The Storm Before The Calm

Author: Greg Bush

With his regular band The Living End in a state of hiatus since 2018, Chris Cheney has taken advantage to complete his first solo release, The Storm Before The Calm. The album had its beginnings in Nashville in 2016 when Cheney was dealing with personal demons. It was completed in locked-down Melbourne, his angst-ridden songs now balanced by more positive material. Cheney and his family spent many years living in Los Angeles, hence the rock track ‘California’, a place that holds fond memories for him. He slows the pace for ‘Still Got Friday On My Mind’, a song dedicated to his late father. Cheney reminisces again on the acoustic ballad ‘Football Team’ and misses the good times and friends of his youth on ‘Corner Shop’. ‘The River’ is a strong, emotive rock number, and he sings of sleeplessness on ‘2AM’, another up-tempo track. Cheney has survived his “stormy” days in good style with this solo debut.

After The End

Author: Jane Rocca

It took a breakdown spurred by the death of his father and leaning on good friend Jimmy Barnes for The Living End front-man, Chris Cheney, to hit the reset button.

His debut solo album The Storm Before The Calm is a testament to the hell of a ride it’s been.

“I went into a tailspin when my father died 10 years ago and it finally caught up with me,” says Cheney, who relocated to Melbourne from LA with his wife, property advisor Emma Cheney, and their two daughters just as the pandemic kicked off.

“Dad’s behaviour and state of mind affected me when I was growing up, but I didn’t know it at the time,” he says.

“I was always about trying to impress him… he suffered from some kind of mental illness and was hard work for mum, but he wasn’t diagnosed and his behaviour definitely played a role in how I felt.

“When someone like that disapears from your life, I found myself asking, what does it all mean?”

Cheney says it also took a stint in Nashville to shed those demons through songwriting and pondering life’s bigger questions.

His solo record has been almost a decade in the making, and the first single, California, is an ode to the place he and his family called home for nine years.

Still Got Friday On My Mind reflects on his father’s death and the consequences of that loss among a whirl of country pedal steel.

Best known for his rockabilly/punk band The Living End and writing and recording eight studio albums over a 25-year career, it would seem Cheney has been living the dream life – a high-profile music career and longevity in the biz others only wish for.

The Living End managed eight top 10 albums, two making it to No. 1 (their self-titled debut in 1998 and 2006’s State Of Emergency) and many hung in the top five.

It was a whirlwind of non-stop touring and, for Cheney, leaving his wife Emma at home to mostly raise the kids without him. He might have hit the rock-star jackpot, but it meant he missed out on milestone moments with his kids.

Cheney admits he descended into alcohol and substance abuse after the death of his father Noel in 2012. A trip to St. Vincent’s hospital in Sydney in 2017 with kidney issues was the straw that broke the proverbial. It was the wake-up call he needed, accompanied by a bedside kick up the butt by his mate Jimmy Barnes.

“It was scary; the booze had finally caught up with me,” says Cheney who now also has a rockabilly side project with Barnes called the Barn Shakers.

“I rebelled and became self-destructive because I got sick of being Mr Nice Guy and wanted to see what it was like to be more reckless and careless,” Cheney says. “I waited until I was 35 to do that.”

Those seismic shifts almost led to a marital breakdown and a purging that went from the existential to the cathartic.

“Emma stuck by me and having Jimmy to support me was amazing,” Cheney says. “He really reminded me [of] the importance of family, the need to come good for them. He really set me straight.”

CHRIS CHENEY \ Saturday, July 30 at The Corner Hotel, Melbourne.

Chris Cheney on going solo and finding redemption

Author: Andrew McMillen

‘The first 25 years of my life, everything I did turned to gold,’ says The Living End frontman. ‘So what do you do when that happens? If you’re me, you sabotage it and you f..k it up.’

On a Thursday afternoon in July 2018, Chris Cheney sat sipping a beer in the lead-up to his soundcheck at the nearby Queensland Performing Arts Centre. As the spiky-haired frontman for Melbourne-born rock trio The Living End, the ostensible purpose of our meeting was to discuss the band’s upcoming eighth album, titled Wunderbar.

