It seems like The Living End have been around for ages now but who can blame them? For a band that’s so passionate at what they do, it’s no wonder Scott Owen embraces every opportunity the band have taken that has lead them to their successes as of now. Looking back at their classic hit wonders, “White Noise” and “Prisoner of Society”, it goes to show that rock and roll music never died; it was just reborn again to a band that knows their punk rock music, front to back.
I think it’s really cool that you guys sent a demo tape to Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and scored a spot as support act for their Australian tour back in 1995. Could you tell me more about that experience and what it was like?
“Me and Chris, we were big Green Day fans and we heard they were coming back to Australia so we bought tickets to go and see them play obviously. We thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could somehow manage to meet them or get on the tour and play with them?” So we sent them a little package to their fan club address which included a cassette, a t-shirt and a little bio of who we were as a band and how much interest we had in playing with them. In the mean time we found out that bands that come over from America that tour the country have a promoter helping them out, so we also sent a package to the promoter as well. Sure enough we got picked to do the tour which was amazing because at this point in time, we’ve only finished high school a few years before that and we’ve never actually played gigs. We’ve been playing gigs around Melbourne and stuff since we were 16 or 17 years old, but we’ve never actually toured the country and we certainly have never ventured outside of Victoria.
“So it was a really big deal for us to be able to go you know, Brisbane and Sydney and Adelaide and do all these really big shows. The thing that I probably love the most out of the whole experience was that when we spoke to them, we were like “Hey, how did you guys come across us as a support act?” Many bands sent out demos around Australia that had very similar ideas to us in terms of what music they were putting out. They actually sat through all the demos and listened to them and picked the band themselves which is I think is a really cool thing. A lot of bands usually leave it up to the promoter to choose whoever they want for the tour. The bass player was saying that he listened to tons of bands from Australia, hundreds of demos. All members of the band sat through and chose us as the band for support and they mentioned that we were different and that we didn’t sound like your everyday punk rock band.”
That’s really cool, man. You guys weren’t expecting it [being chosen as a support act] were you?
“We knew it was a shot in the dark and it was a long shot that we’d be able to get it. It was really good for us because we’ve never really toured before people in the music industry started discovering our band. It was our first bit of exposure to us to hell of a lot of people. They were big shows. Each show had a couple of thousand people. It was our first piece of exposure to people and it really did give us a bit of a kickstart.”
Back then it was a struggle to find a drummer to commit to play in the band. How did you and Chris deal with drummers coming and going?
“Me and Chris started playing when we were in high school. When we were in Year 10, we started playing in the music room during lunch time. At high school we had a couple of drummers that we went to school with and I think it was when we left school that we still had the drummer that we had in high school but he wasn’t really into our music. Me and Chris were heavily into 1950s rockabilly music and that was the style of the band when we first started and the drummer from high school wasn’t into that. He was into more modern-style music, well normal sort of music [chuckles]. He enjoyed playing with the band and stuff but it wasn’t something that he was enormously passionate about. One day, Chris and I were busking in Melbourne, and that was when our first semi-permanent drummer came along and his name was Joe and he just happened to be walking past and watched us play a few songs. He was into the rockabilly thing, like he had the style of drumming down on pat. He just came up and introduced himself basically.
“We had a bit of a chat and we learnt that he was a drummer and he learnt that we were sort of looking for one too, so that’s how it all came together and then he quit after a few years because he sort of had enough of it and wanted to go off and do his own thing. Then another guy [Travis] who was walking in the drum store down the road from where I was living kind of came along and he was in the band for many years and he was great because he had sort of a different style and me and Chris would try and branch out the whole rockabilly thing a little bit to a certain degree. At this point of time, Travis was good because he was a bit more versatile as a drummer because he could play many styles. He was in the band for quite a few years and then he quit as well because he didn’t want to be away from home while touring and wanted to give something else a go and that was when Andy came along, the new guy who has been in our band. We still call him the new guy though but yeah, he’s amazing. I guess we just accepted the changes that were happening to our band because we knew that change was inevitable and some people just outgrew what their life goals were at the time.”
