The Living End: How to Make a Documentary and Influence Me
It was always going to be some fine sport, seating credulous teenage fans amongst a perpetually sighing media contingent, but EMI ran with it. Ninety bums on seats, in a VCA cinema, gathered to view evergreen Clash city rockers The Living End’s new doco. It’s rather clumsily titled How To Make An Album And Influence People, and by title alone it shows how guileless these hardworking everymen of Oz rock appear to be.
Spotted throughout the crowd were the lucky kids who had won a chance to see a sneak preview and ask achingly banal questions of new(ish) drummer Andy Strachan and double-bass bloke Scott Owen. In a Melbourne-only online competition, from hundreds of entries, it looked like the kids who managed to land a spot were sent forward in time from 1999. Of course they were spotty, lumpy, with a washed-out rainbow of hair dye and various plugs in their faces, but they were all so god-dammed young. It was then that I realise that The Living End’s fevered energy and sticky hooks could still grab the ears of kids who should be crying into their myspace pages and drinking at bus stops and skipping through mere seconds of songs on their iPods.
The other half were the professional hangers-on and cynics. The sort of bitter shitheads who would make fun of enthusiastic teens that still care about their rock idols’ favourite colour. No shit, this question was actually asked. Maybe it was by a journo from Dolly.
We’re not here to poke fun at the band though. The Living End are such a standby in the Australian music environment that it’s is easy to forget a few things about them; a) They write instantly catchy and fulsome songs, year in, year out, b) more than seven years into their career they are still arguably the best live band in the country, c) The Living End are blokes you can trust, to a man, and d) it boggles the mind that none of these attributes seem to impress anyone anymore.
The documentary was here to remind us of these facts. It’s stunning to see the band bash out their new tracks in a rehearsal room that looked like a dishevelled upstairs bedroom in a Fitzroy townhouse. Unselfconscious as they are, the clothes that they wear to the rehearsals look just like the ones they wear in press shots; from that particular mix of English mod and sharpie outfitters, argyle, checks, sharp shirts, duffel coats. An unstyled band is almost an affront in this day.
Through interviews with the band and producer of their new album State Of Emergency, Nick Launay, the doco proves once again how honest as dirt this trio is. They care about the music, man. Director JT (who is featured in this issue) noted in the post-viewing Q&A that he wanted to show The Living End “warts and all.” Warts? This is the kindliest band ever to get a record deal. They’re so easygoing that you almost want to discover that Chris Cheney is a smack-addicted rent boy just to cut through the treacle. But then you see his cheeky grin and you take it back.
The doco winds up after over an hour’s worth of satisfying insights into the process of recording their album up in Byron. The only warts to be found is a sense of unease about how their last album Modern Artillery was managed into the ground to appease US radio, with them definitely not wanting to record separately as they did on that one. Andy, Scott and JT front the crowd and the double-bassist is quizzed the on the lack of creative control on Modern Artillery. He just shrugs and notes that the reason they didn’t push it was because, “We’re just not that outgoing”, a response that draws shrugs from everyone else. “Yes, you guys aren’t a petulant bunch of fuck-ups. And yes, this is good thing.”
Digital flashbulbs zing and click as the boys take questions which alternate between probing and so pointless the collective slap of foreheads almost sounds like applause. Yes, they will try to conquer America again. Andy chews gum while he drums because he gets a dry mouth (trainspotters note: it’s the spearmint whitening brand). Scott got his brothel-creeper shoes years ago in America somewhere. You can buy them at Route 66 here. Some wingnut decides that while he doesn’t actually have a question, he’d like to interact with the band so he asks “You guys seem to know your stuff – where do flies sleep?” Of course, boys answer with a quip and an incredulous smile.
Before it wraps up and the kids swarm around the boys for photos and hopefully more probing questions than “Why don’t you play Uncle Harry anymore?”, a smart-arsed journalist has to chip in, repeating the “Scott, what’s your favourite colour” query. He changes his answer from “Amber” to “Red”. Stop the presses.
Regardless, the album sounds as stirring and explosive as anything and everything they’ve done. It’s more than enough to rekindle Australia’s love affair with the trio. Here’s hoping the next set of questions that result in puzzled glances are that way because of the amassed international press’ awkward relationship with the English language.