It may have been 20 years since The Living End were talking about being a brat that talks back, but god damn, they haven’t lost the punk. If you don’t believe me give a spin to ‘Death Of The American Dream’, a track of their newest album Wunderbar.
“I’m stoked that you brought up that song because that’s probably my favourite off the record,” remarks the bands Double Bassist Scott Owen. “That one was just a bit of a jam and when we demoed it we didn’t have any lyrics written.
“So I just barked down the microphone. I was pretending I was on the phone to somebody and that was my phone call was the verses of the song. It was thing called ‘Can I leave my number’ as if I was leaving a message for someone,” he continues.
“We were more focused about getting the energy right to make it a banger of a song and didn’t care as much about the lyrics and Chris took it away and turned it into the ‘Death Of The American Dream’ which tuned it to a completely other dimension.
“It’s the first time we had every written like that. I didn’t expect it to turn into what it did, it was just something we did for a bit of fun and then it grew legs and got a life of its own.”
Recording the album over six weeks in Berlin, Scott spoke about how the band were “fish out of water” when they headed over to work with Tobias Kuhn, a producer the band had never met before.
“The whole idea was to take a bit of a leap of faith,” he says. “We didn’t want to play it safe and put ourselves in the same situation we have before, so instead we thought we would take an adventure and work with someone we don’t know in a place that’s really far away.
“It was a great idea; it was the best thing we could of done,” Scott expands. “Tobias was unreal; we got aong with him really well and had really similar musical tastes and ideas so it was a really good collaboration there in a sense.
“We try not to have too many preconceived ideas about songs and try to just let them go to where they want to be. We just want each song t have their own identity.”
Now back in Australia, The Living End will once again be hitting the road for the Wunderbar tour and bringing along West Thebarton for the ride.
“Truthfully, I don’t really know much about West Thebarton,” laughs Scott before continuing, “so I’m really looking forward to touring with them so I can check them out. We have just done a bunch of gigs in Europe which has been really good for us and now we have a few gigs between no and when the tour starts but we absolutely cannot wait to get back up there again.
“Being in a studio is great, but it feels like you’ve got the shackles on and everything is under the microscope so we all can’t wait to let lose on stage again.”
“Pretty much every gig, someone requests that!” Bassist Scott Owen says. He’s talking about Uncle Harry, track from The Living End’s 2001 album Roll On. The song is one of the silliest the band have released (“Uncle Harry pissing in the bath”) in their long career, but it still gets yelled out at gigs, some fifteen years later. “rock and roll keeps you young.” He notes.
Owen is unable to quantify what the band mean to their fans, and their country; the ‘End have been a fixture of the rock and landscape in Australia for over twenty years. Most of you reading this have a favourite album, no doubt. Personally, I can’t imagine an adolescence without Prisoner of Society in it.
“I know what it’s like to have favourite bands and buy records; that important music, albums I’ll never tire of, it’s so hard to imagine [that] in regards to us, because we’re inside it, in the bubble of the band, and it’s hard to step out.” he says. “We did that retrospective tour, where we did all our albums, which was a good opportunity to get a sense of that, go back and relearn all those early albums, good opportunity to get perspective. It’s always a bit of a mystery to me, how our albums have shaped and affected people’s lives; it’s a spin out, almost too hard to grasp.”
2016 saw the release of the band’s seventh album, Shift; listeners will notice the change in their sound from some of the headier punk of their older records, to a more refined rock style. Although The Living End have manifested in different ways over their long career (a normal progression), Owen maintains that every new record has a sense of the band’s spirit within.
“What this one offers, more so than any of the others, is mostly lyrically.” he says. “A lot of our songs- the majority- have been politically or socially charged; there haven’t been that many songs written from a personal point of view, that’s where this album is different. It’s all pretty much Chris’ experience with himself, opening up, being a bit more personal, letting feelings and things be known. Our music’s always shifting and changing.”
“When you think of English punk in the seventies and eighties, there’s definitely an identity to that; in the US it’s the California punk thing…the punk scene in Australia came off the back of that.” Owen explains, as we discuss Aussie punk, and the humour that often comes with it. Aside from the aforementioned pensioner ode, the ‘End have never gone for much of the jokesy stuff.
“Aussie punk bands, when we were starting, had a bit of an Australian identity; bands like Frenzal, Bodyjar, stuff like that, [had an] Aussie edge to them that sets them apart from similar style bands from overseas. It’s a hard thing to put your finger on. We always found the humour thing in music always kind of wore thin quickly [for us].”
