2001.03 - Music.com
Date: March 2001
Author: Matt Schild
Featuring: Travis Demsey
Archived from: Website Closed
The Living End: Return of the rock and roll
Are the glory days of rock and roll that far behind us? As in the Days when rock was an outsider's music, the soundtrack to youthful rebellion and a ray of sunshine that, despite all our daily frustrations and insecurities, cast light on the fact that we're not alone. What happened to the days of the rock and roll security blanket, where rockers like Eddie Cochran, the Who and the Clash blasted away at the status quo and made fans, if only for a brief moment, have a glimmer of hope?
If the Living End has anything to do with it, the days of raging rock and roll optimism aren't a thing of the past. With the band's third long player, Roll On (Warner Bros.) hitting the states this spring, the Australian trio falls back on tried-and-true rock formulas of spunk, energy, and most notably, positivity. It's an outlook that gives the band's punk and rockabilly tinged rock a sound and image that's decidedly counter to the aggressive spirals of self-defeat championed by rock radio. There's few people in the world as happy with that contrast as the band's members themselves.
"The stuff like Mudvayne, Papa Roach and Limp Bizkit, all this crossover nu-metal meets whatever, I'm sick of it, to be quite honest," confides drummer Travis Dempsey. "It's just so transparent. Absolutely great bands are doing the crossover scene, and we admire them. It's not what we are into, but we say they're good. Rage Against the Machine crossed over. They make it groove so it's like Led Zeppelin playing rap songs. That's cool. This other stuff is just so angry and pissed off. I'm like, fucking hell, and we're all like it in the band, if you just sit around winging all day, nothing ever gets done."
Dempsey's assertation isn't too surprising, considering his band's back-to-basics ethos. Along with singer/guitarist Chris Cheney and bassist Scott Owen, the End triumphs the art of rock and roll songwriting on its latest release. With its most straightforward album to date, the End brings its no-nonsense attack back to rock's trenches.
Fans of straight-ahead rock are mired in a morass of dark metal acts, testosterone-overdosing rap/rock hybrids and sterile electronic acts, but Dempsey hopes Roll On will come out with its guns blazing, a crusade for the return of rock and roll in all its glory.
"We definitely made a conscious effort to make a very live and energetic rock and roll album,?Dempsey says. "The last album was obviously quite up-tempo. A lot of the songs are rockabilly based, or punk based. This album we've sort of gone on a tangent and any of the songs that weren't rocking, we're going to leave for the next album. We made a conscious effort to make a good rock'n'roll album, because we believe it's a dying art now. It doesn't seem like bands are getting together like they used to. People are starting to get turntables and make up their own music from their bedroom."
As if an attempt to rejuvenate the flagging fortunes of no-fooling rock wasn't a big enough project, the Living End plans to keep pace with the tradition of activism that's been a staple in rock music since the ?0s. While previous albums touched on traces of social commentary, Roll On took on the band's most socially aware ends to date. That's not to say the band is backing itself into the didactic corner of activist rock that is to music what poorly Xeroxed communist newsletters are to light reading, however.
"We tried to make a fine line between social commentary in the lyrics, in terms of making people think without preaching to them," Dempsey says. "There's nothing worse than being told what to do, so we subconsciously tried to put good lyrics in there, but it walks both lines. If you just want to have a drink and get drunk, the music can do that. If you are looking for music to try to get something out of and get a message, you can also do that too, but you have to look a bit deeper."
While critics have bemoaned the current state of thick-necked rock, its not too often that bands, especially ones who reside on a major label, open their mouths and let fly against all the injustices done against rock and roll proper, but Dempsey isn't afraid to catalog the problems. He rattles of a list that contains everything from bands' ready enthusiasm to glam onto the spotlight in commercials and television appearances to the extreme-sport mentality that frequently turns rock shows into battlefields.
"I sort of think a lot of that stuff, about breaking stuff and all that, is like an athletic sport now," he says. "Rock and roll is about ugly people up there on stage just playing a good song and looking cool, and really believing in what they do.?
While Dempsey and his band don't fall neatly into place with the followers of musical trends, he isn't ready to write off the music industry entirely. As one of the kings of the Australian music industry, earning appearances in arena-rock sized venues and earning accolades on televised awards shows, the trio knows the perilous trails big-name stars walk.
Though the act takes exception the unruly mob of meat heads that's hijacked rock's nobler aims in pursuit of songs that promote misogyny, violence and drug use, it's not about to take pot shots at above-the-board entertainers. After all, music touched the End's lives profoundly, and Dempsey isn't going to whip up a war of words because of others' tastes.
"Some people really, really like Backstreet Boys, and I'm cool with that," he says. "I think good, if that stops you from doing heroin, getting into the Backstreet Boys, I'm all into it. People are people and they make their own decision. If a band like the Backstreet Boys came up to me and said 'How are you doing?? I would say I'm doing good. I don't care what they do for a job."
Like most edgy rock and roll bands, the Living End thrives in a live setting, where its outlaw music is always in its best light. With the fire of the stage rush, the interaction with the audience and the simple unpredictability of a live show ?it's not uncommon for the band to break into Eddie Cochran covers or rock jams reminiscent of a slightly unhinged Who ?the band is always up to the challenge of delivering a vibrant set.
It's that sort of high-strung rock that the band hopes to base its rebel image on. Gimmicks, costumes and macho posturing, Dempsey says, are simply crutches for lesser bands.
"You have to see us live to understand what we're about. I think we're very much a live band, just like all the forefathers before us that we look up to,?he says. "The records are great, sure, but how can you put a Who record compared to a Who performance? You just can't. Not to say I think we are the Who or anything, but definitely think we take the angle of unpredictable rock'n'roll without resorting to singing about big breasts or smoking drugs or fucking shit up."