Prisoners Of Rock
Author: Marcia Czerniak
JUST BEFORE THEY GET READY TO LOCK THEMSELVES INTO THE STUDIO TO START RECORDING THEIR NEW ALBUM, THE LIVING END HEAD WEST TO PLAY THE JD SET GIG ON ROTTNEST ISLAND. CHRIS CHENEY SPEAKS TO MARCIA CZERNIAK ABOUT GETTING BACK ON STAGE AND GETTING A TAN.
After a year of almost silence, The Living End are back with another album in the works and a gig on one of WA’s most iconic tourist spots, Rottnest Island, as part of The JD Set. Lead singer Chris Cheney he says he’s excited about getting back on stage. “We haven’t been doing many shows at all, so, yeah, we jumped at it. We have kind of been just stuck in our writing and rehearsal phase and it is very, very important to our career because the effort we put into that now will be a reward later on, but for us it is about playing live and getting on stage,” he says with an eagerness that hints he can’t wait to get back out there.
“It will almost be a year since we played a proper show. In the old days we wrote and recorded and toured but now we do these blocks. We toured the last record for a year and a half and then we just stopped playing. It is very strange so we’re very excited about getting back into it.
“One of the perks of being in a rock and roll band, if there weren’t enough already with the travelling and all the other stuff that goes along with it, is being able to go to beautiful places and play. It is a real privilege to still be doing music as a job and I suspect that the gig over there is going to be rockin’ in Rottnest. Plus, any chance to get a tan,” laughs Cheney.
Just as The JD Set gives emerging bands the chance to play alongside an established act, The Living End also got their first big break thanks to Green Day. “I find it really inspiring to not lose touch with younger bands and see what they are up to… and maybe try and nick some of their ideas,” he saying jokingly before recounting their humble beginnings and how they got their own first big break.
“We were all still living at home at that point. We used to be a covers band and we played originals on the weekends and as this covers band we did functions playing ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll but we never wanted to be that, we wanted to be a real band writing our own songs. So we did a demo and we heard that Green Day were coming out and we sent them a copy.
“We didn’t know anything about how the industry worked or the right channels to go through but we ended up getting a call from the local agent here saying our tape had gotten to them and Billy had heard it and we were chosen. We had only ever played a gig in Sydney at that point and it was just such an eye-opening experience. They ended up taking us back to America a couple of times and we signed to Reprieve [Warner Bros.] over there which is the label they were on so we were kind of forever in their debt from then on.
“The music industry here was like, who the fuck are The Living End? I think the punk rock community was up in arms, like hang on a second, who are these guys? Shouldn’t it have gone to Bodyjar or One Inch Punch or someone more established? But it was great, we were so naïve we didn’t know how anything worked and that is how it should be.”
Over a decade has passed since that first tour and as they get set to record their sixth studio album, Cheney says the new material is sounding good. “We’re about 30 songs in as far as writing and demo-ing goes and there is about one month to go before we record so I am hoping to get a few more. The thing with me is I don’t like to stop writing until the CD is in the packet on the shelf. I kind of have to be dragged away from the studio at the last minute ‘cause you never know when that last idea is going to come. All I seem to do at the moment is write, sleep and eat occasionally; it’s all consuming really.
“Like with any band we could make two or three different records and I wouldn’t say that is a good thing. We sort of pride ourselves of being fans of different kinds of music styles and adaptable but I think the problem with that is you can confuse people. When I lived in New York at the start of the year I wrote a few songs on GarageBand. So using GarageBand loops and some strings I created songs that are really different from anything that The Living End have ever done. I brought it home and showed the guys thinking that they wouldn’t like them and they would just be shelved and I would maybe do something with them later on, but they really loved them.
“So there is that and then there are these shows we have been playing down here, like these secret shows playing like eight or nine new songs and they are all the really foot-stomping rock’n’roll type songs and then there are a couple of acoustic tracks too. The feedback we got from people was really positive and they made the comment that it sounds really fresh, it sounds like you guys but it sounds like the next logical step for you, which is really good to hear.
“So it is really going to come down to what type of record we want to make and we want to make a good one but we don’t want to confuse people with the direction. We haven’t been critiquing ourselves or censoring it, I just like to get it all out and hopefully that will dictate the way we go. I would say the overriding element is that it is groove based and the riffs are kind of heavy but the drumming is really groovy. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea of groovy though. Not like 311 groovy, I mean more like late ‘70s, early ‘80s postpunk XTC, really tough sounding with really cool beats underneath instead of just the typical kind of punk rock or swing beats we have done in the past.
“So that is really exciting for us because the thing that stood out on the last record which kind of gave us this creative burst was the riff in How Do We Know, you know the octave kind of thing. It was more of a funky, heavy, Rage Against The Machine kind of thing, but we have sped all that up on this record and those songs are really standing out. It is just a matter of finding the right balance and it is good because we don’t feel like we are repeating ourselves what so ever.”
While some Australian bands may be calling it quits and slowing down, there is no farewell tour on the horizon for this trio.
“I hope not, we are not over the hill just yet and we feel hungry as ever and song writing wise I just feel I am getting better at that. I really believe it is a craft and you have to work at it and like any creative output it is a matter of working at it and trying to improve. I think as
players we are better musicians than ever before. It isn’t supposed to work that way in rock and roll, but I don’t subscribe to that and I think this is definitely going to be our best record yet. I am so excited about the songs. They are just more formed and better than anything on White Noise already so it is good. I mean we have had to work at it but as I said before you get out what you put in.”