The Living End may be rolling on all over the United States this summer, playing in bigger and better venues, but the Australian rockers still have a soft spot in their hearts for their lean early years.
“We’ve had our fair share of miles and highways in the back of a stinky car,” bassist Scott Owen said recently, recalling how the trio routinely drove two days across the Australian desert to do one gig for 200 kids. “We used to have a 25-year-old Holden Kingswood station wagon. It was never the most reliable thing. We would put all the back seats down and put our gear in. We’d all three sit across the front, and that was our touring car. It logged its fair share of miles and did its share of breaking down.”
It’s just another example of The Living End’s working-class appeal, which also permeates throughout its second Reprise album, “Roll On” (released March 27).
“I stand by the fact that we have a firm, working-class attitude,” Owen said. “Maybe it’s the Australian coming out in us. Most people in Australia have that attitude. We’re just suburban guys; all our friends have jobs and work in trades or in offices every day, and we have the same kind of attitude as them, that you have to work hard to make a living in this world.
“In the early days, the attitude was the same. It just meant that if you wanted to do this, it involves having to do the kind of dirty work like sitting in a car without air conditioning for hours and hours just to get to one gig.”
Like many of their fans, Owen, singer-guitarist Chris Cheney and drummer Travis Demsey have an affinity for all types of music, from rockabilly to punk to ska to pub anthems.
That diversity is reflected in each member’s record collection, Owen says.
“It’s just mixing up a whole lot of different things, styles, that we grew up on,” he said of “Roll On.” “I don’t think we have one point that we want to prove. We’re not like Rage Against the Machine or Limp Bizkit or Eminem. We don’t have one sound that we aspire to be like and make 15 records sounding that same kind of way. That’s our point, we want to keep reinventing what we can do as a three-piece band and make different noises with our fingers.
“This album’s a bit of a grower. There’s a couple of songs on there that are instant, that you can just get straight away. They’re more straightforward, lyrical content and catchy. There aren’t as many of those songs on this album as the last one, at least for me personally. But most of these songs, just the way they’re arranged, they probably take a few listens so you can get a point of what we’re trying to prove. I love the album; it’s contagious.”
Their broad musical tastes also come from the melting pot of their native Melbourne.
“When we started, the first couple of years, we were really diehard rockabilly fans in high school,” Owen said. “We didn’t really care what was going on in the Top 40. No one else in school was like that; they were all into Bon Jovi. We did our own thing; we never aspired to be like a big commercial band. We never tried to compete in that world. It was a real organic feeling of concentrating on what we wanted to do and not having an agenda, apart from playing the music we wanted to play and get as many gigs as we could.
“It was years down the track before we made our first recording. That was simply because we finally had enough money saved to go into the studio for a weekend. We thought we’d bang out some songs and have something to look back on when we’re 40 years old. It really took us by surprise when ‘Prisoner of Society’ was the first song to catch a lot of attention in Australia. We were kind of in over our heads, because we knew nothing about how bands should react when their stuff gets played on the radio and people started buying your records. We were like, ‘Oh, my god, what’s going on?’ ”
“Prisoner of Society,” the biggest-selling song in Australia in 1998, led to a slew of subsequent hits, quintuple platinum album sales, three ARIA awards and an international deal with Reprise.
To this day, “Prisoner of Society” is a mainstay at KROQ in Los Angeles.
“It’s good to have that kind of history,” Owen said, “because it keeps you humble and makes you appreciate it for what it is, rather than focusing in on hitting the big time right off the bat.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I think it was a Midnight Oil record. I inherited a bunch of records from my older brother – well, I kind of stole them. The first one I actually paid money for was a Midnight Oil record, ‘Red Sails in the Sunset,’ which to this day is still one of my favorites. I was a huge fan of them; I knew their whole catalog and went out searching for their stuff, the first band I was really passionate about. It kind of fell by the wayside when I got into rockabilly, but it’s been over the past couple of years that I gotten back to liking Midnight Oil even more than I did when I was a kid because I can understand the technical value as well, rather than the vibe I picked up when I was a kid. I understand their meaning and their message and how incredibly talented and well-structured they are as a band and as musicians and writers.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “My brother took me to see Johnny Diesel and the Injectors, a good old Aussie rock band, in Melbourne. He was a hot guitar player. That was the first time I got to hear a rock band through massive speakers; it was my first experience in how loud rock music can give off such energy for one person standing there watching it.”
ON THE WEB: www.thelivingend.com.au.
BWF (before we forget): The Living End album discography – “Hellbound/It’s For Your Own Good” EPs (Reprise, 1996); “The Living End” (1998); “Roll On” (2001).