rockabilly scene there, the hotrod culture is a massive scene in California and I think we still get pretty well accepted by that whole kind of scene, they are all into their rock, the Social Distortion kind of rock n roll, Rocket From The Crypt.
Cheney: There’s a band called Tiger Army doing really well, when we were there they were doing two nights in a row at the House of the Blues, I saw it advertised, I haven’t seen them before and am really keen to check them out, we also wanted to see Lars Fredrickson and the Bastards. I guess we are always in no-man’s-land with that sort of thing, we are half influenced by that and half influenced by everything else, a lot of the traditional people don’t really know what to think of us, but as Scotty was saying we do get a pretty good reaction from most of them.

Any bands in America to look out for?
Cheney: Lost City Angels were a band we toured with, they were in the tradition of the Dropkick Murphys, a great Boston Irish sort of thing, they were great, they were a very hardworking band, they were slapping each other in the face a lot,
Scotty: Yeah slapping each other in the face as a term of endearment!

The conversation turned to Psychobilly, Chris Cheney remarked ‘We had quite a lot of those sort of people turn up last night, psychobilly people, we don’t get those sort of people come and see us in Australia anymore, it’s weird I don’t know why, we’ve become a little more accepted by the mainstream I suppose, we’re more of a rock band now I suppose, it was quite good to see them there and see that they still appreciate what we do, and appreciate that we’ve grown (laughs) well I hope they appreciate it, and that we try and do something a little different while still incorporating those roots. ‘London is spoilt for good music’ added Scotty, ‘there’s so many good bands playing in London just constantly’.

Onto the sell-out crowd at last nights gig, Scotty ‘I was a bit worried if we could still pull a crowd after three years, it was good to find out that our popularity hasn’t died down too much after the big disappearance of three years. We come from a background where it’s all about the energy, last night it was like fuck man I was so knackered, we all were halfway through. Chris added ‘with our songs if you don’t put everything in they don’t sort of work, we get off on the songs anyway, luckily enough it’s not like you have to sort of struggle, it’s good that we have that sort of background. I do think we get better with age, the more experience with touring, I feel with the last however many months it’s been in the States and after doing the headline tour in Australia we feel like we’re getting stronger as a live band.
Scott: We always listen back to our live tapes and stuff and cringe at out of tune vocals and all that kind of shit. It’s hard to weigh that up, it’s really hard to weigh that up, you want to nail it; you want notes to be in tune and on the right counts and everything. We love listening to the Clash live stuff which was just raucous, just pure energy pure aggression and personality, I dunno the more you do it (playing live) the more you enjoy doing it, I think we are now a much better band than we used to be.

Is the improvised part of your act when you all seem to go off in a tangent really improvised or is it all well rehearsed?
Cheney: Yeah it’s all improvised, it’s all different, we try and make it different every time, we do have a routine thing but the little jam sessions it’s like where are we going to go tonight, sometimes it falls on it’s arse it falls apart and you have to use your get out of jail free card but there’s other times it’s great.
Scotty: I’m sure Led Zep were the same way, we admire that kind of thing where they would just jam and hopefully you get to a pocket together where it just starts to explode that sort of peak moment, particularly in ‘All Torn Down’ where we strip it right back, bring it right down and slowly build it up and see where it goes, and cross your fingers that it doesn’t fall apart.
Andy: For me that is the most exciting part of the gig where something happens, either of these two guys will do something different and you catch on to it, Scotty will do a different bass line the next time round I’ll catch that then Chris will go yeah I’m going with you and that gets more exciting.
Scotty: The Police could do that, they were the fucking masters of it, their live gigs were phenomenal, I never saw them but I’ve got tons of videos and bootleg live cds, they were just masters of it, all craftsmen of their instruments, as a band they just had personality, they could just improvise and it always sounded like the Police, no one else could sound like that fucking band.
Cheney: I’m so glad we have the rockabilly background, playing those 50s 12 bar stuff where we made up our own lead breaks and stuff and did that many parties and weddings and shit like that, we probably got bored half the time playing to all the old stiffs that we just ended up improvising a lot. Now when we go to do it it’s not like a foreign thing where we are trying deliberately to do it we just love doing it. I don’t like bands that get into the cabaret sort of thing where you get into a slick routine dance orientated sort of show where they don’t play as a band but just play their parts and that’s it.
Cheney: I’d really like you to mention that it was really nice what Tim Wheeler from Ash said about us saying go see our gig in Kerrang, that was great because I really love that band, we played with them on Big Day Out and did a festival in Europe with them. I get star struck around people like that, I’ve got their old albums, and then to have someone like that talk about us was just a fucking blast.
Heroes. Who do you guys look up to musically?
Chris Cheney – Joe Strummer / The Clash
Scott Owen – The Stray Cats / English Punk / Elvis Costello all the good stuff! The Police
Andy – Old 50s Rock N Roll People know our more obvious influences but we’re also into more modern stuff like Franz Ferdinand and The Libertines
On the web, Chris Cheney ‘There’s nothing sacred anymore, I’m telling all the people on the web, keep searching, there’s a hell of a lot of stuff out there, there’s a couple of film clips that we made that people have never seen, there’s a little clip of ‘Strange’ out there and a clip for ‘The Living End’ which was on the Hellbound EP. There’s thing that we did that I don’t have copies of that are bound to surface one day and that’s the bad thing about the internet, (laughs) it’s all going to come to light one day. We do have a DVD coming out that someone is putting together in Australia at the moment, it’s taking a long time to go through all the stuff there’s so many tapes and tapes of stuff to go through.

