Australian Guitar - - Contents -

Eight al­bums in, The Liv­ing End are still switch­ing things up with their idio­syn­cratic, yet never samey punk rock sound.

This Oc­to­ber will mark the 20th an­niver­sary of an Aus­tralian rock clas­sic: the self-ti­tled de­but al­bum from punk­a­billy rebels and 27time ARIA nom­i­nees (five-time win­ners) The Liv­ing End. I have a strong bias to­wards my re­la­tion­ship with that al­bum, be­cause it was the first one – at the ripe old age of two – that I ever prop­erly liked. My dad would blast the shit out of it, “Pris­oner Of So­ci­ety” ring­ing through the hall­way as I mind­lessly bashed my Lego blocks around. There’s home video footage of me as a tod­dler, strug­gling to stand, belt­ing along to “All Torn Down” – with ter­ri­bly mis­in­ter­preted lyrics, ob­vi­ously – while fam­ily members roared with laughter in the back­ground.

And today, at age 21, my of­fi­cial day job in­volves sit­ting with the man be­hind those lyrics, front­man Chris Cheney, and rem­i­nisc­ing on those glory days of VHS and Calippo Shots. The mere con­cept that The Liv­ing End has be­come a band adored by two adult gen­er­a­tions (with a third im­pend­ing) has the noted Gretsch afi­cionado at a loss for words. “F***,” the Mel­bour­nite says, blunt and in awe. “It blows my mind when I hear stuff like that. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were try­ing to get a gig at the Espy! And to think that we’ve been around for as long as we have, and the fact that we’ve had so much suc­cess and we’ve continued to pick new fans up along the way… It’s just in­cred­i­ble. It’s in­cred­i­ble be­cause we were a very stylised band when we first started out – it wasn’t like we were ever go­ing to get on the ra­dio or any­thing like that. That just wasn’t some­thing we ever felt would ever be re­al­is­tic for us. But here we are, eight records in, and we’ve man­aged to have th­ese in­cred­i­ble peaks and resur­gences.

“I just feel very blessed, to be hon­est, and I feel like we’re a bet­ter band now than we’ve ever been. I re­ally do. I feel like we just play so much bet­ter to­gether on­stage, we write much bet­ter songs, and I’m just a bet­ter gui­tar player, I think. It’s just a ma­tu­rity that I think we’ve needed to go through to be where we are today. I mean, f***, I can’t even lis­ten to those early records or look at that footage, be­cause I’m just like, ‘Dude! Stop try­ing so hard!’”

Ten years on from that scrap­pily recorded sleeper hit, The Liv­ing End didn’t need to try so hard – they were al­ready the big­gest con­tem­po­rary alt-rock band on Aus­tralian ra­dio. WhiteNoise dropped in July ’08 to a #1 spot on the ARIA Charts, its ti­tle track ce­mented as an in­stant an­them for the angsty youth of the pri­vate school sec­tor. And though sim­i­lar­i­ties are rife be­tween the two records, the Liv­ing End of the WhiteNoise era were a far cry from the Liv­ing End of 1998. The same can be said for their re­cent eighth al­bum,

Wunderbar, which un­of­fi­cially rep­re­sents the band’s third in­car­na­tion.

“It’s re­ally funny,” Cheney muses, “Part of me thinks that we’re still the same band – that we haven’t changed and we’re still do­ing the same thing we were in 1998 – but then there’s an­other part of me that goes, ‘Ac­tu­ally, we are very, very dif­fer­ent to those 21-year-olds we were when we


re­leased that al­bum.’ But that’s what we’ve al­ways aimed to do; we’ve al­ways claimed that we would grow as a band. I re­gret some of the records we’ve put out there and some of the things we’ve done, but I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve never played it safe. We didn’t just go, ‘Okay, well that first record worked, so let’s just write an­other five like that.’ I don’t think we could have done that if we tried, but we never wanted to.”

From the mo­ment that de­but al­bum landed, Cheney says, evo­lu­tion was cru­cial in en­sur­ing a fu­ture for The Liv­ing End.

