Sydney Morning Herald

Show Me Your Ska, Punk

Author: Sacha Molitorisz

A bit of ska, punk and rockabilly… and a double bass. It’s not just hyper stage antics that have made The Living End one of the most popular bands in the country, writes SACHA MOLITORISZ.

For a band that likes to yell, it I sure was a quiet introduction.

“We just sent a tape and a T-shirt and a video over,” says The Living End’s guitarist, songwriter and resident Elvis-freak Chris Cheney, recounting how his then little-known band managed to score a spot on the same bill as Green Day back in early 1996.

“Billie Joe [Armstrong] said he put our tape on in his car and liked it. We didn’t even have a label or a manager and that attracted him too. So they took us on without the fancy package. That was our first national tour. Up till then we’d only done a couple of drives out of Melbourne in our Kingswood. All of a sudden we were playing to 6,000 or 7,000 people a night.”

That’s how it’s been for this Melbourne rockabilly/punk/ska outfit all along: make a lot of noise on-stage, proceed quietly and steadily off stage.

Late last year, invited to tour with Bodyjar, The Living End realised they hadn’t recorded anything fresh for about a year. So they checked into the studio and recorded a double-single: Second Solution/Prisoner of Society.

It was a massive hit (it’s sold 100,000-plus) and convinced a steady stream of industry schmoozers that this band was set to be bigger than the King after a peanut butter-binge. They kept their feet on the ground, finishing their self-titled debut album before signing a deal.

“We haven’t tried to crack any market, it’s just been a natural progression. We had a couple of EPS out, Triple J liked it, and then we were discovered by the kids. It’s felt really genuine.

“We don’t want instant success. These days, people, especially kids, can see through the bullshit, which is good. Bands that appear through lots of promotion and nothing else, good luck to them, but I’m glad we did it our way. I think if a band has a history it’s much better.”

If a band can play, that helps too. As well as rebellious teenage anthems and jumping rhythms, this album bursts with elaborate, wind-em-up-and-watch-em-go lead breaks. Cheney studied jazz guitar, his musicality certainly broadens the band’s appeal.

“We’ve got a pretty varied audience,” Cheney says. “We’ve got that rockabilly edge, as far as our lead breaks are concerned and we’ve got our punk side, where we jump around and don’t play well.

“That’s not because we want to appeal to more people but because we’re into more styles of music-even from our cover band days, when we did ’80s rockabilly hits [and stuff) like Adam and the Ants, Suzi Quatro and Kim Wilde. When we became an originals band in ’94 we applied the same rules. I mean, I love The Beatles and I love the Manic Street Preachers and I love the Stray Cats.”

Given the image and instruments (guitar, double bass, drums), though, are the Stray Cats the single most important influence? “Maybe early on, but now it’s a bit lazy to compare us. We’ve been labelled rockabilly so often now that we’re fighting against it. Sure, we use a double bass, but who’s to say it’s not ’30s jazz that’s influenced us?”

The Living End play with Area-7 at The Metro tonight.