It was October 12, 1998 when The Living End released their debut self-titled album. It was one of the most anticipated albums from an Australian band EVER! Coming off the back of the massive double A-side single Second Solution/ Prisoner of Society, everything The Living End had worked for since their first gig in 1991 was coming down to this, their first full length album. Would it hit big, or crumble under the overwhelming expectation.
We all know the outcome. The Living End album is a staple in Australian musical history. Debuting #1 on the ARIA Album Chart on release, the album stayed in the Top 10 for 27 weeks. It went on to win the band “Breakthrough Artist – Album” and “Best Group” at the 1999 ARIA Awards.
The album captured the bands influences. Stylistically, it had punk (West End Riot), metal (Growing Up Falling Down), pop (I Want a Day), rockabilly (Second Solution), hillbilly thrash on steroids (Prisoner of Society), jazz (Fly Away), ska (Trapped and All Torn Down), swampy surf twang (Bloody Mary), country pickin’ and anything else they thought they could throw at it.
Released nowis a special 25th Anniversary edition of the fourteen track album, repackaged for vinyl and CD with a 32 page booklet complete with Chris Cheney penned liner notes and photos from the period. Added to the album is a ten track live recording from 1998 captured for triple j’s Live At The Wireless. The live recording includes a rare cover version of On The Inside (theme from Prisoner). Chris Cheney and Scott Owen speak to Hi Fi Way about that iconic album and what’s next for the band.
Celebrating twenty five years of your debut album, can you believe it?
Scott: Yeah. If I look at the record, I go, oh, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that we did this. But then if I start looking at all the other shit that we’ve done, all the other records, all the touring, all the videos, all the artwork every, every step of the way I go, oh yeah, it actually feels like a long time ago. It just depends on the perspective I think.
Does the power and the legacy these songs have created still amaze you when you reflect on it?
Chris: I don’t know. I was just going to say I actually haven’t thought about that until you’ve said that, but you know, I don’t know whether you write songs that are built to last or you just write the song in that moment thinking, well I really like that hook this week. It might come and go, especially with things like Prisoner Of Society and Second Solution, I don’t want to water it down, but they’ve got a novelty factor to them, there’s no real rhyme or reason to think that they’re going to stick around for this long and have the lasting impact. I guess that’s pretty cool that we are here twenty five years later and those songs still hold such a special place.
I think those songs are still just as relevant now as they ever have been before. Recent Adelaide shows Beer & BBQ Festival and even Harvest Rock are a testament to that.
Chris: Yeah, that’s great. That’s part of our influence, we still listen to like, if you put on Tutti Frutti by Little Richard or something, that thing just jumps out of the speakers. Why is that? I don’t know. Because it’s human, it’s got a heartbeat, it’s got soul. There’s a number of reasons, so I can only imagine that there’s a high percentage of good old fashioned rock and roll in our music and that just seems to be timeless. It just doesn’t seem to date like a chorus pedal or too much reverb can or synthesizers and keyboards. There’s plenty of records that sounded amazing when they came out and they sound very dated now. So it’s kind of cool that our stuff has lasted.
Do you think that starting from humble beginnings and the Aussie battler story is also a big part of it?
Scott: Definitely, yeah, I definitely felt like that was a big part of our journey. When we were starting to get a bit of attention overseas and stuff, I think it was a good story to bring home and I think people connected with that story with us. I think there’s definitely a bit of Aussie battler patriotism that goes into the love for the band.
Chris: I think one of the things is we’ve just cut our teeth and had done so many shows by the time that first record came out that when people did actually go to see the Living End play, I think most people walked away going, holy shit, they’re a good live band. It’s like, yeah, because we’ve already been playing for seven years. We already knew how to play and we knew how to turn a room around and we played to a lot of crowds that didn’t really care for what we were doing, and that used to really get under our skin. I think we pushed ourselves to try and win over an audience. By the time we had a hit record and then we played live, the deal was done, it was like we had done it, we’d convinced them.
Do you remember the energy and the vibe of those recording sessions? Was that an exciting time as those songs were released to the world?
Scott: Yeah, it was!
Chris: You were about to disagree!
Scott: I remember it as being heads down and hard work, we did a lot of takes and it wasn’t party town in the studio. It was work. Back in those days, and even still there, there’s such a thrill in hearing your own recordings, but especially when you put that much work into them. We had a pretty strong vision of what we wanted to sound like, so being able to that and hear it come back through the speakers at you was pretty exciting. I don’t know if we thought back then that it was going to have such an appeal, like it did. I don’t know if we had any preconception that it was going to connect with so many people. There wasn’t that kind of, oh, this is great, we we’re going to be huge mentality. It was just this is great. We’re capturing what we want to capture.
