Living End 'Rolls On' With Aussie Punkabilly Sound

When Chris Cheney, singer/songwriter/guitarist for the Living End, was a teenager coming of age in Australia, he didn't follow the music of the day but instead opted for the classic sounds of '50s

When Chris Cheney, singer/songwriter/guitarist for the Living End, was a teenager coming of age in Australia, he didn't follow the music of the day but instead opted for the classic sounds of '50s rockabilly.

"It was the first music I fell in love with," Cheney recalls. "I've been listening since I was 10 years old. When my friends were listening to Zeppelin, I was listening to Carl Perkins."

The Melbourne, Australia, Living End mixes these rockabilly influences with the louder sounds of punk on the trio's second album, "Roll On," due March 27 in the U.S. from Reprise.

The band came together when Cheney started playing with his friend and classmate Scott Owen in high school. "We were the only people our age into rockabilly music," says Owen, who plays upright bass. "I bought a double-bass, Chris was already playing guitar, and we just started jamming."

The Living End broadened its style as the band members started writing their own music, and drummer Travis Dempsey brought his straight-ahead rock'n'roll background to the group when he came aboard.

"We realized there was more to life than rockabilly," Owen says. "We've come a long way from just playing rockabilly music. We've been into a lot of different kinds of bands, and that reflects in our music."

Particularly influential was Green Day's rise in 1994. "We were blown away when we first heard Dookie," Owen says. "Coming from the rockabilly background, the three-piece band playing rootsy kind of music, Green Day had that appeal to us -- they're still one of my favorite bands. That was what made us stray away from rockabilly a little more. We looked to where they were getting their sounds from -- the Clash, the Sex Pistols -- and all those great punk bands; they really had an impact on us as well."

Cheney recalls, "I went back and listened to the Clash's 'London Calling,' and it all made sense. These guys grew up listening to Eddie Cochran as well; I could find a lot of things appealing that I [also] found in rock'n'roll."

Fellow Australian rockers also proved influential for the new album, Owen says. "We got back to our Aussie rock roots. I grew up listening to bands like Midnight Oil and AC/DC, since my older brother played [them]. There was a real strong, working-class rock'n'roll identity in Aussie music back in the '80s."

Cheney's lyrics channel Midnight Oil's socially progressive attitude, discussing prejudice, racism, and political conflict. "I don't really think of it as politics; I just prefer it to be a social commentary," Cheney says. The song "Revolution Regained" is about the band's experience in East Timor, where the trio played for the Australian troops who were keeping the peace. The songwriter explains, "Just going there was kind of a freaky experience. Kids are running in the streets; it's desolate. It made quite an impression."

Other tracks on the disc offer a more optimistic outlook. The album's anthemic first single, "Roll On," starts the album on an upbeat note. "It's a stomping song for the underdog," Cheney explains. "Kind of a hope song, about getting past your obstacles and living to tell the tale."

The track was shipped Feb. 20 to rock stations, and some major-market U.S. stations are already picking up on the track. "It's one of the best three records I've heard all year," says Mike Taylor, assistant PD/music director at WOXY Cincinnati. "It's a throwback to punk with a poppy attitude. It's true to that style, without the juvenilia."

In Australia, the Living End had explosive success with its 1998 self-titled debut disc, which was certified quadruple-platinum (sales of 280,000) by the Australian Record Industry Assn. (ARIA). The group has also won several ARIA Awards, including the 1997 highest-selling single award for the "Prisoner of Society"/"Second Solution" single.

Originally signed in Australia to EMI, the group has built a U.S. presence during the past years, traveling on two Warped tours and touring with the Offspring. "Prisoner" climbed Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1999 and remains a recurrent on some high-profile playlists today.

The guest book on the band's Web site boasts comments from more than 3,000 fans from around the world. One enthusiast from London writes, "Dear Santa, gimme a Gretsch [guitar] so I can play like Cheney." More than 100 of these quotes are compiled on a 40-inch list on a printed insert that is included in a special shrink-wrapped package containing an advance copy of "Roll On." The package also includes sticker and a promotional guitar pick.

Another marketing item will be a guitar tutorial CD-ROM featuring Cheney that will accompany Guitar World magazine's May issue nationwide. And the U.S. album offers a multitude of incentives: in addition to featuring an $11.98 developing-artist list price, the enhanced disc contains two videos and a bonus live version of "Prisoner."

A series of live shows will also expose the band to a U.S. audience. Following an Australian tour with AC/DC and a sojourn in Japan, the Living End comes to the U.S. for a dozen shows in key radio markets, starting March 7 in Los Angeles. Also the band is scheduled to appear on NBC's Late Night With Conan O'Brien March 20.