The Living End

Author: Christie Eliezer

As a typical kid growing up in Melbourne’s Wheelers Hill, Chris Cheney collected autographs from his football team, the Bombers, and assorted tennis players. But his biggest thrill came this year when he got an autograph from his idol Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats, whom The Living End met when they toured the U.S on the Warped tour.

“We were knocked out that he knew about us!” enthuses 23-year old Cheney, who admits he’s still star-struck when meeting his idols. “He told us it was great we were mixing rockabilly with punk and no one was doing it in America. It was probably the highlight of my life!”

It was the Stray Cats who turned Cheney and school buddy Scott Owen (now the band’s double bassist) onto rockabilly’s rebel yell. Cheney almost got a tattoo of the Cat’s logo, and they named their covers band Runaway Boys after the Cat’s hit. Cheney and Owen used to sport the rockabilly look (baggy pants, ‘brothel creepers’ sneakers and dug hot rods). These days, laughs Cheney, they’re not so obsessed.

The Living End’s self-titled album is more than just rockabilly retreads. It takes that style and mixes it with Cheney and Owen’s liking for punk, Beatlesque pop, ska, jazz and reggae, with intelligent arrangements. Cheney’s guitar solos even display touches of the Hollywood musicals his mum loves.

“I like the Stray Cats’ look but more and more I’m less impressed by their songs. I am more inspired by The Clash and The Jam, who wrote tremendous songs. If you asked me for a definition of rock and roll, I’d say the cover of The Clash’s London Calling, where Paul Simeneon is smashing up his bass. It’s so sweaty, so symbolic of rebellion. The lettering, the colours they use, they took it from the first Elvis Presley album, which I also have in my collection.”

When The Living End went into the studios this January to start work on the album, they were just another band. Mind you, there was something about their shows that fans would throw home-made Living End T-shirts at the stage. Since then, their single was a huge hit and went double platinum (sales of 150,000 copies), and they got signed to the multinational EMI (through the Modular label) and Reprise in America. On “Save The Day” they compare the pressure they have to deliver with someone at a job interview or going to war. In the next few months, they head off for dates in Germany and the U.S.

Don’t call The Living End overnight sensations.
“It’s seemed like a rush this year. But we’ve been going since 1993. Before we got a manager, Scott and I sent tapes out but no one in the music biz would take our calls. We panicked thinking, no one is interested. The first time I heard the single on the radio, I was so excited because I thought, ‘Thousands of people are listening to this!’ But we don’t take success for granted, we know we’re very lucky.”

In person Cheney is amiable and intelligent. Nothing like the angry young dude slamming out “Prisoner Of Society” and “Second Solution“. “One soul! One life! One meaning!” he snarls on “Have They Forgotten“, inspired by a TV documentary on Australian prisoners-of-war still captive in Vietnam.

“Stand on the right side, who knows what’s right?” they ask on “Trapped” while “I Want A Day” is an apt anthem for the Slacker generation. Even “West End Riot“, about kids hanging out for fun at school, has underlying comment on class structure.

“You play-fight, you listen to music, you get on. But you grow up and the rapport is gone especially when one goes on to work in a factory and the other owns the factory.”

At 14, Cheney was gazing out his class room window dreaming about music, or sitting in his bedroom for hours, trying to learn to play guitar like Setzer or early rockabilly guys like Johnny Burnette, Chet Atkins and Les Paul.

Cheney and Owen are good at art. They do their own T-shirts and posters. Cheney designed the logo and cover of the Hellbound CD. “We had a vision, and it’s come through for us.”

The Living End – The Living End (Modular/EMI)

The enthusiasm that greeted “Prisoner Of Society” and “Second Solution” made this Melbourne trio seem like Rip Van Winkle, seemingly immune to any influences newer than ’50s rockabilly. Here they prove they’re more than that with strong sing-along songs, hard playing that is as much influenced by the Clash and Jam, and thoughtful arrangements. The Living End’s work best on “Have They Forgotten“, “Fly Away” and “West End Riot” on which they temper their rockabilly-punk with Beatles-esque melodies and jazz touches that’s more their own sound. The ska-fuelled “All Torn Down” and reggae inspired “Trapped” work best at their live shows. INSTORE…MID-OCTOBER