Are there any other moments that standout for you when the album came out?
Chris: I remember this, not necessarily after the record came out, but during the writing phase of it, I remember finishing like West End Riot and showing our manager, oh, like we’ve got a new song. We played some of it for her, we played the chorus and I remember she just went, oh wow because it had that hook and things like Save The Day. I just felt like we’ve really got a knack for writing catchy choruses and that’s what we were really getting off on at that point was like having maximum energy, having this punk rock thing. We were influenced by like Rancid and Green Day and stuff as well as the fifties thing. So, we wanted to have that toughness and that pace to the songs, but we’ve always wanted to have these giant hooks in the choruses, or I did anyway, so I remember those two songs in particular going, man, these could definitely be singles. I could definitely hear the people would react to those songs and that’s what happened.
Have you been blown away by the interest in the vinyl?
Scott: It has been incredible. It’s gone really well. I never know what to expect from those things. It’s like put it out there and see what happens. When it gets such a great reaction, it’s always feels pretty rewarding. The show that we put on at Festival Hall sold out pretty quickly as well. We’re doing a show on November 4 at Festival Hall in Melbourne where we’ll play the twenty fifth anniversary celebration, just a one night only thing. We were a bit worried that we may have aimed a little bit too high by making the venue Festival Hall being such a big venue with such a big capacity, but low and behold it sold out within a week. We’re all feeling pretty flattered and stoked by that.
You must be chuffed to see the generational shift in the fan base now? That must be humbling as well?
Scott: Yeah, it is. It’s one of the great things that happens with this band and it’s always been the way, whenever we’ve put out records, we’ve always felt like there’s been a younger crowd that’s come along with it as well. It’s been a constant thing, we’re stoked about that.
Was the live CD that comes as part of the pack, was that iconic recording the obvious inclusion capturing the spirit of the time?
Scott: Yeah, well that’s the theory of it. We hate listening back to recordings at the best of times, let alone ones that are pretty much twenty-five years old because when we play, it’s all about the moment and it’s all about energy. We’re not trying to play with any kind of technical perfection or anything like that. It’s always just about energy. So, hearing it back can always be a bit cringey for us. That’s the whole theory about putting the live album out with the reissue of the first album is to capture that so people can revisit that I suppose.
Chris: I think the fact that it was a Triple J recording is special because they were such a huge part in that record. I don’t think that first album really got too much like commercial airplay on the other station. The station that we shall not mention, but the youth network, Triple J, I think they picked up the five singles and they all got added to high rotation. We went from being a band that Triple J wouldn’t touch, we just couldn’t get on there to. From Here On In got some airplay, but then this record was just like, they were all over it. It’s kind of cool to have that Live At The Wireless, which was a big thrill to do that back then.
With the success of the show selling out quickly at Festival Hall was there any thought about taking that around the country?
Chris: No! It’s like the be we’re doing a Bee Gees. It’s one night only, we are keeping it special because we haven’t wanted to do anniversary things. Too many bands do it and it just becomes naff, like we’re going to do a fifteenth anniversary of this album and no one cares. We only did this because it was like twenty five years and it’s a really special record and we would kick ourselves if we didn’t do something, but we said we’re going to do one show and that’s it. Play this record, make it a big celebration, and then we’re going to move on and release new music. That’s what we want to do.
Has there been much work done on a new album?
Chris: Yeah, there’s been a lot of work. We’ve written a stack of songs. We’ve done a couple of gigs where we’ve played all new material just under a different name and it’s feeling really good. It’s just super high energy and super catchy. Just back to going for stuff that we just get off on playing in the room, I think as opposed to what kind of recording do we want to do, we are just going for maximum energy.
Has anything pushed you that way or has it just evolved like that?
Chris: I reckon it feels like it’s just evolved that way. I don’t think there’s any particular records or artists that we’ve been listening to collectively that we’ve been discussing, it’s just feels like the thing that we do best is just playing really hard and fast, and having catchy parts and not trying to get too clever with structures and arrangements and too deep with it all. Trying to probably rediscover some of that energy from the first record. Perhaps that’s the way I sort of feel about it.
Was it good for you to put out your solo album to help focus the next Living End record?
Chris: For me having written that record and going down that country path, having the pedal steel and all that on there, I think the three of us are just itching to really dig in and do that thing, the Living End! I think we feel that there is something special that we can do that we probably haven’t done for a while in our last couple of records. It’s difficult to describe, but the best feedback I think we had from doing these shows was people said it just sounds like some of your early stuff, it just has that kind of thing, whatever it is. You can strive for that and try to try to write in that direction. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen. I think we’re all pretty stoked with some of the tunes that we’ve got up our sleeve.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Order your copy of The Living End now…