Album Of The Week

Author: Shaun Carney

Roll On
The Living End (EMI)

Well at least now we know for sure: Chris Cheney is the best guitarist plying his trade on the Australian rock scene. He’s also a pretty handy songwriter and expressive singer, who also just happens to work alongside a rhythm section that is astonishingly well disciplined and empathetic. As the full rock ‘n’ roll package, the Living End is hard to beat and Roll On, the follow-up to 1998’s multi-platinum self-titled debut, is a slick, high-energy delight that demonstrates what three blokes and a little bit of determination can achieve. The band has essentially modified the punkabilly approach of its first album and opted for a purer hard rock stance full of little bits of guitar virtuosity. Cheney has given free rein to his pop instincts; Dirty Man and Staring at the Light are dressed up in high-volume rock garb but owe more to the Beatles. There is also a nice nod in the direction of early model AC-DC on Carry Me Home and some surprise mid-song harmonising on the frantic, riff-heavy Astoria Paranoia. Cheney, bassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Dempsey are hardly rewriting the rock handbook here but have added enough twists and turns to keep their work constantly engaging.

Beginning Of The End

Author: Patrick Donovan

As well as showing there’s more to the Living End than Prisoner of Society, the band hope their new album will make an impact on the US charts, Chris Cheney tells PATRICK DONOVAN

Having won over the notoriously difficult English music media with their self-titled debut album and feverish live shows Melbourne’s Living End are now setting their sights on the American market with a follow-up album.

But rather than dumbing down the lyrics and following in the footsteps of Blink 182’s infantile humor or Limp Bizkit’s we-hate-the-world whinging. they’re sticking to their social-consciousness guns.

The new album, Roll On, tackles everything from Australia’s restrictive immigration policy (Don’t Shut The Gate) to tabloid fascination with celebrity criminals (Read About It), racial and social prejudice (Killing the Right), their experiences in East Timor, where they played at the Interfet troops’ Christmas Concert Revolution Regained), and dealing with death (Staring At The Light). They tackle the music industry in Blood on Your Hands, “a general tune about people thinking that they know better but they don’t know what they’re talking about”, and the first single, Roll On was inspired by the Melbourne dock workers’ dispute of 1998.

“It’s about those guys getting on with the job and all that,” says singer guitarist Chris Cheney, “and it’s also generally about the plight of the underdog, a song about hope, getting over obstacles and rolling on with your chin up, and moving-on-to-tomorrow sort of thing.

“It was kind of appropriate to call the album that, because after we had finished recording and mixing everything had taken so long, we didn’t think we were ever going to get it all done.”

These are issues that have always been close to the hearts of these three working class lads from Wheeler’s Hill, and they’ve never been a group to shy away from hard yakka.

“It’s kind of built into us, and from just playing every weekend, when we started out, that’s all we did-play and play and play and play and play. We’ve got a pretty good work ethic, I think.”

And meaningless lyrics were never their style.

“I just prefer songs that have a social commentary, rather than the Limp Bizkit Nookie-type songwriting. I just prefer songs to have a bat of content in them, and I’m a product of the stuff I used to listen to, the lyrics of punk bands like the Jam and the Clash.”

But Cheney believes he is first and foremost a musician, and the lyrics are almost an afterthought to the songcraft, hooks and anthemic choruses. He says it’s not necessarily because he’s concerned about sticking his neck out and being heralded as the leader of a cause, but more because he doesn’t like to dictate to anyone.

“I’m not really into the idea of us being a political band. I would prefer if people listened for the music. Lyrics are very important, I know, but I’d prefer to look at it from a social point of view rather than taking sides. There are a lot of political issues on there, but I think you’ll find that it’s more or less storytelling about what’s going on in the world.

“Obviously, I’ve got my own point of view, but I think of songs as poetry and storytelling: I don’t really indulge in the whole left-wing/right-wing political debate, I just sort of let people make up their own minds, because I don’t really like being dictated to myself.”

And Cheney doesn’t see socially aware writing as an exclusively punk form.

“I don’t even think of us as a punk band, I just think of us as a rock’n’roll band that speaks about issues. But there are still fun songs on there that mean absolutely nothing.”

