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
Author: Steve Tauschke
The Living End
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.