In late 2006, Cheney took a hiatus from the band, as fans feared this would mean the end of their beloved trio. Cheney took a break from music, and the band got some much-needed distance. It ended up serving them well; they came back together, made a banger album (White Noise), and continue to tour and record as they always have. “There is no end in sight, I’ve never felt like it’s time to stop doing it. Never. I know Chris [Cheney, frontman] did, for a period; there was one point where we did sort of disband for a year, he felt like he needed space from it; “I wanna walk away from it for a while”. And that happened, [there was] basically about a year where we stayed out of each other’s way. I dunno what changed or what clicked, but he was compelled to put it all together again and we made White Noise , that was an awesome period after a hiatus. I was confident it wasn’t the end, just a matter of taking space for a little while. I still feel like we can manage this, we can continue to do it and the novelty hasn’t worn off – I still get major excitement getting together with those two guys.” “After having been a band for twenty years or whatever it’s been…I guess to look at it from the big picture, as it progresses, you get more and more perspective on the things that matter, compared to the things you used to focus on that seemed important that the time, but weren’t really- in hindsight. Being on stage, playing gigs…making records and being in the studio, I’ve always found a bit of a chore, to be honest- I’d much rather be on stage. The record is rewarding at the end, all those hours creating songs, chipping away, but the process I find quite boring. It’s not like the instant karma of being up onstage, that’s what gives me the real feeling of being what the band is. There’s been all these steps along the way, but it all boils down to one thing: we still love playing music with each other. We’re so lucky to have this life.”
One of Australia’s most prolific and loved punk bands, The Living End are stopping off in Laurieton on their national “Staring Down The Highway Tour”. Focus chats with double bassist Scott Owen…
Hey Scott. It’s been 23 years of music for The Living End, and you have been there for the whole ride … How did you and Chris get together? Well, we both have older sisters that are the same age; our sisters were at high school together, and Chris and I were in primary school. So, our sisters would hang out together, and that is what introduced the Cheney family to the Owen family. Chris and I were like the annoying little brothers; whenever there were get togethers with the Cheneys and the Owens, Chris and I would hang out and do kid stuff. We went to high school together. I was learning piano and he was learning guitar, so at 14 – 15 we started playing music together; that’s where it all began – and we just haven’t stopped.
And what inspires writing now, compared to those initial days? Lyrically, Chris does most of the writing, so it’s hard for me to comment. Lyrically he (Chris) has gone more – particularly on this last record – from writing songs that are political commentary, I guess is probably the bets description for it, and just singing about things – social things, political things, and stuff like that. The change, or “shift” if I was to pull a pun, is now with this record it’s all sorts of personal stuff for him that he has written about. Musically, nothing has really changed, in that we wrote songs back then musically and stylistically for the same reasons as now; but our style has changed, because we’ve grown over the years and been exposed to all different kinds of music and appreciate music that when we were younger never thought we would. Basically, with the writing and style of our band, we have always just wanted to be the type band we would want to be fans of. So, we approach songs with the bands we’re into in mind, saying “What would our peers do?”, or, “What would our idols do with this piece of writing – how would they interpret it?” That’s the style and the chemistry of the band, and that’s just developed over the years as our taste changes.
Prisoner of Society was such an iconic song when it came out; at what point did you know this was going to become an anthem? We didn’t, really, until it sort of happened. When we did the single, there was no real grand plan of world domination at that point; it was just a single that we recorded and had printed, so we could take it out on tour and sell it and try to make some money. I guess it was when Triple J picked up the song and started playing it, then they started getting requests for it and they started playing the absolute s*** out of it. We were on tour with Jebediah, supporting them on a national tour at that point in time. It was during that tour that people started getting to the gigs earlier to see us, becausethey’d heard that song on the radio and were going gangbusters about it.
What would you say has been the biggest highlight of The Living End’s career? That’s a tough question. We’ve had some pretty big ones – playing and touring with AC/DC, which happened many years ago, we played at the AFL Grand Final last year, that was a massive highlight, we opened up for the Stray Cats; that was a bit of a weird come full circle experience. We played with the Rolling Stones – they’re always the highlights, playing with this band or that band … Bands that we had never thought we’d play with. If we had told our teenage selves that we would be opening up for the Rolling Stones one day, we would have laughed – but it happened!
Don’t Miss The Living End on Wednesday 15th March at Laurieton United Servicemen’s Club. Supported By Son Of Jaguar & The Bennies. Doors 7:30pm for an 8pm start. 18+ EVENT. TICKETS PRESALE: $45, DOOR SALE: $50.
There’s a pretty good reason that pub rock survivors The Living End have been so noticeably quiet of late. Not only do none of the band members remain in their hometown of Melbourne, none of them are even living in the same state as one another.
“I’m in Byron Bay, Chris [Cheney] is in Los Angeles and Andy [Strachan]’s down on the south coast of Victoria,” explains double bassist Scott Owen on the line from his aforementioned new home. “We’re very spread out. I particularly enjoy this area. It comes as a bit of a change for me – I grew up in Melbourne, I was always a bit of a suburban cat. I got the itch to go and explore by the ocean. I love to surf, and me and my family love this part of the world. It’s gotten its claws into us, and I don’t feel any inkling to move in a hurry.”
It appears The Living End are working at a far more casual pace these days in comparison to even five years ago. There was a time when the trio was seen as the nation’s go-to festival act, to the point where it would have been quicker to list the events the band hadn’t played. These days, however, Owen is well aware that there’s a bigger picture to consider for both the band members and their collective nearest and dearest.