“For me, Rol­lOn was a way of say­ing, ‘Right, I want to write some­thing that’s as com­pli­cated and in­ter­est­ing as

10,9,8… by Mid­night Oil.’ It was al­ways my mis­sion to go, ‘Well, you’ve heard ‘Pris­oner Of So­ci­ety’ and ‘Sec­ond So­lu­tion’, but now check this out!’ I was excited to play around with all of those odd time sig­na­tures and those crazy kind of di­min­ished scale so­los and things that threw peo­ple for a six. I think we’ve just moved in so many dif­fer­ent directions – and as I said, we haven’t al­ways got­ten it right, but I think we have on this new record.”

Wunderbar rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent kind of mile­stone for The Liv­ing End in that, where Cheney would pre­vi­ously steer clear of mak­ing com­par­isons to LP1, he’s more than happy to ad­mit this time around that he was in­spired by his own early-20s self.

“It’s got that char­ac­ter that the first record had,” Cheney says ex­cit­edly. “There’s so much per­son­al­ity to it, and I kind of feel like we’ve done a big cir­cle with it all. And I think a lot of peo­ple would agree with me there – y’know, you’ve only gotta get on a fo­rum and see what the ex­perts say; ‘Why did you have to change!? Why didn’t you just write an­other ‘Pris­oner’!? You’re not the same band!’ It’s hi­lar­i­ous, too, be­cause if we had’ve done that – if we had’ve just gone ahead and made TheLiv­ingEnd:PartII – we’d get in trou­ble for re­peat­ing our­selves. You can’t win, re­ally. You’ve just gotta do what you wanna do.”

Such a non­cha­lant at­ti­tude to cre­ativ­ity led to – be­lieve it or not – yet an­other mile­stone worth cel­e­brat­ing. Y’see, The Liv­ing End have been wildly in­con­sis­tent with their re­lease pat­terns, for­go­ing the in­dus­try stan­dard ‘one al­bum ev­ery two years’ rule for a time­line more ac­cu­rately de­scribed as ‘when­ever the f*** they feel like it.’ Whereas the gap be­tween 2016’s Shift and its pre­de­ces­sor – 2011’s

TheEnd­ingIsJust­theBegin­ningRe­peat­ing – was the band’s long­est at an ex­cru­ci­at­ing five years, the gap be­tween Wunderbar and Shift was their short­est ever.

“There were a cou­ple of fac­tors lead­ing to that,” Cheney ex­plains. “From the mo­ment we fin­ished Shift, I felt re­ally in­spired. I was like, ‘Man, I just want to make an­other record straight away!’ I think we re­ally kind of got our shit to­gether on that record, and I’m re­ally proud of it. So as soon as we fin­ished mak­ing it, the vibe was kind of like, ‘Al­right, well, let’s not wait an­other five years be­fore we make the next one.’ I prob­a­bly didn’t imag­ine it would be this soon, but… Here we are! We just couldn’t sit around and write for six months at a time, try­ing to write a mag­num opus. It needed to feel fresh and in-the-mo­ment.” That im­me­di­acy trans­lates to the al­bum it­self, with

Wunderbar rev­el­ling in a sharp wit that’s taken lit­eral decades for Cheney to per­fect, un­der­cut with the ragged punk spirit he’s known since day one.

“I think it’s a re­ally good bal­ance,” he agrees. “All the peo­ple around us were kind of like, ‘This will be great for you guys, be­cause you’ll just write th­ese three-chord, fouron-the-floor punk songs and keep it re­ally sim­ple!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, we will, but we’ll also try to write songs that are in­ter­est­ing as well.’

“I didn’t want to just make that balls-to-the-wall, straight-up cliché rock’n’roll record – I still wanted it to be The Liv­ing End, and I wanted there to be all th­ese lit­tle hooks and twists and turns, and things that need a lit­tle bit more thought. So I think we’ve found a good bal­ance be­tween be­ing re­ally head-on in parts, and then having those nice lit­tle ‘song­writ­ing’ mo­ments.”

Stay­ing true to their im­pul­sive­ness, The Liv­ing End de­cided that LP8 would be as good a time as ever to shake their writ­ing process up, for­go­ing Cheney’s usual per­fec­tion­ist edge for a looser, more on-the-fly tech­nique. In fact, much of the al­bum was more or less writ­ten in re­al­time, some tracks com­ing to life min­utes be­fore the band would record them.

