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Living End | Roll On | interview | Scott Owen | rock | Lollipop
The Living End
Roll On (Reprise)
An interview with bassist Scott Owen
by Craig Regala
I didn't know dick about these guys a month ago. I now have all the regular releases, a hefty press pack, the new disc, which you may buy at any time now, and a damn straight interview with Scott Owen, a helluva bass player (stand up) and rock fan. If you're gonna talk about rock and roll, writ large no hyphens please, you need players, you need structure, you need melody, and you need tunes. Now, plenty of "rock" and rock tangential music gets by on atmosphere and sound, image/politics, and general scene-shtick-genre bullshit.
Not this. Digging back to the dawn of the rock and roll thing (tagged "rockabilly"), for their impetus, The Living End has grown their music from that structure outwards adding surf licks, garage strum, hard rock, punk impact, oi!/pub shout-alongs, pop punk, and even a bit of metal roar (which most non-arty punk rolled around in anyways). None of it seems put on, it's all integral to the natural language of the music and they've made their best record to tie it together. Rockabilly itself was much more than many people have given it credit for. By melding country, r&b, blues phrasing, twang bar twist, swing, jazz and bluegrass into a straight-forward carnal whoop-de-do!, a new thing was made. The Living End stew it up with the past 50 years of musical culture they choose to filter through their cookin' three-piece.
How are your fingers? (Scott plays a stand-up bass. If the calluses are not fully formed or the sweat from playing has softened them, the skin is ripped off from the pressure playing hard and fast necessitates. Imagine having paper cuts on all your digits, rubbing salt in them, and then doing a couple hundred push-ups on a rough concrete floor.)
They're really fucking sore. It takes a bit to get them hardened up, a couple weeks to blister up and break off, blister off and break up. You have to just grin and bear it. You can't feel the strings properly if you tape up. But the adrenaline kicks in when you get going.
I grew up on a lot of the records you seem to be influenced by from the late-'70s/early-'80s. On the newest record, I hear mid-period Stiff Little Fingers, Ruts, and '78-'79 Van Halen (for the tight-assed swing vs. hot shit guitar riffing/lead work), and the second and third Elvis Costello records for the bolted-down songcraft. And the melody's from the Stray Cats.
All good bands. The Stray Cats were really important as we formed. We are huge fans of their roots - Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, 12-bar blues - as well as them. You really have to learn how to play to pull that stuff off. You don't have distortion, there's no trickery to hide behind. It taught us to play our instruments properly. We don't use it directly as much as we used to, but it informs all that we do. Rootsy music that sparked so much, you can go back to it again and again. Rockabilly has an aggression and a bit of angst that people can relate to and work with.
Do you think that growing up where you did has had a big influence on you? It seems people have so much access to music and video that they can pick and choose "what they are."
Well, in the early days, rockabilly wasn't cool... I grew up in Melbourne, and Australia in general, and we get pretty much everything from Europe and the U.S.. This is an artier city than most, with good pub culture. You can see all kinds of music any day of the week: blues, jazz, metal. We were exposed to all kinds of stuff, and you see
similarities in what players are doing even if it's a different type of music. It's how we bring diversity into what we do.
Do you like to play gigs with bands from, say, outside rock and roll or the pop punk thing?
Oh yeah. We play with just about any kind of live music band. We've played with metal bands, blues bands - the kind of music we play has quite a bit of appeal. It's best to play to an audience that has a broad base that may not have real specific preconceptions.
Your new record is very strong, all the good stuff from the early records and all kinds of pop tune-smithery without losing what you are.
You listen to those early Beatles records and they're great, but you barely hear the drums and bass. We want to kick out rock and roll loudness like the punk bands, we all like big, loud, dry drums, in-your-face guitars, and a strong sing-a-long factor.
To make an old punk connection, the last tune on the new record, "Uncle Harry," is like a continuation of Sham 69's, "Urry Up Harry" (down to the pub): Same guy, 20 years later.
Yeah, we have some of the tried and true stuff because it's what it is. You open your mouth and shout it out. You push yourself to write good melodies and set it up so you can just roar it out. People ask if we're going to move out musically past rock and roll, but there's so much ground to cover, so much you can do with a three-piece, you can bring a lot to it. It doesn't mean we won't put strings on a song, but we're not out to change our identity.
