2006.07.26 - UltimateGuitar
Date: 26th July 2006
Featuring: Scott Owen
Archived from: Link Expired
Scott Owen: Painting The Charms Of The Living End
The Living End proved back in February that they still captivate audiences down under when their latest album, State of Emergency, debuted at #1 on Australia's music charts. Now the Aussie native are set to take America once again by storm with a four-week stint on Vans Warped Tour and a July release date for the U.S. release of the latest record. Now signed to Adeline Records - a label founded by friend and fellow performer, Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day - The Living End is once again out to make a stir with its unique blend of punkabilly. Double bassist Scott Owen recently took time out of his Warped Tour schedule to chat with Ultimate Guitar.
UG: Let's talk about your latest release, State of Emergency. How does the sound compare with your previous albums?
Owen: If you know our stuff, it's not really any major kind of departure or difference to what to we have kind of done in the past. It's still got a little bit of everything, all different kinds of music. But I just think over the years and with experience making albums, that the songwriting is getting better and the performances are getting better. After the last one, we really went into the studio with the idea that we have to really apply what we know about recording into the studio. And what we think we've lack on previous albums and stuff, we really have got to apply that to these albums and make sure we get better. 'Cause playing live has always been our thing. When we get into the studio, we tend to kind of tame things down and try and be too perfect or something. And it just doesn't kind of work for us. I reckon that's a kind of charm of this band, is that there is some rough edges and all that kind of stuff. I just think we're so much more proud of what we've done than we have been in the past. We really didn't leave any stone unturned and we really worked as hard as we possibly could. From the songwriting stage to making sure that we're all happy with everything, all the way down to recording and production and performances and everything. I don't know how to tell people what to expect. It's really hard to kind of describe what the album's like because we're so close to it.
"I reckon that's a charm of this band is that there is some rough edges and that kind of stuff."
When you say that you'd leave no stone unturned. Was it just a more methodical process in the songwriting as well as the finishing stages?
Yeah, everything was just so intensive. We spent so many months and everyday just in the rehearsal room making demos. There were songs that we thought had potential, but there were problems with them. Sometimes we'd spend weeks continuously going back to songs and thinking, "How can we iron out the creases? How can we make sure that this is something that we actually really like and that we believe in from start to finish?" That's not an easy thing to do when you start to focus in on all the really small problems and stuff. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes the good ideas you feel about just come really easily, but sometimes, a band like us, we just have to kind of work at them. We just have to keep experimenting and keep trying and just continuously make demos and listening to them for a while. And then going, "No, every time I listen to it, that bit always bugs me." We've just gotta go back there and try something else. It can become really frustrating, but by the time the album's made and all of those creases are ironed out, in our minds it's pretty rewarding.
Is there one member of the band that is more of the perfectionist?
Well, Chris (Cheney, guitarist/vocalist) writes the tunes and he obviously has got an image in mind when he's writing of what it's gonna end up like. Or sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he can go in a different direction than what his image is or whatever. That's what he's like. He just doesn't want to leave any kind of loose ends that aren't tied up.
The Living End has become a megagroup in Australia.
Bigger than the bloody Crocodile Hunter! Yeah, we've been around for a while, you know. Andy's been in the band for like five years or something. Chris and me have been playing together since we were kids and we've worked hard. This is all we've done. We haven't gone out and played with other bands and come back to this or anything like that. All we've done is play in this band together and tour Australia and do whatever we can to keep our band on the move and on the go. We've worked our asses off basically. Yeah, we're pretty proud of what we've achieved back home.
You are known for your high-energy live show. Do you think it was practice over the years that has given you that edge or do you think that performing live has just come naturally to you?
I don't know what it is. I mean, we do work really hard. We still rehearse songs that we've been playing live for almost ten years. We still get into rehearsal for weeks and weeks before a tour. (Drummer Andy Strachan enters).
Andy Strachan: Don't listen to anything this guy says.
Owen: And then yeah, so we just had to let Andy join the band. (Laughs) We didn't have a choice. It's unfortunate. I'm sure there would be someone that was much more talented and much better looking, but Andy was all we got.
"Warped Tour's kind of music doesn't do a lot for me because I'm a pop music fan. I like melodies."
How did you get hooked up with The Living End?
Strachan: It was a mutual friend. A guy that I played with years ago is friends with Scott. And when Scott left, I think it was just that.
Owen: Yeah, I called my mate Glenn and said, "Our drummer has quit. Do you know anyone?" And he straight away went, "Yup, I know a guy that would suit you guys perfectly." And he put us in touch with Andy. Then me and Chris auditioned a bunch of drummers. It must have been like 20 or 30 at the auditions.
