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

Herald Sun - Hit - - COVER STORY -

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

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