2011.07.27 - Triple J
Date: 27th July 2011
Featuring: Chris Cheney, Scott Owen & Andy Strachan
Archived from: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/...
The Living End
With six studio albums, the latest being The Ending is Just the Beginning Repeating, THE LIVING END have ridden out some tough times. In the August issue, the Melbourne band take Jenny Valentish to old haunts where their friendship was forged. Here are the bits we couldn't fit in the mag.
Scott and Chris, you both grew up in Wheelers Hill, an outer-eastern suburb of Melbourne. What was that like?
Chris Cheney (vocals, guitar): We used to just go ride BMXs and skateboards all the time. It's a great place to grow up. It's really scenic, lots of greenery, good old pub on the corner. It was cool.
Scott Owen (double bass, vocals): It was the centre of Melbourne for a long time, when the footy was on there: VFL Park, which changed its name to Waverley Park. Chris and I both lived on Jells Road, which used to end at VFL Park, basically. So every weekend there were people everywhere because there was footy on. VFL Park is almost the same size as the MCG. It's pretty big. I used to work at the footy selling pies, Records and all that stuff.
Who's your team?
Scott: Saints [St Kilda].
Chris: I went for Essendon big time when I was a kid. Bombers.
So you were in the thick of it as kids.
Scott: Yeah, it was pretty good having a major footy oval as a backyard. My house was literally five doors down the road from it. I used to go down there, muck around after school. Kick the footy. The stadium got pulled down. They've only got one grandstand left there and they've built a housing estate around it. I think when it went AFL the numbers started to dwindle.
Did you ever see any shows there?
Chris: The big thing for us was that Kiss played there. We were only five, but we all have these memories of sitting on our balconies hearing Kiss play, because it was like the Who or something, one of the loudest bands in the world at that point. We all had Kiss cards.
Scott: I wasn't living in Wheelers Hill at that time, but my dad drove me and my brother up Wellington Road and parked on the side of the road, and we sat on the roof of the car and listened to the concert. We could see through one of the archways you walk through to get into the stadium.
You used to busk when you were in high school. Where did you go?
Scott: In Bourke Street [Melbourne CBD]. Chris would bring a little amp, ask a shop owner if we could plug in to a power point, and we'd busk for a while until we got asked to move along.
Chris: No permits; we were punk from the beginning. We'd move on if we were asked though.
You were going to bookstores to tear out pictures of the Stray Cats. What else were your bedroom walls plastered with?
Scott: I'd say 95 per cent Stray Cats, then Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Elvis… I had a couple of Midnight Oil posters, actually, which is totally out of context there.
Scott: Yeah, I know. I always felt like a bit of a fraud in the rockabilly world because my first musical love was Midnight Oil. If I got busted listening to a Midnight Oil record in that rockabilly crowd, I'd be ousted forever.
So where were you getting your clothes from at that point? Was there one store?
Scott: There was Route 66 in Greville Street [in Prahran]; that was the hub of it. There were a lot of second-hand stores on that street, and that's where we found all our old bowling shirts, suit jackets and all that stuff. I've still got them all, pretty much.
You've both got older siblings who shaped your music taste.
Scott: I had an older brother who shaped my music taste. He was into the Oils and AC/DC, the Angels, Cold Chisel and Rose Tattoo. That's the sort of music I was into when I was little. But the funniest thing happened. A few weeks into Chris getting into rockabilly and discovering the Stray Cats — a massive eye-opener for us — one day my dad was walking a dog through VFL Park and he found a cassette on the ground. He just picked it up: "Scott's into music. He'll probably like this. He'll be able to play it on his tape deck at home." So he stuck it in his pocket and brought it home. It was a cassette of the Stray Cats' first record. It's a fate thing, that one.
Were there any defining moments for you in your teens?
Scott: There was nothing like us in Wheelers Hill. None of our neighbours knew what the bloody hell we were into. Everyone else was all about what was happening in the Top 40 or whatever. But there was one of those moments for me, when me and one of my mates were at home listening to Triple M and they had one of those competitions where they say, "When you hear the song 'US Forces' by Midnight Oil in the next hour, the first five callers will win a double pass to go into Metropolis Studios and be the first ones to hear the album." We sat there by the phone; as soon as we heard the song we rang up and we won. This was just after me and Chris starting messing around playing tunes in the garage. So I was able to go into a proper recording studio for the first time in my life and hear one of my favourite bands' new records played really loud through the speakers.
You should have slipped them a demo! Missed opportunity.
Scott: It seemed incredible. Being a competition winner in that world. It seemed like such a special place to be in. Little did I know I was going to spend fuckloads of time in a recording studio in my life.
When you were first putting Runaway Boys together [their rockabilly cover band], were you going the whole hog and getting the correct cars and clothes?
Chris: We would have only been on our Ls. I always had grand delusions of getting a hot rod. Still do. I want a Ford Customline. That's what I've always wanted. I haven't got around to it yet. That's the story of my life. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna do it. I'm yet to do it. Now, of course, two kids… it's probably getting further and further away.