The man himself was visiting Brisbane while touring with a larger ensemble in a tribute to the White Album, The Beatles’ 1968 release, in a series of concerts where his performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps was among the set’s finest moments.

As we sat and drank schooners in South Brisbane amid workers from nearby construction sites clad in high-vis clothing – the sort of workers who have featured prominently in Cheney’s socially inclusive and progressive songwriting – there was a new musical undercurrent running right beneath us, and it was only by accident that an unseen release valve was kicked open.

One of the most curious songs on Wunderbar is titled Death of the American Dream, a typically raucous Living End track drawn from Cheney’s own observations of living in Los Angeles with his family since 2011 – but one which ends on a highly unusual note, with his bandmates silent while the singer and his guitar tease out an evocative solo coda.

The presence of that song’s gorgeous acoustic ending – as well as another Cheney solo track on the same release, titled Amsterdam – was a striking stylistic decision for a band best known for its bombastic rock stompers. Back in 2018, it got Review wondering: any plans to record a solo album under your own name, Chris?

“I’ve done it,” Cheney replied. “I recorded an album in Nashville. There’s six songs that are just my voice and acoustic guitar, and there’s six songs that I recorded with a band over there.

“But TLE has to be No.1 at the moment; we have a great opportunity, because of what happened with getting signed to (record label) BMG worldwide, so I’ve had to put it on the backburner,” he said, frowning. “I’m really happy with it. It’s a little bit frustrating that I haven’t been able to do anything with it. But those other songs? They’re not going anywhere.”

According to his bandmates in The Living End, the frontman’s solo aspirations go way back. Double bassist and backing vocalist Scott Owen, who co-founded the group with Cheney in 1994, reckons “it’s been at least a decade in the making. It rivals Chinese Democracy,” he says, referring to the Guns N’ Roses album that famously took 19 years to complete.

“That doesn’t mean that Chris rivals Axl Rose,” Owen says with a laugh. “Maybe he does in some ways. But all of Chris’s output is pretty great quality. Andy and I have probably been of the same opinion. We’re just like, ‘Dude, it’s awesome. Just put it out! Stop working on it, because you’ll work on it forever!’ I think it’s fair to say that 10 years is pretty close to forever, in the ‘making of an album’ terms.”

Drummer Andy Strachan, who joined the group in 2002, concurs. “I don’t know how many times he’s written and recorded this solo record, but it’s been going for a long, long time,” he tells Review with a laugh. “Writing songs is not a problem for him; he’s always had the material to do the record.”

According to the man himself, the lightbulb moment came while recording a solo version of the Crowded House pop classic Distant Sun for the 2010 Finn covers compilation He Will Have His Way.

Back in 2018, the news that one of Australia’s greatest living singer-songwriter-guitarists was deciding to go solo was an enticing notion. In a flash, it was easy to see Cheney’s potential future, performing into middle age and beyond under his own name, just like some of his songwriting heroes, Paul Kelly and Finn.

Four years later, on the eve of Bluesfest 2022 – the music industry’s first major multi-day camping event to be held since the Covid pandemic was declared – Cheney jets into Brisbane from his new home in Melbourne, where he and his family resettled last year.

Before meeting up with his Living End bandmates near Byron Bay on Good Friday, he’s in the Queensland capital to play one of his first shows with his new band, two months ahead of the release of his long-gestating debut solo album.

In the lobby, Cheney peers over his sunglasses and offers a handshake. We take a lift up to the hotel’s sky bar where, over a couple of beers as the sun sets in the city centre, he begins to unpack the circumstances surrounding a set of songs that feel to him as though they’ve been half a lifetime in the making.

Titled The Storm Before the Calm, it’s a surprising collection that foregrounds his voice – and thus his lyrics, which are often painfully self-aware – like we’ve never heard before.

“The idea was that the vocals would be front and centre, and loud – everything I’ve never wanted to have with The Living End,” says Cheney, 47. “I never really was happy with my vocals. You get to a point, I reckon, where — and maybe it’s not even just vocally – you just sort of accept who you are when you get a bit older, and you’re okay with it. And I’m okay with my vocals now.”

