Saturday, 18 November 2017
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Interview: Chris Cheney of THE LIVING END

Shots have been fired. The Living End’s seventh album, Shift, is the hard-line sound of a band on the warpath. Pity the fool in its sights.

The Living EndThe Living End has a history of tough talk. There have been riots, revolutions and resistance, and Chris Cheney, Scott Owen and Andy Strachan have never been afraid to break out the artillery. What makes Shift so different is the unflinching candour. Shift is a first-person fight club.

“It’s not a feel-good record,” Cheney confirms, “but it’s a good record. It’s saying something isn’t working, and sometimes the only way to fix it is to break it, then put it together again. As hard as it can be, the only way something changes is when something changes.”

Until now, Cheney has largely kept his life and his relationships separate to the songs. “But this record is deeply personal. These songs aren’t sugar coated and there are moments that I find hard to listen to, but it’s brutal honesty that makes the best songs.”

Who’s the unlucky target? Cheney’s adamant he’s not going to get specific with names and places. “It’s all in there,” he says firmly. “The scales have fallen from my eyes.”

Cheney says Shift is no random collection of songs. “It’s a record. A document. It’s 11 songs about old friends and new enemies, of triumphs, mistakes, greed and regrets, warts and all.”

Having lit the fuse and let everything blow, Cheney says, “The band has hit this new level now. I love it, because we’ve never made a dark record, yet we’ve made one that feels great. It feels like we’ve flushed out a lot of crap.”

The Living End will be bringing their anthems to the UK this summer as one of the supports to Green Day in Hyde Park London. I had the opportunity to chat to Chris ahead of that show.

The Living End will join Green Day at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park on Saturday 1st July. For more information, visit www.bst-hydepark.com 

Chris Cheney
Photo: Stu McKay

Mark Dean: What are you guys up to at the moment? Are you out touring still?

Chris Cheney: No. We just did four shows back to back, where we played at the Melbourne Zoo and we played at the Sydney Zoo, which was very, very different. We did an hour and a half set, where we did a half an hour of acoustic, stripped-back songs with a string section, and then we plugged in and went full electric for the other hour. It was fantastic. We played to like 6,000 people in Melbourne and about 5,000 in Sydney. So, really big.

Mark Dean: You’re coming over to the UK, playing a show in London with Green Day.

Chris Cheney: Yeah, I know. It’s enormous. We’ve got such an amazing few months coming up, but that’s probably the pinnacle I would say. We’ve got a history with those guys. It’s been well documented now. It’ll be 20 years pretty much since we first toured with them, in Australia. We toured with them in the States and we were signed to their record label for a while, and I got up and played guitar with them in Australia a few years back. We’re lucky enough to have been added to the bill in Hyde Park. We’re so excited.

Mark Dean: Will you guys being doing any other UK dates? Obviously, it’s very expensive just to come over for the one show.

Chris Cheney: Australia’s a bloody long way away still, isn’t it?

Mark Dean: Yeah. Indeed, it is.

Chris Cheney: There’s a bunch of other shows being locked in, I think. I don’t think anything’s confirmed yet. I’m not sure. I should probably know that, but I don’t know because I’m just a guitar player. I’m not sure. I guess we could say just check your local listings, or check the website for updates, but I dare say we’re not coming for just those couple of gigs.

Mark Dean: I was quite surprised seeing your addition for the Green Day bill. I wasn’t even aware that you guys were still around and still going. Do you get that often?

Chris Cheney: We do a little bit, yeah. It’s our own fault. Between about ’98 and probably 2003, or ’04 up to about 2007, I suppose, we toured relentlessly throughout the UK and America and Japan. Then we had a little bit of time off and around about 2009-2010 we did a little bit more touring, but it’s been quite sporadic, I suppose, over the last few years. It just got to a point I think, where it was becoming very expensive and the industry was changing. We weren’t getting as much support from record labels, because the whole internet thing was taking off and there was less money going into touring and all that sort of thing.

There were several factors and it’s a bit of a regret I suppose, but over the last three or four years we’ve done a couple of tours of Germany. We’ve done some shows in the UK, like Reading and Leeds, and we went to America twice last year. We’re beginning to do more and more shows again. I know a lot of people were wondering, are they still around? It’s frustrating, because here in Australia we’re as big as we’ve ever been. We’re playing massive shows. It’s just again, that distance of being so far away. It costs so much money just to get anywhere.

Mark Dean: Do you feel that is essentially just down to a lack of touring, or is it maybe a fault with management or PR companies, that they weren’t doing an effective enough job promoting you in other areas of the world?

