The Living End
Author: Brad Arundale
Change. It’s an unsettling thing for any Aussie band to have to deal with, especially one that’s riding a wave of success and receiving loads of acclaim, both here and overseas. The Living End rose from suburban obscurity to become one of the country’s most beloved rock groups. After arousing much interest on the back of a brilliantly filled support slot for Green Day, and the EP It’s For Your Own Good, the End ingrained themselves into the consciousness of the music-loving public via their anthemic hit Prisoner of Society, which helped steer their debut, self-titled album to the top of the charts. A feast of rockabilly, punk and rock all fused together, the record introduced to a large audience the extraordinary talents of guitar maestro Chris Cheney, double bassist Scott Owen and drummer Travis Dempsey. Tracks like Save the Day, All Torn Down and West End Riot became cherished classics. Then, two years later, we were hit with the massive-sounding, political-savvy ‘Roll On’, which spawned the memorable title track, the galloping Pictures in the Mirror and the easily likeable Dirty Man. Punters across the world lapped up the band’s unrelenting live shows (they even sold out a gig at the famous London Astoria a month before playing there), and life for the trio couldn’t have been better. But no one could forsee what was to follow. In September of last year, after the band had returned from performing at a number of festivals in Europe, Cheney was involved in a serious car accident while driving on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. The brush with death left him hospitalised with a broken femur and on his back for weeks, bringing to a halt the hectic schedule of the band and relegating music to the backburner for a while. Sure the boys’ touring legs had been growing steadily more tired, but anyone will agree that a near-death accident is one hell of a harsh way to be forced to take a break. Still, Cheney’s recovery over the past year has been remarkable to say the least. Unfortunately, mid way through this year, another blow was struck to the band, with Dempsey realising life with The Living End just wasn’t for him. Another strange blessing in disguise? Perhaps, since luckily, there happened to be someone on call who didn’t need to think twice about becoming one third of one of the most exciting outfits on the planet. His name: Andy Strachan.
Andy, on the phone in the first of a bunch of media chats he’s having today, discusses what it was like to hear about Chris’ mishap, even though he wasn’t close mates with the singer/guitarist at the time.
‘I had never met them really. But I do recall the night just prior to Chris’ accident. I went and saw Eskimo Joe at the Corner, and Chris was there also. I was having a drink backstage and he was there, and then we all went to Cherry Bar, and I saw him for the last time at about 3 o’clock. And the next day I hear he’s nearly dead. It was a really weird kind of feeling.’
Fortunately, after months of physiotherapy, Chris is well and truly on the mend.
‘He gets the odd aches and pain here and there, but I think in general he’s fine. He got the last operation just a couple of weeks ago to remove the metal rod that they put in his leg. This thing was fucking huge. I couldn’t believe it. The fact that they had to put that big bit of metal down his leg, then rip it out and he’s walking around the next day – Crazy! I don’t know how I would have dealt with it myself.’
And so it seems nothing, not even a debilitating accident and a lineup change, can really stop the juggernaut that is The Living End. To prove that they’re as popular as ever, just look at what happened to What Would You Do, a short and sweet rocker, when it was recently released to radio. Despite the fact that it’s actually a b-side on the upcoming One Said to the Other single, it instantly rocketed to the top of Triple J’s vote on-line chart, the Net 50. And the guys couldn’t be happier.
‘Yeah! I know!’ exclaims Andy. ‘The recording was fairly rushed and we did it here in Australia. And that is one of Scotty’s songs as well, so he’s stoked. It’s only a minute thirty or something. So we’re really happy about that.’
As for the single itself, which is out January 20, it’s just become one of the most added songs to radio, and is an enticing preview of their third album, to be recorded in L.A. with Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World) early next year and then released around June/July. So with Andy taking up the sticks and the band’s momentum on the rise once again, what’s the feeling in the group, and how are the new tunes shaping up?
‘It’s pretty damn good I think. We’re all pretty happy and we’re going to try and do our best. Who knows what’s to come? We have to wait till we get over there and press the record button before we know how it’s going to sound.’ Maybe I’m too close to it, but you can’t really mistake Chris’ voice, that guitar sound and the double bass thing. But I would say the way it’s shaping up, it’s a definite mix of old and new. I suppose ‘Roll On’ was a complete departure from the self-titled album, which was really funky and rockabilly whereas ‘Roll On’ was more ACDC. Perhaps the (new) songs are a little more simplified. We’ve really been conscious of that – we don’t need to put all the trickery in there. Which is what made ‘Roll On’ slightly harder to listen to.’ Andy continues to reveal just how busy the band has been, despite the major setbacks. ‘There’s around-about 45 demoed songs. It’s like a big bag of mixed lollies really. You have your favourites in amongst that bag of mixed lollies, and there’s some that you leave aside for later. I think we’ve got it down to a short list of about 22 or 23. Obviously we all have our favourites, but we’ve luckily agreed on the bulk of the album I would think. There’s some real standouts in my mind anyway, but it’s always a different situation once you get in there and record them, they always come out differently. There could be a couple of dark horses that come out of nowhere.’
And what about band chemistry? Has it been easy for the new guy on the block to gel with Chris and Scott, who have been friends since high school?
‘Our humours kind of match up in a sick sort of way,’ informs Andy. ‘Most of the time spent together is laughing, which is great.’
And how is he finding the task of keeping up with their frantic musical pace, in addition to their personalities?
‘It’s completely inspiring,’ gushes Andy, in reference to his bandmates prowess. ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve been challenged musically. It freaks me out day to day. Chris or Scott will do something absolutely phenomenal and my jaw will drop. ‘But I think I’ve adapted fairly well to it. You can’t really go and try and emulate exactly what Trav would play, so I’ve definitely just tried to fit in in my own way. It certainly is a workout. But no, it’s good – I’m getting fit!’
Just wait till he gets on the road with the guys for this year’s Big Day Out festival. The Living End, a band somewhat born to to appease huge crowds of youths frothing at the mouth for some feel good rock to chant and mosh along with, will surely be one the highlights of what is a very impressive line-up.
‘I’m looking forward to it, because I’ve never had the opportunity to play such huge events,’ says Andy. ‘I’m also very nervous and scared. Last time I went was the last time the Living End played. And it was just crazy. I like my space, and there was no space there.
As a warm up for The Big Day Out tour, The Living End will be road-testing some new tunes, as well as pulling out some old favourities, at The Brass Monkey, Fountain Gate on January 9.
© Buzz Magazine 2003