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Australian Guitar x Bluesfest 2022: The Living End

The Living End
(Image credit: Press/Supplied)

It’s been a long and bumpy ride to the next edition of the Byron Bay Bluesfest – especially after its attempt in April got nixed a day out from opening, with the site and its stages already built – but lo and behold, Bluesfest is finally (finally!!!) making its return in 2022. 

Taking the form of an exclusive special edition, sporting an all‑Australian lineup, the four-day celebration of all things blues, roots, rock and beyond will take place at its established home of the Byron Events Farm (formerly Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm) across next year's Easter long weekend of Friday April 15th through Monday 18th. 

And although the usual suite of international icons are sitting this one out – y’know, travel bans and all that fun stuff – the lineup couldn’t be more enormous: headliners include Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Tash Sultana and Jimmy Barnes, with over 50 of Australia’s biggest and best names set to raise the barn over four epic days.

To get ourselves prepped for what is undoubtedly going to be the most exciting weekend of the year for any Aussie music fan, we’re catching up with handful of the acts we’re beyond keen to see. 

This week, we're going one-on-one with The Living End!

THE CHEAT SHEET

Okay, so who’s this?
A cataclysmic coalescence of sprightly, earwormish rockabilly and blistering punk-rock – think along the lines of Green Day, but with a distinct Australian flair… And upright double-bass. More specifically speaking, the man we’re talking to here is Chris Cheney, The Living End’s lead vocalist and sole guitarist, synonymous with a beautiful snow-crest white Gretsch G5422TG.

What would I know them from?
The Melbourne-native trio have racked up a mammoth list of hits in their 23 years, like “Prisoner Of Society”, “All Torn Down”, “Roll On, “White Noise”, “Raise The Alarm”… The list goes on! If you’ve ever spent more than an hour tuned in to Triple M, there’s a good chance you’ve heard something from The Living End’s eponymous ‘98 debut, at least.

Why should I see them?
How often do you get to see a band of pit-spurring punk-rockers tear shit up at Bluesfest? A Living End show is always a blast and a half, and no matter how many gray hairs the hellions might have nowadays, they still hit the stage like wide-eyed ragamuffins without a care in the world.

When are they playing?
The Living End will make their first ever appearance at a Bluesfest when the festival gates open on Friday October 1st.


So Chris, what are you looking forward to most at Bluesfest 2021? 
I’m just looking forward to playing it! We’d never done it before, and I’ve never been. It’s a festival I’ve always wanted to go to, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. We’ve always been playing, or out of the country for whatever reason. And we’ve never been invited before. So I’m like, “Okay, it’s only taken 25 years or so, but finally, we have an invite!” I’m really looking forward to it. I know it’s not quintessentially a blues festival, but I think a lot of the bands on there definitely stem from roots music. And I feel like we’re a perfect fit for that, because we also came from a very roots-driven sort of background. 

A few people have asked whether we’ll change our set around for that kind of gig – and we could, y’know? My response was, “Well, we could probably get up and just do a whole set of ‘50s rockabilly songs, back from when we first started.” But we’re not being employed as that. We’re being employed as The Living End, so we’ll just get up there and we’ll do our thing. But yes, it will be a huge celebration. It’ll be great just to be back on a stage, to be around other musos and to be in a festival environment – and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Bluesfest.

For those out there who might be going more strictly for the blues and roots acts, but want to check out something a bit different – like a rockabilly-punk fusion – what can they expect from The Living End’s set? 
We’ve had a little bit of criticism for our sound – early on we did, at least. Because we were very ingrained in that whole Melbourne rockabilly scene, where it was 80 percent covers and it was a very stylised kind of thing. And we decided early on that we didn’t want to just be another one of those bands. We took influences from a pretty broad range of music, and we wanted to see whether we could throw those other influences into the mix as well.

What I will say is that I think we’ve retained the energy and the essence of what that early incarnation of The Living End was. And that’s pretty high energy. There’s a lot of notes in the solos – it’s pretty flashy music, I suppose. So I think we’ve been able to retain that, even though we’ve had a few radio hits. I think we’ve managed to bridge the gap between that raw, energetic kind of rock ’n’ roll music and those pop sensibilities. But when we get onstage, it’s pretty ballsy and it’s pretty aggressive. We definitely don’t leave any fuel in the tank. 

