THE LIVING END
Chris Cheney agonises over a new album.
WHEN The Living End went to Byron Bay to record their sixth album, they arrived with excess baggage. The band’s songwriter Chris Cheney had almost driven himself insane in the creative process.
He’d spent countless hours in his Melbourne home studio writing songs.
At one point, up to 40 songs were in the mix. He’d whittled that down to 20 contenders to take to Byron, even though half would not make the album.
Cheney became so obsessive about the songs, he’d record them with band mates Scott Owen and Andy Strachan ( all pictured) during the day before taking them home to write three alternative choruses for each one.
‘‘ It became an incredibly tangled web,’’ Cheney recalls.
‘‘ I just kept trying to write choruses that topped the ones I already had. I’d ask the other guys to pick one chorus out of the three in each song and they’d say, ‘ They’re all good’.
‘‘ That’s no help. I was so confused. And that was happening in 20 or 30 songs. By the time we got to Byron Bay to actually record the album, I had gotten myself in one hell of a mess. I’d gone from having writer’s block to having too many songs. There’s never a halfway point with me.’’
There were plenty of problems on Cheney’s mind. First was the success of their previous album White Noise.
Not only did it follow a period where the band nearly split, it revitalised their career. They toured it for nearly two years. The title track became their most played song on local radio, even beating Prisoner of Society. Cheney became fixated with following it.
‘‘ People said to my face, ‘ White Noise is a great record, you’ll never top that’,’’ he says. ‘‘ Who says we can’t? It wasn’t Abbey Road. There’s still room for improvement.
‘‘ I was saying to myself I had to be relentless with this new album, I had to top White Noise. Everything going on in my private life fuelled me to make sure this record wasn’t a failure.
‘‘ I almost felt like I was going to end up in an asylum. It was sink or swim.’’
Cheney has usually been intensely personal about his private life.
The past few years, however, had pushed him to the brink on every front.
His daughter Scarlett was born three months premature in 2008. His grandmother died last year and his father Noel was diagnosed with cancer last year and given only months to live.
‘‘ It was this weird thing in the universe, all these things colliding within the space of two years,’’ Cheney says. ‘‘ It’s got to mean something.’’ Cheney wanted the band to try new ideas. They road tested new songs under a secret name – this time The Safety Matches.
They played a handful of songs to diehard fans. The fans loved them. The band, well, not so much.
Cheney’s bandmates talk about his perfectionism.
‘‘ That’s something other people call me,’’ he says. ‘‘ I don’t think I get anything perfect. That’s the struggle. I feel like I’m always coming up short, so I dig in and keep trying.
‘‘ It’s fine unless you’ve got to work with me, if you’re married to me or you’re in my family. It seems to be all consuming.’’
Earlier this month, Cheney spent the day waiting to see where the band’s 1998 debut album polled in Triple J’s Hottest 100 Australian records. It landed at No. 4, ahead of INXS’s Kick.
‘‘ It’s not better than Kick,’’ Cheney says. In fact, he cringed listening to the album played in full.
‘‘ It’s so immature, we sound so young,’’ he says.
‘‘ But maybe that’s why people like it.’’ THE ENDING IS JUST THE BEGINNING REPEATING
Out on Friday ( Dew Process/ Universal)