Is This The End?
Author: Kelsey Munro
Have the Living End run out of steam? Are they breaking up? Then why are they releasing a greatest-hits collection after just three albums? Kelsey Munro finds out.
There must be some kind of unwritten rule about when a band can put out a best-of collection. After five albums? Four? Three has to be the limit, because two is just ridiculous. Deni Hines, I’m looking at you.
Thus the Living End are just scraping in with their new greatest-hits album, From Here on In. It collects the best and biggest of the Melbourne trio’s singles from their huge self-titled ’98 debut, 2000’s Roll On, and last year’s Modern Artillery. Singer-guitarist Chris Cheney is prepared for the flak.
“I know, it reeks of a few things,” he says. “Either that the creative well has dried up or you’re breaking up or [you have some] contractual obligations.
“It’s really none of that, I can honestly say. We’ve got a pretty good deal [with EMI] worked out where it’s album by album. As far as the other stuff goes, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”
Cheney says he, double-bassist Scott Owen and drummer Andy Strachan are enjoying their most fertile songwriting period, at least since Strachan joined two years ago.
He says there are only two new songs on the best-of, including current single I Can’t Give You What I Haven’t Got, because they wanted to keep most of the songs they already have for the next record.
“People will probably think, ‘Oh well, that’s it then, no more ideas,'”
Cheney says. “That was a reservation because I thought, ‘Well, we’ve only got three albums out, why are we doing a greatest hits?’ But the proof will be in the pudding when we get around to putting out the next album.”
Modern Artillery was the band’s first release after Cheney’s serious car accident, which put him out of action for months. They suffered another setback around the same time when drummer Travis Demsey quit. Recorded in Burbank, California, the post-accident album was tough to make as the band hadn’t settled into their new line-up.
“It was fucked, basically,” Cheney says, now able to see the humour in the situation. “It was far too long spent in a place where we didn’t want to be – all that period of the accident and having the break.
“Andy joining the band seemed like a rebirth. We did get really good reviews and all that sort of stuff, but it still felt like an infancy, trying to find our feet again. I feel like now, another year down the track, we’ve got all those things in place. Now it’s better than ever.”
Another difficulty the band faced was trying to re-establish the profile they’d built up in the US over years of touring – “Just getting in the van, driving, eating beef jerky,” Cheney says. Before returning to tour with the Vines and Jet as part of the Aussie Invasion tour this year, the Living End hadn’t been to the US for three years.
“It’s funny,” Cheney says. “Half of the American critics either said we were Aussie rock veterans, like we were going to be wheeled out in wheelchairs or something, or we were ‘unknown band the Living End’.
“We thought, ‘God, we’ve probably been there more than the other bands’ – we’d done Letterman, massive tours and radio shows in the previous few years
– but having that three years off we could understand it. But overall the tour was great.”
The Living End have always recruited fans through good old-fashioned touring, and lots of it. A significant part of the band’s near-decade of gigs was captured on film by their friend Jason ‘J. T.’ Tutty, who has made a two-hour documentary on their history. Tying in with the singles collection, it’s also called From Here on In. The band are releasing it on a double DVD that also includes all their videos.
“When the DVD came up I thought it was a good idea,” Cheney says. “But we didn’t really have all the shots of girls taking their tops off and people smashing things up, which is what most kids buy DVDs for, the crazy antics.
We’re more of a band that plays music.
“There’s a lot of old footage of us with very strange, gravity-defying haircuts … interviews along the way and it finishes up with the making of these two new songs.”
On that note, it seems only fair to ask what Cheney’s favourite best-of album is. He eventually settles on Joe Jackson.
“There’s something like 40 songs on it, which shows how many great songs he’s written. So if we have a few more of those [best-ofs] I’ll be very happy. It’ll mean we’re doing something right.”