As if there wasn’t already pressure on the Living End to top the success of their 1998 self-titled album, which sold half-a-million copies worldwide – including going platinum five times in Australia – and scored them three ARIA awards. Then American magazine Alternative Press and Britain’s Melody Maker upped the ante by placing Roll On in their most anticipated albums lists.

But Cheney felt no extra pressure. He knew they could do better and it was only when people kept asking about second album jitters that he started to worry.

“I wasn’t too worried about it. If anything I just got worried about it because everyone kept on asking. ‘You must be shitting yourself about the next album’. And I was like. Well. no not really, but if you keep on talking like that I might start to worry.

“It was more of a case of not wanting to release something mediocre and to not repeat what we’ve already done. We were determined to come up with something better and prove ourselves, because I just don’t think there’s enough Australian music invading the overseas market. That was certainly on the agenda – to make some more inroads.”

The anticipation from the overseas press, he says, merely encouraged them to make the album they knew they could.

“It’s good to get that overseas recognition where they’re expecting big things. It’s pretty exciting, because I wanted to do something better. I just didn’t want people thinking that Prisoner of Society was the best we had to offer, because it’s all fair and well and it did its job at the time, but we were interested in so many more different things that it was a matter of trying to prove there was a lot more to the Living End.

“And as good as it is to be big in Australia, it’s really hard to make an impact overseas because it’s so far away, and there’s got to be more Aussie bands doing that.

“Being signed to an American label, it’s kind of in their best interest and ours to really make a big impact over there. And that’s every band’s dream – to stick it to the Yanks.

“The thing is, once you’ve done well in America, that covers the rest of the world – it spreads like wildfire. But in Australia, you could be the biggest band ever, and it doesn’t mean anything anywhere else. But there’s so many bands over there, all trying to be number one, so there’s really no room for anyone else – but we’re going to give it a shot, anyway.”

Rather than Americanising their music or connecting to the Southern Californian neo-punk movement – in fact, to distance themselves from that scene – they recorded the Roll On film clip at night in the rain – the Living End have drawn on their Oz-rock upbringing – In particular, two bands that have managed to crack the US market, AC/DC and Midnight Oil.

“We’ve always been into bands like AC/DC and Rose Tattoo and Midnight Oil – all the Aussie-rock staples-but they’ve finally come to the forefront on this album for some reason. The songs that worked out best, the ones we wanted to put on the album, were those kind of tunes, so it ended up having that kind of feel about it, and we wanted it to be a straight-ahead rock album, without having to compromise on tricky arrangements. We had a lot of demo songs that were kind of off the beaten track, a little bit too folky which may be all right for next time, but we didn’t want to con- fuse the issue. We decided to stroll down the rock road this time.”

While the Living End have every chance of cracking the American market, the band have no illusions of an easy run.

“Gee, if I knew what it took to crack the US. I’d be half the way there. I think luck’s probably the first thing, and then timing. But I think it’ll probably do OK, because there’s a lack of rock stuff out there, and I think a lot of the songs on the album are very Australian-rock-sounding”

The Living End have had a fairly low profile in Australia over the past 18 months, having taken only a couple of short breaks from touring overseas. Playing places as far apart as Belgium and East Timor, as well as Britain’s prestigious Reading and Leeds festivals ,the North American Vans Warped tour and two tours of Japan is a long way from working in supermarkets and gigging the Victorian RSL circuit playing Stray Cats and Eddie Cochran covers under the name the Runaway Boys

The touring has given Cheney, double bassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Dempsey a songwriting maturity and tightness that puts Roll On a few notches above their debut album.

East Timor, says Cheney, was as tragic as it was beautiful.

“It was in ruins; everything was burnt out, there were a lot of kids walking around. There obviously weren’t any schools, and people were selling stuff on the side of the street, but they were selling them to each other, because there was no one there. It was a lot different to playing at the Big Day Out, that’s for sure.”

The band had little time to write during their hectic tour, so upon returning Cheney wrote almost around the clock. In the end, they distilled 30 demos into 14 catchy, effervescent songs.

Cheney struggles to define the writing process. Although it’s different for each song, he often starts with an image.