Did you know from the beginning this was going to be the band you stuck with?
Scott: Yeah, I always thought that. There was never any 'I'll do this for a while and then join the metal band'. It was as much a lifestyle as it was being in a band. That's the way we always thought about it, which is why we were so gung ho on the image. We just lived it. We tried to live it as much as two guys from the suburbs could. It wasn't until we went into the city to see bands like Fireballs and see the real psychobilly punks that we realised, okay, these guys are the real thing.
Do you still go and see Fireballs?
Scott: I last saw them probably a year ago.
How did things kick off for the band?
Chris: We played at the Richmond Club [Hotel] in 1992. We'd thought, "Imagine playing a gig in the city. If we do that, we've made it." That was the mentality. At some point in time we managed to pick up this Wednesday residency at the Corner Hotel [also in Richmond], but it was in the tiny little front bar. We said to the guy when we were setting up our gear there for the first time, "Can you take us out to the band room where the big bands play?" He took us through and it was all dark. We could see this massive stage. We were just thinking. "Far out. Imagine how many people you could fit in here. Imagine being able to play on a stage like this." It seemed like an other-worldly experience to be up on a stage like that. This guy was a shifty old dude. "See that, boys? Maybe you could play there one day." I remember the look on his face was "it's not going to happen, guys, but keep on dreaming".
Is it possible to still get those moments of wonder like you would have back then? Back then they would have been coming thick and fast.
Chris: You hope that you get it from writing a song. That's the point we're at now. We've done so many great gigs that I reckon you do get a bit immune to it. When you're on a big tour, when you first start out, every day is like an adventure. It's not that it's tarnished in any way now, but we're used to it. Back then we didn't know what was going to happen. Any gig, like the Espy front bar [the Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda], I remember calling Scott and he was just so over the moon. Things like that, we never thought would happen.
Was there a moment where your popularity suddenly arose?
Chris: Well yeah, it was 'Prisoner of Society'. Every now and again we'd do a gig at the Royal Derby Hotel in Fitzroy on a Sunday afternoon, which was a rockabilly tradition that was running for years [since 1982… and it's just relaunched!]. There'd be 100 people there and we'd be thinking, "Fuck, man, that's the vibe. One hundred people in a room that holds 300, that's a vibe." Then we played gigs off the rockabilly circuit, like the Espy and the Punters Club and the Tote and all that, just doing supports. It was at that point that 'Prisoner of Society' got triple j interest.
I reckon the Derby, that was a pretty crucial part because there was a big crowd there regardless of who was playing. It was just a good Sunday afternoon hangout. Take your hot rods there. We started to notice more people turning up to see us play; outside of the rockabilly crowd. We were starting to bring in different elements, songs that weren't rockabilly tunes but in that kind of style. 'Tainted Love' and all that sort of stuff.
'Prisoner of Society' had gone out and the first line of a review of a Corner show at the time said, "It must have been really embarrassing for the Living End to turn up because there was a line that went all the way around the block." That's the rock'n'roll dream.
Chris, you studied jazz theory at Box Hill TAFE to get some country and jazz styles into your licks. Who would your country influences be?
Chris: James Burton, who played on the early Ricky Nelson records. Danny Gatton. Albert Lee. Junior Brown. They're the kind of players I look up to; the ones that are a little bit bent. The Hellecasters, they were incredible. Country guitar playing can be a bit cheesy, but done the right way…
Where did you pick up your first double bass from, Scott?
Scott: I found out about this store in Hawthorn, which I was very fortunate to stumble across as my first point of call. The guy who I bought my first bass off won a really prestigious prize in San Francisco for the bass that he built this year, just this week actually. All these people from all over the world enter their creations and he won. He's been helping me with my instruments ever since that very first one I bought.
You had three drummers before Andy Strachan came along in 2002.
Chris: The first two guys, Shane and Grant, were at high school with us and they were never really into '50s rock'n'roll. We were probably a bit pushy at that point. Grant was happy to play along, but then when high school finished he was ready to move on and go to university. Then we stumbled across Joe Piripitzi when we were busking. We were suburban rock hillbillies.
Scott: Wheelers Hillbillies.
Chris: He played in a few rockabilly bands and he had that swing. It was just awesome. Nothing against the other two guys, but it was like playing with a real drummer who came from our background. He was probably the best musician in the band at that point. He was on the first two EPs, Hellbound and It's For Your Own Good.
Why did he leave at that point then?
Chris: Because we asked him to.
…Are we leaving it at that?
Chris: It wasn't something we particularly wanted to do…
Scott: He was not as committed as me and Chris. So we just asked him to and he was sort of happy to. He was playing with other bands as well.
Did you find Travis Demsey [drummer from 1996 to 2002] straight away?
Scott: Yeah. Travis was working in a music store down Chapel Street, up the road from where I was living.