“When I wasn’t in the booth lay­ing down my gui­tars or vo­cals,” Cheney says, “I was locked in the other room play­ing around in GarageBand, just demo­ing the songs and try­ing to write lyrics that in­spired me on the spot. There was a lot of pres­sure, but it was a good kind of pres­sure. We were con­stantly build­ing and evolv­ing the songs, go­ing, ‘Ah, this song could use a mid­dle eight,’ or, ‘The cho­rus for this one is not quite there yet.’ Ev­ery spare sec­ond was spent try­ing to sort of hone those bits and get them right, so then I could step into the other room and hit record. It was an in­ter­est­ing way to do it.”

It wasn’t just the band’s lyrical process that saw trans­for­ma­tion, ei­ther, with Cheney over­haul­ing his en­tire ap­proach to the gui­tar.

“This prob­a­bly isn’t the right thing to say in a gui­tar in­ter­view,” he says, “But there’s not that many gui­tar so­los on this record, which is some­thing that I used to lean on quite heav­ily. It was al­ways some­thing that peo­ple would ask us about, be­cause when our first record came out, I don’t think any­one was go­ing gui­tar so­los. So peo­ple were al­ways like, ‘What’s with all the gui­tar so­los!?’ And I’d be like, ‘What do you mean!?’ That’s where my back­ground is – all my favourite bands had gui­tar so­los back then. So it was quite in­ter­est­ing with this al­bum.

“I had to push a lit­tle bit, I think – I had to push To­bias and go, ‘No no no, I need to play more!’ Be­cause he didn’t know much about the band, so for him, it was kind of good be­cause he was like, ‘No, I’m just in­ter­ested in the songs. Yeah, I know you can go around the chord changes twice and you can solo over the whole thing, but why? You only need to go around it once!’ And I’d be like, ‘But man, that’s my thing!’ He’d be like, ‘Nah, nah, you’re a singer,’ and I’d have to go, ‘No, I’m ac­tu­ally a gui­tar player who sings.’ I’ve al­ways been a gui­tarist first and a singer sec­ond, so it was kind of in­ter­est­ing to flip that around for this record. The songs were strong enough on their own; I didn’t need to go, ‘Okay, here’s where we’ll throw in some the­atri­cal gui­tar ac­ro­bat­ics!’”

One thing that re­mained the same, of course, was Cheney’s ado­ra­tion to­wards his sig­na­ture Gretsch White Fal­con – a gui­tar that has been linked in­trin­si­cally to the shred­der since long be­fore he was a Triple M main­stay. It’s one of many arch­top axes in Cheney’s prized col­lec­tion; a tone that in­stantly makes it­self known as the back­bone of The Liv­ing End. But while it makes it pops up more than any­thing on Wunderbar, it’s not ac­tu­ally the most prom­i­nent tone on the record. And that’s not en­tirely by choice, ei­ther.

“My damn gui­tars didn’t ar­rive in Ger­many when we got there,” Cheney says with a self-dep­re­cat­ing chuckle. “We had two weeks of pre-pro­duc­tion booked to start as soon as we got there, so I ended up us­ing To­bias’ gui­tars for that. He plays Jazzmas­ters – he’s got a cou­ple of beau­ti­ful old ‘60s ones, and I had no choice but to play them while we were get­ting the songs whacked into shape. It was ac­tu­ally re­ally good, though, be­cause it was a bit like be­ing on a dif­fer­ent in­stru­ment. It forced me to play dif­fer­ently, be­cause those Jazzmas­ters have just got such a sig­na­ture sound. It’s not quite a Tele, but it’s got that twangy kind of thing to it, which I re­ally liked.

“I ended up us­ing those for quite a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of the ac­tual record­ing as well. We would put the Jazzmas­ter down and then I would put my Gretsch down over the top of it, and we would just kind of bat­tle it out. I had three Gretsches for this one – I had my main White Fal­con, I had my Mal­colm Young sig­na­ture model, and we had an old Guild Starfire, which is such a great gui­tar.”

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