Chris Cheney: I think we probably could have been on a bunch more festivals over the years. I mean, that aids you to do more of your own shows, if you can get on a couple of good paying festivals and you can do the side shows. Definitely. I suppose it still just comes down to us probably shelling out the money and stuff. I mean, once you disappear for a couple of years it can be quite damaging, I suppose.

I tell you what though. The last run of that we’ve been in Germany and even these last couple of tours we’ve done of America, they were great. The turn outs were incredible. We’re very lucky like that. We have loyal fans who have stuck with us. Hopefully, when we get back to the UK next time, I’m hoping that even though people might think that we’ve disappeared, once they see the name they’ll come back again.

I feel like we’re playing stronger and better shows than what we’ve ever played. We’re just better and it’s just a tougher band now than it’s ever been. It’s exciting. Our new record, that came out six months ago, has done well in Australia and we’re stoked on it.

Mark Dean: I was going to mention that new record. There has been quite a gap since the release of Shift and the previous album, I just wondered why so long between the albums?

Chris Cheney: I’ve been living in Los Angeles for almost six years, which hasn’t really been… That’s not really the reason, because I’ve still been travelling back and forth to Australia a lot and playing shows with the guys. I think, we went into the studio before it came out. It took about a year and a half to basically record the album and we didn’t really anticipate that it would take that long, but we also didn’t put any great time restraints on ourselves.

We went in with the idea that we would maybe spend a week, or we would spend a month, or maybe we’d spend six months. We didn’t really know. We had the luxury I suppose, of just wanting to get it right. We were recording in a studio here in Melbourne that we’ve done a lot of stuff in before and we could take our time with it. It was important to me not to just churn out a record which would enable us to tour, it was important to make a record that was really going to be a statement.

This is my favourite record that we’ve ever done. It’s the most honest. It’s the most raw, it’s the most personal, and I think it’s just got the best kind of energy and the best balance of songwriting and the rawness and punk energy of our earlier stuff, but it has maturity to it as well that I think, for me it’s like the defining balance. It’s the kind of band we are.

Mark Dean: Why did you decide to make this a more personal record? Was it just a change in terms of lyrical content and subjects that you wrote about, or was it just natural maturity?

Chris Cheney: It was really, yeah. No, it wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just as a songwriter I think I’ve just become more and more of an inward songwriter, as I’ve gotten older. I guess when you start out in your 20s, or whatever, I don’t think I ever felt I had anything really to say. I’d always try and write about some sort of social issue, or political issue, or something else, or make up some characters or something, but I didn’t feel I was interesting enough.

With this record, there’s been a lot that had gone on in my personal life, over the last sort of five years that I think I tapped into. I just felt that, that’s all that I could write about. I couldn’t write about anything else. It’s the same sort of stuff just kept coming out all the time. It was like my own sort of therapy. I felt that it was really stuff that I wanted to get out there and it was just making for a better song each time. The minute that I tried to sugar coat it, or circle the issue, or try and talk about someone else – the other guys were great actually, in the band they were like, “No, no, no. Man, just tell it like it is. Warts and all. If you feel uncomfortable singing it, then it’s probably a good lyric, because that’s going to really hit the mark.”

I really went for it on this album. Some of it was hard to sing and hard to perform, but again it just has a depth to it and it has an emotion that we could never have conjured up 10 or 15 years ago. I’m really proud of it.

Chris Cheney
Photo: Stu McKay

Mark Dean: There are some quite diverse tracks there, if I can just pick out a couple. “Keep on Running,” which was the single, and “With Enemies Like That,” which are totally different in style from what you normally associate The Living End sound to be all about.

Chris Cheney: They are yeah, but at the same time, even as far back as our second record, Roll On, we always made a point of saying how much we loved bands like the Manic Street Preachers and Oasis, and real English kind of bands, who had big choruses and wore their heart on their sleeve. Even things like The Who, and stuff like that. I think anyone that knows the band knows that the rockabilly thing, that’s where we started. That was the foundation, but that wore thin for me.

I love that kind of music and it’ll always be where I came from, but we never wanted to be just another Stray Cats copy band. That was one influence, but as I said, we always loved the melodic guitar pop as well. For me, to write a big soaring chorus that just hits you in the heart is like, that’s everything for me. Those songs, they had to be on the record, as far as I was concerned.

Mark Dean: You mentioned you have achieved a certain level of success in your native Australia. I just wonder how you cope with fame? Do you get recognised over there? Is it difficult to maintain your own personal and private life?