He corrects himself: “More than okay with them. I worked really hard on them … because it’s such a lyrically-focused album.

“That’s what the record is all about,” says Cheney. “A lot of people, I think, are expecting a sort of a ‘guitar hero’ record – but it’s kind of the opposite of that.”

There is darkness in the stories behind these songs, and after our meeting, Cheney emails an essay of sorts he’s written about where their inspiration lay. According to him, the album contains “tales of excess; I had kidney failure, self-inflicted (no longer an issue); relationship breakdowns, regrets, dealing (or not dealing) with my father’s passing, not caring about anything or anyone except trying to block out the pain with booze and whatever else was on offer; not sleeping; desire; making big mistakes, and ultimately asking for – and receiving – forgiveness.”

Sitting in the rooftop bar, surrounded by a rowdy crowd of young party-starters, the songwriter reckons the death of his father a decade ago was the catalyst for this surprising shift in his behaviour. “The first 25 years of my life, everything I did sort of turned to gold,” he says. “I didn’t make any mistakes, really; it was all from one success to the next. The band was flying high, touring the world; I met the girl, married the girl, moved into a house, had the kids. It was all pretty picture-perfect. So what do you do when that happens? If you’re me, you sabotage it and you f..k it up, because you go, ‘What else is there?’

“I don’t want to get into names, and that sort of thing, but I definitely betrayed my family and friends in a way, and ended up in this very dark place,” says Cheney carefully. “But part of me sort of liked it. I liked being in the situation where I had all this stuff to draw from, and show different sides that I didn’t know were there.

“I didn’t particularly like that side of me, and I’m sort of ashamed of some of the stuff that I did,” he clarifies. “But for some reason, I kept feeding it and I kept doing what I was doing. But I managed to make a record that I think is balanced, and there’s a personal triumph. I’m still here. I didn’t throw the record in the bin; I didn’t lose my marriage, thanks to my wife, who I owe everything to, because that could have been the case.”

This introspective subject matter is canvassed in the songs on his solo album, in a way that he’s never previously explored. For Cheney’s bandmates, hearing the songwriter open up in this way through his art felt like a breakthrough.

“Making it sound real was something that I wanted to really encourage him to do,” says drummer Strachan. “That’s what people want to hear, that ‘from the heart’ sort of stuff. In The Living End, he’s the guitar-shredder frontman guy – but as a solo thing, it just has to be raw and it has to be heartfelt. People are not stupid: they’re going to see straight through it if you’re trying to cover anything up.”

Before we part ways in Brisbane, I ask Cheney about his new role being the band leader in two different setups. He’s now simultaneously fronting one of the nation’s most recognisable rock’n’ roll groups, whose household-name status has been assured for more than two decades; he also fronts a new quintet, and there’s zero crossover between the two setlists.

“It’s such a novelty for me to have a piano behind me, and a lot of the songs were written with piano very much at the forefront,” he says with a smile. “I love being able to sing along with it, and with the Petty, Springsteen, Jackson Browne influence in a lot of these songs, the piano’s right up there.

“I’m loving that whole ‘bar band’ thing; it’s just working. The people who are coming to the shows are loving it because again, they’re seeing a different side to me – but it’s not diminished. It’s not a watered-down side project. I love it – and tomorrow night, I’ll put my other hat on, and try and blow the place apart again.”

The following night near Byron Bay, on the Crossroads stage at Bluesfest, Good Friday is a very good day for rock’n’roll fans, as the final four acts booked to play from 5.30pm onwards are The Angels, The Living End, Hoodoo Gurus and Midnight Oil.

Once the sun sinks beneath the horizon, the Melbourne trio attracts a huge crowd of about 8000 people spilling beyond the edges of the Big Top tent.

As they work through a “greatest hits” setlist including Second Solution, All Torn Down, West End Riot, White Noise and a hard-rocking cover of Tainted Love, the threesome comes across as something akin to an Australian equivalent of Foo Fighters, another band whose reach is bigger than most due to the songwriters’ willingness to lean into melodies that sound great when sung en masse.

