The Living End
Author: Jesse Shrock
For some bands, the first new album after the mandatory Greatest Hits release (yeah, they called it The Singles, but same diff) can be seen as a crucial step. Is the band still relevant? Do they retain the signature brilliance that won them fame in the first place? Or have they taken bold steps into new musical territory? In the case of The Living End, the answers to all these questions – including both of the last two – is a resounding ‘yes’.
When I interviewed vocalist/guitarist Chris Cheney on the eve of the release of The Singles: ’97 – ‘04 in late 2004, he said his intention from that point was to move forward with a ‘fresh, new sound’. Fifteen months later, sipping mineral water on the terrace of a Prahran café, I remind him of these intentions…
“Did I really say that?” he chortles. “That’s a bit gay, isn’t it?”
It’s characteristic of the extraordinarily high standards that Chris is notorious for holding himself to that his ambition will often clash with his humility in the manner just depicted. But it is thanks to those unyielding high standards that Chris has earned a temporary respite from his insecurities, and can claim, along with band mates Scott Owen (Double Bass) and Andy Strachan (Drums) that he is supremely confident in their latest release, State of Emergency.
“Now that it’s all said and done, I do feel confident about the album,” Chris says, “because I just feel completely drained over it. We gave it everything we could, and we put in all we could, and there’s no regrets. With the last album, we ended up going ‘Hmmm, maybe there’s a few things we could have done differently’. With this one I really feel like we’re as happy as we’re ever going to be, and I think you can hear the results.”
“It was a fucking nightmare, putting ourselves through the nitty gritty of it all…” Andy adds. “All the fine details. We just spent days and weeks and months deliberating. But it paid off because now we can actually feel comfortable about it.”
Chris readily agrees that State of Emergency doesn’t so much represent a ‘fresh new sound’ for the band, but rather a few twists on the old.
“There’s a sound to the band that’s steeped in classic rock and roll that I think works for us,” he says. “And we’d be crazy to mess with that. But I think we’re probably making some new kinds of sounds together arrangement-wise, and the way we’re layering things and stuff like that. We’re wanting to really try and take it somewhere… rather than just having ideas, following through with ideas. If we were going to try something really different to what we’ve done before, to actually pull it off. Do it really, really well. So, that it can be a strong point of the album. Not just ‘oh, that’s an interesting song’, before the next single. With this album, I think that the more different songs could be singles, which is great for us.”
The previous night, I was at a screening for local media writers and presenters of a documentary, entitled How to Make an Album and Influence People, which detailed how The Living End’s original vision for their fourth studio album was warped, compromised and modified in the course of recording and production… and how the final result is ultimately all the better for it.
At the beginning of the film, the band’s intentions are to go into the studio with a bunch of well-rehearsed songs and lay ‘em down to tape, retaining all the sparking edge of their live performances. “I reckon that was us rebelling against (Modern) Artillery,” Scott says of these initial plans, “because that was so well-produced, as far as slickness and neatness goes. We were like ‘####, man. We’ve really got to make a rough and ready-sounding album, because we know we have that in us, and we didn’t do it on Artillery.’ But it just unfolded to the point where we knew it wasn’t going to be that album as soon as we started pre-production.”
As the documentary continues, we see the band re-uniting with Roll On producer Nick Launay and workshopping their selected songs. Though Nick is renowned for his love of live to tape recording, we see a mutual recognition between him and the band that this batch of songs are worthy of something more.
“With the songs that we were choosing as our favourites for the album (we knew) it wasn’t going to be a raw, straight ahead rock and roll album,” Scott says. “It was going to be a more complex kind of thing. And it just kept unfolding and unfolding, to the point where it got horns and kids choir…”
“I think it would be really one-dimensional for us to just go and make an album full of Second Solutions or something like that,” Chris says. “I think other bands do that and they do it well – you’ve got the whole ‘New Rock’ scene. There’s a part of us that does that, but I also think that the reason why songs like Nothing Lasts Forever and Wake Up end up getting written is just that we do that well also. We thought it would be a real shame to stifle that, and go ‘We shouldn’t have songs like that.’ So it was then very easy to say ‘let’s bring in some horns’ and ‘let’s bring in the kids on that part.’ And I’ve always wanted to take it a little bit further and show another side to the band.”
But don’t imagine for a moment that these frills amount to anything more than the equivalent of a few sketches on the solid wall of sound, a racing stripe on the hotted-up car, a ring on the fist punching the air. Indeed, the entire band responds enthusiastically to my suggestion that State of Emergency also represents a return to the anthemic, chant-heavy sound of their earliest work.
“I just like every song to be as powerful as it can be,” Chris says. “Like the end of No Way Out, when it hits with this big kind of climax at the end of the song. If it’s going to be that kind of thing, it’s got to be almost terrifying. I think I just like to have songs which are very visual and larger than life, perhaps. When we have songs that have that anthemic kind of quality, we tend to make them really over the top. Perhaps we just have a knack for doing that with those kinds of songs.”
“That’s just something that we’re really into that kind of works for us – the whole anthemic thing,” Scott says. “All of our songs have a real melodic kind of factor to them. And I guess we still like just shouting out those choruses!”
“We did try and approach every song with the idea that we would play ‘em live for the next two years,” Andy adds.
“I reckon we could go out and play the whole album from start to finish in a live environment, not even consider playing any other songs, and it would still work,” Scott boldly declares. “Obviously we wouldn’t forget about all the other songs, but I would feel 100% confident and happy to do that.”
State of Emergency is out now through EMI. The Living End’s tour will be announced shortly.