I very much visualise things when I’m writing a song, like if I’m writing a minor-chord kind of tune. I think darker lyrics. It’s really hard to explain. Like when you’re recording you’ve got to get yourself into the right frame of mind. There’s more to it than putting your fingers into the right place and making sure you play in time. There’s a certain headspace And it’s the same with writing songs. I’m a bit of a daydreamer, always have been, and I have these little images in my mind that kind of transform themselves on to paper.

“It really does come from thin air. It’s different every time, that’s the freaky thing about it. It’s always a challenge… It’s not a bad hobby to get paid for.”

As well as the balls-to-the-wall Oz rock feel, Roll On has plenty of anthemic choruses. The last song Uncle Harry definitely sounds more like last drinks at the Frog and Firkin than the Wheeler’s Hill Hotel. But Cheney doesn’t think chanting is limited to the English.

“Even bands like AC/DC with Dirty Dees and stuff that was pretty chanty but I think it comes from the Sham sort of stuff, where it’s all English pub music, where you can drink along and shout with your mates. I’ve just always found that sort of stuff appealing.

I’ve always been one for anthemic tunes, and it works well for us because we’ve got that background. Because there’s only three of us, it’s nice to be able to break out and use things like vocals and stuff to make it sound fuller, rather than use just me as a singer. It’s a bit of embellishment as well.”

In a chunkier and more diverse album than their debut, the Living End prove they can do more than write catchy punk-pop anthems. They even include a reggae song, Blood On Your Hands. Cheney credits Melbourne’s small but diverse music scene with opening their ears to many sounds.

“There’s not enough people to support every scene in Melbourne, so all sorts of people – punks and skinheads and rockers and goths – were turning up to our gigs. And if you liked Madness, then you loved Sham 69, the Clash and the Cure – you either liked it all or you didn’t. I’m very thankful that we came from that scene, and we’ve always just tried to mix up all the things we liked.

“I never saw the point in being just a straight-ahead rockabilly band or anything like that. The more mixed-up the better. because that’s how rock’n’roll was formed in the first place.”

The Living End play the Hi-Fi Bat city on Sunday night. Roll On is out now through EMI

Roll On

Author: Steve Tauschke

Roll On
The Living End
(EMI)

The much murmured follow up to 1998’s ridiculously successful eponymous debut, Roll On, as the title suggests, dispenses with all notions of second album blues. It’s an assured set and an interesting stage in the Living End’s growth cycle. History will remember it as the band’s Ozrock phase. They’ve been toiling on this one all year, tracing a path back to, and then trawling through the vaults of its beer barn heroes: Midnight Oil, Chisel, AC/DC, perhaps even Hunters & Collectors, for inspiration. And they’ve found it! The album’s 14 tracks encapsulate not only a workmanlike pub-rock ethic (they’ve always had that), but its palpably tougher edge adds weight to the anthems on display. The galloping Riot On Broadway and Silent Victory boast ought-to-be-Angus riffs, while Carry Me Home and its mallet-pounding chords offer more Rose Tattoo thump than Stray Cats twang – even current single Pictures in The Mirror squeezes in some tasty licks. This added guitar grunt, together with Chris Cheney’s call-to-arms voice – at its best belting out rants such as Shut The Gate, where he lays to rest his opinion on immigration – is perfectly suited to the band’s mantra-free sloganeering. Which is not to say finesse has been altogether abandoned: Staring At the Light is softer and more melodic, ditto Dirty Man, a vintage Living End pop ditty. Add to that the usual mod, punk and 50s honkytonk seasonings, stirred in by producer Nick Launay (PIL, INXS, siverchair), and Roll On has it all.

It Lives!

Author: Kelsey Munro

Kelsey Munro has a close shave with Homebake headliners The Living End.

The Living End’s drummer Travis Demsey sits back in the seat of the photographer’s car, sunglasses on, colourful tattoo snaking down his arm. “America,” he announces, “it’s all about TV over there.”

Since 1998 when their self-titled album became the biggest selling debut in Australian history, the Living End have had ample opportunities to figure out the US. Touring with the enormous and gruelling Vans Warped roadshow (“We did really well in Salt Lake City,” offers a bemused singer/guitarist Chris Cheney), the band slept on the tour bus for months on end.

