Author: David James Young
When a writer sits down to compose a text, he or she decides to write in one of three voices: first person (“I did this”), second person (“You did this”) or third person (“They did this”). The Living End, for the majority of their 20-plus years as a band, have spoken in first-person narrative. The twist, however, is that their abstract ‘I’ has always been a part of a greater group, their ‘we’ (lest we forget their most famous lyric is still “We don’t need no-one like you to tell us what to do”). On Shift, The Living End’s first album in five years and seventh overall, this perspective inverts, as lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Cheney turns his lyric-writing onto his own life. There’s no other phrase for it: this time, it’s personal.
“That was one of the big changes that came with writing this album,” says Cheney from his home in Los Angeles, where he and his family have lived for the past few years.“This is definitely an ‘I’ album, after writing so many ‘we’ albums over the years. It wasn’t difficult to write, though – it was the only thing that was coming out of me as I was working on this album. It’s not a concept record, per se, but a lot of it does pertain to the same sort of thing. It all comes back to a few things that have happened in my life in recent times.
“It was a difficult time to get through, but on the other side of it I just sort of spewed forth everything that had happened to me with a pen and paper. I knew that I couldn’t water it down. I knew I couldn’t change it for anyone. It would have been criminal to do that. It wouldn’t have been true to the music we were making. I’ve sugar-coated and sidestepped things in the past. This shit needed to be said.”
Fans of the band last saw The Living End in action in 2014, when they did a mix of intimate club shows (some of their smallest in years) and co-headlining dates with previous collaborator and old friend Jimmy Barnes for A Day On The Green, the outdoor afternoon shows held at regional wineries. At this stage, casual mention was made of working toward new material, although there was nothing yet to show for it. “What we were doing [was] taking any days we had off,” explains Cheney, “and getting into our studio space in Melbourne. We had all this time, we figured we might as well lay something down.
“We decided not to take in any complete songs – rather, we scraped together every little riff and every small idea we had lying around and threw them into the mix. We just hit ‘record’ and went for it. After a week and a half, the spark was well and truly alight. It was nerve-racking at first – it had all the potential to be fucking awful – but it came together in this spontaneous burst of energy.”
The Living End will be premiering a slab of Shift in the live environment this June on a capital city tour alongside Adelaide pub rockers Bad//Dreems and Melbourne punks 131’s. Cheney is especially vocal about his love for the former. “I actually caught them while they were over here in the States,” he says. “They’re just fucking great. They’re a raw rock’n’roll band with a uniquely Australian edge, and I think that’s really special. It really harkens back to the pub rock glory days. It’s important to us to support bands like that, just like we were supported when we were first starting out. You’ve got to support a scene that supports itself.”
The Living End were formed back in 1994 by lifelong friends Cheney and double bassist Scott Owen for little more reason than to play Stray Cats covers and have fun. They, along with drummer Andy Strachan, who has been with the band since 2002, have gone from selling out pubs to theatres to arenas and back again, earning legendary status within contemporary Australian music and a cult following overseas.
Over the 22 years of The Living End’s existence, some bands have come back and others have disappeared entirely. There are few, however, that never left in the first place. Such is the case with Cheney and co. The secret to their longevity? “We’re not interested inplaying it safe,” says the frontman succinctly.
“We’ve never taken the easy road – probably to our detriment at times, some might say. When we did the Retrospective tour a few years back, that was one of the hardest things that we’ve ever done. That comes down to pure ambition, hunger and the willingness to outdo ourselves. We’re always trying to prove that we’re more than our last album or our last hit. Recently, I’ve found myself drawn to the craft of songwriting, probably more than I ever have been before. I’ve been working at it every single day, trying to hone in on the craft. I’m always chasing the kind of songs that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I don’t want to be in a tired old rock band – and I don’t think we’re in any danger of that happening at this point.”