Sydney Morning Herald

Life After Elvis

Author: Peter Holmes

The beginning of Living End’s ascent to recognition is inextricably linked to Memphis.

THE Living End’s Chris Cheney was 12 when his fixation with Elvis began.

His wasn’t merely a passing interest in the kitsch, side-levered, fried peanut butter and banana sandwich-loving man mountain, rather a genuine fascination with the Tupelo-born kid who changed the world from a small Memphis studio in the mid-1950s.

“Mum and Dad had the Loving You album and one of his first ones with RCA which was self-titled and had him standing side-on playing his guitar,” said the 23-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist, with fondness.

“For some reason it just clicked. I loved the look, the vibe, the rebellion. Here was a guy doing something completely different that sounded so good and looked so awesome. I fell in love with the whole thing.

“From there I discovered who Elvis was, Sun Records, Carl Perkins, then (Elvis’s guitarist) Scotty Moore, then the 1980s rockabilly revival with The Stray Cats. I linked it all together.”

He gave it a thoughtful pause and said with a laugh: “Not many of my friends at the time were into Elvis Presley, I can tell you.”

Cheney worked in a supermarket to pay off his beloved first Gretsch guitar at 14, studied jazz guitar at Melbourne’s Box Hill TAFE and then formed a rockabilly covers band Runaway Boys. In 1994 they grew into The Living End, whose first raw, punk/rockabilly recordings and explosive live performances eventually earned them a tour with Green Day.

The major record labels emerged with chequebooks flapping when grassroots support for last year’s double a-side Prisoner of Society/Second Solution multiplied exponentially, turning the single into not only a double platinum Top 5 hit, but a suitably snotty- nosed local teenage anthem.

“They were kind of sniffing around while we were still recording the album.” Cheney said. “It was pretty weird. I’ve heard all about bidding wars and all that stuff, and then it seemed we were getting the same kind of thing happening.

“It didn’t get into long lunches because we didn’t want it that way. We weren’t going to get swept up in it. We could have lived the high life and eaten seafood but we’re not into it.

“We were in the middle of the album, hadn’t thought about artwork, there was so much stuff to be done. It was the last thing we wanted to stress out about. We just ended up inviting them all to come and see us play. I guess we must have played alright because we ended up scoring a deal.”

The Living End’s self-titled debut album is an adrenalin shot of concise, punchy pop songs wrapped in swinging, rapid-fire rhythms, heavy riffing and offbeat guitar stabs, call and response vocals of a distinctly British flavour and throbbing double bass.

“I think it’s pretty close to the sound that was in my head,” Cheney said. “Ever since the Runaway Boys, and then the Living End after that, we always wanted to have a good combination of a few styles of music and it was always rockabilly and punk rock as the two main things.

“I think it’s got a little less of the rockabilly side than I probably imagined it would a few years ago, but it’s pretty damn close. When we did Prisoner of Society that was our first recording with (drummer) Trav and since then we’ve learned so much about each other’s playing.

“There is a lot more leeway and experimentation because we understand each other’s playing a lot more.”

While The Living End‘s blueprint borrows from different eras of popular music, the album’s arrangements tend to bland out across 14 songs.

While Cheney is proud of the album, one gets the impression that the lack of variety in instrumentation and the effective, yet one- dimensional vocals, are only temporary setbacks.

“I’m not a very confident singer,” he said. “I hate hearing myself, but I don’t know many singers who like hearing themselves. I don’t think I’ll be changing too much, rather refining it more, just getting a bit more strength and versatility. At the moment I’m sort of stuck in a rut where I find it hard to sing slower songs. It’s easy to belt out a tune but it’s much harder to slow down and get a nice tone.”

The Living End is out through Modular/EMI on Monday, October 12.