SONGS OF THE DECADE 2000’s – THE LIVING END

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Prisoner of Society (C Cheney) 1998 and Wake Up (C Cheney) 2006 and White Noise (C Cheney/S Owen) -The Living End 2008

The band had its beginnings when Chris Cheney and Scott Owen met at Jells Park Primary School Wheelers Hill (Melb.), in 1992, brought together by their older sisters. Both soon gravitated towards rockabilly music, a portmanteau expression that described the earliest form of blending rock and roll with country music (hillbilly), hence rockabilly, while also incorporating the influences of western swing, boogie-woogie, piano, doo wop and acapella singing, with pronounced tape echo.Below L-R Scott Owen, Andy Strachan and Chris Cheney.

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 Cheney played lead guitar, Scott Owen switched from piano to double bass and drummer Joe Piripitsi came on board as drummer but was resubsequrently replaced by Andy Strachan. By 1992 they were the Runaway Boys, a name inspired by a Stray Cats song. Below L-R – Eddie Cochrane, Wanda Jackson, Gene Vincent.

At this time they were essentially a Stray Cats/Clash covers band and they took their early musical cues from 1950’s rockabilly-influenced performers like Elvis Presley, the brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochrane, Brenda Lee, Gene Vincent, Rick Nelson, and Wanda Jackson. More contemporary rockabilly performers like Brian Setzer (Stray Cats) and Joe Strummer (Clash), were also significant influences, they even borrowed a colloquialism for being “the best” or “the greatest” from the 1950’s era – “the living end” – which became the band’s name. Below L-R – Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, Brenda Lee, The Stray Cats.

With 1995’s EP/mini album Hellbound, they turned their back on ’50s rock revivalism and adapted that instrumentation to original songs steeped in UK punk, their next EP, 1996’s It’s for Your Own Good, provided the first breakthrough when the song From Here On In received healthy airplay support from the Triple J radio network. During the six months the EP spent on the indie charts, the group replaced their drummer with Travis Dempsey, who also played in a rockabilly style, standing up at his kit, and they became the classic Living End line up of Cheney, Dempsey, and Owen.

They toured relentlessly for several years and in 1997 recorded the double-A-side single Second Solution/Prisoner of Society which peaked at #3 on the singles charts, stayed there for 66 weeks and was the highest-selling Australia single of the 1990’s, with sales of 140,000.

Hard rocking, revved-up psychobilly.

The band were now being described as rockabilly/punk/rock’n’roll as they were decidedly more angsty and rage-filled than the Stray Cats and were reflecting the influences of British punk bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols.

Prisoner of Society offered up an anthem for rebellious fans and the chorus nailed their colours to the mast ‘Cause I’m a brat/ And I know everything, and I talk back/ ‘Cause I’m not listening to anything you say.” Chris Cheney has said that he originally tried to write Prisoner… like an Irish jig, tapping into the Pogues, but once he started to jam with his fellow bandmates, the whole song sped up, it sounded more like their take on the Small Faces Tin Soldier, or the Who’s My Generation or Eddie Cochrane’s Summertime Blues.

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In October 1998 the band would have their first #1 hit with their debut eponymous album, it occupied the charts for 57 weeks, climbed to #27 in NZ, and #33 in the USA, and sold over 280,000 copies. The band were getting noticed internationally, their youthful energy and endearing naivety was infectious, and they would become more focused and professional in the future, whilst their music continued to retain the engaging raw power of a riff, as they built their punky rockabilly wall of sound, around their records and in live performance

The trio continued to deliver hit albums through the period 2000-2006, Roll On (#3, 2000), Modern Artillery (2003, #3), and released their fourth studio album State of Emergency, in 2006. The band carefully curated the songs for the album by road-testing them at the 2005 Homebake Festival, and later at Splendour in the Grass at Byron Bay, just across the road from Studio 301 where they would ultimately record the album with producer Nick Launay

The second single lifted from the album was Wake Up, a song written by Chris Cheney after the London terrorist bombings and it reflected the collective disgust, anger, and sense of futility that resonated throughout the world at that time.

Angry, timely, and thought-provoking.

The lyrics are scathingly critical of political leaders who can’t be trusted and do not command our respect, public education systems which stifle creativity and free thinking in the pursuit of conformity and groupthink. The song has a visceral quality reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, and this ambience is further reinforced by the promo clip which opened with a quote from George Orwell and featured a classroom of young schoolchildren, zombie-like automatons, attending the “Village of the Damned” Primary School. Wake Up remains the band’s highest charting single at #4 and the album became their second #1 hit.

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The White Noise album, released in 2008, was recorded at the Water Music studios in Hoboken, New Jersey with producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jnr, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith). Below Producer Joe Agnello

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Chris Cheney had taken time off during 2007 to re-energise and re-focus, after experiencing a prolonged period of writer’s block and exhaustion; the choice of the album’s title, which describes sounds that are steady, unvarying, unobtrusive, and usually electronically configured to mask or obliterate unwanted sounds, indicated a wry sense of humour, as well as a discomfort with the music industry’s obsession with the gimmickry of EDM. The band had again road-tested several of their new songs throughout Victoria under the band pseudonym The Longnecks, pre-production was completed at Studio One in Collingwood (Melb), and Brendan O’Brien, fresh from mastering AC/DC’s Black Ice album joined Agnello in the US to mix and master the album and capture the unique live sound of the band.

Perfect song to open the ARIA proceedings 2008, aggressive, in-your-face, up-close-and-personal, take-no-prisoners rock, also remembered as the evening Axle Whitehead indecently exposed himself, and pushed the ejector button on his career.

White Noise was the standout track and the first released as a single in July 2008, the killer chorus anchors the song, the band literally tears up the soundscape in a Clash-like display of authentic, tangible rock music, devoid of computer samples, loops and electronica, “white noise” never sounded so emphatic nor so engaging as this full-blooded rock and roll assault which artfully blended strings – viola, cello and violins – with the punkabilly cadences for which the band were so well-known. The album raced to #1 locally, they won the ARIA award for best rock album and White Noise, which undeservedly only charted at #13, won Song of the Year at the 2009 APRA Music awards.   

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The Ends remain a great live band, and despite all the angsty rebelliousness- the punky whine of frontman Cheney, the Moonish antics of drummer Dempsey and the pirouetting gymnastic hi-jinks of double bass player Owen – they are extremely competent musicians, acutely aware of who their audience is, and how to connect with them.

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