Creating The Solution
Author: Jesse Shrock
The Living End… Did we ever doubt that they would just keep getting better?
I am sitting with Chris Cheney, Scott Owen and Andy Strachan, undoubtedly the most disciplined punk trio in Australia, sipping drinks on the terrace of a chic cafe. The tone is relaxed and the mood – something of a rarity for the guys – is self-congratulatory. And with good reason. When The Living End first re-united with Roll On producer Nick Launay, their vision for the album being planned consisted of two and a half words – live ‘n’ raw. But, in the course of production, there was a mutual recognition that the songs they had were worthy of more. Now, they’re releasing an album that arguably represents the zenith of their sound – both the raw power and the more subtle elements.
I just want to say that I’m a long-time fan, I have all your albums, and I honestly think State Of Emergency is your best yet. It’s already on my shortlist for best albums of 2006.
SCOTT: We don’t even need to do the interview now, do we? Cos’ we’ll just stuff it up.
CHRIS: How do you top that? It’s all downhill from there… That’s a pretty big statement, but if you went out of your way to say that at the end of the year, we’d be rapt.
SCOTT: Maybe start the interview with that quote. ‘Qite possibly the best album of 2006… or of all time.’
ANDY: You could leave out the ‘quite possible’.
Chris, when I spoke to you earlier about where you were going from your Singles Collection, you said you planned to move forward with a ‘fresh new sound’…
CHRIS: Oh, really? That’s a bit gay, isn’t it?
So does this album really represent a ‘new’ sound? Or just a couple twists on the ‘old’?
CHRIS: Definitely the latter. There’s a sound to the band that’s steeped in classic rock and roll that I think works for us, and we’d be crazy to mess with that. I probably meant more in the song writing department and the arranging and stuff… Rather than just having ideas, following through with ideas. Like, if we were going to try something really different to what we’ve done before, actually pull it off. Do it so that it can be a strong point of the album. With this album, I think that the more different songs could be singles, which is great for us. You know we have a trademark kind of sound that I think everyone associates with us – kind of energetic, and punky-sounding. But I think some of the stronger songs off the album this time are the ones that are a bit slower, and more melodic.
Would you say there is a return to the ‘anthemic’ sound of your first album?
ANDY: Maybe… We did try and approach every song with the idea that we would play ’em live for the next two years.
SCOTT: That’s just something that we’re really into – the whole anthemic thing. I guess we still like just shouting those choruses!
CHRIS: I just like every song to be as powerful as it can be. Like in the end of No Way Out, when it’s got that big kind of crescendo, that hits with this big climax at the end of the song. If it’s going to be that kind of thing, it’s got to be almost terrifying at the end of it. So when we have songs that have that anthemic kind of quality, we tend to make them really over the top.
I remember once when you were asked about what you consider to be the consummate rock band, you said ‘Midnight Oil’. So was Nick Launay’s involvement with Midnight Oil’s seminal work one of the reasons why you started working with him in the first place?
SCOTT: Well, it had a lot to do with it for me, because I’m such a huge Oils fan. To me, they were like Led Zeppelin without the hippie stuff. Their production is really heavy… especially in Red Sails At Sunset. There’s lots of really different, out-there sounds going on in their songs, like weird bass and keyboard sounds, and stuff like electric drums on that album. They were like a real band, but they were also god-like because they could make these really bizarre sounds come out of their instruments. It was like a magical thing. So yeah, being able to work with the guy who did that was just full-on.
When we first worked with him on Roll On, I just spent hours asking him questions about the Oils. But it’s not just Midnight Oil. The good thing about Nick is that he comes from London in the 70’s, when The Pistols and The Clash and The Jam were taking off. He was part of that scene, and he lived that life back then. And then he’s done all kinds of albums… INXS, Nick Cave. His repertoire is so diverse. He’s not narrow-minded in production.
Starting with the original idea of making the album as ‘live and raw’ as possible, was it a grudging adjustment to put the extra production touches on songs like One Step Behind, Wake Up etc…
SCOTT:I reckon that was us rebelling against (Modern) Artillery, because that was so well-produced, as far as slickness and neatness goes, man. We’ve really got to make a rough and ready-sounding album, because we know we have that in us. But with the songs that we were choosing as our favourites for the album, (we knew) as soon as we started pre-production that it wasn’t going to be a raw, straight ahead rock and roll album. It was going to be a more complex kind of thing. And it just kept unfolding and unfolding, to the point where it got to horns and kids choir…
CHRIS:I think it would be really one-dimensional of us to just go and make an album full of Second Solutions or something like that. 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 that we do that well also. It would be a real shame to stifle that, and go ‘Well, we shouldn’t have songs like that.’ So it was very easy to say ‘let’s bring in some horns’ and ‘let’s bring in the kids on that part.’
Will you be using this album to revive your ‘Aussie Invasion’ notoriety overseas?
SCOTT: Well, after the Big Day Out, we’ll do South By Southwest in Texas, and a show in LA, and sort of touch base over there again. We haven’t got a deal over there, so we’re basically of going over there with a shopping trolley to try and find the best one. Then we’re going to japan – same deal. We’re looking for a deal over there as well as playing some festivals. We’ll come back and tour Australia, then by that time we’ll have a good reason to go back and spend a few weeks in a bus touring around the States.
Chris, you are known for holding yourself to notoriously high standards in the studio. Have you ever been satisfied with your first version of a song, your first take on a solo, your first go at anything?
CHRIS: I don’t think I’m that sort of person. But I might go; ‘oh, that’s not good enough, that’s not good enough…’ and then come back to the first one! I just don’t think we’re that good where we can have a canvas, and paint, and go; ‘Voila! That’s it! It doesn’t need any more work…’ I just think; ‘Okay, that’s pretty good. But I’ll fix that there, and I’ll re-sing that.’ We’re willing to do that. I don’t want to ever get to the point where we’re being told; ‘you’d better do that again…’, and we say; ‘No, no, no. We have created. Let it not be touched.’ I think it’s a really dangerous thing to do. But at the same time, we can be pretty confident sometimes. We can go on stage, and be like; ‘Yeah, we’re gonna rule this festival!’ So it’s about keeping a level head, I suppose.
And is confidence what you’re feeling now?
CHRIS: I do feel confident about this album, now that it’s all said and done. Because I feel like absolutely drained, completely, over it. We gave it everything we could, and there’s no regrets. I really feel like, we’re as happy as we’re ever going to be with this one, and I think you can hear the results.
ANDY: It was a fucking nightmare, putting ourselves through the nitty gritty of it… 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.
SCOTT: And 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. 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