On The Line with Chris Cheney of The Living End

Following up on my interview this past January with Chris Cheney, I spoke again with the frontman for The Living End. TLE is an eclectic and exciting punk band with a catalog of some of the best songs that I have ever heard. Cheney stands as one of the best singers around today and if you’ve never listened to The Living End, you must! I had a very exciting opportunity to speak with him again about everything from The Beatles to various Living End songs to his favorite bands.

Alex Obert: So I understand you are taking part in a very special tour this Summer.

Chris Cheney: The tour that I’m doing is this Beatles tour which we started five years ago. It’s a good time. We’re performing the Beatles White Album from start to finish, it’s like forty songs or something on that record. It’s me and three other singers. All the songs have been sorted, I’ve got eight or nine songs that I sing. There’s a twenty-piece orchestra behind us. It’s a big project, we have dates coming up at the Sydney Opera House. It’s really different to what The Living End does.

Alex Obert: How did this all start?

Chris Cheney: Five years ago, we got approached by these promoters to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Beatles White Album. I was one of the people that they approached. We all signed on and it was such a success, it was supposed to be four shows and it ended up being like twelve or thirteen or something like that. It just sold really, really well. Here we are five years later, we get a call saying, “Hey, we wanna get the same band and people, do you want to do it as the 45th anniversary of that record?” And we’re all big Beatles fans, we had such a blast on that tour that we said, “Let’s start it up again! Let’s go!”

Alex Obert: You are singing songs from The Beatles and you sing for The Living End, but who are your vocal influences?

Chris Cheney: I would definitely say Lennon and McCartney, as far as the Beatles reference. I think those two are amazing singers. I’m pretty all over the place. I’d have to say Elvis was the thing that really made me want to get into music. He absolutely floored me. I also like Bruce Springsteen. People who bring the right amount of emotion into it. Even people like Joe Strummer, not technically a great singer, but he kind of was a great singer because he told a story.

Alex Obert: We were talking about the White Album, but which albums do you feel changed your life when you first heard them?

Chris Cheney: Oh man, well, Runaway Boys by the Stray Cats would be probably the number one album of my favorites. When I was in high school, I was kind of into fities music. I also liked contemporary stuff like Bon Jovi. (laughs) Stuff like that. When I heard that first Stray Cats record, it made everything come together, it was all the pieces of puzzle. It was like, “Alright! That’s what I wanna do!” That was the blueprint for me, mixing of all the styles in a way like they did. I liked a lot of different things, I liked the blues, I liked rock and roll, pop music and punk. It’s like, “How do you do all that?” And they did it really, really well on that record. The guitar playing just blew me away. That’d be my number one favorite album. And London Calling too because of the diversity. And probably Back in Black. Those are probably my favorite three.

Alex Obert: With The Living End’s latest album, what were your goals with that album? There’s a more clean and alternative feel to it.

Chris Cheney: Yeah, it’s going back a few years, we’re definitely due to put out another record. But with that one, the production stuff is a little cleaner than what our earlier stuff used. It’s always the same, you’re out to try and push yourself to explore different avenues. I would never want to be one of those bands that would repeat ourselves over and over again. I think we have our own style. For me, it’s more about songs now. When we first began, it was more about the energy on stage and rocking out. But now, for me, it’s about writing really great songs. I’m really proud of that record and the songs that are on it. I think ther some of the best songs I’ve ever written.

Alex Obert: What is your favorite track off of the album?

Chris Cheney: Probably Resist, just because lyrically, it was a topic in Australia at that time. It was a big issue and I wanted to put my stamp on it. And it comes down to the melody, I like songs that have melody. I like the way that song moves.

Alex Obert: You mentioned wanting to get into a new album, do you have any songs that you’re currently working on?

Chris Cheney: Yeah, I’ve got lots, it’s just a matter of getting around to it. I’ve got a hard drive with a hundred songs written on it. (laughs) I’m sort of working on a solo record at the moment, it was an outlet, something to do. I’ve got a lot of songs for that. It’s a matter of getting together with the other two guys, we hope in a year, to get another one done.

Alex Obert: What are Scott and Andy up to right now?

Chris Cheney: I don’t know, to be honest. We’re all living in different parts of the world, really. Scott lives in a town in Australia, Andy lives down in Melbourne still. And I live over here, of course. Everyone’s keeping busy doing other things and it doesn’t effect the band in any way. We and our shows are still doing really, really great. It’s sort of better now because we’re not on top of each other, we’re not in each other’s faces all the time.

Alex Obert: Why did you move to the states?

Chris Cheney: Just to explore other opportunities and to write with different people. There’s so much of that here, LA is such a creative town. There’s so much going on and so many creative people. Just a scene change, you know? We had the opportunity to do it, so we did.

Alex Obert: Which other countries you enjoy being in?

Chris Cheney: Well, probably Japan would be my favorite place to tour outside of Australia. It’s so amazing as a place to visit. They’re very into the future, Tokyo sends me into a spin! (laughs) Just great bars and the fans there are incredible.

Alex Obert: How has the setlist been for the Living End shows over the past couple years?

Chris Cheney: Well the thing is, the last year or so, we did a thing called The Retrospective Tour where we went out and played all of the records back to back for seven nights in a row. But since then, the setlist has been singles and radio hits, really. We’ve always been a band to do that. We’ve never been the band that plays a lot of obscurities and B-sides. We tried to do a couple here and there, but at the end of the day, you’re playing to twenty thousand people. You really wanna get the whole place going and jumping. The only way to do that is to unite everyone, we’re lucky enough that we’ve got a lot of really well-known songs in Australia. We enjoy playing those songs as much as the audience likes hearing them. I’m not sick of playing songs off of the first record because when we do, the whole place erupts.