“We’ve aged, let’s face it,” he says with a self deprecating laugh. “We’ve all got families now as well. Chris and I have been a part of this since we were friggin’ teenagers; since we were about 16 years old. We pretty much haven’t stopped. You can see the band as a bit of a brand now. We want to make a lifetime out of this, because we can’t imagine doing anything else. As fun as it is to play every night and then jump in the van, it’s tiring and restraining of your time commitments. There’s a life away from that now, especially because we all have families now. In a way, we have to tread the boards carefully these days. We have to be a bit more intelligent about our approach, and I think we’ve balanced it out pretty well.”
Back in Australia for their first headlining shows in just over two years, The Living End have booked a small run of intimate club dates in order to get the wheels back in motion. The boys will take in Canberra, Towradgi and Sydney, as well as a handful of shows alongside the immortal Jimmy Barnes, whom the band collaborated with on his recent 30:30 Hindsight project. If that wasn’t enough to fill their collective days together, the first glimpses of TLE’s as-yet untitled seventh studio album have just hit the horizon.
“During the week, rather than just laze about, we’re going to be heading into a studio in Melbourne and we’re going to be working on some new material,” says Owen. As for what we can expect from the follow-up to the 2011 LP The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating, the bassist isn’t quite certain. Perhaps, to rattle off a cliché, it will be best to expect the unexpected.
“Because we live so far away from one another, we only see each other when we’re playing,” says Owen. “There hasn’t been that much communication regarding what we’re going to do. Normally, the creative process for us is to spend months and months inside of a rehearsal room. We’d fine-tune tonnes of songs and then whittle them down. This time, we’ve agreed to go in a bit more blindsided and just smash it out. We just want to keep it simple and make a rock’n’roll record – just get in there and sweat our arses off. We’ve all been in the creative mindset for the last 12 months or so, just working on our own stuff. We’re chock-full of ideas, so we’re just gonna get together and chuck them all in.”
The last time The Living End toured Australia was as part of the extensive Retrospective Tour of 2012, in which they’d play through each of their studio albums in full; start to finish and one per night. The shows were incredibly successful – including a completely sold-out run in Melbourne – and gave the band a chance to reflect on each release individually, as well as fans’ reactions to them.
“There’s obviously younger punters that would have gotten into us with White Noise or whatever, and then the older ones who’ve been with us since the first album,” says Owen. “It was really cool to see the differences in the audiences every night. That tour had such an impact on a personal level, as well. As we made those records and toured them, you felt the last record you made is the most important record you’ve made. You love some songs, you get sick of some songs. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster. But that tour really put everything into perspective for me. It made me love the shit out of the band. It made me realise why people like this band. I may have been overthinking them at the time, but I’ve fallen back in love with all of our songs again.”
Even the most successful of bands still have a thing or two to learn about the industry, and it seems the Living End are taking a few lessons while doing some shows with Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes. “The thing that really amazes me about him, I mean obviously he’s a great performer, but when we’re in the studio and tracking a song hearing his voice come through the headphones,” double bass player Scott Owen says.
“He never goes, ‘Okay, I’ll just sing this through with half my sound a few times and then we’ll get serious’, he’s just serious from the get go and nails it every single time. He’s just an absolute legend and whenever he opens his mouth he’s on.”
For the rest of us, we’ve got a lot to learn from both bands, and thankfully the Face the Music Industry Conference is allowing us to get a further look into the Living End’s career. Taking to the stage with their long time manager Rae Harvey, the band will be discussing the ins and outs of how they got where they are, and as Scott says, a lot of it can be thanks to their great management.
“I think it’s almost been 20 bloody years that she’s been managing us,” he says. “We obviously had ambitions as a band but she was always one step ahead of where we were at and really focused. She always follows her heart with making decisions and I can’t say enough good words about her.”
It’s refreshing to hear a musician speak so highly of their manager, so often bands are pressured by management to go in directions they don’t want to – but the only pressure The Living End feel comes from them.
“We’re a pretty ambitious kind of band – the band is our identity and we’re proud of what we’ve done. I think we’ve got plenty to learn and offer as well, so we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try and get the best result that we can. I guess that’s a far more genuine pressure than feeling it from outside sources,” Scott says.
Even since the earlier days, the band have been giving it their all, and their live shows are a testament to their determination and drive to push themselves to the limit. Anyone who’s seen them in action can attest to this, as lead man Chris Cheney – and even Scott himself – often get up on the double bass whilst playing their instruments. Though there were accidents in their path to perfecting the trick.
“There’s been a couple actually,” Scott says through a laugh. “The worst one was probably when Chris climbed up on my bass while he was still playing guitar – this was on our first song when we were performing in a pub when we were first starting out – he climbed up on my bass and managed to fall off and semi break my bass in the process.”
It was a devastating experience and we thought we’d never show our faces in public again and that our career was doomed from that moment onwards, but fortunately we got back on the horse, so to speak.”
