They’re, like, the living end

Author: Murray Engleheart

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The Living End’s two week stay in New York to mix the Roll On album was hardly a working holiday. They put in long hours at the studio five days a week with the odd visit to various Irish pubs their own respite. Then three days before they were due to fly out in a state of near exhaustion the Rock Gods smiled down and they landed tickets to see AC/DC at Madison Square Garden. The trick was they had to get there in time.

“We were stuck at the studio because we had to listen to a mix before we left,” recalls player of the big bass Scott Owen. “We were like, ‘Come on (mixer) Andy (Wallace)! F..king hurry up and finish twiddling your knobs! We listened to it and we were like, f..k! We’ve got to talk about this! So we talked about it and then we were like, we’ve got to go! The support band had just finished and we had to get a cab through the middle of New York. We were like three possessed men.”

“Three possessed, pissed and stoned men!” clarifies drummer, Travis Dempsey between mouthfuls of an early afternoon steak. “Then we got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. We’re like sorry mate, we’re getting out here. He’s like, what? We’re like, Let’s go! We’re stoned and trying to run! Then we had to pick up tickets and they weren’t there! Oh, your names aren’t here. Yes they are!”

“We had to leave before For Those About To Rock“, sighs singer and guitarist, Chris Cheney. “We had to get back to the studio because I had to finish off vocals and stuff. My fault. I’ll take the rap for that.”

To worship is only proper but the fact is The Living End are fast racing up the steps of the very Pantheon that has housed AC/DC for so long. But that’s no great surprise. You could tell there was an X factor about The Living End from day one. Right now with the Roll On album they’re simply hard to ignore. They’re a more quietly political Clash at the Capital Theatre. Midnight Oil on the last night of the Stagedoor Tavern. Radio Birdman at Paddington Town Hall in December 1977. Who’s Next era Who in reduced three piece mode from the Kids Are Alright movie. All mod cons Jam. The Manic Street Preachers in pre and post Richey mode. The Undertones and The Skids’ Scared To Dance album. Put simply, these guys are out to save your lame-arsed soul and in the process lift you off the ground a few centimetres without you even realising it. I swear that’s exactly what took place en masse at Livid when they launched into a tearjerking fist in the air version of Sunday Bloody Sunday by Ireland’s own Clash.

The Nick Launay (Midnight Oil, INXS, Silverchair) produced Roll On puts to bed for good the Stray Cats and first Clash album comparisons the band have had to grin an endure for the last few years. If you close your eyes you can see Cheney doing windmill sweeps across his strings, Dempsey destroying his kit and Owen swinging his double bass over his head in the cracking title cut. Then there’s the wind burn speed of Carry Me Home, the dub thud of Blood On Your Hands and more Angus n’ Mal riffage in Silent Victory.

But for all that rockdom for Cheney it was Launay’s punk credentials that made him the man for the job. For Owen it was his work with the bassist’s beloved Midnight Oil.
“When we met him on the tour last year, the West End Riot tour he said then that he worked on The Jam’s Sound Effects album and he grew up in London in like ’77 and was a punk rocker. It’s pretty hard to believe when you look at him now but apparently he had all the leather and the spikes and all that sort of stuff and he used to go and see The Clash and saw all those bands. So it was that and the fact that he worked with them and he knew our background.”

Actually it was the once spiky Launay who ironically ended up smoothing out what was originally going to be a highly confrontational not to mention controversial album.

“There was a bit of a period when we first started rehearsing the new songs and it was I think almost a rebellion against what we’d done on the previous album because we didn’t want to redo what we’d already done. We’d done the three chord Prisoner Of Society thrash kind of thing. When we got together with Nick we kind of neatened it all up. But there was some pretty freaky sort of stuff. Like a lot of the songs were just like rollercoasters, all over the shop. I think that was just trying to break out of the mould that everyone kind of put us in. Oh yeah, they’re a rockabilly band that play kind of punk stuff. And there’s just so much more to it. But I think it’s turned out to be a pretty natural progression. It doesn’t sound too far out but it does sound like a step on.”

“It’s eclectic but we tried to keep the eclectic bit to bits that weren’t essentiall to the song.” adds Dempsey. “That’s the beauty of a good song. I think that’s why sometimes we get maybe compared to The Clash because they managed to incorporate good pop melody a la The Rolling Stones or The Beatles with the attitude of what they were all about and still made it sound fresh and exciting again even though let’s face it it was twelve bar boogie.”

Exciting, tough and celebratory the album is but it wasn’t all cheers and beers in the making although there was plenty of the latter involved.

“Halfway through I was like, F..k!” admits Cheney. “I started to really doubt the band for like the first time ever. I’ve never before doubted the band. I’ve always been like, f..k yeah man, we can play before anyone, after anyone, we don’t care. I knew we always had something valid to offer but halfway through I couldn’t really step away from it and see it clearly anymore. I was like maybe it’s not coming together. I don’t really know. Nick kept saying, It’s fine! It’s fine! it f..king sounds great! At the end of it I was like, yeah it does. He was right. I’m just a bit of a stresshead.”

The Living End top the bill at Homebake 2000 at The Domain on Saturday December 9. They also play The Metro on Thursday December 7. Roll On is out now thru EMI.