That just comes from that scene we came from, where it was just balls-to-the-wall kind of energy. And the AC/DC influence, being into bands like them and The Who, and all that sort of stuff. People that come to our shows tend to use them as an excuse to really let out their frustrations. And that’s a great thing! That’s what music’s for. So I think I’m expecting it to be pretty loose, in the best possible way.

What does your live rig look like at the moment? 
I have one of those ground control switches, which I initially got when we did this tour where we played nine records in full. We did this retrospective thing where we played multiple nights in different venues, and I had to play a different record each night. It was a bit of a mindf*** to begin with, to learn all those songs, but I really wanted to be able to recreate all the sounds from all the records. So I bought this switch and loaded it up with all the patches, so for example I could press loop #1 and engage a delay and an overdrive, and then patch #2 would be a shorter delay. 

I still use that, because it’s easier for me to be singing and not trying to hit multiple pedals at the same time. Amp-wise, I’m still using the Wizards – which I got way back in 2000 when we supported AC/DC – normally with an AC30.

Are you still all about that Gretsch life? 
I am, yeah. I mean, I’m not very good when I get on a Les Paul or a Strat. I just can’t… Well, firstly, it doesn’t sound the same. But also, my hands are just too big. It’s a perspective thing – I’m so used to that big hollowbody sound and feel, anything else just sort of feels weird to me. Same with the amp, really. I’ve never really strayed too far from getting that kind of crunch from the Wizard and the power of that 100-watt, driven sound. I’m running it clean these days, but just fully cranked. And I get that chimey sparkle from the AC30. 

I’ve always tried to blend those two influences of AC/DC and the Stray Cats. To me, that’s the ultimate guitar tone. If you get them in, you can run anything else on top of that, pedal-wise. I’ve never really heard it out the front, obviously – but from all reports, it’s a pretty mammoth sound.

Oh, absolutely. I remember when I saw The Living End for the first time, I was just gobsmacked at how much tone was being produced by the one guitar. 
It’s definitely something I’ve worked on since back in ’96, ’97. I used to run a couple of the Fender Twins, and they were great. They did the job. But it’s definitely something that I’ve searched for, and will continue to search for – y’know, ‘the tone’. But I’ve always tried to get that perfect combination the amps and the popping of the strings. I love the whole Stevie Ray Vaughan kind of twang and bite, but I also love that big, saturated, dirty rhythm sound as well. I don’t think you can have it all – you’ve gotta find some middle ground.

Who are you excited to catch at Bluesfest 2022? Take a peek at the lineup below, then start getting your schedules ready!

BYRON BAY BLUESFEST 2022 – LINEUP

  • Midnight Oil
  • Paul Kelly
  • Jimmy Barnes
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop
  • John Butler
  • Xavier Rudd
  • Pete Murray
  • Ian Moss
  • Kate Ceberano
  • Kasey Chambers
  • The Waifs
  • The Church
  • Jon Stevens
  • The Living End
  • Mark Seymour & The Undertow
  • The Angels
  • Russell Morris
  • Kate Miller-heidke
  • Vika & Linda
  • All Our Exes Live In Texas
  • Ross Wilson And The Peaceniks
  • John Williamson
  • Troy Cassar-daley
  • Briggs
  • Tex Perkins The Man In Black
  • Hiatus Kaiyote
  • Josh Teskey & Ash Grunwald
  • Weddings Parties Anything
  • The Black Sorrows
  • Cw Stoneking
  • The Bamboos
  • Chain
  • Backsliders
  • Ash Grunwald
  • Melbourne Ska Orchestra
  • Jeff Lang
  • Nathan Cavaleri
  • Kim Churchill
  • Henry Wagons
  • Jk-47
  • Garrett Kato
  • Mama Kin Spender
  • Dami Im
  • Pierce Brothers
  • Emily Wurramara
  • The Buckleys
  • Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers
  • Ray Beadle
  • Pacey, King & Doley
  • Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission
  • Hussy Hicks
  • Roshani
  • Daniel Champagne
  • Little Georgia
  • Lambros.
  • Round Mountain Girls
  • The Regime
  • Electrik Lemonade
  • Palm Valley
  • Byron Busking Competition
  • Rockwiz Live

Tickets to the 2021 Byron Bay Bluesfest are on sale now – head to bluesfest.com.au for more info!