Since their first album 18 years ago, every record The Living End have released has charted in the ARIA Top 10. Judging by the hard work and story behind their new album, ‘Shift’, it looks like they will strike gold again. “I’m stoked,” lead singer and guitarist Chris Cheney says. “Stoked because we were adamant that we’d make this record a good one. It’s the strongest batch of songs I think we’ve ever had.”
The new album drops today (13 May) and the band was torn about which single to release first. They went with ‘Keep On Running’, but it wasn’t an easy decision. “It’s probably the most polarising song we’ve ever released. It was not written for The Living End really. Everyone agreed that [‘…Running’] was a great song but we didn’t know whether we could make it work. Nothing brings out emotion like a string section. I’m such a fan of big, orchestral arrangements. Without the string section the song is not the same.
“It was really different but it shows a whole other side to the band. It doesn’t reflect the rest of the album whatsoever. There are people who probably think we’ve lost our minds, but I can assure you the rest of the album is absolutely banging.”
As for the other tune that competed for lead single? “‘Monkey’ isn’t reinventing the wheel, we just thought it was a great four on the floor rock tune. I think it’s really dangerous for a rock & roll band unless your AC/DC, to be that band that everyone knows what they’re going to get.”
There was also an emphasis on personal songwriting for ‘Shift’. “There was a lot of experimenting and soul searching lyric-wise to get stuff that was really abrasive and brutally honest; it makes the whole record have so much more meat to it,” Chris says.
“With certain lyrics, I don’t know if I want to say it because it’s too close to the bone… There’s no point dumbing something down. People want to be shocked these days. The best music is the stuff that shakes you out of mundane normality. We’ve always had songs that have been about outside observations and social contexts. It’s always been about ‘we’. This album is about ‘I’.
“I went through a stage where I felt really beaten down and it’s almost like I’m saying to my kids ‘there’s going to be tough times’, but what’s the option? Just check out? You can’t do that. So I’m saying ‘all will be OK my friend’, kind of talking to my children but I know that I’m talking to myself.”
In 2005, Chris was a member of the Australian rock supergroup The Wrights, who covered an Aussie classic ‘Evie’ by the late, troubled singer Stevie Wright of The Easybeats. “It’s a struggle. There’s been times where I’ve been hanging by a thread and could easily fall into bad habits,” Chris concedes.
“Stevie was a genius, but he had a long and well known drug problem but it’s so easy for it to happen in this business. It’s the only job you clock on and they give you a case of beer! It’s absurd. But it’s kind of the reason we got into it in the first place.
“It’s like a party scene and I’ve always been aware that it is part of it. But if you only focus on that, you’re going to have a swift career, so I’ve always felt very ambitious and hungry to prove the next thing, whether it’s the next guitar lick, song or show but that’s inbuilt in me. I feel like I’ve got a point to prove and it’s probably all in my head. So that drives me not to fuck it all up.
“I want to be one of those artists who people go ‘what a band’ and ‘what a catalogue’. I don’t feel like we ever play a bad show and if we do we get pretty down on ourselves and we’re not one of these bands who don’t give a shit. We really play a blinder every night.”
Chris’ respect for classic rock is obvious. His affection for the rockabilly group Stray Cats, who hit the peaks in the early ‘80s, is what got the band going in the first place. “We supported the Stray Cats at the Forum in Melbourne and they really wanted to have us. And our manager was like, ‘yeah but you’re kind of bigger than them now’, which was absurd for us because when we first started out we couldn’t draw ten people.
“We thought playing the Corner Hotel [in Melbourne] was like headlining the Rod Laver Arena or something! We played as their special guest. It was a great career moment. We didn’t care that we’d sold more records, it was about respect and playing before them and saluting them and it was the reason we became a band which is the truth. If it wasn’t for that band, we wouldn’t be The Living End.”
The respect Chris has for rock heritage is matched by his humility. “I’ll be completely honest. We would like to maintain our success and we would like to be a band that people like and if it all ended tomorrow I would be gutted. Because I feel like we’ve had this amazing career and I still feel like we’ve got more to do.
“But at the same time you have to follow your own instincts and make the kind of record you want to make. We kind of did that on this record and we put some parameters on the way we recorded by not cleaning things up and doing to many takes and just leaving an edge there. Because we’re notorious for wanting everything to sound really great and to play our arses off and make everything so blisteringly tight that it starts to lose that human touch.
“So we are lucky that we’ve carved out a career and I’m very thankful for that. You can’t worry about what you should do and what they’re going to like because then they’re on to something else anyway.”
‘Shift’ is available today, 13 May.
Fri 10 Jun – The Tivoli Theatre (Brisbane)
Sat 11 Jun – Enmore Theatre (Sydney)
Thu 16 Jun – The Astor (Perth)
Thu 23 Jun – Forum Theatre (Melbourne)
Fri 24 Jun – Forum Theatre (Melbourne)
Sat 25 Jun – The Gov (Adelaide)
Sun 26 Jun – The Gov (Adelaide)