Author: Cameron Adams
A new album and new fanbase revive the Living End
Backstage at Telstra Dome, the Living End’s Chris Cheney was in the wings waiting to join his friends, Green Day, on stage.
Cheney already knew the song – I Fought The Law. It was made famous by the Clash, the punk band who were a musical blueprint for the Living End and Green day.
But he had more pressing matter in mind.
“I was thinking, man, they’re having a really good gig. I don’t want to walk out and trip over, or play the wrong chord. But I think I got through OK.”
Cheney, his own worst critic, did a great deal better than OK.
And the rapturous applause that greeted his arrival – he was one of the few musicians invited to share the stage with the hottest rock band in the world – was hard to ignore.
The link between the bands is strong; the Living End were raised on early Green Day records. Even before the Living End scored a major record deal, Green day had heard their demos and hand-picked them to support them in Australia in 1996.
They even admitted their hit, Hitchin’ A Ride, was inspired by the Living End’s sound.
“They’ve been so good to us, they really have,” Cheney says.
“They’ve got a lot to answer for when it comes to our success. They gave us our first tour, they took us to America, they talked us up.
“Every time they’ve come to Australia, Billie Joe (Armstrong) has given us a shout out on stage. They’re just really nice, down-to-earth people who are not affected by what they have. And they’re bigger than they’ve ever been, which proves you’re only as strong or as weak as your last album.
“If you have good songs, you have the goods.”
There are other parallels between the bands. Before American Idiot, Green Day issued a greatest-hits set that reinforced their strength as a singles band.
However, they were in a sales slump. Perhaps they were being taken for granted after being together for more than 10 years.
Then came American Idiot, a whole new, young, audience, and a career rebirth.
Similarly, the Living End’s best-of, From Here On In, came after the band’s most challenging and least successful album, Modern Artillery.
“We could have done better, to be really blunt,” Cheney says of the album.
Then a key slot on the Coke Live ‘n’ Loud tour, which was free to kids who drank enough of the softdrink, helped the Living End win over a predominantly young crowd who were barely old enough to remember Prisoner Of Society, but instantly adored it.
“I love the fact young kids are blown away by seeing us with the double bass and the guitar solos,” Cheney says. “I can completely understand it – it’s still exciting to me, These kids weren’t around when we first started, and they can’t believe what they’re seeing.
“It has to go in waves. We appreciate that. We feel as if we’re riding a wave at the moment, at least in interest. Any band hates to be ignored.”
Choice festival sets – including last year’s Splendour In The Grass in Byron Bay and the top local act slot at this year’s Big Day Out – served to remind everyone else what a jaw-dropping live act the Living End are.
Now comes the trio’s fourth studio album, State Of Emergency.
The album’s first single, What’s On Your Radio, debuted in the top 10 late last year. It was only their second-ever tip 10 hit after Prisoner Of Society.
The feeling is that the Living End are now back – in a big way. And, they’re happy to say, they have their best album yet to soundtrack the “comeback”.
“People say to us, ‘It’s good you guys are still around’, like we’re geriatrics or something,” Cheney says.
“I suppose after four albums in the industry it can seem that way. I know we had a lot of success on our first album, and in rock the first album’s usually the classic, but one of the reasons people are discovering us now is that we’re a better band.”
Cheney says he’s too close to his band to know if they’d been taken for granted.
“Some people think we went away. There was a feeling at Splendour of ‘Oh, they’re back’. I suppose people do get used to you being around, and it’s difficult to repeat the impact you had when you first came on the scene.
“I notice that now, the industry goes gaga over a lot of new bands. We had that hype back then. It’s a case of getting past it.
“I don’t feel as if we’re a trend band. I felt like that when we were first successful – it was like we were part of a scene. But we’ve proven we have longevity. Our fans know we’re not a punk band or a rockabilly band. We’re just a rock band, and there’s something timeless about that.
“We still have the hunger, we still want to prove ourselves, prove there’s more to this band and that we’re not just a band from 1998.”
Bassist Scott Owen says: “The way the industry casts the light on the next big thing is different from the way the fans do it.
“The industry can give up on you. It’s fickle. But if you’re good, your fans will stick by you. We’re lucky. We still have fans from the ’90s, and there’s all these kids just starting to get into the band. Hopefully they’ll stick by us. It seems like a good position to be in.”
State Of Emergency had the difficult birth that’s usual with all Living End records.
The trio started rehearsing it in the heart of Spotswood, writing dozens of songs. There was the obligatory secret show – as The Longnecks – at which they played only new songs.
Then the band and producer Nick Launay – who helmed the second album, Roll On – moved to Byron Bay. After a storming set at Splendour, they went straight into the studio.
“There’s a house at the studio, so it was like being in a bubble,” Owen says. “You didn’t have to go home and deal with the real world, you could just lock yourself away.
“It helps when you’re making an album to give it your full attention.”
Songs were tested, and dumped. Then Cheney brought along a swag of new material that changed the sound of the album.
“There were a few setbacks, but that pushed us to the limit,” Cheney says.
“We haven’t settled for second best in any part of it. Perhaps we’ve done that in the past a little bit, but this time we’d say, ‘OK, that doesn’t sound right’. We wouldn’t just go, ‘Ah, it’s good enough’. We’d try to fix it.”
Initially they were hesitant about releasing a best-of after only three albums, but Cheney says the From Here On In compilation reminded him of what the band do best.
“It showed the diversity in the band. There’s more to this band than just that punkabilly tag. This new album has songs that are not what people think of as typical of this band.