Since then the band have perfected the move and, while there mightn’t be many stage tricks left for them to learn, they’ve taken on a new project in the not-for-profit NGO It Ain’t Nothing.
Twelve months on from the typhoon in the Philippines – that killed over 6,000 people – and there are still families living without proper shelter. Project 50.50.50 aims to put a roof over their heads with 50 houses built for 50 families.
Each house costs $1,000 and is built entirely by locals from local supplies. Granted, Scott thdid help out on building the 28 house for the project when he visited recently.
That amount of money mightn’t mean much to us, and that’s one of the reasons why It Ain’t Nothing was formed.
“We were just a bunch of guys and thinking about, well how much money do we actually spend on things that aren’t important?” he says. “We thought how about we tackle a little project here and do something a bit more meaningful with our life. It’s been such a hugely rewarding experience and I just want to share that with people.”
To support the cause visit www.itaintnothing.org and help build the final 22 homes.
When&Where: Face the Music Industry Conference @ Arts Centre, Melbourne – November 14 & 15
Towards the end of the ‘90s, the Antipodes was good to guitar-heavy Australian music with Jebediah, Regurgitator and The Whitlams hauling arse up the indie charts. When Melbourne trio The Living End unleashed their double A-side release Second Solution/Prisoner Of Society, it promptly collected jewels across genres when it was the only Australian single to get up there in the sales charts, standing out in a sea of Ricky Martins and Shania Twains. Its success signalled the start of Australia’s long, respectful admiration for The Living End and beginning Tuesday December 11, the band will play a run of 11 shows at The Corner Hotel, each featuring one of the rockers’ six studio albums.
“Yeah I know, far out man: time is money, I believe,” says double bassist Scott Owen when the operator informs me we only have ten minutes to speak and I express dismay. It’s Owen’s first interview for the day and the coffee-head has undoubtedly already ingested his share of the devil’s brew, as photos on the band’s site attest to his addiction. For the record, he has the procedure down pat. “Before midday I’ll have a double shot latte with one sugar, but after midday I’ll have what’s called a double shot piccolo which is basically two shots of coffee and just half the amount of milk… you get the good stuff, but you don’t need that much milk after the clock strikes noon.” Owen will need the extra kick over the coming weeks as he and bandmates Chris Cheney and Andy Strachan thrash out multiple shows including some for the kids. “We used to do tons of [under 18s shows],” he says thoughtfully. “It was always on the cards to do over 18s and under 18s shows. I guess a lot of our fans are under the age of 18. It’s unfair to play all those shows and deny them!” My intro to the band came when they played at my high school in 1998, something I couldn’t believe our uppity teachers had allowed. I couldn’t recall Owen doing his now-famous move that heady day. “Maybe the show was a little bit toned down for the high school performance,” he laughs. “When the adrenaline kicks in it seems like anything is possible on stage, and I guess it is, if balancing on a double bass is possible then anything’s possible. I blame adrenaline,” he says decidedly.
The under 18s show will see folk-punk-rock foursome The Smith Street Band supporting, while other shows feature a mix of all kinds of acts including The Meanies, Money For Rope and Something For Kate.“We just sort of put the word out to try and get as many bands as possible,” explains Owen. “We figured there’d be quite a few people who’d come to more than one gig so I guess it’s good for them to have a bit of variety as well.” There’s also a pretty marvellous list of one-time DJs slated to appear in between bands at each show. “We just went to friends of ours that were in bands and asked them if they would do it,” he chortles. Fans can expect to see Johnny Mackay from Children Collide, Hamish Rosser of Wolfmother, two of the Gyroscope dudes, and Phil Jamieson from Grinspoon (using his inspired DJ moniker 2manyPJs) behind the decks. “There’s going to be a long changeover between and the first band and us,” Owen says.“They’re not huge stages, so we need to get all our shit off stage, have [it] off stage when the first band plays so they have room. You know, we don’t want to do that mean-spirited thing where you make bands set up in front of your own shit on a tiny stage so they have six square feet of room to perform in,” he says drily. “So that being the case, the crew have to set up all our shit after this poor band plays so there’s going to be a big gap. We thought we’d provide some sort of entertainment between.”
With Cheney arguably one of the country’s best guitarists and Strachan a master at thumping the skins in that perfectly simple punk style (“It’s not a massive kit, it’s pretty standard – there’s no friggin’ Virgil Donati or Lars Ulrich set up going on there” Owen states), it seems useless to bother layering on the superlatives about how good these shows are going to be. Despite not winning the Best Live Act ARIA this year, The Living End have already got six of the pointy statues and clearly don’t need another in order to sellout several of their shows in our city. If you haven’t yet got yourself a ticket there’s still time, but if you count to three (‘one two three’), you could miss out on these legendary dates.
When Bryget Chrisfield joins frontman Chris Cheney, double bassist Scott Owen and drummer Andy Strachan on the eve of their current, marathon Retrospective Tour, she learns the band originally planned to call it, “The Living End – Tears Of Joy, Waves Of Emotion”.
