Time Off

Happy Accidents

Author: Jeremy Williams

THE LIVING END’s upcoming sixth album sees the band really getting their groove on, with the emphasis still on vibe rather than perfection, frontman CHRIS CHENEY tells Inpress as we crash the recording sessions. Feature and pic by JEREMY WILLIAMS.

“It’s been like a year and half of solid writing. I started writing at the end of touring White Noise as I find it verydifficult to write on the road. The only thing we did different this time was that the demos we did for the record weren’t quite as comprehensive as they have been in the past.”
The Living End’s Chris Cheney is a man of method. By his own admission he seeks perfection, which has often led to a condition he calls “demo-titis”. Having spent nearly two decades as the frontman of Melbourne rockers The Living End, with whom he has just completed recording their sixth album, Cheney reveals it took his bandmates, drummer Andy Strachan and double bass player Scott Owen, saying to him, “Don’t worry about making the demos perfect. Just put ideas down and work on it later,” for him to realise that maybe he should reassess his approach.

In the past, the band would normally go into the studioand finish a complete song. “This time around we only did one session like that and the rest was us doing our own recordings in our rehearsal room. We put the basic track down, or the basic idea, then I would take it home and put a whole lot of stuff on top and sing something over it. We would leave it at 60 or 70%,” Cheney outlines. Their new approach proved in many ways fruitful. With less time spent perfecting one song, the trio found that their output multiplied. “Subsequently we ended up with 50 songs, 50 ideas, which ended up being a bit of a nightmare to be honest, because by the time we got to pre-production with our producer, we had so many songs. There wereeven songs he hadn’t heard that I hadn’t finished off.”

Even though the prospect of sifting through an amassed collection of songs felt initially daunting, Cheney is pleased that he opened himself up to the new approach. He realises that on a level of output, by not restricting himself at such an early stage, songs that would have been shelved in the development stage have ended up as some of the strongest tracks of the new album. He defines his new process as not wanting to be as strict as the band were last time. “Leaving room for happy accidents, leaving room for improvement,” he says, which in essence means not making the demo sound like a record.

But with so many songs to choose from, how did Cheneyand his cohorts whittle down the selection? “Just personal opinion, really; whatever feels good to play. We definitely had a mindset on this record that we wanted to have songs that were more simplistic, that would work on a bigger stage.” Aware of the fact that the album is only the launchpad for a chain of events, he admits that over the years his approach to songwriting has altered. “It is a weird way to work because when we started the band, you never thought of those things, you just tried to write the best song at that particular time. You try to write what you think sounds good or maybe the 30 people who are going to see you at the Richmond Club. That is all we had back then,” he concedes. “It is a bit different now as we do know the band is on the map and we do play bigger shows and I like the idea of going,‘What’s going to work? What is going to have the most impact when we play in front of an audience on a big stage?’”

With their audience at the forefront of their mind, Cheney soon realised that the culling process would be nowhere near as daunting as they had first thought. Equally, the boys had previously spoken of their intention for the album, which in turn also made the selection slightly less harrowing. “There was a real sort of mentality with a lot of the songs on this record that it had to have that kind of dancey tempo – really heavy INXS. So the songs sound totally massive, with big riffs but groove orientated, but with the way that we play. There are still the big riffs and some fancy guitar parts, fast drum parts and that kind of part of the band that we get off on live and that the audience loves live, but with a heaviness that arrived because we were able to sit backin the groove a little bit. They just feel so good to play.”

As a band that get a kick out of playing live, their approach to laying down a record is unsurprisingly old school. “It was all tracked as a band. We just went in there. The thing is at the studio in Byron Bay it is not a very good sounding studio, so the drum room was used to put guitar amps in and the bass room was where the drums went. Then there were more amps in the kitchen area. So we just went with whatever worked that would enable us to be together, literally two or three metres from each other. That is the way that we play best. I couldn’t imagine being in an isolated booth looking at Andy through three panes of glass. It doesn’t work for us that way. We have tried it in the past. So it was really good – we tracked all the songs as a three-piece and got the foundations and the bed as a three-piece done and really rocking before laying anything else on top.

“We definitely made sure that we didn’t choose perfection over vibe. There were some takes we did which were pretty bang on tempo, but there was something missing. So we would end up going with a track which had just a couple of flaws or mistakes in it, but had that thing. You can’t fabricate that.” Unlike many bands of the Pro Tools generation, The Living End believe that flaws provoke perfection, that it is the little things we do wrong that make us shine. “We of all bands have to be so careful not to make everything perfect and everything in tune as it kills what the band is about. Our live shows are a mess sometimes – they are a train wreck – but they are so exciting for that reason.”

The Living End’s sixth album is due out later in the year.