“On the last album (Modern Artillery), we went in a particular direction on a few songs, but didn’t quite pull it off, which is dangerous for any band to do.
“We were searching for something a little too pop, perhaps, that didn’t have the guts. By their third or fourth album, every band thinks it’s time to go all experimental and show their arty side, and often they just fall flat on their faces.
“So we’ve done stuff that’s within our limits and to me it’s really interesting. We’ve always wanted to do that. As much as we’ grew up playing rockabilly, we’ve never hidden the fact we love Radiohead and the Police, and we want to dabble in that. Hopefully it still sounds like us, and not us trying to be another band.”
There were other lessons too, some of which involved unlearning much of what the band already knew.
“We had to step out of our musician shoes a little bit,” Owen says.
“We have a tendency to overthink things. Everything is a bit too perfect on Modern Artillery. But it’s just not as important as having the right atmosphere in a song. It’s not just musicians you’re making music for, you have to be aware of that…”
Cheney says: “I might hear a song and think it has a great snare tone, but that really means jack s—. A song either makes you feel a certain way, or it doesn’t, whether it’s (the Beatles) She Loves You or (Radiohead’s) Paranoid Android.
“We wanted to capture a mood on this record, songs with a feel, and not worry if they were perfectly in time.
“Restraint is something we have tried to explore on this record. If we are not careful we go overboard with the technical stuff, and it is so irrelevant. Records are supposed to be flawed and human sounding. I think we nailed that this time.”
In the past year, Cheney and Owen have become fathers, but they say it won’t change their touring plans, here or in the US.
“I guess we have to be more aware of what’s going on at home, but we are still hungry,” Cheney says. “We want to give it all we can overseas. You don’t get many opportunities in this business. I can’t see us cutting tours short. That’s one of the sacrifices you have to make.
“It’s like that with family and friends in general. I apologise to everyone I’ve snubbed, but I can’t do both. Music just envelopes me. I get to this place where I become like a zombie. I’m transfixed.
“And we’re willing to get into the an again in America, do without showers and hotel rooms. The physical side is the easy part, we know we can do that. We’re enjoying where we are at the moment and we’d be crazy not to give it all we can while we still have that enthusiasm.
State Of Emergency (EMI) out Saturday.
The Living End are regularly labelled our best live band.
“We would be dead in the water without energy,” Chris Cheney says.
“Whatever we do on stage that people seem to like, it’s an energy, a chemistry between the three of us. This band needs that, it’s what we do best.”
However, while on one hand they’ll take the title as Australia’s best live act, the Living End also admit they have serial nerves.
“We sit there for an hour before each show s—ing ourselves,” drummer Andy Strachan says.
“Every gig, whether it’s 200 people or 20,000, it’s so important to us.”
Owen says, “We work hard at playing live. We still rehearse songs we’ve been playing live forever, such as Prisoner (of Society) and All Torn Down. Then we get up on stage and slam through them as fast as we can.”
Cheney says: “We are too schizophrenic. We look at Prince’s band and they are real musicians. We want to be like that.
“Then you see the Sex Pistols or the Libertines, and that’s so cool. Hopefully we’re somewhere in between.
“There’s musicianship to what we do, but it goes our the window sometimes.
“It’s like a car crash, you can’t take your eyes off it – that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be.”
However, the band say watching videos of them playing live is like “Chinese water torture”.
“We actually cringe whenever we see or hear us live,” Owen says. “It’s horrible, we’re so rough and out of time.
“But I’ve started to realise that what people like about it is what we hate about it. It’s out of control and out of our control. We’re battling to keep up. The train could come off the tracks at any time, and that’s exciting.
“When we see us playing live we see it as, why don’t we slow down a bit so we have a little control over what’s going on?
“So when we go out there we feel we have something to prove, so that we like it and the audience like it, but that just makes us go harder ad faster and more out of control.
“Sometimes we’ll be up there and think, f— yeah, follow this, you bastards.
“We go from thinking we’re the best band in the world to thinking we suck. But there’s no denying we have something unique, and it’s not just the double bass.
“We like bands who dig their heels in and give the audience their money’s worth. It’s a release for us, and the audience come to the shows wanting to get rid of the frustrations.
“We seem to be a vehicle for that, which is awesome.”
The Living End – State Of Emergency
The Living End have the perfect weapon for anyone who’s written them off: their best album yet.
State Of Emergency jumps out of your speakers. It’s angry, intense and energetic – everything you want from a rock album.
The three have refined their sound over the course of four albums; State Of Emergency captures everything they do best.
It’s also a record company’s delight, with six obvious singles. Chris Cheney virtually sweats hooks and addictive melodies.
‘Til The End marries frantic riffage t their beloved shouty chorus. See also the crowd chant-along-in-waiting We Want More.
Long Live The Weekend mates two of their heroes, the Police and the Clash. It’s insanely catchy – even the verses could be choruses – and it’s all done in under three minutes.
There’s also room for the trio to expand their horizons.
No Way Out employs stark tension before a break-neck chrous kicks it’s way in. One Step Behind flirts with reggae and order Of The Day has a psychedelic wig-out halfway through.
Meanwhile, the brilliant Nothing Lasts Forever may be the least Living End song to date.
Cheney was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run while making this album and it shows: as well as the story lyrics and the US wide-screen feel, the final bridge directly channels the Boss.
New single Wake Up harks back to the message-laden Oz rock of Midnight Oil and Spy vs Spy: a dark cloud hangs over the song, there’s even a children’s choir at the end.
It’s a tad long (the by-numbers last few songs could have got the chop), but this is the right album at exactly the right time for the Living End – and Australian rock.
In a word: triumphant