Scraps of ideas and riffs culled from long stretches of US highway made it on to the Living End’s new album, Roll On, which is released on Monday. Two weeks later, the band will headline Homebake, a line-up of all-Australian talent in the Domain.

While influences like the Who, the Clash and the Jam are still stamped all over many of the songs, Roll On sees the Living End reaching back to some more local influences.

“We’re reliving all that old classic Aussie rock, we’ve got that energy at the moment,” says bass-player Scott Owen. “Bands like AC/DC and Midnight Oil and the Angels and Rose Tattoo.”

The Oils influence comes out most clearly on songs like Revolution Regained, a song about East Timor’s troubled recent history; or the album’s title track about the dock strikes in Melbourne last year. Cheney’s not keen to proselytise though: “I don’t like to go into it too politically as far as my music goes, I don’t like to dictate to people. I prefer to use it as a social commentary. Just tell my story, rather than, ‘this is what I think kids, this is what you should do’.”

Roll On walks a line between playing safe and embracing the avant-garde.

“We just thought if it’s too eclectic, people will get the wrong idea and think we’ve gone all arty-farty,” says Demsey with a grin. “We’ll leave that for the third album.”

Thirty or so songs were recorded before they arrived at a digestible, album-size slab. But Owen explains. “There’s millions of influences, but I guess what’s coming out the most is that whole big classic rock anthem kinda singalong: ‘Be a yobbo and be proud of it!'”

If you think “avant-garde” sounds a bit rich from a rockabilly/punk band, you’re probably right. But the Living End are a lot more than that. Formed in 1994, when Melbourne schoolmates Cheney and Owen decided it would be cool to form a band, they’ve become one of Australia’s hottest musical prospects. Anchored by Cheney’s songwriting – informed by everything from ’50s rock ‘n’ roll to neo-punks like Green Day – and trademarked by Owen’s upright double-bass, the trio were almost unknown, unsigned and without a manager when they scored a support slot with US punks Green day in 1996.

It was another support slot a year later – this time with Bodyjar – which sealed their reputation as an incendiary live act and put them on the road to commercial success. Suddenly realising they hadn’t recorded any new material for about a year, they cut a single Second Solution/Prisoner Of Society with the aim of selling it at gigs. In the end it shifted more than 100,000 copies.

They’ve had their share of good luck, in other words. But luck only gets you so far. The Living End comprises three exceptionally talented players and as a unit, they’re positively watertight.

“I don’t care what anyone says,” says Demsey – and he doesn’t. “Guitar or drums or bass, if you want to be really good, it’s 10 years of hard practice.”

“When I was into ’50s stuff, it was not cool to be carting a double bass in to school to play 12-bar blues at lunchtime,” says Owen. “But I got enough out of it not to care.”

Cheney agrees. “I used to just feel sorry for everyone else – you guys are missing out! But I’m glad that we started learning how to play that stuff, because it enabled us to learn how to play [well], so it’s not all just smoke and mirrors.”

It’s this sense of music history that distinguishes the Living End. Rock ‘n’ roll purists at heart, they love everything from Elvis to the Sex Pistols to Green Day – attracted to the DIY punk ethic but as musically grounded as jazz players.

“It’s a dying art, though, rock ‘n’ roll,” reckons Demsey. “The way things are going with the Internet, I reckon that in the next five years, along with Powderfinger and silverchair we’ll be the last of the bands that actually made good money and lived the dream of being a rock ‘n’ roll band touring the world.”

Owen disagrees. “Rock will never die. In about 20 years time, some crazy guys who find AC/DC and don’t care what’s going on at the time will reinvent it and something amazing will come of it.”

At this, Demsey brightens up. “Wouldn’t it be great to think that maybe we’re making music now that in 10 years will do for someone what the Clash does for us?”

Whatever it is that the Living End are doing, so far it’s working pretty well. “I never thought for a second that what we are doing would cross over the way it has,” says Cheney.

But Demsey’s willing to offer an explanation. “Not many bands in Australia that we play with could do a jazz song and then go straight to full-on punk rock ’77 song, and then straight on to a good pop song. And I think that’s maybe the beauty of our band.”

They’re, like, the living end

Author: Murray Engleheart

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.