Out the front, Cheney is in full showman mode, playing the character of the rockabilly demon, with a cheeky glint in his eye, that he has inhabited since this band broke through onto the national stage in the late 1990s. “There are very few things as uplifting and powerful as rock’n’ roll music, ladies and gentlemen,” he says to the crowd midway through the set. “There are no guarantees in this life, let me assure you, so you’ve got to enjoy the good times when they’re here. I want you to turn it up to 11 with this one. This is for all the misfits – for all the prisoners of society.”

Like Midnight Oil, The Living End are such an established machine that it’s just about impossible to imagine a mediocre live performance, let alone a bad one. But what’s different about them now is that the man at the microphone is finally unleashing that other side of his musicality, the one that’s been itching for an outlet for a decade, maybe longer.

Crucially, it’s an outlet with the full endorsement of his brothers in rock. There’s no sense of disharmony, onstage or off, from his two longtime colleagues in The Living End. “I know how much he’s bled and sweated over it, and probably shed many tears over it, as well,” says Owen. “It drives me and Andy up the wall sometimes, when Chris spends so much time changing things. I know how much of that has happened (with the solo album), and with all of that in mind, it just makes me even more proud and glad that the end result is so f..king good.”

Strachan, for his part, loves looking over his kit to stage right and seeing Cheney lost in the music, expressing himself through his guitar and vocals, letting everything out. “That’s the show: when he’s having a good time, we’re having a good time,” says the drummer. “It’s so fulfilling to see your mate living in the moment. I think he’s at his best when he’s just let his guard down. Playing with him constantly reminds me of how incredible he is.”

Rather than keeping him all to themselves, Owen and Strachan are as excited as the thousands of people gathered here beneath a heaving Big Top tent. They’re keen to see and hear what’s next for one of the greatest voices in Australian music as he strides out on his own.

The Storm Before The Calm is out now via Liberator Music. Chris Cheney’s solo tour begins in Brisbane on July 16 and ends in Sydney on August 13.

Chris Cheney bares his soul on emotional solo debut

Author: Jade Kennedy

From ‘California’ to ‘Corner Shop’ – Chris Cheney gets raw and emotional on his debut solo album, ‘The Storm Before The Calm’.

Almost 30 years after co-founding dynamic Australian rockabilly band The Living End, frontman Chris Cheney is branching out on his own with the release of his debut solo album.

One listen to Cheney’s deeply personal new offering The Storm Before The Calm and one thing becomes abundantly clear: we’ve never really known Chris Cheney at all.

“The Living End have just never had songs that personal, for a start, and if they were, it’s sort of been represented under the umbrella of the three of us,” Cheney says, referring to bandmates Scott Owen and Andy Strachan. “Whereas this is just me, under my name, and people know it’s a solo project.”

Lead single ‘California’ was released in March; an ode to the place Cheney called home for nine years, until a global pandemic ushered a return to Melbourne.

Living in Los Angeles, Cheney says he found himself in some “incredible” situations that were particular to the “buzzing” LA music scene.

“You’re on stage at the Troubadour, and to the left is Chris Shiflett from the Fooies, and Duff from Guns ‘N’ Roses on the right, with Captain Sensible and my old mate Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats, because we had a band together and all of these different people would just come along and jump up and jam,” he says. “We did tours of that, and I was pinching myself. Like, that stuff just didn’t happen when I was living in Glen Waverley.”

LA was creatively “very inspiring” for Cheney, who began writing The Storm Before The Calm while living there.

“There’s a standard and a level there that is pretty darn high,” he says. “I like that, and I like feeling that pressure.”

After “tinkering” on some songs on his own, Cheney found himself working with Skylar Wilson in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2016.

“[Skylar] is just amazing; he’s from that whole Leon Russell school of piano playing and the band that he brought in were just fantastic,” he says. “They weren’t old Nashville, they were kind of young contemporary guys. They have all that old school Nashville chops, but they didn’t rely on them – they were okay with bringing in a few more modern-style licks and playing, which was nice.”