“Oh look, I’m gonna come straight out and say this,” The Living End’s frontman Chris Cheney pauses for effect while his bandmates clutch their beers in anticipation. “I’m expecting tears.” Drummer Andy Strachan exhales, “Oh, that’s so much better than I thought it was gonna be.” Cheney is referring to how he expects the crowd to react during The Living End’s current Retrospective tour, which sees the trio play all six albums, back to back, over 39 dates nationwide. “I’m expecting tears of joy, waves of emotion. That was what we were gonna call the tour: ‘The Living End – Tears Of Joy, Waves Of Emotion’. Then we went, ‘Er, maybe just Retrospective.’” Sadly, they’ve already printed out the T-shirts, so this slogan won’t be emblazoned across them, but Cheney has a light-bulb moment: “We might get some hankies made up, though. As you walk in you get a hankie.”
Once double bassist Scott Owen gets involved, it’s an in-jokefest. “What are we saying?” Cheney observes. “We spend too much time together, clearly! Well we were gonna have a day off today and not see each other, but here we are back at the pub, two pots in.” Owen disagrees with the picture Cheney is painting of their band as boozehounds: “No, we haven’t been going to the pub! We used to go to the pub every day for lunch, but we haven’t been to the pub at all. We went to the pub once two days ago out of the whole month [of rehearsals], so we’re like boy scouts.” Does this boy scout-like behaviour include working out to get match-fit for the tour? Owen stresses: “Yep. Fuck, yeah!” Cheney chuckles, “As he rolls a cigarette.” Owen defends: “Yeah, I’ve been riding my bike to rehearsal everyday.” “Andy, you’ve been doin’ a bit of Zumba,” Cheney teases.“Mind you, we do six-hour rehearsal days. That’s one of the things in the back of our mind is the stamina and the endurance, ‘cause seven nights is a lot – and different sets – so it’s gonna be brain-strain as much as anything else.” Owen directs the spotlight back Strachan’s way: “Andy spends hours running away from screaming women every day.” Cheney chuckles and continues on this theme, “He’s all four of The Fab Four in one!”
On the reasons behind tackling this beast of a tour, Cheney ponders, “I think it was just basically trying to do something that was gonna cause some kind of controversy, that it was actually gonna be a talking point, like, ‘Wow, are they really gonna be able to do that?’ We were the first ones to ask the question, you know, ‘It’s such a challenge, let’s just throw ourselves into it. What’s the worst that can happen?’” And how many songs across their six albums would they anticipate have never been played live before? “There’d be at least – half would you say?” Owen estimates. Cheney counters, “It’d be a bit more. I’d say, like, fifty. I mean, I think we’ve had to learn seventy-nine [songs] in total – not had to learn, but that we’ve been rehearsing. That is the catalogue: seventy-nine or eighty or something.”
“Let’s call it eighty,” Owen interjects before Cheney continues, “And of that I reckon over the past few years we’ve fallen into the trap of kind of playing maybe eighteen or ninetween or twenty of those; let’s say twenty.” Owen turns to Strachan: “So that leaves – you do the maths.” The drummer confesses, “Yeah, I’m not very good at maths.” Cheney: “[There are] quite a lot that we haven’t played very often. Some songs like Putting You Down and things like that, which we’ve never played live, you know: you write them, you rehearse them, you record them, you mix them and then that’s it! You never sort of go back to it, so there’s a few of those.” Revisiting these during the rehearsal period brought certain songs into focus that Owen labels “real tough customers”. “There’s one called Nowhere Town that’s been probably the biggest tough customer, hasn’t it?” Strachan concurs: “Yep, absolutely.” Owen muses, “Why the hell we’d have such a difficult song to play and then, three-quarters of the way through the song, go, ‘Let’s put a key change in! Just so we have to learn it in another position as well.’ But actually, it’s great – it’s a really fun song.”
Cheney offers: “You know what? I think it’s one thing to book a tour like this and just play all those songs, but we didn’t wanna bluff our way through and just sort of play it; we wanna actually [punches the table to emphasise each word] nail every single song. That’s where the nerves kinda crept in for me, it was like, ‘Holy shit! I don’t wanna just play track five and kind of get through it.’ We wanna slam it – every single album, every song – which is just an enormous amount of work, because you’ve gotta know the songs backwards and really do it properly. ‘Cause, you know, we‘ve built up this reputation as a live band that, ninety per cent of the time, has a pretty good show – just because we’re anal like that. So it’s like, ‘This could be our undoing if we don’t pull it off.’ [laughs] So we don’t want that to be the case. Each album that we do, there’s gonna be a handful of people in the audience who, you know, whatever track number seven is – that’s their favourite song,” Owen explains, “and that’s gonna be thehighlight of their night. So I wanna make sure we’re not just bluffing our way through [those songs], we wanna actually do them all justice so all those pockets of people are happy.”
