No dead end as trio finds a new gear
After heading to Berlin to record their latest high-octane album, The Living End are back home to blow the roof off, writes Mikey Cahill
THE Living End have one aim when they perform. “We wanna play a show where people walk out of there ruined, just ruined,” says Chris Cheney, the band’s tireless guitarist, songwriter and whip-cracker.
He means what he says. The sticky-haired 43-year-old with the steely eyes has been out front of The Living End since 1994, taking the group from the southeast Melbourne suburb of Wheelers Hill across Australia with the Big Day Out, dozens of headline tours, ARIA Awards ceremonies (they’ve won five pointy statues) and to North America and Europe for festival seasons, where ex-pats flock as soon as they see Scott Owen standing on the upright bass.
Andy Strachan joined on drums in 2002 and the three are as tight as they’ve ever been, even if Cheney has been living in Los Angeles for the best part of a decade.
“Lemmy came and saw us play at The Troubadour,” says Cheney, of the Motorhead legend. “He came up to me after I got off stage and said ‘Gee, you played the s--- out of that Gretchen, son’.”
The Living End’s seventh album, Shift, saw the band plateau in 2016. Hungry to return to the winners’ circle, they hatched a plan.
“We saw an opportunity to make this record and release it early so we could hit the European festival season. We only had five months to make that happen,” says Cheney. “We hit the ground running and I started writing furiously.
“I write so many songs to try and find the good ones.
“It’d be great if I could just write 10 bangers,” he laughs, “but it doesn’t work that way.”
They recorded the new songs in Berlin, in the hopes “the city would influence the sound in some way”, says Cheney.
“We didn’t want to come back with a record we could have made in Melbourne. We only had six weeks in Berlin to get it together. Our producer, Tobias Kuhn, had great ideas. Any time there was some editing to be done I’d jump in the next room and try and finish some lyrics off. It was a production line.”
The result is Wunderbar — a set that will relieve fans.
“We’re not trying to rewrite Dark Side of the Moon,” says Cheney. “It’s straightforward, heart-pounding, guns blazing rock ’n’ roll.”
He says one song, Death of the American Dream, was the spark for the new album.
“I could see first-hand the shame and the embarrassment of all my American friends due to … certain political decisions,” he says, referencing Donald Trump without naming him. “It was the land of opportunity. Now it’s a wounded country.”
Death of the American Dream sees the band return to “100 mile an hour slap-bass stuff,” Cheney adds. “We wanted it to sound like a delta blues thing.”
With Wunderbar, Cheney can feel a shift already.
“The reaction to the first two songs compared to the last record has been different. You can see it’s just stronger all around,” he says.
Latest single Don’t Lose It is a jagged, jump-up garage rock punch-on.
Barnesy, Kasey Chambers, Molly Meldrum, Merrick Watts, Eddie McGuire, Tim Rogers and Phil Jamieson all appear in the video for the song, each trying to impress three judges (the band) on a bargain basement talent show.
“Jimmy Barnes was the first one I called,” Cheney reveals. Adopting a Glaswegian accent, he recalls the rock legend saying: “Yep, no worries, whatev’ yi neeeeed.”
“He was mariachi Barnesy. Tim Rogers had the poetry character ready to go: ‘I’ve got the outfit.’ Everyone was a lot nicer than I expected. After we got a few names on the board everyone who we asked said, ‘Yep, I’m in’. We figured if we were gonna do a video we wanted it to pop.”
In the song, Cheney sings: “It only takes one split decision to end up in a head-on collision.” Is it a reference to his car crash on the Great Ocean Road in 2001 or the perils of rock star hedonism?
“It’s when you’re out on a bender and think ‘I should probably go home’ … then you have one more,” he admits. “That becomes two more, then you end up in a head-on collision with something you probably shouldn’t be doing.”
The reason The Living End is still a going concern, he adds, is that the band have never let that hedonism “take over”.
“We’ve pushed the boat out a little too far on many occasions but the show is number one. It’s easy to burn out — after we had so much success on our first album we could have been prime candidates for that. But we’ve been too eager and hungry to show people what we can do next.”
The band did get off to a flyer, their double A-sided single Second Solution/Prisoner of Society certified doubleplatinum by ARIA and a fixture of the ’90s Triple J glory days.
Wunderbar may be the start of a new chapter, but it always comes back to the live show.
“For us it really is about the gig,” says Cheney. “It’s been a long time since I walked on stage without having a drink, that’s just nerves and butterflies.
“The hardest part now is we have eight records. We could probably do a three-hour show. You can have a good show and get your message across, but if it’s not really firing and you don’t have that connection, well, it’s a job half done.
“If we don’t do a show that blows the roof off the place, we think it’s a failure.”
“IF WE DON’T DO A SHOW THAT BLOWS THE ROOF OFF, IT’S A FAILURE”
HEAR WUNDERBAR (BMG) out Friday (see review, next page)
SEE The Living End, Prince Bandoom, Nov 5, $66.20, Oztix
SCOTT OWEN, ANDY STRACHAN AND CHRIS CHENEY. PHOTO: TIM PASCOE