Author: Teresa Bolster
The Living End and the Fireballs – they’re a genre of two, a very tight knit group battling it out for supremacy amongst the rockabilly/punk fans, competing against each other with the highest hairdos, the slappiest bass, the fastest drumming, the catchiest tunes. Then again, maybe not. It’s probably true to say that, in most people’s undisciplined minds the Fireballs and The Living End are interchangeable and most would likely perceive some kind of competition between the two Melbourne-base trios. But the reality, as revealed by the End’s upright bassist Scott Owen is far less sordid.
Both bands emerged when there was a small but active rockabilly scene in Melbourne, although the Fireballs were years ahead of the younger Living End. The latter began as the Runaway Boys, a straight ahead rockabilly band specialising in traditional 50’s numbers and Stray Cats covers.
“The Stray Cats totally inspired us,” Owen says, then adds “before they got old and fat.”
Playing amongst the limited rockabilly circle, the two bands became friends and shared gigs. When the traditional rockabilly scene dwindled and both bands began discovering other influences, the Fireballs and The Living End developed in different directions. These days Owen sees little similarity between the bands.
“They’re are so much heavier than us,” he says, “and the way we write songs, it’s so obvious how different our styles have changed.”
Being older the Fireballs emerged on the wider scene first and the obvious comment that The Living End have ‘copied’ them has been made. Is it annoying to be compared to the Fireballs now?
“It is when people don’t realise that we have both gone off in different directions. It annoys me when people say ‘You guys are the same as the Fireballs’ because that’s so naive. We’ve got the same roots, but lots of bands have the same roots. People think ‘double bass, same hairdos and clothes, it must be the same music’.”
If the Fireballs have developed a more metal edge in their rockabilly basics, The Living End are reveling in the joys of modern pop. When playing the support slot for Soundgarden last month (their encouragement award from Vivien Lees after missing out on the Big Day Out), Owen says the Living End were far more excited about playing with You Am I, the other support act.
“We spoke to Tim Rogers and Rusty after the show, and they know where we are coming from, what we used to be into.” He perceives a parallel between You Am I and the Living End. “They’ve gone back to the old 60’s pop sound and put a new sign on it, and we have a done a similar thing with 50’s rockabilly. I love going back to an old style of music and making it contemporary.”
The Living End have now broken through to a whole new audience via the high rotation of From Here On In, lifted from their Lindsay Gravina produced second EP It’s For Your Own Good. For Owen and vocalist/guitarist Chris Cheney, hearing their song played frequently on Triple J is the highest peak of a collaboration which began five years ago, when they were both seventeen.
“When we were getting played on local radio it was a thrill to be able to hear our music without having to put the tape on. We listen to Triple J all the time – everyone listens to Triple J all the time, so hearing it on that station nationwide was a huge kick. We still spin out whenever we hear it.”
But by far the ultimate thrill for Owen, Cheney and new drummer Travis Dempsey is the prospect of playing with living rock and roll legend Carl Perkins. The old line up of The Living End have played an annual four day traditional rock and roll festival in Tweed Heads for the last few years as the Runaway Boys. Dempsey in unfamiliar with the old material so this year it’s The Living End who are heading north to play with Perkins.
“That’s so much more exciting than playing with Soundgarden. People have been saying ‘Who’s Charles Perkins?’ and I’m saying ‘fuck off! What about Blue Suede Shoes?”