“People that were, like, fifteen when our first record came out,” Cheney points out, “by the time the latest one came out, like,some of them might even have their own children – it’s quite bizarre. So there’s gonna be all different generations of people: People that got into State Of Emergency might have hated our first record. And then we’ve been lucky enough that we’ve got all these different generations of people [who] get into our records.” Babysitters will be in high demand, then. “We should have a crèche,” Owen jokingly suggests. “We’re doing our under-18 gig on the last day: we’re doing two shows,” Cheney explains, surprising Strachan: “On the last day!? Really? We’re gonna be so tired.”
Earlier this year The Living End hatched a plan to play their six albums start to finish in a series of weeklong engagements around the country. Double bassist Scott Owen tells Tom Hersey about the ins and outs of such an audacious idea.
“I don’t know where this idea actually came from!” The double bassist laughs about The Living End’s seven-nights-in-each-city tour. “No one in the band seems to want to take responsibility for making the initial suggestion to do an album a night over a week.”
Immersed in the thick of rehearsals for the tour, Scott Owen, The Living End’s affable double bassist, is growing to realise the magnitude of their decision to hit up the capital cities around Australia to play the band’s entire discography live over the course of a week. Owen sounds entirely cognisant of the fact that the tour is going to be a massive undertaking. So why exactly did the band take on such a mammoth assignment?
“We were thinking about what fans might want and we came across this idea that we should play the songs that we don’t usually play,” he explains. “Then we also had the idea ages ago to do a show where we would just play our first album or just play our last album, something where we’d just do an album start to finish, so we sort of combined the two ideas and then it just seemed to grow and grow into what it is now, where we’re just playing everything.”
With six albums spread out over a decade-and-a-half, playing everything is no easy feat. The average headlining tour might require a band to learn 14 or 15 songs; for The Living End this aptly-titled ‘The Retrospective Tour’ has required them to get just about 80 numbers fighting fit.
“We started rehearsing the stuff about a month before the first show, but leading up to that month it was pretty frightening, thinking, ‘Shit, how in the world are we going to learn all those songs?’” Owen laughs again. “Because we had to learn about eighty songs, and alot of them we’ve never played live, and a lot more we haven’t played live for years… We were all thinking how this was going to be a mammoth task. But then we got into the rehearsal room and it was a really enormous surprise to find out how much the information about those songs was still alive and kicking around the back of our brains. It all came back quite easily, and when it came back it brought with it a whole bunch of memories as well. So it’s been a really, really great experience going back over all of those records.”
The nostalgic ride accompanying this process of going back over all of their material has been incredibly rewarding for Owen and his bandmates, namely of course guitarist/vocalist Chris Cheney and drummer Andy Strachan. It’s even allowed the guys to gain a new appreciation for some of the numbers that were never their favourites.
“In the first week that we were rehearsing we were trying to tackle one album a day,” Owen continues. “And in that week it was just a barrage of memories – every day there was something completely new. And as we kept rehearsing there would be tons of memories coming to us on a daily basis and I think that the whole experience has sort of changed how we feel about a lot of the stuff on our records. We’ve always been a band that has our own favourites on a record. But now, even the stuff that wasn’ tour favourite when any given record came out, now there’s this novel factor about going back and revisiting them. That stuff is really enjoyable to play now with all this hindsight, and the songs don’t feel like the chore to play like they used to, because it’s all new again.”
Pouring over all of The Living End’s records, from 1998’s self-titled debut to last year’s The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating, Owen has found himself discovering trends within the band. When asked about what specifically he’s noticed about the evolution of the trio’s music, he replies, “I guess what we’ve done with our music over the years is become a little bit more wise about writing, so the songs have gotten a bit simpler over the years.
“I know the songs on the first album are very simple, but then we kind of went on this mission after the first album to try and prove that we could play more complicated music and different styles and do different things with our songs. And that was our mentality for the next couple of albums, and then it feels on the last couple of albums we’ve started to rein ourselves back in again, and made the music more simple.”
In addition to all the work The Living End have had to do preparing for this upcoming run, ‘The RetrospectiveTour’ is made all the more interesting because it also represents a very unique situation for a touring band, giving fans a chance to vote with their wallets. Sure,there were tickets sold for the entire week of shows in each city, but fans also had the choice of only getting tickets to see the albums they wanted to. It seemed fairly courageous for The Living End to put themselves in a situation where they’d have their entire catalogue, directly, quantitatively, critiqued by fans.
“Yeah,” Owen chuckles, “it was really frightening putting tickets on sale for this tour. Because if not many tickets sold it would have been a pretty huge downer for us. Like, we were going to go to all the trouble of doing this tour and we could have found out that people didn’t actually give a shit. So we were really, really relieved and excited about the response that it’s had. Like in Melbourne what started off as seven shows is now twelve or something. Yeah, there are a couple of records where the tickets haven’t sold as well, and you can’t help but think, ‘Hey, what’s wrong with people? Didn’t they like that record?’ But overall we’re awfully chuffed about how people have been responding to the idea, it’s really been pretty flattering actually.”
