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.”