About your instrument, what's it called? Is there difference between a double bass and what's referred to as a stand up?
Well, it stands up, so that's a good name. Actually, it's a full-size cello. I tune normal, strings don't break often, but it's kind of a pest to amplify properly. It wasn't developed for electric music, so I messed with it a bit to get that going. Also, it's a big piece of wood to lug around. But it's such a joy to play, I can't fathom not playing it. I bought an electric bass last year to fiddle around with on the couch. The stand-up's such a different feel and approach, it's what I play and how I play. You get to play with force and energy - kinda the drummer mentality - you get to hit it, it's physical. Also, the control you get with your hands and how you can get tones... Plus, I've got my wood-working skills up, so I can
generally repair it. But I do travel with two...
You tour with the Warped crew and seem to've had your break-through with that audience. You fit perfectly on those Supersuckers/Reverend Horton Heat bills.
Oh yeah, anyone who works off the bluesy 12-bar stuff we can sit with.
Any purists pissing and moaning?
No backlash, just good feedback from our fans and shows. We're not a real known quantity. We've made a natural progression as a band, but no huge departure. We demoed more outside stuff, but the songs we recorded are the ones that worked really well. "Roll On" and "Pictures In The Mirror" are both singles in Australia and work well with what we are, no attempt to score some type of single just to try to hit. We wrote most of it last year. We had 35 songs, some old stuff we reworded, old riffs, older ideas, but about 90% of it is new. We branch out as a continuation of what we like and what we've been doing.
Do you get to play any club dates? I know with the big tours you're kinda on-and-off in 35 minutes and may not get to stretch out much.
Yeah, we do clubs and play over an hour, covers and old stuff. (They've covered "Tainted Love" and "Boys Don't Cry" as well as a couple others for magazines and bonus tracks.) We did a couple things for Juice magazine - we did "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2, "I've Just Seen Your Face" by the Beatles and "Rip it Up." It was kind of a balls-up though, trying to get the copyrights and such sorted out. We'll use them for b-sides.
You could've kept it Australia-only and ironed that stuff out quick. You know, "10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,"*, "Marseilles"** the rockabilly version of "Rocker" by AC/DC... Saint's tunes, Radio Birdman, did you ever like that stuff?
Yeah, great records. There was a time when there were a bunch of bands from Australia getting recognized worldwide. Those you mentioned and INXS, Rose Tattoo, Cold Chisel, and Buffalo. It was good for us, made the rock and roll vibe strong. It really worked up a culture of live bands. Bands like the Cosmic Psychos carry the torch for that kinda thing. And Grinspoon, and a band that moved over from New Zealand named She Had. They were good players and had that kinda instant, natural appeal, straight-ahead fist-in-the-air rock. I still see us as a local band. We write about the same stuff: what we see, what our lives have lead us to, jobs, family, people we know... We're just from Melbourne and we make music for people from here. We don't have some worldly soap box to get on. The same things still effect us and matter, stuff that effects us all, one way or another.
Your tune "Carry Me Home" is kinda different for you. It's the reason I mentioned Van Halen before - it seems you both tapped into the same fast Louie Jordon thing and took it your own way, but still rock it like crazy.
Yeah, it's got a bulldozer effect to it. "Carry Me Home" has a fast wailing on the top, a hypnotic rhythm underneath, and a sing-a-long tune you can shout along with like the thrash tune it is.
What are you doing now?
We did the Australian National tour, playing with AC/DC, then out on our own to New Zealand, then to Europe and America, back home in the summer, then back to the US, then to Europe for the festival season.
Anything on the new record you'd take back?
Things change after you play them. Sometimes you want to go back and change some production here or there, but it's the record we set out to make. I think it's always like that. It's what you learn playing that keeps it human, gives you ideas for the next record.
If you could take any three bands from any period in their existence on tour, who would it be?
Well, mainly because I'd love to see them play, Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I'm a big fan of the early records. And the Stray Cats. I only saw them play once. I'd love to see them in the early '80s, back when they were just breaking through. And probably the Beatles. They're probably my favorite all-time band.
* A Midnight Oil song.
** A fine tune by the Angels, a band who has to switch their name to Angel City in the U.S. market for copyright reasons. Great White mauled a couple of their songs. I'd suggest their Two Minute Warning and Face To Face albums: both full of great rock and roll songs.