Heads Of The State

Author: Natalie Schmeiss

The Living End’s fourth full length release, State Of Emergency, is in stores now. The band will be embarking on a national tour later in the year.

In 2004, The Living End achieved something pretty special. The release of From Here On In: The Singles 1997-2004 was a loud and proud punctuation in the trio’s lengthy career, according to bass player Scott Owen. One, perhaps, he wasn’t ready for. To Owen, The Living End is an ongoing passion that’s yet to lose momentum, and while some will acknowledge the band’s achievements with something of a ‘greatest hits’, The Living End are far from throwing in the towel. In fact, they’re picking up a whole new swag of pre-teen fans along the way.

I heard you had an enormous number of songs to choose from for this album…
Yeah, I think it was probably around 40 or 50 songs that we had demoed over the first half of last year or something/ We just did tons and tons and tons of demoing stuff, because we just didn’t want any idea to get left by the wayside before it was fully explored. So we spent many, many hours in a rehearsal room working stuff out and doing demos and stuff. But we’ve basically done that for every album that we’ve made. We definitely never had a lack of material to choose from (laughs).

It must be a bit hard to let some of them go…
Yeah, that’s the main problem with having that many songs. Because there’s three of us having to choose which ones end up on the album, obviously you can’t have all the ones that you want, because, you know, the other guys might have ones that they prefer, or whatever. So, you know, you need to be diplomatic in the culling process, and it does get pretty tricky trying to figure out which ones to leave out.

What sorts of things stood out about the final selection for the album?
I dunno, I mean, we definitely wanted to make sure the album had variety – you know, not every song sounded the same, obviously – but not too much. Like we didn’t want to pick the songs that we’d been demoing that were really kind of out there. We still know that when people hear our album that… we know that people want to hear what they expect from The Living End to a certain degree. Even though when you think, like, our band is pretty diverse, you can tell from the singles and stuff that we’ve got all different kinds of songs. But we just didn’t want to put anything on that was gonna freak people out too much, you know. And we didn’t want our album to sound too kinda schizophrenic, you know, we wanted it to sound like a good solid album. And we just basically picked the songs that had the best identity, and that’s what we were looking for when we were demoing. We just wanted to make sure we got the most out of each song, just to make sure each song had a strong identity and wasn’t too confusing or any of that. But it was difficult to choose.

When it’s time for a new album, do you ever draw into the last album’s stockpile of songs that didn’t make it?
Yeah, we actually did this time. Because there were songs that we left off the last album that we’re still really attached to. And maybe some of them definitely weren’t complete enough to make it onto the last album, but we’d been working on them over the last year and trying out different ideas with them. And we did this time, yeah. We always say that we’re going to, when we record and album we go ‘Alright, we’re gonna have to leave that song off but we’ll think about it for the next album’. And then we never do, well, we never have done up until now. Because you kind of get more excited about the new songs that have the novel factor because they’re new songs (laughs). But, yeah, there are a couple of songs that are actually pretty old on this album, but then there’s also, like, one of the songs was only written a couple of weeks before we went into the studio to record. It’s a bit of both.

Do you think it’s important, for a band that’s been around as long as The Living End, to pay attention to what’s popular in music?
Well, yeah, to a certain degree. I’m really glad for what was happening last year with bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads and The White Stripes and The Strokes. I was really glad for that kind of garage-y, pop rock kind of thing being popular last year. Because it felt like when all these bands were coming out, ‘Man, this kind of sounds like what we’re into’. And finally… because a lot of those bands sound like they could’ve been born in the early ’80s in the new wave scene or whatever. And it was great to hear all those bands, it was like ‘this is the kind of music we’ve been listening to’. But now it’s kind of current, you know. So, I think it’s only good to be tuned into what’s popular at the moment if you like it. I mean there’s a lot of stuff that’s popular at the moment and there’s been a lot of stuff that’s been popular over the years, that I just don’t really like. There’s no point even getting into it or even trying to understand it if you don’t like it because you don’t want to let it have an influence on you, you know.