As its namesake implies, this tour – from the inception of its idea, the long rehearsal process and then actually trekking around the country for each week-long engagement – has been a rare chance for introspection for The Living End, Owen even believing that it’s led to the band finding a deeper insight into themselves. But after all this looking back, has it led The Living End to look forward?
“None of us are sort of ready to hang up the boots and retire, I can still see us making music for years and years, and playing music for years and years, but we don’t really know what the future holds in terms of when the next album will be or anything like that. And I guess that’s another reason for this tour; there’s no better way to know how you want to move forward than all this friggen’ looking back!”
Author: Tony McMahon
Danni Carr, singer/songwriter with edgy country outfit Mr Cassidy, explains to Tony McMahon that timing was an important factor in releasing her band’s terrific new record, Mountain Side. “We’re pretty thrilled and excited about its release,” says Carr. “Initially we were going to record a full album but started running out of time. Scott Owen, our bass player (from The Living End) was preparing to leave for rehearsals before embarking on a mega-tour around Australia and we wanted something to be able to promote before we played at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January next year. My second baby is also due to arrive in March, so we thought let’s just get something out there and get some momentum happening.”
As far as what Queenslanders can expect from the band’s upcoming show, it seems there’ll be awesome supports, an onstage get together and a return trip.
“We’re playing with The Starboard Cannons at The Joynt, which we’re really looking forward to. We’ve done a number of shows with these guys and they’re amazing! We usually end up doing a few songs all together on stage, which is heaps of fun .We’re also aiming to get up to Brissy and Goldy for some shows around January after Tamworth.”
Mountain Side’s title track was, apparently, written over a bowl of muesli and recorded later that day. Carr takes us through the process.
“My hubby (Ash Grunwald) and I were sitting having breakfast one morning and he picked up my banjo and re-tuned it to an open G and started strumming this really cool riff. I started singing the chorus and we were really getting into it. We pretty much had the song finished before we got to the end of our muesli! We have a studio under our house so we thought, ‘Let’s just get down there and get it recorded; (a) before we forget it and; (b) before Ash takes off on tour again’.”
The Living End are a third of the way through their massive Retrospective Tour, in which they’re playing all six of their albums to sold out crowds in five cities. They were conducting final rehearsal when Muso’sGreg Phillips caught up with the band.
It couldn’t have been more straight forward. The original idea was to play their debut album in its entirety at a gig or two. But the more the band and management talked, the bigger the concept became. All six albums, all cities and let’s take a swag of support bands along for the ride. Th e Living End’s Th e Retrospective Tour has become one of the most successful Australian tours by a local band, ever. As gig after gig sold out, the band were hunkered down at Melbourne’s Deluxe Studios bringing to life the 80 or so songs from their back catalogue. Again, it would have been much simpler to take one set of standard TLE gear out to nail these songs, but that’s not The Living End’s way. “We want to try to play the albums as true as possible,” said bass player Scott Owen. Guitarist and TLE main man Chris Cheney agrees. “When there are 80 songs to learn, we don’t want there to be 80 songs with the same guitar tone for every single tune.” Such fastidiousness comes at a price though. Not only did they have to go back and learn the back catalogue, they also had to try to recall what gear was used on each track. “We’ve been like, ‘I can’t remember what delay that was, put the record on!’ So we’d tweak it and try to match it.”
Chris has dusted down some old guitars for the tour and is keen to give them some stage time to help emulate the original album tones. “I have an old 1962 Double Anniversary Gretsch which is just beautiful. It’s kind of like an old car, when it’s up and running. It’s nice but it takes a little bit to get going and doesn’t really compete that well with my newer Gretschs. I’m dialing in a few little sounds here and there on my effects board but otherwise it is still pretty bare bones. It’s still a basic rock n roll foundation and not many effects… a lot of delays! Scott is also excited to be hearing Chris rip out some classic Living End riff s. “It’s awesome to hear all of that stuff again,” he said. “Chris is being fucking shy, he’s rather meticulous about his effects and getting them all perfect like they are on the record.”
Their gear has actually changed over the years, as they discovered during rehearsals. “I was looking at a photo of Scott and I and our first drummer playing at the Yarraville Hotel back in about 1993,” recalls Chris. “I had two Fender Twins behind me, a Tube Screamer and a digital delay pedal, which I used to adjust the increments on as I went. Now I have this pedalboard in front of me which basically has a whole lot of buttons on it which are like patches, which then go back through like a brain, which then engages certain pedals and delays and it is very convoluted. Basically, now I am running like a C3PO-like Millenium Falcon pedalboard! We started out with a direct line in, maybe a delay pedal, Chuck Berry style and it’s kind of gone more U2 as we have gone along. I’m [pretty] strict in getting the delays right. Some of the songs depend on that. My biggest thing is that I can’t remember half the shit that I was playing with on those earlier records. We’ve got an extra guitar player now, Adrian Lombardi, so I not only have to learn what I used to play, but I have to learn the overdubs too. He’ll be like, ‘How are you playing that bit?’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t know… I’m just trying to figure out my own bit.’ Adrian has been our touring rhythm guitar player now for almost two years.”
