2008 Will Have The End At The Beginning

Author: Tom Wilson

With a new record deal, a new sound, and a headline slot confirmed for January’s Soundscape Festival in Hobart, it’s time for The Living End to make some new nnoise. SAUCE spoke to Chris Cheney about signing with Dew Process, the band’s new material, getting his hair blown back, and why he thinks Prisoner Of Society So is terribly juvenile.

You guys guy recently signed with Dew Process. How did this come about? And what wh does it mean for The Living End, ultimately?
Well … it means we can keep putting out music. [Laughs] Not that we wouldn’t be able to on another label, but … how did it come about? I don’t wouldn’ know … Our time had finished [with] EMI, with the last record. So we were kind of up-for-grabs, and we just did the usual thing … People just kind of knew about it … There’s an awareness there, and we just felt that they [Dew Process] were the best of the bunch, really … Just really good people, and really sort of intense lovers of music. We just felt that that would be the best home for us, really. It’s very early days, of course – we’re only just writing now for the next record. But it feels really good – we can’t wait to get this new album up-and-running …

At this point, what can you tell me about the new stuff you’re writing?
Well we’ve done two lots of demos, and … I don’t know – it just feels really Ah, OK … good at this stage. You normally end up … the first couple of batches … Well, this is how it works for us; we sort of flush out all the ideas. And the first ideas are generally just getting everything working again; getting, I guess, the first stages of the songs, and often they need a lot of work. But already these songs are coming up really, really well. I just think we’re learning, as songwriters and stuff, the direction we want to go. And with these songs, they’re just a bit more … I don’t know – it’s hard to explain, you know? When people try and describe what kind of songs they’re writing, I don’t know whether it really comes across very well. But they’re kind of more “direct”. They just have a depth to them that we haven’t had before, I think. They just sort of make sense … not that I am making sense at the moment! [Laughs] But it feels really positive – they feel good to play. That’s the thing. We’re really focusing on that, and we’ve been writing in a slightly different way this time … We’ve had a studio set up where we’re just writing and recording at the same time … We’re just trimming all the fat off, and just making sure that they rock, so we know that, when we get on stage, that it’s just going to be the best that it can possibly be. Hopefully the songs are a step forward as well, but the main thing for us it to get that energy down on tape.

 At this point, while writing, what are some guitarists who have been blowing your hair back, so to speak?
I don’t know … I’m always into the “anti” kind of guitar players, you know? I mean, I like guys who can play Slash-y sort of stuff, but I’m more impressed with someone who can play the right notes in the right order … I’m sure that my back catalogue [isn’t] the best example of that [laughs], but I think at this stage, that’s what I’m trying to go further into. People like George Harrison and stuff – just playing the right part, to really bring out the right emotion in the song. And to me, that’s the hardest thing in the world, you know? It’s easy to play a scale at a hundred miles-and-hour – you can practice all day for that. But it’s finding that right passage of notes that really does it. Even people like Bruce Springsteen – I mean, I like his kind of guitar playing on his earlier records … I must admit, I don’t really listen to bands for their guitar playing – I’m more of a “song” sort of person. I know that we’re known for that, but for me, it’s all about the song first.

So, that’s the music that’s been blowing your hair back. Following on, why have you been blowing your hair back? Yes, it’s a question about The Living End’s hairstyles! [Laughs]
Yes it is! [Laughs] Are you implying I need a haircut or something? Because you’d be right!

Well, the last photo I saw of you, you were flame-red …
Ah, yeah – that’s long-gone now. We’re blonde at the moment! [Laughs] But that could change tomorrow …

It seems to be … the look of the band always seems to have a certain flare to it, and I was wondering if you could give me some inclination of what The Living End’s comeback might look like, as well as sound like?  