What was it about Andy that you liked?
Owen: Probably his good looks. Good looks and sensitive personality. That and the fact that he could make good coffee for us.
Did you click right away?
Owen: We did click right away. It sounds like a bit of a fairy tale. I'm almost embarrassed to tell the story, but that's just how it was. We just got together one day and spent the whole day rehearsing. And it was like, "Wow." Especially because this was the first drummer that me and Chris have played with for years. I just thought it was always going to be a step backwards having to find a new bandmember in a three-piece band. And it wasn't. It was the complete contrary of what I thought. It's only been a massive step forward for us as a band. Andy really, he clicked from day one. The courting months I was thinking, "When are the cracks going to appear?"
Strachan: And it's taken until now.
Owen: Speaking as if he's not here, as to not blow his ego too far out of the water, there really hasn't been too many cracks.
The band has been quoted as saying that they are noticing the fans they see are getting younger and younger - it's not just the same steadfast fans.
Strachan: I reckon that's been so evident on this album, hasn't it? (Strachan excuses himself out of the room)
Owen: Yeah, big time. Because at home we released a singles album last year. We didn't put out a new record last year. So it would have been two years between this record and the last one. So we kind of didn't know what was gonna happen with this album back at home. The first couple of gigs that we did, even before the album came out, there was just lots and lots of young people there who obviously hadn't heard of the band. We weren't the "Prisoner of Society" of band to them. We were a band that they just discovered. So that's pretty flattering. That's a good feeling.
"Prisoner of Society" has been a song that has struck a chord with a lot of people. Are there any songs of the new record that you think might have that same effect?
Yeah, there is a couple. But I don't think there's anything the same as that kind of song. There's a song called "Wake Up" that I think was our biggest chart kind of debut single ever, better than "Prisoner of Society." So that's pretty good. That's pretty good to think now after all these years, we've still kind of achieved that kind of whatever it is, acclaim, whatever the bloody hell it is. And I truly believe in that song as well. When it was written, it was one of those songs that basically wrote itself. It came together very quick. Within a matter of minutes, it was kind of done start to finish. We didn't have to noodle around with it too much to get everything into place. It was already there. And to me, that's the sign of a good song sometimes. I just really believe in it and I think it's a pretty poignant kind of song. Everything kind of fell into place by itself.
"I thought it was going to be a step backwards having to find a new bandmember in a three-piece band. And it wasn't."
After Chris brings in the song idea or melody, do you immediately hear a bass part in your head that will work with the tune?
Well, yeah. That's generally what happens. Because we've played together for so long, I can kind of understand what he's thinking when he plays you something. When you hear something for the first time, it's pretty easy to get inside his head while you're listening to it. And think, "Well, I'm pretty sure I know what kind of direction he's going with this." We've played together forever, you know. We haven't played with other people. We know each other back to front, so it's pretty easy. All three of us are really open to experimentation as far as the parts of the music goes. So if someone's got an idea, it's very rarely that's someone's like, "I don't think that's very good at all." That doesn't happen very often with us three because we have similar ideas and we all like the same kinds of music. We all like the same bands and stuff.
What bands do you listen to these days?
listen to all kinds of stuff, that's the thing. We'll listen to anything from old jazz or blues or our original kind of music. I mean, we started off as a rockabilly band and we still love that old kind of blues and country, especially for the playing. But we also like just anything really. Seventies bands like The Who and The Jam and a lot of English stuff. And there's also a lot of big American rock stuff that we like and all the new music. All the Australian rock of the eighties, which we kind of grew up on a strict diet of for just being Australian. But it's all sorts of stuff. We're still trying to keep our finger on the pulse as to what new stuff is coming out.
Are there any bands at Warped Tour that you are listening to?
To be perfectly honest, this whole kind of full-on punk rock - I don't even know what you want to call it. What kind of thing you want to call the Warped Tour these days is emo bands and punk rock and thrashy kind of bands and bands that scream a lot. I've gotta say, that kind of music doesn't do a hell of a lot for me because I'm a pop music fan. I'm a Beatles fan. I like melodies. I'm not aggressive. There's not a hell of a lot of bands that I really know that much about. I've gotta say, when I was looking at the lineup I thought, "Man, I don't really know anyone on this tour." But you know, I'm looking forward to being on it. We've only been on it for a few days. We've got four weeks, so we'll have to check it out and see what it's all about.
What does it mean to you when you're asked to play The Warped Tour given that you do stand out a bit from the other groups on the bill?
