The 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.”
Since forming at high school and busking the streets of Melbourne, The Living End has gone to number one, had four platinum plus albums, been awarded APRA’s Australian Song of the Year and scored six ARIA awards. They’ve played world tours, ute musters, every festival everywhere and, in 2012, a 35-night Retrospective Tour, performing their entire back catalogue in five cities – a feat that would make anyone murderous.
But no band survives all that without experiencing a seismic shift, and when the trio congregated on Melbourne’s Red Door Sounds, the changes that needed to happen became apparent. Whatever had gone on before with The Living End didn’t apply now. Every idea and sound was to be warped beyond recognition.
The band brought in their live engineer, Woody Annison, as producer, to squeeze the maximum energy out of every note. The first sessions were pressure-cooker crazy. Take the track Monkey: that’s a guitar riff with a seriously short fuse. “Scott and Andy would listen to a song and say, ‘Okay, what’s going on, man?’” laughs Cheney, mimicking their unease.
That didn’t stop the rhythm section unleashing its own frustration for posterity. “The three of us were bursting at the seams, trying to get all this anger out,” says Cheney. Frenetic opener One Step pushes Scott Owen’s upright bass sorcery to new limits; in fact, the “space bar” lyric refers to Owen constantly halting the playback to fire off another idea. Then there’s Strachan’s psycho disco beat in Wire, which seizes the song by the horns and rides it home.
When Cheney had to return home to the States there was a percolation period before the next bunch of Melbourne meet-ups, which were spread over 12 months. Upon reconvening, Owen and Strachan discovered with sinking hearts that Cheney had ripped up the original ideas and given them, as he says, “a radical facelift”. For their part, it meant the biggest investment of trust yet.
Rather than spend hours on a guitar tone, Cheney wanted to fling paint at the canvas. “It’s not always pretty,” he admits. Oh, but sometimes it is. Check out centrepiece track, With Enemies Like That. At Strachan’s suggestion it was reworked to be all about the emotive vocal: We ran out of love and innocence when the morning light caught fire / So turn on the eight track, play it round again…
“We’ve always gravitated towards playing harder, faster and louder, and that’s been our go-to method of impressing people,” says Cheney, “but it was time for a different way to provoke a reaction. It’s got to be radical, full commitment. We want people to say, ‘Holy shit, I didn’t think this would be The Living End.”’
Listen real hard and you’ll hear stylistic nods to acts as diverse as The Who, Bob Dylan, Bloc Party, The Libertines, Squeeze, Beatles, Nirvana and Springsteen. Coma caps a dub groove with a Beatles-style refrain (if Ringo had some kind of personal vendetta). Life As We Know It is psychedelia meets Nirvana, with Cheney reining in the guitar showmanship to drone out a grunge riff.
The first single is Keep on Running, which Cheney co-wrote with his friends Dylan Berry & Stefan Litrownik, almost as guidance to their children. “The death of my father was a very difficult time and the lyrics are partly influenced by that event,” he says. “We all have moments where life is getting the better of us, but that's when you draw strength and come out the other side stronger.” Shockingly, the day after the song was written, a man Cheney was talking to at the gym dropped dead in front of him. “It was horrendous and the timing was unbelievable,” says Cheney. It only reinforced how important it is to push through with positivity.
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.”2009 Big Day Out (Aust/NZ) 2008 Summersonic Japan; Splendour in the Grass; National sold out Australian Tour; Headline act at the sold out Coaster Festival; Southern Amp New Zealand; Rollercoaster and Pyramid Festivals 2006 Aust headliners on Big Day Out Festival, SxSW, Punk Spring Japan, NZ, Warped USA/Canada, UK dates with Dropkick Murphys 2005 Played a bunch of festivals around Australia including Pushover, Homebake, Splendour in the Grass, and Coke Live 05 to 150,000 punters and wrote/recorded album #4. Additionally, Chris played a few shows with supergroup The Wrights featuring members of Jet, Spiderbait & You Am I. 2004 USA/Canada “Aussie Invasion” Tour w/ The Vines & Jet, Japan headline tour, USA Tour w/No Doubt & Blink 182. National Australian Tour Sept/Oct 2004. Release of first-ever DVD and documentary 2003 Australian Headline on national Big Day Out Festival – 6 shows, 20-50,000 people/show Recovered from accident and Recorded Modern ARTillery in LA with Mark Trombino. Summersonic Festival in Japan, National Australian tour encompassing 40 sell out shows across all states 2002 Band out of action due to MAJOR car accident involving Chris Cheney, and the departure of drummer, Travis Demsey 2001 Australian tour supporting AC/DC & headline shows, Warped tour nationally in the USA/Canada, USA/Canada tour w/ Green Day, Europe/UK, Japan, New Zealand 2000 Offshore Festival, Japan Festivals, Livid Festival Aust city shows & Homebake headline 1999 Aust Big Day Out, USA/Canada Tour w/ The Offspring, UK/Europe headlines, USA/Canada Warped Tour, Sydney Tibetan Freedom Concert, New Zealand, Europe, UK (Reading, Leeds, Pukklepop), Japan, Australia 1998 Aust & USA Warped Tours, Livid Festival, Aust 32 date tour, Germany w/ Die Toten Hosen 1997 Indyfest & Offshore Festivals, Aust tours w/ The Offspring & Bodyjar, Pushover, Falls Fest. 1996 Aust Tour support for Green Day, Pushover, Falls Festival