The band’s longevity suggests that you all have persevered through many challenges as a band. What are the most important qualities a band must have to survive the harshness of the music industry?
“Well to survive the industry, first and foremost you really need to enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise it could be a very boring job. If you don’t really give a damn about your own friggin’ music, then it’s just a boring job, you know? May as well do something that pays better or has better hours, so I guess that’s how you survive the industry. I mean the industry is unpredictable. There’s no formula to get on the radio or for people to come and see you play. It’s just a matter of persevering. We don’t get to hang out together all the time because when we’re on tour we’re living in each other’s pockets, living in small confined spaces to hotel rooms, tour buses, airport lounges; stuff like that. We’re very, very much together when we’re together. You also really need to like the other people [chuckles] you’re working with and appreciate each other’s space when you don’t need to be together as well, so that’s what’s worked for us. I mean, we all live in separate parts of the world now which is cool because as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, when we do get together to play or to do something it’s all the more exciting because we just don’t do it as often.”
You played piano for many years and then made the switch to play the double bass instead, which has certainly contributed a lot towards The Living End’s image of being a rock and roll band. Do you have preference over the double bass or do you prefer playing the piano?
“That’s a bit of a miss because I only played piano for about 2 or 3 years during high school and I hated it. I didn’t enjoy it at all, it was incredibly boring. I was basically just sitting down and learning classical music and I found that really boring. All the other kids were playing footy, riding skateboards and stuff and I was sitting practising piano scales. I didn’t enjoy it but I’m grateful for it because it did give me a bit of an understanding of the theory of music which is always handy to have when you’re a musician. When I made the switch to double bass, I just found what I was looking for and I learnt something about myself and that is that I don’t have a very mathematical brain and I think you need to understand formulas and have that sort of mass brain and to be able to read music and understand music really well. For example, Chris does because he studied music in college and he’s got an amazing understanding of all the scales and chords and how they all work and how they relate to each other. I have a bit more of a left brain [laughs] and I like to play by ear and play by feel a lot more and I’m glad I tried out the piano and got some music understanding but I couldn’t be bothered taking it to the length that really good piano players do.”
It must be really cool that in your live shows you pull off your epic bass stunts. When it comes to live gigs, what makes it so memorable for you?
“It’s just the theory of putting on a show which makes it so much more fun to play gigs, to entertain people, to try and make people go “Wow, check that out.” It’s part of being an entertainer I suppose. When we get up on stage, we don’t consider ourselves to be as entertaining, if we do, we just try and deliver the music as best as we possibly can but we also like to think of ourselves as entertainers as well and put on a bit of a show as well. I guess with that whole rockabilly thing, Chris and I grew up listening to bands that used to do a lot of that sort of stuff [entertaining], the bands who used to be the type to put on that kind of show, I guess it just rubbed on for all of us.”
As you look back at the band’s journey, what achievements have The Living End reached that you are most proud of?
“Well the one that I’m most proud of is the fact that we’re still going. Like when I look back to when I was a teenager when we first started playing, there’s no way that I would’ve expected that we would still be going in this many years down the track and to still have the opportunity to make music, that’s what I’m most proud of. We’ve been able to maintain that throughout our whole lives rather than just it being a hobby or something that we’ve been able to live and I think that’s the thing we’re most proud of and along the way there’s always been some really cool achievement – things like being able to tour with our favourite bands like Green Day, ACDC, Queens of The Stone Age – bands that we really, really admire to play gigs with. We also did a tour once with Rolling Stones in Sydney. It’s those kinds of moments where you have to pinch yourself and go “Wow, who would’ve thought?”.
As mentioned before, the music industry is pretty harsh nowadays to break into. What’s your advice to bands that have lost their motivation to play?