Cheney then worked with Aussie Justin Stanley, who had relocated to Los Angeles and worked with the likes of Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton.

“I showed him some songs and said, ‘Hey, you want to help me finish these off?’” Cheney says. “So he played drums and piano on ‘Still Got Friday on My Mind’ and ‘Lost in the Darkness’ and one other one, I think.”

‘Still Got Friday on My Mind’ is one of the tracks Cheney says he is “super proud” of, and it’s one that really allows fans into his deeper psyche, as it deals with the “sore point” of his father’s passing.

“I suppose for me, it’s a way of dealing with it, like any songwriter it’s like a therapy session if you just write it down on paper and put music to it and it’s a way of dealing with it,” he says. “But he had been very sick for a while, and I was going out to visit him one morning where he’d been particularly ill for the last couple of days.”

After arranging to see his father one weekend, Cheney “selfishly” went out the night before, and spent too long the following day “probably trying to find the Panadol” and overcoming the “messy” night before.

“And of course by the time I got there, he was gone,” Cheney says. “So it was a huge regret for me, and that was my way of saying, well I kind of wish it was still Friday night, then I wouldn’t be dealing with what was going on on the Saturday or the Sunday, whenever it was.”

Cheney says he is proud of the track, because it showcases what he wanted this record to be: “Where people go, ‘Wow, I didn’t realise that that guy could do this, I thought he just jumped around on stage and climbed up on a double bass and did the blazing guitar solo thing.’ So that’s what I’ve noticed from people that have heard the record, they sort of go, oh okay, so you’ve got that side to you as well.”

Cheney “really tried” to make the lyrical content of this record as “raw and personal as possible,” with nothing blocking their emotional depth.

“I think the whole key with this record was that there were a few times where I didn’t quite know if I wanted to say what I wanted to say,” he laughs. “It was a little too raw, a little too close to the bone, a little too personal. But what I found was if I didn’t say it directly and if I didn’t make it really simple and clear, then it just sounded like I was kind of skirting around an issue, and it sounded like it was watered down, or like I’d tried to sugar-coat something.”

After recording 10 songs in what he now refers to as the “Nashville sessions,” Cheney returned to his garage in Melbourne and continued writing, penning ‘California’ as well as follow-up singles ‘Corner Shop’ and ‘Football Team’ as well as ‘Little White Pills’ – which, incidentally, is about the most ‘Living End’ sounding track on the album.

“If it had just been the Nashville record it would have been quite a dark album, and I think I definitely would not have been as happy with it if it had come out three years ago as what I am now,” Cheney says. “Because when I got back to Melbourne, and the extra songs that I wrote, it seemed to balance it up. I found then that I had a complete record, and it would have been a different beast altogether.”

Cheney says that “as a sum of the parts” the album feels more complete now, even though it meant discarding half of those original 10 tracks in favour of some of the newer songs.

“The Nashville stuff was a little bit more probably country, Americana, that sort of feel – acoustic-based – and I think three of the more rock songs that I wrote on the album happened once I got back here,” he says. “When I hear it now, I feel like I’ve almost written – unintentionally – a concept record. Like there’s definitely a narrative that flows through it.”

Every time he tried to shy away from the real, Cheney says the songs “weren’t as good” – and that is why he brings so many personal demons to the surface on this record.

“As honest as it is, I think at the end of the day if you choose to go through the lyrics with a fine-toothed comb, you’ll see exactly what I’m saying and where it has all come from; but if you don’t you can just listen to the songs and listen to the hooks, and hopefully they’re the things that are the most prominent,” he says. “I’m one of these people that ruminates on things, and you probably shouldn’t do it, but I do. So I’ve had my fair share of lying there all hours of the evening, or making bad decisions. But we’re only human, aren’t we?”

Cheney says he hoped people would get a little bit of insight into who he is “without the big production and the thumping drums and guitars and everything that The Living End records normally have”.

“I didn’t know if people would buy it, and I didn’t know if I could really do it” he says. “Until you throw yourself into the studio and you strip everything back, and you just have a piano and sing along with that – which is what the first track on the record is, essentially just piano and a little bit of guitar and it’s all vocals.”