Chris Cheney: I get recognised, of course. I mean Australia, it’s huge, but it’s not that big. We don’t have the population of you guys, or the States, or whatever. We have achieved an amazing level of success, far above and beyond what I ever imagined. I tell you what, people are pretty nice. It’s always blokes at the pub, “Hey, man. I like your band.” “It’s the guy from The Living End.” You never get hassled, or anything like that, but I get it more now than I ever have.

I’ve never had an issue with it. I’ve never really shied away. I get a little bit self-conscious, a little bit paranoid every now and then, but again, it’s not like fucking Madonna, or something like that.

Mark Dean: You mentioned earlier that changes in the music industry, are you still able to sustain a career from playing music?

Chris Cheney: Yeah. We’re one of the lucky ones. The three of us, we’ve never had to really go back and get a normal job yet. Touch wood. We’re lucky enough that we came along at a time when people were still buying records, people were still going to shows and we built up this strong, loyal following that have stuck with us. We can go out now, this tour that we’re about to begin here, which begins on Wednesday. We just did those shows at the zoo, but we’re starting a national tour on Wednesday, most of the shows are already sold out.

We’re lucky that we still have that and we can maintain a career in music and we feel blessed, because there’s not many that can. Having said that, we’re smart enough to know that you’re only as good as your previous song, as well. This debuted at I think number three, or four in the charts here. It still did well and every record for us has done well. That’s why I laboured over it and I took the time to get it right, because there’s no point rushing it. I feel like we’ve worked our arses off. We’re a bloody good live band. We don’t disappoint people and we’re a band that you can rely on. You need all that and hopefully a bit of luck as well.

Mark Dean: Outside of music what do you guys do in your spare time? Is it typical Aussie spare time pursuits like surfing and things like that, or do you do something different?

Chris Cheney: The other two guys are avid surfers. I’m too scared of sharks, so I don’t get in there. Look, I don’t have a lot of other hobbies really. I just sit around and play my guitar, or switch off and read a book, or something, or go for a run. The other guys are a bit more sporty than me, I suppose. The three of us live for the band, to be honest. That’s our livelihood and we live to tour.

Mark Dean: Obviously, you’re doing the show in London, you’ve got your shows over there. How’s the rest of the year panning out?

Chris Cheney: Very busy, actually. I mean, it’s crazy busy for me. I’ve just finished this Green Day musical, speaking of them. I played St. Jimmy in American Idiot the theatre show, which was amazing. I did that for about three, or four weeks. Then I was playing these David Bowie tribute gigs with his band at the Opera House, which was incredible. 

The Living End

Mark Dean: You mentioned playing Saint Jimmy in the Green Day thing. Is theatre and acting something that you’ve done a lot of over the years?

Chris Cheney: No, this was the first. This was something different for me. I mean, they approached me only about a month ago, or a month and a half … maybe it’s a little longer or so, but it was right before I came back to Australia that the show was being put on and would I play the role of Saint Jimmy. I had seen the show before in L.A. a few years ago, and I thought it was great, but I didn’t know whether I’m cut out for the theatre, you know? But I thought, “Fuck it, you’ve got to put yourself out there and jump in the deep end every once in a while.” So, I did it, and it was just amazing. I can only do the first week because I have to go on tour, but in that week, I did six shows and, I tell you what, it was unbelievable. An amazing experience. So, we’ll see what happens. If it tours and they ask me to do it again, I would jump at it.

Mark Dean: Is acting now a new career option for you? Is that something that you want to further develop maybe?

Chris Cheney: I don’t know. I think it would have to depend on the role. I mean, it sort of suited me to do the part of Saint Jimmy, and singing those songs I felt was within my range. If I was offered a part in ‘Les Mis’ or ‘Cats’ or something, I probably would have to give it some extra special thought.

Mark Dean: What in your life are you most proud of? Is it something maybe personally, or something that you’ve done with the band?

Chris Cheney: No, it would be my kids. I’ve got two kids. I’ve got two girls, eight and eleven. They’re kind of everything. You think that a gold record … that’s what life’s all about when you’re in your twenties. Then you soon realise, once you have a couple of kids, that they’re the real things to cherish.

Mark Dean: Is it difficult being in The Living End and the other two guys still living in Australia, in terms of recording and writing? Do you swap a lot of ideas over the Internet, or do you prefer just to get over there and get into a studio?

Chris Cheney: No, we don’t really. I’ve always been the primary writer, so I always bring the lion’s share of the ideas, but it hasn’t really affected us. If anything, it’s probably been better because when I fly in and we get together in a rehearsal room, we’re not fooling around. We kind of get stuck into it and we really mean it. We used to kind of jam, like, every couple of days. We’d end up at the pub, and two or three hours later we’d be like, “Oh yeah, we better get back and do some work I suppose.” And, of course, you don’t get anything productive done then. So, now when we get together it’s straight down to business. I think we appreciate it a little bit more. We don’t tend to take it for granted.

