Coming Full Circle

Author: Hugh Robertson

It’s almost impossible for me to recall a time when The Living End weren’t a fixture of Australian music. I was nine the first time ‘Prisoner Of Society’ roared into my livingroom on a Saturday morning, giving me my first experience of music that was mine rather than something I’d just found on mum’s LPs. Mine can’t have been a unique experience though; the band’s 1999 debut remains the third highest-selling debut in Australian history, and just reached the dizzying heights of #4 in triple j’s poll of the greatest Australian albums of all time.

I spoke to vocalist Chris Cheney the day before the top ten were revealed, but his response when I told him how significant The Living End had been for me was telling enough of how he would have taken the announcement. “Fuck, man,” he begins, sounding genuinely chuffed. “Thank you! That’s awesome. That means the world. But that’s what you [make music] for, isn’t it? To have your own music. And for me it was a matter of coming up with something that didn’t exist; trying to write our own thing, and combine all the things that we liked in one band – or in one song, perhaps.”

Whatever the motivation behind it, The Living End’s songwriting formula has been an enduring one. Over the past decade, barely a single rock festival in this country has gone ahead without Chris Cheney and co., and more often than not their sets have been the highlight of the day. Following 2008’s triumphant White Noise and the ensuing tour, Cheney took himself off to New York for three months last year to, in his words, “write a few tunes, and get out of the comfort zone of living in St. Kilda, and my little music room here.” The fruits of his time away are now available for all to hear on their sixth full-length, The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating. It sounds subtly different, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until Cheney offered the answer: extra time in the recording studio. “If I could have my time again,” he confesses, “I would gladly go back and re-record the first four albums. Whenever I hear them now I just think, ‘Man, we were just on speed!’ Everything sounds sped up to 100mph. And that’s what we were trying to do – to be as intricate as we could be, and play as fast as we could, and try to cram as much information [as we could] into every single song.

“I think there’s a certain naivety to our earlier stuff,” he continues. “And I think this record in particular is more crafted. We spent more time trying to figure out what the songs need, rather than just blasting them out.” And it’s amazing how much of a difference that simple change has made. There’s still that trademark classic rock sound, but it’s filtered through a more sophisticated process than simply hitting ‘record’and smashing through one take. Perhaps the biggest stylistic shift has been away from frenzied riffs and speed, towards a “groovier”, more rhythmic approach to playing together. “Locking into a groove is something that we’ve really enjoyed as a band, particularly since Andy [Strachan, drums] has come on board,”Cheney explains. “And rather than just having three guys up on stage going hell for leather and trying to out-do each other and out-play each other, we really enjoy the idea of locking in as a unit, and as a band. And Andy’s a very groovy drummer – he really appreciates the rhythmic side of drumming, rather than just trying to play all these crazy fills.”

Hardcore fans shouldn’t fear, though. As Cheney takes great pains to point out, any experimenting with sounds or styles was done with one ear on the sound that’s defined the band for all these years. “The last thing we want is to completely take what TLE is and flush it down the toilet,” he assures me. “And The Living End using synths could be a recipe for disaster – but I hope we do it in the right way. I think it still sounds very powerful, and I think the songs benefit from it. And that was the main thing: whatever helped to support the song … Everysong had to feel good,” he continues. “Not only to have a hook and sound right, but when we were playing it we all had to finish the song and say, “Fuck yeah, that feels rock and roll. It feels heavy, and there’s a symmetry between the three of us when we play. And it’s hard to describe, hard to put into words.”

Before we wind up, I have to ask Cheney about his favourite Australian albums. He was one of the voters in the ‘industry’ list for the triplej poll, and while his personal favourites aren’t surprising, it’s always nice to hear someone wax lyrical about their favourite records… “You Am I’s Hourly, Daily was my number one,” he begins, without any hesitation. “That record just killed me – as do most You Am I records.They’re just so good. But I also had Back In Black. And I think I had a Crowded House record in there – technically not Australian, I know… Hourly, Daily is just a quintessential Australian album. But Back In Black, you could really have retired rock and roll after that.”

The Living End

Author: Kevin Bull

National Art School, Sydney
Tuesday, July 19

On a miserable, wet, midweek evening, The Living End gave their fanclub and a few select media types a preview of The End Is Just The Beginning Repeating, three days before its release. Within the confines of a small sandstone building, a crowd of no more than 150 lucky people witnessed what was essentially a club gig, by a band that outgrew this size stage many years ago.
The night was being filmed for a Youtube session, which added a sense of exclusivity, counting in the start of the gig when the stream went live. As expected, the set list was dominated by the new release, featuring eight of its 11 tracks and beginning with the album’s first three songs ‘In The Morning’, ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Machine Gun’.
This new material is classic Living End, with a number of songs destined to become live staples. A unique chance to see The Living End back on a small stage, heralding great things for their performance at Fat As Butter in October.