One of Chris Cheney’s on stage party tricks, playing his guitar will a beer bottle normally frothing all over the strings, how many guitars has he fucked?
Cheney: None, no guitars have been harmed, the beer does get in the pick-ups and the guitar sort of mutes down and goes kinda mellow and quiet, it goes all through the wiring and stuff but by the next day it’s as good as gold.

On Modern Artillery, it’s very varied musically?
Cheney: We are a bit schizophrenic like that we can’t really decide what kind of band we want to be, we like too much different sorts of music, it probably throws people but I was expecting a little bit more than that but people have been pretty accepting of it, when you have a country type song and then more Psychobilly sounding sort of stuff. I think people who know who the band know that that’s what we are like, we don’t want to limit ourselves to one particular thing, who knows, maybe next time we’ll do a total rock album or something, we’re definitely all over the shop. That really works in our favour though because when we talk to people about the band, rarely do people share the favourite songs, they are nearly always different and that’s why we try and do different stuff and mix it up and don’t try to box ourselves up too much, we always want to have a few jagged edges, that’s what were are like as well, we like so many different styles of music It would be a shame to kin of narrow ourselves down to one kind of pigeon holed thing. One thing people say, especially in Australia, we can always tell when you guys come on the radio because it sounds like you. So even though we style hop a little bit, hopefully we always sound like us. That is the aim of every band to have a distinct sound and hopefully we get that. I don’t want to be a Faith No More or something where you have a completely different sound in each song, I admire that but I like to think you are a band (breaks off) that’s why we like The Clash again, from the first album on they style hopped but you can tell instantly it’s them. Same with the Beatles obviously, they had that sound, it’s difficult to do, for us to write a rockabilly type song and then do a ska song and still have it sound like the same band. We’ve got so many songs left over from Modern Artillery that we really wish had made the album so there’s probably half an albums worth of really great songs as far as we’re concerned but we’ll probably write a whole batch more and not worry about those. We’ll probably wait 20 years and put the whole lot out on a box set or something (laughs)
Scott: We’ve only toured Modern Artillery once in Australia, we’ve not really toured this album, just a few gigs and Australia and the rest have been pretty much support gigs, that’s just the way it’s turned out I guess.
Cheney: We are releasing a singles 1996-2004 collections in Australia and are recording two new songs for that. We’re going to do a short tour for that and then start recording again. England has been kind of left behind a bit unfortunately, it’s not the way we planned it, we hope to get back here and promote Modern Artillery a bit more. What about the double bass, would you ever drop it and go electric?
Chris: ‘no we wouldn’t let him’
Scott: ‘ I don’t want it to be a fucking gimmick, a fucking freak show, fact of the matter is I can’t play an electric bass so, but it’s frustrating as a double bass isn’t built for a rock n roll stage unfortunately, it’s hard getting sound right, it gets really frustrating, if I’d picked up a fender bass when I was 17 years old I’d have less grey hair!’
Chris pipes up ‘But it suits you though’
‘What the grey hair or the double bass?’
Scott: I still think I have a lot to learn with the double bass, I’ve never gone out and got lessons or anything but I’ve got a hankering to now, I feel I’ve hit a bit of a stale patch with what I can teach myself to play. That’s my incentive to keep playing it because I want to learn more ways around the thing, there’s amazing bass players out there I admire like jazz bass players and stuff, they just blow me away, I’d love to go and learn that sort of stuff. There’s always something to learn, technically it’s note placement, and tasteful playing that comes from listening and furthering yourself and understanding.

What about your fingers, how do they put up with constant touring?
Scott: Well at the start of the tour they blister and rip off and blister and rip off then the skin kicks in and they eventually callous and then stay in great shape. Then it’s most enjoyable to play because there’s no pain involved. Younger people especially are often blown away by the fact we have a double bass, they say ‘Why do you have a double bass?’ and ‘Why do you have lead breaks?’ For us they are weird questions because that’s all we’ve ever done since high school but for people who grow up watching MTV now they’ve never seen anything like it, so it’s cool when you get that sort of reaction.

What about the song writing process, do you just wake up with a song in your head and get the band together?
Andy: Sometimes yeah, it takes between 10 minutes and ten days and ten weeks, we’re still working on ideas from the last album that never got complete.
Chris: sometimes it’s just parts, you get really excited about a part, then you might try 50 things to go with it and then you might find one that pushes the button. We hope we get good reaction from last night and Modern Artillery and we’ll be back before the end of the year, we know that there will always be a fair bit of support from all the Aussies in London there’s a huge load of them it’s like Bali or something, but it’s a bit of a double edged sword, the last thing we want to do is come all the way to London and play to a bunch of Australians! At the same time if they want to come to the gig they are more than welcome.

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