Living At The Top Ain’t Easy
Author: Cameron Adams
It’s all going horribly right for The Living End. And the Melbourne trio know it better than anyone else.
“We realise that this is the time,” says frontman Chris Cheney. “This is probably the peak for us. If it happens in America that will be the next thing, but this is special because it’s the first time it’s happened. We know we have to tour constantly, but we’re up for it. There’s no one pressuring us to go here or there.”
The figures tell the story. Their self-titled debut album has already gone double platinum, selling more than 150,000 copies since its release in October when it debuted at number one, displacing Cold Chisel. The album is still in the national Top 5 and has quietly outsold much-hyped releases by Grinspoon, the Superjesus and Powderfinger.
Their Prisoner of Society EP won an ARIA for highest-selling single (beating Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn).
Record industry pundits are already predicting multiple entries in the upcoming Triple J Hottest 100 poll.
And it’s not confined to Australia. The Living End’s American label, Reprise, is gearing up for the release of Prisoner of Society in the US, with the anthemic song already a hit pick on several influential American radio stations. Their second American tour takes place next month when they support corporate punks The Offspring.
The trio have just returned from a quick German tour where they visited sites associated with their beloved Beatles.
That’s not bad for a band who couldn’t even get a record deal just a few years back.
“Three or four years ago I remember thinking, ‘What’s wrong with this world, why aren’t we huge’,” says bassist Scott Owen. “I’d sit and wonder why something I really loved couldn’t catch on.”
The band are now in the uneasy situation of enjoying being one of the biggest bands in Australia, but are wary of a possible backlash.
“I’m stressing a little about it,” Cheney admits. “That’s why we’re not taking too much notice of the chart, not that we’re taking it for granted. We can see it coming already, ‘One hit wonders, novelty band, blah blah blah’. I haven’t achieved what I want to with the music yet. A lot of these songs have been around for a while. I think there are some better songs in the pipeline. It’s just that this album got all the hype.”
The band are keen to avoid hype, preferring to rely on word-of-mouth publicity. Such are their efforts to downplay their success that they plan to release a long-form live video to a handful of fans on their mailing list and let it get bootlegged free among those who want it.
“We’ve done things differently to what most bands do,” Cheney says. “We’ve been very careful to avoid overkill and that’s worked in our favour. People haven’t got sick of us and we’re not sick of doing it. It’s tempting to come out and do everything, every TV show, every interview. But that’s too easy.”
The trio have turned down lucrative offers from companies wanting their teen-friendly image for sponsorships and endorsements.
“A lot of the offers come from sporting companies and that’s not us, it’s fake,” Cheney says. “There’s no point doing it for the hell of it or for the money. People can see right through that. The bands we look up to haven’t sold out like that.”
“We didn’t pick up an instrument when we were kids to get a free pair of shoes,” says Owen. “There’s no reason to change now because nothing else has changed.”
They’re even finding themselves removed from their success, often looking at the Top 10 and thinking The Living End is someone else’s band.
“I feel really lame when we say nothing has changed,” Owen says. “Of course, it’s one of the most exciting things that’s happened in our life, probably the most exciting. But I don’t want to become a person who walks into a record store and gets turned on by having the number one album.”
“I still look up to Bodyjar or Frenzal Rhomb or Regurgitator and think that they’re really big. We still think that we’d like to achieve what they’ve achieved, but we’ve actually sold more records than them, which is strange.
“We had such an exclusive following. We were part of a sub-culture, the rockabilly scene.”
Owen says: “We were playing to punks or rockers or ska heads, now we’re part of the bigger picture.”
“The songs were always accessible, but they were part of the alternative,” Cheney adds. “We were never afraid of playing to a mainstream audience, but they were never interested in us before.”