The Living End
Author: Tim Scott
In the wake of the recent horror and emotion of the terrorist attacks in the United States, music has been the last thing on the minds of most bands and musicians. Faced with so much human loss and tragedy, time has been spent reassessing and reflecting rather than being concerned with records or chart positions.
Not long after the September 11 attacks, The Living End faced their own sense of shock and bewilderment when singer and guitarist Chris Cheney was involved in a near fatal car accident on Victoria’s spectacular but treacherous Great Ocean Road.
“We’d only just been home from tour for a few weeks,” explains double bassist Scott Owen. “We were all ready to kick back and spend some time with our families when I heard about the accident. We were all so shaken; it made us think what we’re doing. We’ve been through a lot together and to think that one of us is lucky to be alive… well, I think we’ve always been thankful and put things in perspective but something like this makes you think differently.”
Since the phenomenal success of their 1998 self-titled debut album, the Melbourne three piece of Cheney, Owen and drummer Travis Demsey have indeed experienced much together. ARIA awards, five time platinum record sales and a relentless tour schedule that has seen them crisscross America and Canada, support bands such as AC/DC and the Offspring and attend all manner of international music festivals from Britain, Belgium and Japan has brought the three together.
Their rise from suburban rockabilly upstarts to internationally acknowledged and respected rockers can be due in large part to their hard-nosed work ethic. In the tradition of their Oz rock heroes such as Midnight Oil, Men at Work, and Rose Tattoo, the band have always considered playing in as many pubs and clubs to as many people as possible was the best way to achieve success.
Thankfully, this same humility and lack of ‘rock star’ pretence may have indirectly helped save Cheney’s life who on the day of the accident was driving a 1974 Holden stationwagon “The car that hit the front quarter panel of his car ripped his door off,” explains Owen. “If he hadn’t been driving a car that was so old and so slow it could’ve been a lot worse.”
The forced lay off that has arisen from Cheney’s accident may have come as a blessing in disguise for a band who were nearing exhaustion after spending almost twelve months on the road. “We were really burnt out by the time we got home so the whole concept of going straight into rehearsal and coming up with fifteen new songs was a bit scary,” says Owen. “We were supposed to be recording them in about two or three weeks from now, we had studio time booked and everything. That gave us only two months to write, arrange and record and that was just freaking us out. Of course the break could have come about under better circumstances but I think it’s good.”
Demsey explains that being on the road is an exhausting process where even the most routine of domestic chores becomes a time consuming ordeal. “We don’t do our own laundry because often we don’t have time. We don’t even cook our own food. Imagine not being able to cook for yourself for a whole year,” he asks incredulously. “When we get home we all go our separate ways and the band is forgotten for a while. The band is great but it is tiring, it wrecks birthdays, it wrecks Christmas, ‘cos for twelve months of the year it’s your whole life.”
With Cheney recovering at home, the band have just released ‘Dirty Man’ the third single off their sophomore album Roll On. A rocker that nods its head to Aussie rock heritage albeit with some sixties Mod sounds thrown into the mix, the songs sees the band having fun and kicking out the jams.
“Our albums have always been quite socially aware because of Chris’ writing skills but the last few songs I’ve written have been real party tunes that basically says that yes life can be bad but as long as you have family and your mates that’s all that matters and I don’t think many bands are singing about that at the moment,” explains Dempsey, the more outspoken and fiery of the three.
“Every fucking bleeding heart, and I certainly don’t mean that in a nasty way because I have friends in New York and I think the whole thing is a tragedy but everybody from Matchbox 20 up is now going to be writing odes to New York. I mean come on, have you visited a children’s hospital recently and seen the kids there who are dying of cancer every bloody day? I think people need to put things in perspective.”
While they can see the irony in releasing a song called ‘Dirty Man’ in the middle of a Federal Election campaign, Demsey and Owen maintain that the Living End are not an overtly political band despite addressing Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor and Australia’s immigration debate in songs ‘Revolution Regained’ and ‘Don’t Shut the Gate’.
“If you listen to a song like ‘Don’t Shut the Gate’ it doesn’t take sides,” explains Demsey. “It never points the finger. We like our songs to bring light to subjects that are relevant and we like to keep abreast of things. Unlike some bands I can think of I like to think that our audience is pretty smart and can make up their own minds about certain issues.”
Despite a hectic touring schedule, the band found time to drop into the studio to help record a song with Australian country music sensation Kasey Chambers for her latest album ‘Brickwalls and Barricades.’
“That was amazing”, says Owen of recording the song ‘Crossfire’. “You don’t want to have to think about your career everytime you pick up a guitar, you want to have fun, and working with Kasey was fun. There’s absolutely no ego with her; she’s incredibly talented. I’m sure she’s probably had a lot of smoke blown up her arse, with people telling her how great she is, especially in America but she’s really just honest.”
She really wanted the recording pretty rough, adds Demsey. “She was like, ‘No don’t hold back, hit the drums, play a lead break, really go for it,’ I really like the fact that she put the track way at the back of the album, there was no ‘Oh look who’ve we got to play’ or Special Guest appearance. That was cool. I mean we live in the suburbs, we kick footballs, I have dogs, the other guys want dogs, we drive Commodores, you know we’re normal. We don’t want to be seen as U2.”
Like Chambers, The Living End have established a strong following in the United States, a following that is not always acknowledged in Australia who Demsey accuses of being parochial.
“I find the ARIA’s a fucking joke and you can quote me on that,” he spits out. “Tina Arena, what a fucking joke, you can quote me on that as well. I just don’t understand how they work it all out. I mean the Saint’s get a lifetime achievement award but they are presented with it three weeks before the night. What’s up with that? Not disrespecting INXS for their life time achievement award cos I think they deserve everything they get, but for godsakes include two bands on the night!”
Owen joins in on the anti ARIA tirade, “Look at the people they invite on the night. As the cameras pan around the audience you don’t see any actual bands it’s just celebrities and actresses and stuff. It’s Nicki Webster, it’s Scandal’us, it’s Bardot give me a break! I mean Steve Waugh presenting the achievement award, jeez!”
As a band who has won three ARIA’s and who before Cheney’s accident were scheduled to make an appearance at the awards night to perform with Chambers, their anti ARIA remarks could be seen considered a case of biting the hand that feeds them, but Demsey maintains he is still a staunch supporter of Australian music and is excited of the current state of Oz rock. “Australian rock and roll is still revered around the world, but when it’s brought up at least with the people I talk to John Farnham isn’t mentioned, neither is Jimmy Barnes and I can categorically state that people overseas have no idea who Deni Hines or Tina Arena are.
He adds, “I’m pretty picky as to which bands I go and see now, not because I think I know it all but because I really enjoy time at home with my girlfriend. But since I’ve been back I’ve seen some good bands, Palladium, the Monarchs, Even are still a great band. It’s good to see that in Australia hard work still pays off, whereas in America bands still rely on the big push and hype.”
With the forced lay off Demsey will have more time to check out bands but he says that even with Cheney recuperating the band is still focused and eager to start writing songs again. “I think we would be happy to get together before Christmas and swap ideas, you know to least maybe to just discuss some things.”
Owen reminds him that things will come in their own good time, “Writing songs is a creative process you know, it’s not maths, it’s not like you can cram a whole lot of stuff into you can’t force, it.”
In the meantime the band have time to reflect. To reflect where they’ve come from, what they’ve done and the possibilities of what they still can achieve, as Demsey says eagerly, “I love this band, I love these guys and I’m so looking forward to writing songs and playing with them soon.”