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March 13, 2006 | by  | in Features |
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Singalongs, Politics & World Domination – An Insiders Guide to the Living End

My introduction to the Living End was textbook. I was fourteen, at my first party, and I was drinking what would later prove a lethal mix of lemonade and my Romanian neighbour’s overproof plum brandy. Someone flicked ‘Prisoner of Society’ on the stereo. Arms linked, we bounced around on Gilly Pinder’s parents’ carpet, screaming out the lyrics. They were heady words for a socially awkward teenager. Even if you had braces, as I did, you could sing along and feel united against ‘Society’ and ‘The Man’. I suspect that year (1998) may evoke similar memories for many people my age, when one by one the Living End’s singles tore up the New Zealand charts. With melodies you could dance to, guitar solos that had us flipping before we even knew we liked guitar solos and fantastically dumb choruses that begged to be screamed, The Living End quickly became “our” band. I tell Scott this story, and he laughs at me. But when all’s said and done, that was a long time ago, when the band themselves weren’t much into their twenties either. Three albums later, do the Living End see themselves as the band of the disaffected kids? “Well, what’s surprised us lately, is that a lot of our fans are still young, you know, like they’re kids who are just finding music for the first time…it’s really surprising for us, on our fourth album, when we first started getting known in 1998, and it is good to still have kids who are just discovering music still kind of thinking that we’re a current and a valid band,” he says, going on to note that “a lot of bands that that have been around for as long as we have are considered to be ‘old bands,’ you know what I mean, whereas it doesn’t really feel that way for us, which is an excellent thing!”

With their new album State of Emergency debuting at the top of the charts in Australia, I ask Scott if there’s anything significant behind the album’s name. “We just noticed that everything was being considered a state of emergency in the last couple of years. Whether it was water restrictions or natural disasters, or terrorists… We thought it was a valid point to be making, and also, it had a double meaning, ‘cause we expected to go and make this bare bones rock and roll album in three weeks, but it ended up taking a hell of a lot longer. So making the album was sort of like being in a state of emergency as well, because everything we were working on was meant to be finished yesterday!” It seems it was a difficult album to make, then. “I wouldn’t say that it was easy…” he tails off.

Musically, State of Emergency has been compared to their debut, for its return to a simpler, pared back sound. Could this be why it’s being lauded, when sophomore effort Roll On (in my opinion, a brilliant album because of the very complexity critics bemoaned) was panned? “The first album was a pretty straightforward punk rockabilly thing, and we considered ourselves to be a hell of a lot more than just a punk band. We were influenced by so many different kinds of music, and I guess when we made Roll On we really wanted to prove that fact, that we could play it better than three chord punk.” And as often happens when a band the critics think they’ve pidgeon-holed refuses to stay in that hole, it was criticised for the pretentiousness of trying to be anything other than the expected straight-up punk album.

But Scott’s keen to point out that the band has always had a depth of influence beyond what might be normal for most punk bands, and that that’s important to see these days, (and bless him, but he does sound a tad like a curmudgeonly grandfather as he says this) “especially with all this modern stuff going on.” Quite what modern stuff he might mean I’m not sure, given the seemingly never ending love affair with revivalist rock and roll, but he is adamant that “it’s good that kids are getting into a band like us, that uses older influences, and things from the past.” And it is true that their list of influences are more interesting than many of their punk contemporaries. Their style, dubbed ‘punkabilly,’ is the result of Scott and Chris’s early obsession with fifties’ rockabilly artists Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly and their beloved Stray Cats. As Scott says, “that music just pushed certain buttons for us.” As did Paul Weller. “Oh, yeah, Paul Weller’s a huge influence, cause he had such a great way of putting things into words and making it sound angry without being macho or agro. He just had a way of being clever about it. The Jam were just pretty straightforward and very real, and I think the working class could really relate to the way The Jam wrote their songs.” I put it to him that the subject matter of their songs has always been far more mature than their audiences – treatment of workers and union struggles, the Dundee shooting, tearing down historic buildings and class differences have all been tackled in the past – but Scott insists that their songs are never consciously constructed as social commentary. “We don’t really write songs with that in mind. They just kind of come out how ever they come out, you know, it just happens to be that those kind of issues are more valid than writing about, I dunno, love.” I have never heard the word ‘love’ spoken with such contempt, but it is a valid point of difference that exists between the Living End and most of their punk contemporaries these days. I try to point out to Scott that the role of punk band as socio-political commentators is one that has shrunk so much that Green Day, The Living End and to some extent Rancid are the only examples that spring to mind, but he’s reluctant to see the Living End placed in the same category. “When our songs are political, they’re basically about political awareness, we don’t take sides, you know what I mean? I just don’t think my opinions matter that much. Saying to people you should be aware and you should have opinions is important, not telling people what they are…”

So no plans of Green Day type political grandstanding and ensuing world domination, then? “Well, we’re definitely planning world domination, but not in a political sense!” Which brings us neatly to the fact that the Living End have recently been doing rather well Stateside, with their self-titled debut doing well off a U.S. release last year, and selling out a bunch of venues in L.A. Have they experienced any of that notorious Antipodean tall poppy hating backlash? “Well, no, not to a huge degree, because we’ve always tried to make sure that we do plenty of gigs in Australia, and plenty of all ages gigs as well. But it’s no secret to anyone that we do have a fire in our bellies to work hard in America, and try and have lots of success over there.” Scott puts the Australian acceptance down to the fact that “we’ve told no lies about it, and everyone knows you know, that we’re open to saying that we want to have a red hot crack at making it big in America. But we also want to make sure that we don’t forget about home, so it’s not like we’re ever going to go ‘right nah, that’s it we’re moving to America, and we’ve done what we’re going to do in Australia, let’s move on’. It’s not like that at all.” Their reputation is firmly cemented as a ‘band of the people,’ and nothing showed this more than last December, when the band threw a free gig in Federation Square, Melbourne. At one point (actually, I’m pretty sure it was during ‘Prisoner of Society’) a crowd member jumped up on stage, eluding security, and stated bawling into Chris Cheney’s mike. Security moved in, but Chris waved them off, yelling “nah, nah, he’s good, let him sing along!” As Scott says, “what you see is what you get with us, and I think that’s part of the appeal, we are just normal guys, we just do what we do and I guess that’s why when people get up on stage and they want to have a sing along they feel comfortable about it. Because they know we’re not those kind of guys. We’re not Craig Nicholls, we’re not going to go and slam a guitar over their heads or anything.” Indeed. The Living End are coming to Wellington in March for the Edgefest, so if you can devise a way past stage security, take that as an invitation.

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About the Author ()

BORN WITH a cigarette in one hand and The Trial in other, Bea meant to go on as she started. Music wasn’t her first love, but her first love ended in a fight over rightful ownership of a Velvet Underground LP and the kitchen knife, so she chose the kinder option and stuck with it. In her spare time she enjoys casting aspersions, skulking, and making sweeping statements. She never checks her facts: figures it’s a way to live a little, to have arguments with people, then meet them. She’s currently writing a collection of short stories inspired by Schopenhauer’s manifesto of suffering and the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. When it gets published, she’s pretty sure that boy will want to hold her hand.

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