That is the worst phrased question in the world. 
It is, yeah! [Laughs] Well, I don’t know … We’re one of these bands who kind of … we started out having a very set image, you know? We came from the rockabilly kind of scene, where a lot of that … it’s kind of eighty-percent image, you know? And for me, it’s always been a big part of rock ‘n’ roll. All my favourite bands had to look good as well as sound good. I just think it’s a huge part of it. But with us … we’ve never really strayed too far from how we sort of started out, and I know that, for some bands, that could be sort of career suicide, because a lot of people like to evolve … Apart from AC/DC, I think most successful bands have gone through a number of stages and looks and all that sort of stuff. But I think that that’s just kind of our foundation. That’s kind of where we came from, and it will always be part of what we do. And the look that went along with that, I think, is kind of ingrained in us, and I just don’t think you’re going to see The Living End in tracksuits anytime soon! [Laughs] But I guess we’ve tampered with it a little bit here and there, and probably dulled it down a little bit from the original, more psychobillyish kind of look. We’re hardly that kind of band anymore, but I guess there’s elements there. Dunno! We’ll focus on the music first, and then we’ll get to the threads! [Laughs]

In what ways are you a different Chris Cheney to the one who wrote Prisoner Of Society? I listen to a lot of that stuff, and I just think it’s … terribly juvenile! But yeah, that’s the first record for you. Probably anyone would say that about their first record. And as much as … I’m really proud of that record and stuff. I wouldn’t know the last time I heard it, and I certainly don’t sit down and listen to it … and if I do hear it, I guess I tend to cringe a little bit. But at the same time, I understand that you have to start somewhere, and that was where we started, and we just happened to have huge success on that record. So immediately, it’s kind of like … there it is, in the public eye, warts and all, and I understand that if it wasn’t for that song, and it wasn’t for that record, that we wouldn’t be where we are. But I definitely think [that] as a person, and as a songwriter, I’m quite removed from that. I just think that we’ve found – over the last couple of records, anyway, and particularly with the new stuff we’re writing – we just seem to have found a groove and a depth that just wasn’t possible back then. It’s kind of a “maturity”, but in a good way … That’s a disastrous word in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, as we know … becoming mature! [Laughs] But I think, you know, it’s happened with us in a good way … I just feel that the songs we’re writing now just have a lot more reach to them, and they just make sense more. Even as players and performers, I just think that we’re nailing it now, you know? And I just look back on those songs and old performances and stuff … they’re very sort of “jittery” and over-excited or something! [Laughs] But that’s just the way we were at the time. Yeah – I just feel it’s a better band now. As I said, you’ve got to start somewhere.

So with all that evolution, and all that change, what’s one thing about The Living End that you wouldn’t change for anything in the f*cking world?
That I wouldn’t change? Well … I’m proud, I suppose, that we … that our background was playing that kind of 50’s rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly stuff, where it’s a mix … particularly the guitar playing; it’s a mix of blues and jazz and country. And we started out playing with all those kinds of bands, you know? Elements of ska music and reggae and all that stuff in there. So I’m proud that this band has that as its foundation, because we can try lots of different styles of music, and that always seems to creep in, you know? And I like dabbling with those genres of music, and I think that’s one thing that’s set us aside from a lot of other bands, particularly coming out of Australia at the time that we started, you know? The only other bands playing anything like what we were playing were the true-blue kind of rockabilly bands, and we never wanted to be just that; we wanted to take elements of that, but be able to write really catchy, hit singles I suppose – have big songs, catchy tunes … like The Jam would write, or Elvis Costello or something. So that’s something I probably wouldn’t change – is that side of it. And people would probably argue that we have changed, but I still feel that, even in our most poppy kinds of songs, you can hear that, you know? There’s an identity, and a character that this band has, that I think is kind of unique, you know? We’ve sort of threatened, I suppose, to lose that a bit in the past, but I’m very aware of it now; that we should be embracing it, and running with it, and you should try and use your strengths. So I think that we’ve applied all that to what we’re writing at the moment, you know? You have to come full-circle sometimes. When we were a rockabilly band, we wanted to break out of that and do different things, but still do it in that kind of way. And then you get to a point, I think, where you’re trying to rediscover what made the band special in the first place … and hopefully evolving at the same time. It’s bloody tricky to do [Laughs] but I think that’s where we’re at, at the moment.

The Living End headline The Soundscape Festival at the Domain Regatta Grounds in Hobart on the 26th of January.