It’s not just Chris and his original guitar tones which needed to be recreated. The same issues befell bassist Scott and to a lesser degree drummer Andy Strachan. Often it took a flick through photo albums to find clues as to what gear they were using at any given time. “Those old photos that I found, you had three milk crates and you had that cube on top, another little speaker on top of that then a tweeter thing,” Cheney recalls of Scott’s bass rig. “It looked like a little robot. That was like ‘93, ‘94, we were just out of school and you went through a lot of pickups.”
Like most musicians, Scott has always been on the quest for a perfect stage sound but for someone who plays a double bass, it’s never been easy. “It always been a major thorn in my side, playing an instrument in a manner it wasn’t supposed to be played,” said Scott. “Then getting it to be amplified and sound like a quality instrument on a rock‘n’roll stage, is a real mission. I’m always getting closer and closer to what I’m seeing in my mind. It’s hard. It’s not like going into a guitar shop and saying, ‘I’ll have that sound’. It’s something that I have to make up. I went through all these weird and wacky ideas of getting the pickup inside the bass, mounting pickups inside them in which case you need to cut a hole in the bass to get in there. There’s been one luthier who has tended to my every whim with [the] double bass over all the years I have played, Ben Puglisi, and I appreciate him so much. Even when I have ideas like, ‘Why not cut a hole in this section? He’s gone, ‘Man, you are going to regret that so much one day… I’ll do it for you just to appease your curiosity but you’re going to fucking regret it, I swear to God.’ A year later I’d bring it in and ask him to patch that hole up but yes, it’s been an endless search.”
For Cheney, the quest for the perfect sound is part and parcel of what being in a rock band is all about. “You’ve got to search for those things because there wasn’t a template for what we were trying to do at that early point,” he said. “There’s parts of us that wanted to be this but also a modern rock band, not a traditional rockabilly band – we want to be able to play at volume. I’ve got extra struts in my guitars from trying to play at high volume… extra things that I have put into my guitars over the years to try to handle the fact that we’re this rockabilly band that wants to be Th e Who!”
Looking back, Andy Strachan believes he has gone smaller and quieter with his drum kit. “My drum tech and front of house guys over the years have said to me, ‘You don’t need cymbals that make your eyes bleed’, but that’s what I thought back then,” he said. “On the Big Day Out stage or whatever, I thought you needed cymbals that were louder then amps. You don’t. That’s what microphones are for, so that’s the only lesson I have really learnt. Other than that, I try to get new drums to sound like vintage drums. They’re all thin shells, mahogany and maple. It’s a Pearl Masterworks kit. Masterworks is apparently like … whatever you want. Their idea is that they’ll build you whatever you need. To that degree, they’re right on the money and will pretty much do whatever you want. Instead of having 8 ply maple and 3 ply birch, I go for 4 plys of mahogany with maple blue rings and that’s as close as I have found to a vintage drum kit. I try to make them sound as old as possible. The cymbals are a big thing I learnt. They’re thin and quieter cymbals and actually sound a lot better, especially when you have the vocal mic open, like a Z Custom is just going to bleed all over the stage and ruin the front of house guy’s day. That’s where it all stemmed from, the front of house guy and drum tech saying that it doesn’t have to be that loud. Th e snare drum either; you can play quietly and let the mics do the work. With the cymbals, Zildjian K Hybrid Crashes is what I have been playing, quite thin but 18s and 19s, 21” sweet ride which is what I have been playing for five or six years now; and a pair of 15” Hybrid hats, K Lights so they are quite thin – way quieter than they used to be. I used to play all Z Customs and A Projections, cymbals which tore your ears apart.” As the beers chugged down and the memories become more vivid, the guys revelled in stories about how the band has given them the opportunity to meet some of their musical heroes, and how bizarre it has been that some of them such as Richard Clapton, Brad Shepherd, Daryl Braithwaite, and Neil Finn bother to come backstage or even compliment them on their music. After all these years and a new record breaking tour, it seems Th e Living End deep down are basically just music fans. “It’s why we’re here,” said Chris. “It’s gotta be why we’re here: a) because we are patient, b) because we are ambitious motherfuckers and c) because we are music lovers. We still get along. We have been through everything a band could possibly go through. We’ve been through drug issues, girlfriend issues, issues where I don’t want to see you or be around you, musical direction issues. We’ve been through everything like that and we are still around. A lot of bands don’t have that patience. We’ve always felt that we can go on and do something a little better.” Andy’s eyes light up too and chips in. “There was a moment a couple of weeks ago and we were playing How Do We Know and it felt fantastic. The whole rehearsal went for about five hours playing together and going, ‘Yeah, that was fine’. Then there was this magic moment where, even after all this time… we have played that song a thousand times but it just felt so exciting and so good. That’s what it is all about… those moments.” “It’s not about the accolades or how many payers or much merch we sold,” Chris says in summary. “It’s really about, ‘Shit that felt good when we played’. You hope that never leaves you.”
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.”