Did you have to mould him, get him to stand up and roll his sleeves up, as you did with your high school drummers?
Scott: He was never going to be that kind of drummer and we were casting the net wider as far as influences go. Travis was a real drummer's drummer. He had lessons for years, learnt different styles and we thought that with his versatility he might be able to take the band into a bit more of an eclectic direction.
Chris: He was a full-on character: wearing tracksuits, listening to Korn. Then he started getting into Social Distortion and the Who and a bit of the hot-rod kind of thing. He was a showman. At that point it was like probably watching the Who on stage. It was three guys trying to outdo each other onstage with no one in particular holding it together. We didn't have the Roger Daltrey character and we didn't have the dexterity of the Who. We were pretty much fucked. We used to just solo and solo and solo, all three of us.
Back to 'Prisoner of Society'…?
Chris:We recorded the 'Prisoner' EP with producer Lindsay Gravina in an all-day marathon session, and then at the end of the session the tapes got wiped. We had to redo both songs. I don't know what happened, something happened. Lindsay came in at the end of the night, he and the engineer were in discussion about something, and it turned out because they were using a tape machine, there was a switch on the tape that was in the wrong position, so it was doing something to the tape each time it was recording. So having tracked the original versions all day, we ended up redoing them in a few takes — and that's the version everyone's heard.
So you lost Trav in 2002?
Chris: He'd had enough of touring. Towards the end he was always the first one to bitch and moan about being on the tour bus and away from home. We could never understand, because at that point, fuck, man, the first record just exploded. Yes, we toured our asses off and it was tiring, but we all understood that that's what it was going to take. We were playing in a band, touring the world. I just think he lost the vibe on the music and lost the vision. He lost that hunger that me and Scott have managed to hang out to; for whatever reason, it's still in us now. But if anything got a little bit tough and not his way, he just threw his arms up: don't want to do this anymore. When it first happened it was a double-edged sword: good because he obviously wasn't happy and we weren't happy being in a band with a grumpy drummer — but we thought, "Shit, we don't have a drummer!"
Your self-titled debut album, which reached No.4 in triple j's Hottest 100 Australian Albums of All Time poll, went five times platinum.
Chris: It felt big, being in the band, but other people I've spoken to outside of the band put it into perspective. They just say the hype was out of control. Every kid had to have that record. It just exploded. I guess, again because we were just so different to everyone else, that's what stopped us from getting signed in the first place but once people got it, it snowballed.
What do you put that down to?
Chris: That was the vision from the word go, to have songs like 'West End Riot', 'Second Solution'. All our influences combined into something that was going to work.
Andy, you joined the band in 2002. AC/DC's Brian Johnson is still known as 'the new boy'… did you get that?
Andy Strachan (drums): Oh yeah, I still do. Ten years down the track it's still that way and probably always will be. I've just got to accept that. People are going to think what they're going to think. The tall poppy syndrome is a big thing in Australia and there's always someone who thinks they could do a better job.
You were warmed up with a Longnecks tour [the band played under an alias].
Andy: They were more nerve-wracking than the big shows.
Chris: Everyone was like, "Let's check out the 'new drummer."
Andy: There's always going to be guys in the crowd going, "I can't wait to see him fuck up." But I was very lucky in that Chris and Scott never treated me as "that ring-in bloke".
Chris: He had to be an integral member of the band, which was extra pressure for him, not just a four-on-the-floor rock beat. There are only three of us, so it wasn't like he could hide at the back in photo shoots.
What's the secret to staying supportive of each other? Is it friendship beyond the band room or giving each other space?
Scott: Both. We know when to give each other space. Because we've spent so much time in close quarters with each other: on a bus, in a rehearsal room, recording studio, dressing room, aeroplanes. They're all fucking small spaces! It's not like a normal job where someone works in this department and someone works in that department. We're always within square metres of each other. The secret of success is knowing when to not get in each other's face and not let things get too personal.
It's 19 years since you formed your high school band. Can you rekindle that early excitement when you need to?
Chris: We're so insular, so inside the bubble. I just take Andy's playing for granted, take Scott's playing for granted. If I really sit back, which I did a few times in Byron Bay [recording The Ending is Just the Beginning Repeating] and just listen to these guys play: fuck, this is awesome. I'm really lucky to have a drum and bass just together like that. You stop appreciating what you've got and it's very easy to then start second guessing everything and getting picky, instead of appreciating we are a good band. We probably lost sight of that towards the end of [2006's] State of Emergency.
You need to get sent on a corporate bonding exercise out in the woods and fall backwards into each other's arms.
Chris: Well, you do get complacent! Especially when you're on tour, you're just kind of: another day another gig. Whatever. But occasionally there are these moments, these epiphanies where you snap out of that for a second and go: "This sounds really great, this feels great." It should be like that all the time. But it's hard. We know we can do it, though. We can go out with all guns blazing.