Author: Daniel Cribb
Before The Living End embark on their most ambitious tour yet – playing all six albums in their discography from start to finish over seven nights in each city – frontman Chris Cheney tries to cram 15 years’ worth of history into ten minutes. Daniel Cribb frantically takes notes.
It’s lockdown for Chris Cheney, Scott Owen and Andy Strachan. The Living End have always tried to outdo their previous efforts, and on the eve of their biggest and most ambitious tour to date, the band admit they tend to bite off more than they can chew. When vocalist/guitar whiz Chris Cheney picks up his phone from the band’s rehearsal space in South Melbourne, it’s some of the first outside interaction he’s had for days. “There’s been a little bit of homework leading up to rehearsals. Listening back to older records, god forbid, can just be a cringe-worthy exercise, you know,” Cheney laughs. “They say you should never look back as an artist or musician, so there’s been, ‘Aw, do I really wanna be going back over old ground.’”
But there’s nothing the band should be ashamed of in their back catalogue. Over six albums, four EPs and two compilations, they’ve racked up a slew of awards and each record has produced at least one radio hit. Their self-titled debut ranked number four on triple j’s Hottest 100 Albums Of All Time last year, and in ’09, single, Prisoner Of Society, came in at number 34 on triple j’s Hottest 100 Of All Time.
They figured The Living End would probably make it into the Hottest 100 Albums Of All Time, but were blown away when it was voted so high up. That was the catalyst for a brainstorming session that turned into The Retrospective Tour.
“People really hold that record near to their hearts – people that were around at that stage. So we thought, ‘Right, we should acknowledge that and do a gig at The Corner or something, where we always used to play, and do the album start to finish.’ Then we thought, ‘Maybe we can do it in every state?’ and then – this is just sitting around a table with our manager and brainstorming – it just snowballed into this thing of, ‘Why don’t we play all of our albums and make a real statement. Play all of our records, seven nights in a row? Two nights for the first record, just ‘cause we knew that would sell really well – it was a bit ambitious of us wasn’t it?” he laughs.
There’s no doubt that a performance of The Living End would sell out in every city; one of the more ambitious elements of the tour was giving every album its own night. Cheney admits that some of their latest records aren’t as popular as their first couple, but has no doubts in his mind that each album stands strong on its own. “There was a little bit of hesitance as far as, ‘Well, would each night sell?’ We knew the first record would do well and maybe Roll On and probably White Noise because the song did so well, but what about the other records. Then we thought about it and we thought, ‘Well, every album’s done really well on its own merit.’ We’ve managed to have a couple of radio singles, like, two or three off every record that have done quite well. There’s different generations of people that got into State Of Emergency that weren’t around when the first album came out, and then there’s people that got into White Noise that were too young for Roll On. So that’s what we found. It’s one of those things – it seemed like such a challenge and such a different thing to do.
“There’s a couple on Modern Artillery that we’ve never played on stage, you know, they just got kind of recorded, mixed, that’s it. But there’s none, I can honestly say there’s no songs that we’re kind of like, ‘Aw fuck, that one, we just can’t do anything with that song – it’s just a dud.’ They’ve all come up really well, and there’s a lot of variety on the albums, which I’m glad about. It’s still the same band, you know; it’s not like we have our dance-pop record, it’s still rock’n’roll for the most part. There’s a couple of country-tinged songs and a couple of reggae moments and some metal kind of things – there’s enough diversity there for us to not lose interest within the eight songs, or whatever it is, that we’re learning… We’re head first into now – knee deep. You don’t have to be crazy to be in this band but it fuckin’ helps,” he laughs.
Seven nights in a row in each city may seem like a huge stint, but after The Living End dropped, it was standard protocol. “Around the time of our second album, Roll On, it was a bit like that. I remember doing nine months straight without coming home. We were probably doing five or six nights straight a week. We definitely toured hard at that point, but the thing is, with this tour, we’re doing a different set every night. When you’re on the road and you’re just trying to get the band off the ground, you kind of fall into that thing of playing pretty much the same set the majority of the time. So if you play a gig on Friday night and it’s not very good, you can sort of fix a few of the issues on Saturday, but we’re not going to be able to do this, it’s going to be like, ‘Right, we’re moving on to album number three now.’ We’ve always toured pretty hard, so we’re not really afraid of that side of it.
“When you do tours like this people are always like, ‘Aw, yeah, here they go. They’re gonna do this farewell kind of tour,’ and it’s not that at all – this is more of an event. We just wanted to do something that was really different and probably to not worry about doing another record yet because we’re not ready to. If I write songs and it’s what the band does, then great, if I don’t then we’re not going to rush into it. There’s no real plan at this point, but I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t go in and do another record if we felt the want to. The last record, for us, was probably our favourite as a collective. I just felt like we had lots of ideas, and we felt it really played well and the songs were strong. It did really well, you know, a couple of ARIAs and that sort ofthing, so it’s like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ We don’t feel like we’ve used up all of our coins, our tokens yet.”
FROM LITTLE THINGS
The Living End’s self titled debut album takes control in each city for two nights (Melbourne gets four), and was the album to sell out the quickest. This obviously speaks of its success and how much it means to fans, but what does it mean to the band? Frontman Chris Cheney gives some insight into their groundbreaking debut: “It’s funny, because a lot of those songs were written when we were just out of high school and we were just playing support gigs at The Tote and afternoon shows at The Punters Club, you know, when we really didn’t know what the future held for the band. We didn’t really have any other aspirations than to play at The Espy or something like that – that was what we hoped for, that maybe we could play The Esplanade Hotel,” he laughs. “Things like Big Day Out and stuff, we were like, ‘They just don’t put bands like us on things like that – we’re not alternative enough.’ So it’s interesting playing those songs now, and the whole album is really, really solid and I can see why it became so popular for a lot of people. As far as those people are concerned, we didn’t surpass that record – it has a mood and a vibe and an excitement about it. It’s interesting now playing those songs because, as I said, we wrote them when we weren’t thinking about hit singles or thinking about radio songs or anything like that, yet they’ve just got so much spirit behind them that you can never do them again, you know. Once that record blew up, there’s no way that we could ever get back into that frame of innocence and that frame of mind. People always used to say, ‘You gonna write another Prisoner? You gonna write another Second Solution?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, no, I hope not, and I don’t think I could even if I tried.’ Once it’s done it’s done – it doesn’t happen again organically like that.”