“Well, if they’ve lost their motivation to play then that’s cool. If they don’t want to play then that’s fine. I don’t think the music industry is harsh; it’s like you’re self-employed and if you work hard enough you make what you want out of it. There’s always opportunities in the music industry and you can always look back on it and say it’s always been a harsh industry. In particularly now, there’s more opportunities with the internet to get your music out there to people and create a fanbase and be committed to them as well, I think that’s really important and that’s always something we’ve considered as important; committing ourselves to fans and making sure we offered them things and staying in contact with them and keep them posted on what’s going on and if their fans that have been around for a long time. I think that’s really important as well to make yourself accessible to fans as well. So, the music industry can be seen as a difficult beast but there’s definitely opportunities in there that you can go and create the work yourself.”
Scott Owen is currently working on a project called 50.50.50 under the organisation, It Ain’t Nothing. Following on the destruction that came about after the typhoon hit in Malapascua island, Philippines, many people were left homeless and this project aims to alleviate the effects of poverty for the people living on that island. Donations are more than encouraged and with your help, the families affected by the typhoon can witness better living conditions and have the gift of a house! To donate and find out more about the project, please visit: http://www.itaintnothing.org/
Read Scott’s personal statement below:
“I have been involved for a few months in a charity organisation which is called, It Ain’t Nothing and there’s a project we’re doing at the moment which aims to build 50 houses for 50 families, and each house costs a thousand dollars to build. This is in the small island called Malapascua island in the Philippines which was devastated by a typhoon in November last year. There’s been a lot of relief work being done over there but there hasn’t been really any follow up work. It’s a small island that mainly relies on fishing and a lot of the families still don’t have any houses.
“So far 28 houses have been built and the goal of this project is to get to 50. Once we get to that mark, we’ll assess it and start up again but that’s where we’re at, at the moment. This is just organised by me and a bunch of friends and it’s not a government funded organisation, there’s no corporate sponsorship or anything; it’s just us doing it. So every single dollar that get’s donated goes straight to the islands in order to build these houses. It’s only a thousand dollars to build a house over there for a family and it’s really not that much money in our own terms but it goes a long way over there. The gift of giving is bigger than anything else, really.”
The Living End is also touring with the A Day On The Green series, supporting Jimmy Barnes. The upcoming dates are below, including a headline show at the Metro Theatre in Sydney later this week to kick things off:
06 NOV ’14
THE METRO THEATRE, SYDNEY NSW
08 NOV ’14
A DAY ON THE GREEN – BIMBADGEN WINERY
BIMBADGEN WINERY, HUNTER VALLEY NSW
09 NOV ’14
A DAY ON THE GREEN – SIRROMET WINES
SIRROMET WINES, MOUNT COTTON QLD
15 NOV ’14
A DAY ON THE GREEN – MT DUNEED ESTATE
MT DUNEED ESTATE, GEELONG VIC
22 AND 23 NOV ’14
A DAY ON THE GREEN – KINGS PARK AND BOTANIC GARDEN
KINGS PARK AND BOTANIC GARDENS, PERTH WA
06 DEC ’14
A DAY ON THE GREEN – JOSEF CHROMY WINES
JOSEF CHROMY WINES, LAUNCESTON TAS
13 DEC ’14
A DAY ON THE GREEN – MITCHELTON WINES
MITCHELTON WINES, NAGAMBIE VIC
20 DEC ’14
A DAY ON THE GREEN – ROCHFORD WINES
ROCHFORD WINES, YARRA VALLEY VIC
The band will also press pause on their run of shows in two years to share an in-depth look at their careers at Face The Music in Melbourne. Chris Cheney, Scott Owen and Andy Strachan will discuss the stories behind their songs, their songwriting process, the highs and the not so’s and what the future holds as they begin work on their seventh album. They will be joined on stage by their revered, long-standing manager Rae Harvey.
FACE THE MUSIC
NOV 14 & 15
ARTS CENTRE MELBOURNE