The Living End

Author: Nick MacKay

The Ending Is The Beginning Repeating
Dew Process

The Living End have long been one of Australia’s most loved bands, but they have one undeniable failing – all of their records sound very similar. That’s not to say The End is just the Beginning Repeating is not a quality release. It is: Chris Cheney’s frantic guitar work is technically brilliant and the songs run the gamut from pile-driving ballads (‘United’) to pile-driving rockers (‘Machine Gun’). Even a promising collaboration with The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn (resulting in title-track ‘The Ending is just the Beginning Repeating’) couldn’t get TLE to stray from the radio-ready punk rock they are known and loved for. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.

The Living End

Author: Jake Cleland

Dew Process/UMA

Technically, there is nothing wrong with The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating. That’s rare, and you’d assume it’d be high praise. It isn’t. Like a blank sheet of paper or a neat haircut, this album is plenty serviceable and very consistent. However, consistency is one thing but monotony’s another, and the tracks never feel like they’re going anywhere.

Every verse is built with ham-fisted simplicity as if with blocks of Lego, each brick contributing another vaguely activistic call to action. With every lyric frontman Chris Cheney seems to suggest that we’re not happy with the current state of affairs and we’re not gonna take it! If only he could be less than totally ambiguous about what it is we’re unhappy about. Song For The Lonely, the second single from the album, suggests that Cheney is just as confused. It’s a protest song! It’s an anthem about isolation! Now it’s about love! He ticks off the boxes as he goes, making the quintessential record for those who love something to feel political about without having to think too hard. The most interesting bits of the album come courtesy of The Living End’s Australian-ness, as references to miner birds and mum treating New Idea like the Bible are the only thing that set them apart from similarly just-adequate US rock bands. The highlight is the eponymous single, where Cheney’s guitar gallops along to the working class anthem, co-written by Craig Finn of the hyper-literate Brooklyn band The Hold Steady: “We are the tired and weary/We are the restless and bored.” It sounds a little more exciting than the ten tracks preceding it, but it’s still plagued by the same endless vacuity. This is their sixth album and Cheney has apparently found a formula that works for him. Every song is just the same thing, repeating.

Recording The Living End

Author: Ben Preece

The Living End cut their latest album in Byron Bay’s Studio 301 and also Red Door Sounds in Melbourne under the watchful production ears of Atlanta-based producer Nick Didia. SPA’s Ben Preece learned that despite Didia having worked on albums by the likes of Rage Against The Machine and Springsteen, it was singer, songwriter and guitarist Chris Cheney who continued to guide the ship the whole way.

“He really shone in the studio and had some good ideas in pre-production working on arrangements,” says Cheney. “But a lot of that still, I feel, is down to me, you know. Like he can only say, ‘That part’s too long there, we need to shorten that,’ and I thought, ‘Well, yeah but the thing is we’ve got most of the chords, which kind of link those sections,’ and he’d be like, ‘Well just take them out.’ I’d be like, ‘Well it doesn’t work if I take them out, you still need to sort of link it up in the right way.’ So that part of it, I thought that was down to me, but in the actual studio, his attention to detail was just fantastic. He was just so tuned in to everyone’s parts they were playing and he had a level of concentration I hadn’t really seen before in a producer. He’d be listening to a playback and he’d be right in the zone and would be making sure as an engineer that every instrument had its own little pocket and he was really big on the idea of not going with the biggest guitar sounds in the world, the biggest drum sounds, you know? It was about finding the place where everything sonically suited so that it fits and creates this canvas of sound. I think sonically it’s our best sounding record.”

Living In The Now

Author: Ben Preece

The mighty powerhouse that is Australia’s beloved THE LIVING END is back with album number six and, as BEN PREECE chats to frontman CHRIS CHENEY, we find out what it takes to triumphantly return with one of their best yet.

You get a sense that a lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into virtually everything The Living End touch, be it their relentless tour schedule and blistering live show or each and every song on their six albums. It’s what has kept them atop Australia’s most beloved list ever since their Second Solution/Prisoner Of Society EP was dropped into the arms of thousands of impressionable teenagers some 14 years ago. From there they’ve become one of the biggest live drawcards in the country,and anticipation for their sixth album The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating is feverishly high.

Already, the album is being touted as their finest since their 1998 self-titled debut, a record that undoubtedly changed the face of Australian music. It’s been along and harsh road since, there’s no doubt about that, but the last couple of years – between 2008’s White Noise and now – have been some of the most trialling for frontman Chris Cheney yet. The result is a record that is The Living End’s most honest to date and, as Cheney explains it, their darkest yet.

“This is definitely our most personal record,” he confesses. “It really does have quite a lot of dark moments lyrically on the record and a lot of it, I think, I feel are my most personal kind of set of lyrics. If anything, it’s sort of the opposite of what we’ve had in the past which has been very directed towards social issues and various topics. I just got to a stage, started in the middle of last year, where– I don’t know if it’s an age thing or what – but I started to think, ‘Fuck, like what does any of this mean, where do I go from here, what have we been through and what’s next?’ And then my dad was real sick – he actually passed away a couple of months ago, straight after we finished recording – so I was dealing with all of that during the recording. So I think that there’s a lot of that on the record, there’s a lot of questioning about, you know, just what any of it kind of mean and does it mean anything at all?”