And with the recording side of it, it was just something, when I would fly in … We did this record Shift just in little spurts basically. For three weeks here and a couple of weeks there. Whenever we had time between shows and whenever I was in the country, we’d jump in and tick a few more boxes or fiddle with the arrangement or whatever we were doing, and pieced it together that way. It was good because it gave us some perspective. We could sit back after a few weeks and go, “You know what? This song is just not happening. Let’s re-cut it,” or “Let’s scrap it,” rather than having to do it all in one block.

Mark Dean: Will you be featuring many of those Shift tracks live? Subsequently, do they present an additional challenge to you to perform them?

Chris Cheney: No, not at all. They go really, really well. Just the way we pieced them together in the studio, I think we tried to simplify. Some of them sound a little bit more complicated, but they’re actually not. They flow really well. We’re obviously always obligated to play what are seen as the hits and the radio songs, the songs that we’re most known for, and every band always wants to play the new record because they think that’s the best one. So, we’re sensitive to that but at the same time, these new songs, they rock really hard. So, we’re going to play a bunch of them. They just jump out of the gates really strong, so we’re not afraid to play them.

The Living EndMark Dean: I’m actually going to be attending the London show myself, with Green Day. How long is your setlist, how long will you get to play for?

Chris Cheney: I don’t know, to be honest. I’m sure it will probably be like a 45 or something like that. I can’t imagine it would be much longer than that, but you never know. We’ll squeeze everything we’ve got into it.

Mark Dean: You mentioned earlier, talking about bands that you’ve liked or who have influenced you, Oasis. So, I’m kind of hoping that those UK dates may include a Manchester show.

Chris Cheney: Well, I hope so too, because I love playing there. I was there not that long ago, because I play in that other band which is the Jack Tars. We were called The Dead Men Walking with Captain Sensible and Slim Jim Phantom and Mike Peters. We had a cracker of a show in Manchester, and The Living End have always done well there, too. So, fingers crossed, we get there.

Mark Dean: Who would you most like to interview? Would it be somebody like you mentioned earlier, David Bowie, if you could have that opportunity?

Chris Cheney: I wouldn’t interview him because I’m just not intelligent enough. It’s funny, quite a few years ago now – it was in ’99, I think – Joe Strummer was out here with the Mescaleros playing the Big Day Out tour. There was a magazine that wanted me to do an interview with him, and I was really nervous at the idea. I thought, “What do ask someone like Joe Strummer?” He was such an intelligent, switched-on guy. I thought, “I just wouldn’t know what to say to him that he hasn’t been asked a million times before.” He always seemed like such a great intellect.

But I’ll tell you one of the highlights for me was I did get to interview Brian Setzer when The Stray Cats were coming out here in 2009 I think it was, on their farewell round-the-world trip. That was a real thrill because they were my favourite band as a kid. So, to ask him all the questions that I’d always wanted to know, that I hadn’t read in interviews was pretty cool. He’s a rad guy too, so that was a real thrill.

Mark Dean: What was that for, a radio show? Or were you working for a website or something?

Chris Cheney: No, it was for the national press here. It was, like, a syndicated interview that ran in the daily papers and all that sort of stuff. And music magazines. It kind of went out through everyone. It was a big story because I have a profile here and they were trying to push and they thought, “Well, maybe we can get the guy from The Living End to interview his idol from when he was a kid.” So, I jumped at it. I didn’t feel as nervous about that. I thought I could handle that one.

Mark Dean: Is that something that you’ve done a lot of over the years, or was that just a one-off?

Chris Cheney: No, it was a one-off. I leave that to you blokes.

Mark Dean: We still get nervous too, you know.

Chris Cheney: Do you? I’m sure you do when you interview big names. Imagine interviewing Noel Gallagher or something. You know he’s come out with all the witty answers.

Mark Dean: Yeah, it is quite unnerving at times.

Chris Cheney: As long as they’re nice, you know?

Mark Dean: That’s great. Thank you very much. As I said, I will be personally attending the Green Day show in the summer. Look forward to seeing you.

Chris Cheney: Excellent. I’m looking forward to it. Hope to see you there.

The Living End will join Green Day at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park on Saturday 1st July. For more information, visit www.bst-hydepark.com 

 

About Mark Dean

I’m a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal – my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver – Photography by Olga Kuzmenko

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