Alex Obert: From that first record, where do you fit Prisoner of Society onto the setlist?

Chris Cheney: (laughs) It moves around, but it’s still in there. We went through a period where we dropped it just because we wanted to make a statement. But then we were kinda like, “You know what? We dig that song, so let’s put it back in again.” It’s not the last song on the setlist. It never fails, it’s that one song you can always pull out. It was a really big song and everyone knows it. The thing is, for a lot of people, it goes back to a period in their lives. It’s a nostalgia thing, people go, “Oh, I remember where I was when I first heard this song!” It’s one of those tunes, it’s an Aussie rock staple.

Alex Obert: What is your opinion of having your songs featured in games such as Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk’s Underground 2?

Chris Cheney: It’s awesome! The exposure was enormous. When we first started out, we were picky with those sorts of things. There were some that we didn’t do and some that we did. But it got to the point now with the music industry where you’ve gotta do anything like that that you can, find ways to get your music out there to people. You can’t just expect people to go to a record shop and spend their hard-earned money on records. People are just stealing music now. (laughs) They’re sharing it. So you’ve got to get your music into things like computer games and TV ads and stuff. It definitely opens up your audience for sure.

Alex Obert: I’d love to go over a few songs of yours from over the years to get your thoughts on them, as well as the writing and recording.

Chris Cheney: Yup.

Alex Obert: The first one is Roll On.

Chris Cheney: We had been doing a lot of touring over in the states and we toured a lot with a band called The Dropkick Murphys, who became friends of ours. They are an influence on us, a great rock and roll band. We used to watch them play every day. They are an influence on that song, for sure. It’s an Irish kind of guitar lick, but with an AC/DC kind of backbeat. It was like trying to put those two things together, a clash of The Dropkick Murphys and AC/DC. It all comes from the same place. Lyrically and stuff, I don’t know, it just comes from watching the news. We were trying to have something that was really optimistic and really triumphant, roll along with your head held high, don’t give up no matter what the circumstance.

Alex Obert: And how about Heatwave?

Chris Cheney: That’s probably the most literal song I’ve ever written just because in Melbourne at the time, there were horrible bushfires and it was a really big thing. A lot of people lost their homes and a lot of lives were lost. We don’t have that kind of heat in Australia, but when we do, it is a big problem for the rural areas. Musically, that song was channeling early 80s Australian pop rock, early Midnight Oil, but still rock and roll.

Alex Obert: Machine Gun.

Chris Cheney: Machine Gun just came out of a jam, that’s one of the few songs where it was a case of turning on the computer and that rehearsal and we’re just jamming and trying to come up with something that was really heavy, kind of metal. We’re into Queens of the Stone Age and Motorhead and stuff like that. We were just trying to come up with something that was really nasty sounding. That’s where that riff came from. I like the song, but I think with the verses, the song is like two different tunes. I think we need to write one that’s just a balls out riff.

Alex Obert: You mentioned Queens of the Stone Age, how did you discover them?

Chris Cheney: We toured on the Big Day Out tour in 2003 and they were on it. But we already had their record. I don’t know where I first heard them, just on Triple J, which is a radio station in Australia. Feel Good Hit of the Summer is the first one that I remember hearing. But they’re just a monster of a band and with Songs for the Deaf, our band was like, “Woah! Those guys are just off the chart!” It’s clever, but it’s not too clever. It’s the right balance. It rocks.

Alex Obert: We were looking into songs of yours, but what do you feel is the most overlooked Living End song?

Chris Cheney: Goddamn, that’s a difficult question. Maybe For Another Day off our last record. I kind of wanted that to do more than it did and wanted more awareness of it. That’s probably one tune that I’m most proud of that I’ve written.

Alex Obert: Regarding your live shows, what is your favorite song to open with at a show?

Chris Cheney: Probably Second Solution. It’s so exciting. We used to open up festivals with that one. That song is just full throttle.

Alex Obert: Who have you been listening to lately?

Chris Cheney: I like Dawes, they’re a US band. They’re really great.

Alex Obert: And what was the first concert you ever attended?

Chris Cheney: It was Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour in 1987 in Melbourne. It made a big impression, I love that band and that record in particular. I was so excited to be going to that concert and to see them on stage.

Alex Obert: What do you feel makes a great concert?

Chris Cheney: Just the connection, it’s cliché to say, but you don’t even think, it’s just a synchronicity with the audience. Sometimes you can break a string or something can happen that is not on the schedule, then you get that energy off the crowd because people are like, “What’s gonna happen?” It’s like a trainwreck, those are the best gigs for us. The best gigs part aren’t where everything just goes smoothly, like where you sing perfectly in tune. When shit hits the fan, those are the best shows.

Alex Obert: Which bands have you played shows with that you really enjoyed seeing perform?

Chris Cheney: We saw The Mars Volta in Japan at a festival and that was just crazy. We saw The Strokes and that was pretty awesome.

Alex Obert: As a skilled and successful name in music, what is your advice for aspiring musicians?

Chris Cheney: Perseverance. Find what you wanna do, find the kind of music that you want to play, the style that you like. Stick at it. Don’t try to change what’s on the radio, just do what you want to do. Go with it because success may or may not come. At the end of the day, you’ve just gotta like what you do. Be proud of the music and the art that you make. When we started, we weren’t radio friendly, we weren’t a popular kind of band because we just had our own thing and we just stuck to it. People latched onto it.

Alex Obert: What you have to say to readers that have never heard The Living End before?

Chris Cheney: Oh man, do yourselves a favor! Get off your ass and check out The Living End!

Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much for your time.

Chris Cheney: No worries, Alex!

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