Despite his real life tragedies and even, at times, self-doubt, Cheney continued to remain focused, constantly reminded himself of his goals and continued to plough through the process.

“It’s been the most difficult year of my life,” he states gravely. “There was just days where it felt so trivial to me – being in a rock’n’roll band making an album, so I did question my importance. You’re dealing with a serious issue like that, there were just times when I felt like, ‘What’s the point of any of this?’ That is the whole thing – if we don’t have goals, if we don’t have things we want to achieve, then we have nothing. So despite everything that’s going on you have to still stay focused and it’s all about quality of life I suppose.

“But it was very hard because there was a lot of lyrics on the record that particularly deal with a lot of sensitive topics – things like For Another Day, we only have our lives for another day, as in, ‘If we only have now, then what are we going to do with right now?’ That’s the whole crux of this record, and for me, that’s what I mean about the title. It was very much sort of saying, ‘Well if this is going to end, if this era, if this part of our lives is going to end, I hope to god there is something else around the corner’.”

Winding up touring and promo duties that followed 2008’s White Noise, Cheney decamped to New York to begin writing for the next record. He returned to South Melbourne with a canon of new tunes that he and bassist Scott Owen and drummer Andy Strachan began to jam on. They were soon in Byron Bay’s Studio 301 under the watchful production eye of experienced Atlanta-based producer Nick Didia, although it was Cheney that continued to guide the ship the whole way.

“He really shined in the studio and had some good ideas in pre-production working on arrangements,” Cheney reveals. “But a lot of that is still, I feel, down to me, you know. Like he can only say, ‘That part’s too long there, we need to shorten that’ and I thought, ‘Well, yeah but the thing is we’ve got most of the chords which kind of link those sections’ and he’d be, like, ‘Well just take them out’ and I’d be, like, ‘Well it doesn’t work if I take them out, you still need to sort of link it up in the right way’. So that part of it, I thought that was down to me, but in the actual studio, his attention to detail was just fantastic. He was just so tuned in to everyone’s parts they were playing, and he had a level of concentration I hadn’t really seen before in a producer. He was really big on the idea of not going with the biggest guitar sounds in the world, the biggest drum sounds, you know? It was about finding the place where everything sonically suited so that it fits and creates this canvas of sound. I think sonically it’s our best sounding record.”

Aiming for “spine-tingling” moments throughout The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating, Cheney name checks classic songwriters like Glen Campbell, Springsteen and The Bee Gees while revealing to have stripped away the excess to a achieve the strongest groove possible.

“Those kinds of songs – By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Gentle On My Mind – there’s just something about them; beautifully structured and just so carefully crafted,” he muses. “And that’s what I tried to do with these songs. I was just really meticulous with just drafting, and drafting the songs over and over again to get them to a point I was happy with. But also, you want it just to flow, and just sound like it’s just kind of happened, and that’s very difficult to do, and I think for some song writers – you know, Noel Gallagher or whatever – you know has written a few songs in five minutes, which never works that way for me unfortunately. I think it’s our strongest record since our first one. I think it completely wipes the floor with White Noise.

“There’s definitely some big moments in the songs, and that’s what you want in an album, you want there to be these peaks, these certain moments that characterise a record. You have these moments that really hit you and send shivers down your spine, or whatever it is that we like about our favourite records. We’re fans of music, we’re fans of great albums and we’re fans of musicians so I think we’ve gotten better at all those elements over the years, and I feel like I’m a better songwriter, and we’ve gotten better as musicians, and I guess that’s the reason why people still find it appealing.”

The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating

Author: Alex Watts

The Living End has always been a guilty pleasure – something sitting perhaps too-often-played in your library, showing up with disturbing frequency in shuffles, making it onto mix tapes now and then. You wouldn’t tell your friends that you bought it, but you did.

Now they’re back, sneaking into your radio-listening somewhat insidiously. The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating, aside from having a deceptively pretentious title, is a solid album. It’s a sparkling representation of what the almost-alternative section of Australian music can do, when they’re not “crafting” bogan-prog.

There’s not a lot of downtime – the title track is an anthemic rock piece, ideal for road trips or that awkward walk home after you split up with your girlfriend. Similarly emotionally wrought are Resist and For Another Day, sprinkled amongst the more laidback (but undeniably rock-heavy) tracks like Universe and Ride The Wave Boy.

Snide remarks aside, this is a good album. The songs have a certain tangibility often missing from Australian pop/rock. There’s a dash of punk, those all-important anthems and just enough lyrical diversity to keep interest across the entire record. The moments when you find yourself singing along are only mildly embarrassing.

The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating isn’t the best album you’ll buy this year, but it’s a lot better than most. Groundbreaking? No. Thrillingly inspiring? Perhaps not. Worth a spin? Definitely.