No Prisoners

Author: Tom Hawking

The Living End are moving on from a disappointing album the best way possible – recording a new one. “It’s probably good that we made Modern ARTillery, because we didn’t want to make another album like it”, they tell Tom Hawking.

It’s ten years since Prisoner Of Society brought The Living End to the nation’s attention. They’ve enjoyed a virtually unbroken run of success since, but the muted reaction to their previous album Modern ARTillery suggested that their momentum might have been failing at last. Singer/guitarist Chris Cheney has since said that he and his band weren’t particularly happy with Modern ARTillery and as such, the band’s new record State Of Emergency represents something of a crossroads for them and a chance to set things right.

At first listen, State Of Emergency is certainly a more accomplished-sounding album than its predecessor. It sounds like The Living End are again comfortable with what they’re doing and sitting down in a Chapel St cafe with all three members of The Living End, I wonder how they feel about State Of Emergency in comparison to its predecessor. Did the problems with Modern ARTillery contribute to a different approach with its follow-up?

Cheney seems happy to act as the band’s spokesman, his bandmates Scott Owen and Andy Strachan contributing the occasional nod of agreement or brief comment. About Modern ARTillery, the singer says, “An album is always an extension of where you’re at when you record it and I think for some reason that… Well we thought at the time and still think, that Modern ARTillery had really good songs on it. I just don’t think they were executed as well as they could have been and that was to do with us being in a weird spot at the time. Also, once we got to recording it, things got a bit weird with the producer. I just don’t think we were focused on the end result and so we ended up making some bad decisions.”

Conversely, he says, “With this album… well, it’s probably good that we made Modern ARTillery, because we didn’t want to make another album like it. The first thing we always try to do is to make sure we have some really good songs and we felt when we were writing and rehearsing it that we had some of the best songs we’ve ever had/ Then it was a matter of transforming them onto tape, capturing something specail and not losing focus again. With this album we worked harder than I think we ever did before and I think you can hear it.”

State Of Emergency also found The Living End re-engaging the services of producer Nick Launay, who last worked with the band on 2000’s Roll On. Cheney says that working with Launay again was responsible for the band regaining their focus, but only to a degree. “*obscured text* needed to have the material first and to have the three of us in the right frame of mind, playing well and all that sort of stuff. There’s only so much a producer can do – there are some great producers out there who have made shit albums, because if there isn’t a good band and good songs to work with, you can’t really do anything. To me, that’s what the producer should do: they should come in and add to the songs. You shouldn’t be arguing with them about parts, y’know?” He pauses and chuckles. “Which is maybe what we did on Modern ARTillery.”

Still, even with Launay back aboard, the making of State Of Emergency was a drawn-out process. The band were in the studio for several months and looking back, Cheney says, “I don’t know what took so long. I really don’t. There were some songs that changed a lot in recording – we were changing the lyrics, the arrangements, tagging on new intros and end bits, all that sort of thing. It takes hours and hours. And we were going for really good takes – y’know, we’d say ‘Right, we’re finishing at midnight tonight’ and at two or three in the morning we’d be still tracking. Still, we did that because we found we were getting results.”

It’s perhaps this perfectionism that has contributed to the band’s relatively limited output over the years. Four albums in ten years is hardly prolific, especially for a band that work in a genre where their contemporaries tend to churn out an album every year or so. There have of course been well-documented obstacles along the way, Cheney’s near-fatal car crash foremost amongst them, but still – does it frustrate the Living End that they haven’t been more productive?

Cheney sighs ruefully. “We have though! We’ve written so many songs! We’ve always got three songs for b-sides and stuff. So yes, it does bug me at times that we haven’t had more albums. It seems that four albums in ten years isn’t that much and it isn’t. But the thing is that they’ve been successful albums, so we’ve end up touring for two or three years on the one album! It’s a double-edged sword, really – if we didn’t have that we’d be complaining, but at the same time I kinda wish we’d released a lot of the other stuff that we’ve written. I suppose that one day we will. You’re right though – we do spend a lot more time than bands likem say, Rancid. But then, I don’t see us as part of that whole scene at all. For the first album, we got caught up in that scene, but I’ve always seen us as a rock ‘n’ roll band, a band that approaches every song individually, rather than just slamming them out.”

Last year offered something of a respite from the constant touring. What did the band do with their time off? Cheney says, “Well the thing is that when we’re at home, people probably think that we’re having a lot of time off, but really, we rehearse pretty intensely when we’re coming up to do an album. We’re also always involved in the artwork for our t-shirts and all that sort of stuff and it kinda frustrates me a bit because it seems like we don’t play our instruments as much as we used to. It becomes like a business and I think you’ve gotta be careful at times that you still have fun with it and that it doesn’t take over, because there have been times when it has threatened to take over. When we finished school, we were playing every weekend, y’know; playing three or four gigs a week and I kinda forget what that’s like. When we go on tour, we enjoy it a lot because it’s back to doing that, back to just playing music.”

Ten years on, then, has the experience of being in a rock band for a living been everything that The Living End expected? Cheney says, “For me, sometimes it’s been harder than I thought it would be. But you guys” – he indicates his bandmates – “You guys would be the first to say that I make it hard for myself. There’s a business side of it that needs doing and I probably bring a lot of that onto myself. You have this fantasy – you see these popular bands, like U2 or whatever an you think, ;Wow, what a life!’ In reality, though, they’re working damn hard. Equally, we;ve never been afraid of hard work and in the last six months we’ve worked harder than we ever have. But the rewards are better these days than they ever have been ,too. I mean, we get played on the radio, we get to tour the world [and] we’ve got gold records, which we thought we’d never get. You can’t have it both ways.”

State Of Emergency is out now through EMI.

The Living End State Of Emergency

Author: Tom Hawking

When the Living End’s Best Of compilation was released last year, Inpress pondered whether it might signal the beginning of the end for a band who exploded ten years ago into the national consciousness with their double A-side Prisoner Of Society/Second Solution. The relative lack of success of 2003’s Modern ARTillery suggested that the nation’s love affair with the band might be coming to an end, with critics concentrating more on singer/guitarist Chris Cheney’s brush with death in a car crash than on the band’s music.

A listen to State Of Emergency suggests that any reports of The Living End’s demise have been very much exaggerated. It retreats from the airbrushed stylings of its predecessor Modern ARTillery and returns to doing what the band do so well -spiky, melodic, punk-influenced rock ‘n’ roll. While they’ve never painted with quite as broad a musical palette as The Clash, a band from whom they obviously take such a great amount of inspiration, they do maintain a similar commitment to transcending the strict, arbitrary limitations of punk in order to make great rock ‘n’ roll music.

Cheney has always been a great songwriter and there are songs on this record that the likes of Grinspoon would never conceive – cases in point include the wistful Nothing Lasts Forever and the melancholy No Way Out. Wake Up turns its attention to politics, managing to avoid flag-waving, chest beating sloganeering in favour of a mournful chorus that turns its ire on the education system, exhorting listeners to “Wake up to the manipulation/Wake up to the situation“.

Still, it’s in its most rocking moments that this album really shines. Perennial JJJ favourites, there’s plenty on here that should make sure that The Living End extend their unbroken run in the Hottest 100 poll into a tenth year next Australia Day. Long Live The Weekend has ‘radio hit’ written all over it and the likes of We Want More, title track State Of Emergency and first single What’s On Your Radio? have choruses and hooks that should keep mosh pits happy for years to come. All in all, it’s a welcome return for a band who have always been a cut above their snotty skate-punk contemporaries.