The Living End and the Fireballs - they're a genre of two, a very tight knit group battling it out for supremacy amongst the rockabilly/punk fans, competing against each other with the highest hairdos, the slappinest bass, the fastest drumming, the catchiest tunes. Then again, maybe not. It's probablytrue to sayt that, in most people's undisciplined minds the Fireballs and the Living End are interchangeable and most would likely perceive some kind of competition between the two Melbourne-base trios.
But the reality, as revealed by the End's upright bassist Scott Owen is far less sordid. Bothe bands emerged when there was a small but active rockabilly scene in Melbourne, although the Fireballs were years ahead ofthe younger Living End. The latter began as the Runaway Boys, a straight ahead rockabilly band specialising in traditional 50's numbers and Stray Cats covers. "The Stray Cats totally inspired us," Owne says, then adds "before they got old and fat." Playing amongst the limited rockabilly circle, the two bands became friends and shared gigs. When the traditional rockabilly scene dwindled and both bands began discoverign other influences, the Fireballs and the Living End developed in different directions. These days Owen sees little similarity between the bands.
"They're are so much heavier than us," he says, "and the way we write songs, it's so obvioushow different our styles have changed." Being older the Fireballs emerged on the wider scene first and the obvious comment that the Living End have 'copied' them has been made. Is it annoying to be compared to the Fireballs now? It is when people don't realise that we have both gone off in different diretions. It annoys me when people say 'You guys are the same as the FIreballs' because thats so naive. We've got the same roots, but lots of bands have the same roots. People think 'double bass, same hairdos and clothes, it must be the same music."
If the Fireballs have developed a more metal edge in their rockabilly basics, the Living End are revelling in the joys of modern pop. When playign the support slot for Soundgarden last month (their encouragement award from Vivien Lees after missing out on the Big Day Out), Owen says the Living End were far more excited about playing with You Am I, the other support act. "We spoke to Tim Rogers and Rusty after the show, and they know where we are coming from, what we used to be into." He perceives a parallel between You Am I and the Living End. "They've gone back to the old 60's pop sound and put a new sign on it, and we have a done a similar thing with 50's rockabilly. I love going back to an old style of music and making it contemporary."
The Living End have now broken through to a whole new audience via the high rotation of From Here On In, lifted from their Lindsay Gravina produced second EP It's For Your Own Good. For Owen and vocalist/guitarist Chris Cheney, hearing their song played frequently on Triple J is the highest peak of a collaboration which began five years ago, when they were both seventeen. "When we were getting played on local radio it was a thrill to be able to hear our music without haveing to put the tape on. We listen to Triple J all the time - everyone listens to Triple J all the time, so hearing it on that station nationwide was a huge kick. We still spin out whenever we hear it."
But by far the ultimate thrill for Owen, Cheney and new drummer Travis Dempsey is the prospect of playing with living rock and roll legend Carl Perkins. The old line up of the Living End have played an annual four day traditional rock and roll festival in Tweed Heads for the last few years as the Runaway Boys. Dempsey in unfamiliar with the old material so this year it's the Living End who are heading north to play with Perkins. "That's so much more exciting than playing with Soundgarden. People have been saying ' Who's Charles Perkins?' and I'm saying 'fuck off! What about Blue Suede Shoes?"
The Living End are not a punk band. Chris, (guitar vox) wants to get that straight from the outset. "Everyone seems to think that that we are some kind of punk band, but we started off as a rockabilly band and punk was just another thing that we liked. Because there's no rockabilly scene in Australia, I guess we always get to play at punk gigs and people automatically think that you are a punk or ska band. We are against being labelled this, only because once people start saying we're a punk band, you get punk's saying 'Bullshit, they're not punk'. We didn't call ourselves that, others did. It might sound lie that way cause we're influenced by that type of music, but first of all we love that 50's rockabilly stuff. Y'know the Stray Cats, not the metal Fireballs approach, more the punk sort of angle."
Whether or not the Living End perceive themselves as reflecting the genre they're considered to be part of, it seems to me that the local punk profile still has a way to go before the NoFX T-shirts are traded for One Inch Punch merchandise. (Post Pushover edit; at leats one thousand Frenzal Rhomb T-shirts would have something to say about that comment. Aus profile's doing ok, just ask the kids.) "Yeah, your absolutely right, I think because of the way music's evolved as far as things getting heavier and faster, for them (kids) Californian stuff's the ultimate. Played at lightening speed, it's really heavy, and its still got that anarchy thing. The Sex Pistols doesn't appeal to them as much because they were more against different things like the 70's glam bands. A lot of kids probably can't relate to that now. They just wanna hear fast stuff to skateboard to." In terms of the Australian profile? "It's definately getting bigger here, but in the states, it's fucking huge. I thought it was dying down, but apparently it's bigger than ever."
Speaking of the mystifying neo-punk aesthetic, I wonder whether the Living End would have anything to do with increasingly corporate sponsorship of supposedly bonafide ' punk' outfits whose ethic initially revolved around the spurning of everythin corporate. This is particulary made manifest in clothing sponsorships. "It's funny you say that, cause recently at a gig, this guy from a new skateboarding clothes label turned up and asked us to wear his shirts, that was pretty weird, but we said yeah, what the hell. I guess if we liked the clothing we'd do it. I mean, it's hard to say whether all these bands getting sponsored have anything to do with punk. They don't look punk, but then again it's never been about the looks, it's just about individuality, doing what you want, not going with the establishment. So whether that means knocking back clothing sponsorships? It's such a prick of a question. Just the whole thing 'is this punk, is that punk' thing. It's defiantely a state of mind, even though most people these days think it's chords strummed really fast. It's funny how its evolved into this fast playing and tight harmonies thing, when initially it was all about being different. It's weird. Half the time you don't know what there singing sbout, but you say 'hey that's punk man', but a lot of the time, the songs are about girlfriends and love.
