Chris Cheney and his band The Living End are one of the most phenomenally successful groups in Australian rock history. With their latest record, Roll On, they are ready to take on the rest of the world. With a respect for, and willingness to shatter, all of music's idioms, including jazz, punk, reggae and rockabilly, Cheney and Co. represent the future of post-grunge, post-teeny-bop pop music. Recently, Guitar Center got a chance to talk with Cheney about his affinity for Gretsch guitars, his songwriting technique and more.
GC: The articles that we've seen on you in recent magazines are all about Gretsch guitars. What do you like so much about these guitars and what do you think sets them aside from other guitars?
Chris: The first thing I liked about the Gretsch, obviously before I could understand the electronics and the acoustics, was just the way they looked. (laughs) I think they look better than any other guitars. I think there's a certain look about Gretschs that people just love, which is why I think a lot of people use them in film clips, but don't necessarily record with them. That kind of annoys me. Also I think Filtertron pickups are really unique sounding. It's so punchy and it's such a classic, well-known sound.
GC: Now you use a White Falcon. Is that the same guitar you use to both record and play live with?
Chris: I didn't use it to record the album because I didn't have it at that stage. But now it's just my main guitar. I was using a '61 anniversary two-tone Gretsch and I thought I should get a backup guitar. I saw the White Falcon and always, always liked them. It's kind of the ultimate guitar for people who are into vintage guitars. But, it never really sounded as good as it looks. (laughs) Now it's my best sounding guitar I've got after the work I've done on it.
GC: Wow! What exactly did you do to it?
Chris: Some extra wood basically to make it a little bit more solid. Also I've had the pickups dipped in wax so they feedback less. I put locking turners on so they stay in tune a lot better. Just a few things like that, nothing radically different. I'm always sort of tinkering about, trying to improve them a little bit.
GC: So what about your amp? What are you using now?
Chris: They're called Wizards. The model I use is the Wizard Modern Classic. I got two of them and they're 100 watts each. When we toured with AC/DC, I found out that Angus' guitar tech makes his own amps. I was using Marshalls on that tour and I think one of my Marshalls went down. So he lent me one of those to try and I just went crazy for it. He ended up saying that if I wanted to buy a couple, he could sell them to me. They're a pretty rare kind of amp. I don't know many that are around.
GC: Who else besides yourself and Angus uses them?
Chris: I think Jimmy Page does. Joe Perry from Aerosmith.
GC: It sounds like you're in good company there.
Chris: Yeah, I reckon. (laughs) I don't sound as good as those guys, but anyway.
GC: Do you use any pedals or effects to get the sound that you got on the album?
Chris: I pretty much go straight in. With the album, that was the plan anyway, to get a really clean straight kind of signal. I'm not really into the multi-layered effects. Live it's the same thing. I do have a pedal board I use for certain parts or certain songs. Boosters and things like that.
GC: Is there other gear you have that you have a fondness for?
Chris: I've got a couple of old things lying around. Some of those things, I really like sort of tinkering with, but the're too good to take on the road. I ended up using the Boss digital delay. It's really easy to use. I'd like to use more vintage stuff on the road, but the problem is, like with guitars, that they were just getting too beat up to be playing night after night. I sweat a lot on them and so I had to retire my old ones. All the Gretschs I use now are reissues.
GC: So you obviously have more guitars at home that you know that are just too precious to take on the road.
Chris: I've got two of their double anniversary models, the two-tone green Gretsch. They're from about 1961 or something. I've got a 1963 Tennessee Chet Atkins and a Brian Setzer model which I only got a little while ago. I've got a '61 Twenty reissue. That's about it in the Gretsch department. I've got an old Les Paul, some acoustics and various electrics. There's enough here to play with when I'm not on tour.
GC: Speaking of having gear at home, do you have a home studio?
Chris: No, I wish. I've just got a room with kind of a make-shift studio, a four-track.
GC: Do you practice being able to sing and play lead guitar at the same time?
Chris: I never really sat down and practiced that. I think that just comes from playing for such a long time in the band, I suppose. I don't sit at home and practice what we've been playing. I play jazz stuff and practice my jazz modes.
GC: Any jazz guitarists you like in particular?
Chris: Barney Kessel, Joe Pass. I really like those guys. I like a lot country swing players who dabbled in jazz like Jimmy Bryant and Merle Travis, the older guys. It's the best stuff. No one plays like that today. They kind of came and went, that grade of playing. So I'm trying to sort of brush up on it a little bit.