Yeah, well, I know we've always been associated with the whole punk rock scene that started up when Green Day and the Offspring and all those bands got big. We played or opened for those bands. We've always been kind of slotted into that kind of pigeonhole, which is cool. I don't really care. Playing on the Warped Tour to me, coming from Australia, just means an opportunity to spend four weeks peddling around this enormous country, playing to a lot of people. It's great exposure for us. The young music lovers, hopefully they'll just open their eyes up to something there a little bit different. Because I think we are a bit different from the rest of the bands on the tour. I think they are. We've done it before. And that's been the joy of this tour when we've done it in the past. It has been a pretty big cross-section of styles of music. So that's always appealed to me about this tour. It's called the Vans Warped Tour punk rock thing, but I think there's a lot more to it than that.
"Touring with Green Day was the biggest thing we'd ever done in our whole lives."
You're on Billy Joe Armstrong's Adeline Records?
Yeah, we just signed to them. This is the first record they're putting out for us.
How long have you known Billy Joe?
When they came to Australia in '96 or '97, I think it was - it was when Dookie came out. It's when they exploded. Me and Chris, we had never been on tour before. We were just a local Melbourne band. We heard they were coming out on tour, so we went them a tape and a letter and pictures and t-shirts and stuff, saying, "If you guys need a band to support you…" We had no idea about anything back in those days. We were very young and very green. And luckily enough, it got to them and they heard it and they like it. It's a Cinderella story. They picked us for their tour and they took us around Australia with them. We got along really well with them and it was excellent for us. It was the biggest thing we'd ever done in our whole lives. Then a few years after that, they invited us to America to do another tour with them. And we just kind of kept in touch with them over the years. Whenever we get together, it's always a laugh. We get along well with them and we have a lot of respect for them. We really admire what they've done. They're a bit of an influence - no, they're a lot of an influence on us back in those early days. Yeah, I still really admire what they're achieving now. They're just great guys and now we're lucky enough to be on his label, too, which is kind of like icing on the cake.
Did he approach you with the record deal offer?
When they were out in Australia last, we caught up with them and he mentioned something about it. And we were kind of like, "Well, wait a minute." We didn't know what the bloody hell was going on. All that we know was that thing with Warners was over, which we really didn't know what we were gonna do. Everything was kind of up in the air. But it was mentioned and then once we got the album down and got it out in Australia and everything, and we were like, "Wow, we need a plan. What are we gonna do?" It was obviously on the list. And it was like, "Let's see what Adeline is doing."
What kind of double bass do you play?
I play a King Doublebass. These guys in Orange County make these basses.
Is that the only kind you play?
Well, no. They only started their company a few years ago and they're building basses kind of more specifically for what I want to do, like rockabilly stuff is their thing. But I've played other basses - classical basses or jazz basses. I pulled them apart, threw in bits of wood in, glued bits of wood in, and tricked them out so they'll do what I want them to do.
"No one fucking plays double bass in the kind of music we play."
What kind of equipment or techniques did you use in the studio?
We did the album at this studio no Byron Bay in Northern New South Wales in Australia, which is like a hippie town on the coast. Which has nothing to do with why we did it there. We did it there because there was a good studio there. We used this guy to produce called Nick Launay. He's got a real diverse kind of list of bands under his belt. He's done The Pistols and The Clash. He's done a lot of really big Ozzy rock stuff. The philosophy was to set up and record together because we've done albums where it's all pro-tools and everyone plays separately. And you get everythig perfectly on the computer. We've done that before and it just tends to lose a lot of the humanness of the music, of the band. So this time it's just basically setting up in rooms. We did a lot of moving stuff from one room to the other. Like, "No, that doesn't sound right." We'd fucking put it up and move it in another room. Recording my stand up bass, I wanted to record it acoustically as well as using an amp and stuff. The way we ended up having to set it up, I had to build a room out of like partitions and mattresses and blankets and pillows. And literally build a room that was only just big enough for me and my bass to stand in. They were even nice enough to give me a light in there, but that was all I had. I had a window so that I could see through to the rest of the band. I was fucking stuck in there for like a month every day. It was like being in a padded cell. But that was so that I could isolate my bass to a small room. It was like me, my bass, and a microphone in there and that was basically it, which was weird. But that's just Nick. He'll go to any lengths to just find whatever the sound is. He hears you playing and he's like got this sound in mind.
Could you hear a definite difference by playing in the room?
Yeah. It was definitely the bass sound. Because that's the thing with the double bass in the kind of music that we play. I don't have like a benchmark. It's not like a guitarist wants to sound like Angus Young. They know you've got to have a Gibson SG guitar and you've got to have this kind of amp and these settings. No one fucking plays double bass in the kind of music we play, so I'm trying to invent a song. And I'm really happy with what we got on the album.
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