Living in the Fast Lane
Three piece Melbourne rockers the Living End experienced a dream run of late, coming off a highly successful with those snotty nosed brats of rock, Green Day. On the horizon, the Living End is a confirmed support nationally for the Reverend Horton Heat touring later this year, plus a show with the Supersuckers. the band has also just released an eight track rockabilly punk treat with Hellbound. I had a chat with lead vocalist/guitarist Chris Cheney and drummer Joey Piripitzi about their experiences on the tour with Green Day, amongst other bits and pieces. The Living End's career has not been an overnight success. People seem to think that the band has just recieved a lucky break with the Green Day tour, but Chris told me this is hardly the case.
"We have been playing together for about four and a half years and have definately paid our dues. We have done heaps of residencies at crappy bars playing shitty cover versions so it hasn't be all luck." Hardly the jump from relative obscurity to major venues as people thought. To describe the sound of the Living End isn't an easy task, "We're something of a mixed bag when it comes to our sound," says Chris. The phrase that has been passed around the traps of late is 'punkabilly' a term the band isn't too sure about, but which I think is pretty close to the mark. There is the sound fusion between fifties rockabilly and a definite punk influence.
Asking the guys about their influences I was provided with a vast array of styles. "We dig the fifties rockabilly style of Eddie Cochran, Stray Cats and of course the 'Rev' Horton Heat but get into earlier punk stuff like the Clash, Dead Kennedys and the likes of Green Day." Now that's an interesting mix. It's no secret that the boys are huge fans off Green Day. They had already bought their tickets, they had sent a tape of their work to Green Day's management hoping to score a support slot. As it worked out the Green Day lads liked Living End so much they got them on board! (I hope they got a refund on the tickets!) The tour took the bands across the whole of Australia playing to 9000 capacity at the Horden Pavillion - bit of change from the Tote, eh? "Yeah, it was a complete buzz, a real adrenalin rush to play those venues and see masses of people looking at you, it was freaky."
How was the response from the crowd? "Unbelievable, they really got into us and were jumping all around and going off! We were a bit freaked out that the crowd would all be die-hard Green Day fans and wouldn't give a shit about us but it was cool." And what were the Green Day fellas like? "Really cool guys who were just so down to earth, and easy going, we just hung out in bars after teh shows and played pool and took part in some room smashing on the last date of the tour with the drummer Tre Cool."
Now the boys of
the Living End are back in Melbourne. They will be playing a few shows locally and
are looking forward to the nationa tour with their idol, the Reverend Horton Heat
which should be huge. The guys are chuffed to win these great support slots, partly
due to teh fact that they are now in the care of the Cheersquad touring group run
by Wally Meanie who takes care of the likes of the Meanies, Snout, etc. The Living
End also has a mini-CD out called Hellbound. Produced off the band's own bat and on
the strength of the Green Day tour, the CD also got them a distribution deal with
Shock. Currently the CD is doing well and already they are being courted by major
record companies. At present the band is just enjoying the ride and certainly looks
destined for even bigger and better things in the future.
This is the end
Green Day have given the Living End a ticket to ride.
What do you do when you have three tickets to a sold out Green Day show? If you're Melbourne trio the Living End, you give your tickets to your parents. Despite cueing up for the tickets to see their favourite band as soon as they went on sale, the Living End suddenly had no need for them. Green Day had selected the band to support them around Australia on their recent tour.
"We sent a video and a T-shirt to their management in the States," explains 19-year-old Living End frontman Chris Cheney. "Billie (Joe Armstrong) said he liked it because we didn't sound like NoFX; we were different." The sold out Australian tour gave the Living End an instant profile, scoring not only the approval of thousands of Greenday fans but the million selling punk rockers themselves. "They approached us at the first sound check in Brisbane and introduced themselves," says Cheney of Greenday. "They were really nice. They don't understand why they're so popular; they're just doing what they've always done."
The Living End began life as the Runaway Boys, a Stray Cats tribute band. "It's hard to start a band and start playing originals straightaway; everyone wants to hear covers," Cheney says. "The Stray Cats were a huge influence on us." While the Runaway Boys had a huge, diehard rockabilly following, Cheney says, "as soon as we started putting in originals they (the diehards) started to drop off". Since going original they've battled against being pigeon-holed because of their strikig image. "We try not to put ourselves into that rockabilly genre," Cheney says. "We've really pushed to attract different people to our shows. we're influenced by so many styles of music and we've noticed that we appeal to a wide audience."
Supports for local bands like the Fireballs and the Sharp - Cheney wrote a song with bassist Allan Catlin and recorded at his studio - have developed into stage-warming slots for Green Day, the Supersuckers and the upcoming tour by another Living End favourite, the Reverand Horton Heat. "Supports are good," Cheney explains. "There's not os much pressure. If it's a bad night then it wasn't our gig. If it's a good gig then we've won over a new crowd."
The first Living End EP Hellbound, an uncompromising mixture of punk pop and
rockabilly, already is into its second pressing. Its success hasn't gone
unnoticed, with major record companies already starting to woo them.