Admittedly, though, Cheney wouldn’t have exposed himself in such a way 20 years ago.

“I wouldn’t have have been able to listen to my vocals like that,” he says. “But I’m okay with it now.”

Cheney has also been exploring visual art – the artwork on The Storm Before The Calm is all his own – and has even held an exhibition this year; but it isn’t a new venture like many believe.

“As a kid, before I got into the guitar, I just sat and drew all the time,” he says. “I never had a pencil or a pen and a piece of paper very far from my grasp. I just used to sit and draw all day.”

Even The Living End logos and poster designs showcased Cheney’s artistic flair in the band’s early days. But using a brush and paint was a new experience, and one Cheney has embraced whole heartedly.

“I went from just kind of fooling around and trying to teach myself a few techniques to I’ve now got a garage that’s like bursting at the seams with all these canvases, and it’s been great,” he says. “It’s sort of very similar to song writing, you know, you just throw an idea at the canvas and then add something to it; if you don’t like it you paint over that bit then paint something else.”

Between the music and art, Cheney says the past two years have been the “most creative probably ever” in his life.

“It’s definitely re-awakened my love for visual arts, because it had sort of been suppressed, I suppose, over the last 10 or 15 years – I’ve just been so focused on the band,” he says. “And I don’t know, I just sort of forgot that I could draw and do all that stuff so it’s been great, and I’m kicking myself now that I haven’t done more of it over the years because it’s sort of become a new obsession.”

For now, music will once again take precedence for Cheney. He has a number of shows with The Living End between now and the end of the year, as well as a run of solo shows in support of the album.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m having to sell the idea too hard to people; they’re kind of like, okay, yeah, I’m interested in hearing that. That’s really nice,” Cheney says. “I guess the few times I’ve done outside of the band over the years, whether it be the ‘Distant Sun’ cover or the White Album or whatever, I think I’ve proven that I can kind of hold my own when I need to.”

The Storm Before The Calm will be released tomorrow, Friday 17th June.

Chris Cheney Tour Dates

Saturday 16th July: The Zoo, Brisbane
Friday 22nd July: Mojo’s, Fremantle
Saturday 23rd July: Jive, Adelaide
Saturday 30th July: The Corner, Melbourne
Saturday 13th August: Factory Theatre, Sydney

The Storm Before The Calm

Author: Bryget Chrisfield

Guitar strummed with Chris Cheney’s familiar, purposeful intent launches opener ‘Impossible Dream’.

“It all started back then, when she first came around/ She said, ‘I feel so sorry for you fuck-ups, but I love what you’re puttin’ down’…” – as soon as Cheney’s raspy, world-weary vocal kicks in it’s immediately apparent that The Living End frontman’s musical identity is completely different on his solo output.

We detect Springsteen inspo, lyrically and structurally, and also a nod to early-‘80s Bryan Adams: “He-ey, it’s alright/ We’re all doin’ our best just tryin’a survive… We’ll remember these days were the best of our lives.”

Throughout the course of The Storm Before The Calm, Cheney’s voice is given plenty of space in the mix to flex while he draws inspiration from some deeply personal life events – a breakdown, substance abuse, marital issues, mourning the loss of his father – and his tour-ravaged, smoked-a-few-darts-in-my-time timbre adds extra cred to this revelatory collection of songs.

His vocals even channel Keith Urban during the stripped-back acoustic ‘Football Team’ (no shit!). “One more lonely fall from grace…” – the dapper, polished tone Cheney adopts in ‘Still Got Friday On My Mind calls to mind Robbie Williams. What’s happening!? We never would’ve foreseen name-checking those two particular gents in relation to Cheney, either, but there you have it!

Rollicking piano is a welcome recurring motif throughout ‘The Storm Before The Calm’, which chronicles the trials and tribulations of this thrill-seeking music lifer/rock’n’roll survivor. “I’m not afraid to walk alone,” Cheney sings during the intensely dramatic ‘Exile’ and neither he should be ‘cause his solo work definitely has legs.

Label: Liberator
Release date: 17 June