GC: On your new album what kind of gear did you use to record?
Chris: Amp-wise, I used a Marshall 100-watt. It was an old '70s one. I also used a Soldano 100-watt amp. Then we linked them up. It sounded really good, having the blend of two amps. Soldano had the more saturated sound while the Marshall was a bit more cutting. Guitar wise, I pretty much I used the green two-tone guitar, which actually has a Seymour Duncan pickup in it. This is before I had the White Falcon. I used a few solid bodies that I borrowed from Midnight Oil. I used an SG, a white one and also a mid-70s Les Paul. On the first album, I used a Gretsch on the whole thing, so this time we wanted a little bit more variety.
GC: I know that the first album was extremely successful. One of the singles off that album, "Prisoner of Society," was a huge success here in the States. How did the success of that first album affect how you approached Roll On, in regards to both music and lyrics?
Chris: I think that when that was a bit of a hit, it kind of fit in with what was going on at that time, the whole sort of punk-pop thing. We had those kinds of elements, yet we could kind of play a little bit better than the average punk band. With the next album I really wanted to sort of show that there was more to the band than just kind of thrash music. So it wasn't all about three chords and kiddie lyrics. I think the first thing we took into consideration was that we wanted to make it a little more experimental, a little bit more challenging for ourselves. The arrangements are a lot more complex on the second album compared to the first one. Lyrically it's broader, well thought out. Playing wise, I think its just a lot better overall. We really put a lot of time and effort into this. We tried to really prove ourselves and make it as hard as we could for ourselves. We knew we'd have something that we'd appreciate more rather than just doing it easy.
GC: Some of the songs on the latest record are a lot of fun to listen to and they're pretty light-hearted. "Carry Me Home," for example. But there are other songs on that album, like "Revolution Regained," which have more serious undertones. Do you find yourself making a conscious effort to write songs that either express your views or shed light on certain situations?
Chris: Definitely. It's an extension of our personalities or of my personality. I just try and have a good bit of both. You need sort of light-hearted songs like, "Uncle Harry," and stuff on an album to make it an all-around package. That was the plan with this album. We wanted it to have a sort of theme where each song took a lot of twists and turns, with lots of layers. There are ups and downs, with some serious tunes on there, but the majority of it is telling the story from an outside point of view. I don't really analyze it too much when writing. I just write whatever comes out. (laughs)
GC: I've listened to the album and the songs seem to expand from one to the other. How do you choose which songs end up on the album?
Chris: I'm just a big fan of so many different musical styles, so we've always tried to play as much as we could. We've never tried to limit ourselves. We've always just tried to mix it up. So when we come to the selection process, it was quite difficult. I think that with this album the one thing that was underlying each song is a certain kind of rock feel. It's very guitar-based and there's lots of big chords and overdrive. We noticed when we demoed the album, we had a lot of ballads, folk sort of tunes, acoustic-based and stuff with keyboards. We don't want to confuse people too much and we're not really ready to put those of songs on the album. It was quite difficult because everyone had favorites.
GC: You guys are going to go on the road with both the Warped Tour and Green Day this summer. Are there any bands out there that are going to be on the Warped Tour that you're a fan of and are looking forward to checking out while you're out there out on the road?
Chris: We've toured with Tsunami Bomb and it will be good to see them again. There's a band from Australia called Body Jar who are really good mates of ours. They're coming over to do some of it. It's just going to be good for us to do and it's always a good festival. It's really hot, though.
GC: Any advice for young musicians or young bands out there that are looking at you and thinking that's exactly what they want to do?
Chris: Don't compromise what you're doing and don't follow a trend. I think you should just do your thing. It's nice to bring in outside influences and listen to what people say, maybe take a little bit of it on board. But, I think there are not enough bands doing their own original thing. There are too many people after success rather than personal satisfaction. I would say just find a style that you're into and stick at it. You can't really predict what's going to be around the corner.
GC: Do you have any feelings about Guitar Center you can share?
Chris: I think the thing about it is it's kind of a double-edged sword. You've got so many things to offer and there are so many people in there shopping. It's hard to spend just a few minutes in there. The vintage section is great in the Los Angeles one.
GC: Did you see anything in there that you liked?
Chris: Too much. The Les Paul Juniors were really nice, a good selection. Great selection of Gretschs. There were a lot of nice old Marshalls. Hopefully, some I can purchase the next time I go there.