Some musicians that have been around for awhile I guess are sometimes afraid of becoming irrelevant because they’re not paying attention to what’s new and ‘what the kids are into’…
Yeah. See, I just don’t think it’s just worth paying attention to what the kids like if it’s not something that you like as well. I mean, it’s one thing to say ‘I wanna be able to write a song that people are gonna like’ because that’s like an achievement, you know, to be able to write something that’s going to appeal to people. But there’s no point doing it if you’re not going to like it, you know (laughs). That’s the kind of fine line that you need to understand, I reckon, when you’rewriting songs. You’ve gotta write for yourself, otherwise you’re gonna get sick of it before anyone else does and that’s not a very good situation to be in.
And people will be able to see it, especially younger kids that get into music. They can see straight through that kind of thing I think, most of the time. So it’s more important to do it for yourself.

Is there such a thing as feeling secure in your position in the Australian music industry?
Yes and no. We’re lucky to be where we are as far as security goes and we’ve worked very, very hard to be where we are as far as security goes as well. You know, we’ve worked our arses off for many, many years (laughs) touring and making records and playing shows and stuff. So in a sense there is a little bit of security because I kind of feel like we’ve earned our place, to be where we are, and I don’t feel like we could lose it that quickly, that tomorrow we could just be back in our day jobs again. But also, then again, on the other hand, that’s the music industry. People do just kind of drop off the scene so quickly, you never know when it’s going to happen, it’s such an unpredictable industry. So I guess you can never feel completely and utterly secure unless you’re The Rolling Stones or something, or Paul McCartney (laughs). But, I don’t have any great feeling of insecurity. I guess I do sometimes, but I think that’s only human. I think everybody probably does, no matter what they do. And, yeah, I feel like we’ve worked hard enough to be where we are and we kind of understand why we’re here pretty well. So, yeah, so I feel pretty comfortable, you know.

Having worked hard for so long, is it easy to say ‘OK we can sort of pull back a bit on that now and relax’?
Well, I thought I would be. But I think… I dunno. The band defines who we are so much as people, as individuals. People probably say ‘Oh, you’d be nothing without The Living End’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah, exactly! You’re exactly right!’. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I’ve given so much of my life to this band, it’s what I am. So, I can’t really say, ‘Alright now, it’s time to put the breaks on’, because when we’re sitting around at home doing nothing – if we’ve got like a month or something where we can’t do anything – it’s really frustrating, and it kind of makes me feel like you have no purpose in life if you’re not out there and working and doing stuff. It’s just like anyone’s job, if you love your job and all of a sudden you get sent home for four weeks and it’s like, don’t worry you’ll be back in another four weeks. For that four weeks you’re just sitting there going, ‘Well, I’d rather b at work, I’d rather be doing something’. I have nothing else that I feel this passionately about; I just want to keep doing it (laughs).

Has that passion grown with the band’s popularity?
Yeah, I reckon it’s always gonna grow. I don’t think it’ll ever get to the stage where I think, ‘Right, we’ve done everything now, I’m happy and I don’t want to be any bigger or any better than I am now’. I reckon the day that happens is the day that I need to go and check into a mental hospital. Because, seriously, that’s the good thing about having music as a trade, there’s always something else you can do with music. No matter how much you know, or how much you’ve done, you never know when you’re gonna pick up a guitar or pick up a bass or whatever, or be in a rehearsal room and you’re gonna play something that you’ve never, ever played before, never heard before. So, you know, I think that can never disappear, it’s just a matter of being interested in finding that. I don’t know if the interest will ever die, but I doubt it.

How does it feel when people are just as excited about hearing songs like Prisoner Of Society and West End Riot as they were when you first wrote them?
See, that’s amazing. After we released our singles album last year, that was kind of like (laughs) I hate to say this, but I will… Releasing the singles album was like, shit, we’ve got like a best of album now, this is 10 years in he making, this album. It was kind of like a punctuation mark at the end of a pretty long career. Not the end of it, but just kind of punctuating what we’ve done up until then. And it’s like, ‘OK, now we’re gonna go out…’ like we were still just as keen to keep going as we ever were… And now we’re gonna go out, and now that we’ve done a best of album it’s like it’s phase two now. And it was a really, really excellent surprise, because that was a bit of a shock, realising that that’s what the best of album kind of meant to me (laughs), singles collection or whatever you want to call it… that’s what it meant to me. And then going out there afterwards with the new material, like the gigs we’ve been doing lately, and seeing all these really young people getting into the band and people treating us with as much excitement and enthusiasm as they did at the beginning of phase one is an excellent feeling. It’s been a real boost of energy for us and it’s really refreshed our enthusiasm as well, it’s good. I don’t know why it happened or how it happened but it did (laughs) and that’s a good thing.