The Brag

The Retrospective

Author: Krissi Weiss

Not even Chris Cheney and Scott Owen, the founding fathers of The Living End, could have foreseen the journey their little band would undertake. They formed the group in a Melbourne high school, and got their big break supporting Green Day on their 1996 tour, before releasing their breakthrough double A-side ‘Second Solution’/’Prisoner Of Society’. When they appeared in the mid-‘90s, grunge was slowly suiciding, and rockabilly hardly looked set to take its place. But The Living End had far more than catchy hooks and punk-infused rockabilly up their sleeve; masterful musicianship and a killer stage show cemented their place in the Australian rock landscape. What followed was three number one albums, six ARIA awards, and a whole lot of fans.

After close to 20 years in the game, the band are embarking on The Retrospective Tour, which will see them in Sydney playing all six studio albums in full over seven nights (the self-titled debut will be played twice). “Because of the nature of this tour, there’s a hell of a lot of rehearsing to do,” bassist Scott Owen says, as he takes a moment out from the rehearsal studio. “There are a lot of songs off our records that we haven’t played live for years, and some we’ve never, ever played live. We had to put about a month aside to dust out the cobwebs and try and get the memory banks working again and physically relearn all of those songs. Rehearsal has never been such a huge part of a tour as with this upcoming tour. We really wanna do all those old albums justice; we don’t wanna just get up only half knowing what we’re doing.”

The rehearsal process hasn’t just been a technical venture; as the band have revisited every song from every album, the memories have come flowing thick and fast. “It’s been an enormous trip down memory lane and actually a really pleasurable experience,” he says. “The songs eventually do come back – the memory of how to play them – but with that comes all the memories of where we were when we recorded them or toured them, or when they were written.”

By all accounts this is a mammoth undertaking, but The Living End have never done things by halves. Owen laughs when asked whose idea this actually was. “No one’ll actually take responsibility for this idea. Everyone’s blaming each other,” he chuckles. “It started off like, ‘Let’s go out and play the first album’ – it started off like that and then it grew into this monster of an idea that no one really remembers who came up with… Before we started rehearsing it was quite frightening, because [there was] no way of knowing if we’d be able to learn all of these songs. We started thinking it was a stupid idea and why the hell were we doing it, but as soon as we got into the room and started playing, it was surprising how much muscle memory kicks in. All those songs are buried way back there somewhere.”

While Owens is proud of all that his band has achieved, the preparation for this tour has given them some time to reflect on the music they’ve created – and occasionally question their artistic motivations. “Roll On, our second album, particularly brought that up,” he says. “The first album had songs that we’d had for years and worked on a lot live, and then when it came out we toured heaps – and as soon as we finished touring we went straight back into the studio to make another album. We had this point to prove. Everyone thought we were this three-chordpunk-and-rockabilly novelty act, so we had this bee in our bonnet: we wanted to prove we could actually play our instruments, and that we were into all of these different styles of music. So we recorded this monster of an album that had a ridiculous amount of parts in every song, and the whole thing was just such a marathon that now that we’re playing it again there are moments we look at each other like, ‘What the hell were we thinking?

“But ya know, all the records have their place in time, and we believed in them all when they were coming out. Because we’re not the sort of guys to sit down and listen to our albums – don’t look back, just look forward kind of thing – the one unforseen circumstance with this is that I’ve been able to go, ‘You know what? I actually really like this band.’ That’s a pretty cool experience to have this far down the track.” The tour makes sense given the mammoth career these lads have had, but fans could be forgiven for thinking that this could be some sort of farewell; there’s certainly a feeling of finality to a retrospective tour. And even Owens isn’t entirely sure whether that’s the case. “It sort of does have that feel to it,” he says. “To be perfectly honest we just don’t know. I could see us playing music until we’re really old men, but you never know what the future holds. We don’t have any plans to stop soon, but we don’t have any plans for the next thing at all either. We’ll see what happens. I guess I don’t know how to answer that, apart from [saying that] we don’t have plans to split up, and we don’t know what the future holds.”