Any uni student knows that spending hours dawdling over an essay doesn’t necessarily make the finished product any better. Punk trio The Living End found the same when they emerged from the studio with their quickest record ever, Wunderbar, which was produced in just four weeks.
“We didn’t sacrifice quality – it just meant that we got the job done without procrastinating,” says frontman Chris Cheney. “It almost made me worried that everything was going horribly right. You’re waiting for it. When’s the hurdle coming? When are we going to get stuck? But it ended up as the most fun record we’ve ever done – the easiest experience I’ve ever had in the studio.”
To record their new album, the band didn’t book time at Abbey Road or the Capitol Records tower in LA. Instead, they sequestered themselves in the quaint and tourist-free central German town of Rotenburg an der Fulda. In Rotenburg, the band started each day with a ten-minute stroll to Toolhouse Studios, where they met with Tobias Kuhn, a producer known for his frenetic energy during recording sessions.
Recording Wunderbar, Cheney found that Germany fulfills the Australian reputation for laid-back amicability better than Australia does.
“I find [Berlin] a lot more chilled to walk around,” says Cheney. “You don’t see anywhere near the aggression or the violence that I see on a daily basis in Melbourne. I mean, God forbid you were to walk down the street with an open beer. You can’t do that.
“It’s a funny kind of arrangement. The laws over there are looser. It’s almost like with teenagers: if you give them a little bit of responsibility, they tend to grow up and appreciate it and not abuse it. Whereas, in Australia, there’s this police state: ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ That tends to make people rebel against it. It’s a funny thing; even though Berlin’s a pretty crazy town, you feel very safe walking around there. I hate to say it, but I don’t feel like that when I’m walking around Melbourne sometimes.”
Even as Spotify continues to reduce albums to modular collections of tracks, Cheney takes pride in Wunderbar’s completeness, which he hopes will prompt a few people to listen to it all the way through before cannibalising it for playlists.
“As an album, it flows really well,” he says. “I know that’s a little bit defunct these days, but for us, that’s important. There were certain songs we really liked that didn’t end up on the record, because they didn’t fit… We’re not aiming to reinvent the wheel. We’ve dabbled a bit, but with this record, the strength lies in the fact that it’s a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll record.”
One standout track is the cochlea-pummelling ‘Death Of The American Dream’, which sounds a bit like the Living End’s take on Highway 61 Revisited. The mortifying spectacle of the Trump presidency has sparked a minor renaissance of anti-American political music. However, Cheney, who spent seven years living in the US, says that ‘Death Of The American Dream’ was written as a diagnosis, not an attack.
“As a kid, for me, America was Mickey Mouse and Disneyland and Elvis and Graceland and Cadillacs, this larger-than-life country,” says Cheney. “At the moment, it’s down on its luck. This song isn’t a piss-take on America at all. It’s saying, ‘I would defend the States forever’, and I love the place. I think you’ve got to go through a rough patch sometimes. They’ll find their feet again. It’s just going to take some time.”
Ultimately, Wunderbar may be most remarkable for its solidity – for the absence of the self-conscious reinventions commonly employed by bands who have spent 20 years on the road.
“You’re not supposed to get better as you get older,” says Cheney. “The shows aren’t supposed to be more intense, but I feel like they are with us. I look at some of the old footage and hear live recordings and it’s just terrible. But now, I feel like we can really play our arses off.
“Every single night, I go off on these different tangents and improvise, and the whole thing feels like it could run off the rails at any minute, but that’s the beauty of it. That’s the magic of a Living End show. We’re not just going through the motions. Maybe we have in the past at certain times, but I take more risks now. That’s what live music is.”
The Living End will tour Australia this November. Wunderbar is out now via BMG.
Image via Cybele Malinowski.