In 2009 four of Australia's top musicians banded together for a live performance of the Beatles' White Album. Tim Rogers, Chris Cheney, Josh Pyke and Phil Jamieson are four artists we'd always kind of fantasised hated each other and stole each other's riders, but if that's the case they hid it well, putting on a rollicking tribute to the Fab Four. Now they're back for another swing, with a 30-song setlist and a 17-piece orchestra.
Time Out talked to the Living End’s Chris Cheney – taking time out from recording his solo album at home in LA – and Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson, halfway through his own solo dates and his excellent Rock N Ride venture in aid of Headspace.
How does it feel to be gearing up for these shows again, five years later?
Phil: Last time I got really ill in rehearsal, so my first actual show was Hamer Hall. This time around I’ve got a much deeper appreciation of the record and I’m much more comfortable with the songs. I think it’ll be a little bit different from my approach than last time. I can’t believe what I was doing (laughs), but that’s okay.
Have you always been a Beatles fan?
Chris: For me, as a kid, the Beatles were totally over-exposed and I didn’t get it. I was into Elvis and that was that. But then the penny dropped and I’ve been an obsessed fan ever since, which means I need to know everything about them. I consider myself a bit of an aficionado on Beatles trivia.
And The White Album is the Beatles’ most ambitious moment.
Chris: Yeah, because even though there was a lot of diversity on Sgt Pepper, it was still all in the same direction. With the White Album, you’ve got your raw, Hamburg rock’n’roll, then you’ve got stuff like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Rocky Raccoon’. It was pretty fractured at that point, so they were all in different studios doing their own stuff.yet the band were on the rocks. Do you have your own White Album?
Phil: No, never happened. The record we wrote when we were fractured (Alibis & Other Lies) was a pile of shit. It's the one you reviewed, actually. The one the Beatles made was excellent. I think that any band that exists for over a decade, things happen. That’s why you discuss it and make another record.
Chris: I think every band needs that friction or it’s going to result in bland music. I know from personal experience, the hardest times with the Living End have produced the best results, because you’re fighting for something, and you’re pushing each other towards a greater result.
Given that you’re all frontmen, do you talk about the burden of being the one in the public eye, or having the largest load of songwriting to do to bring in the royalties?
Phil: No, we talk about who has the largest hotel room – do you have a TV? Do you have a spa room? Mind you, Chris and Josh do an excellent vocal warm up that I’ve never done in my life. I’ve learned a lot from them – they take performances seriously, whereas I’m like, “Woohoo! This is great!” Chris has this steely-eyed determination and would be quite upset if he missed a note. I’ll be: “It’s all right, buddy, it sounded awesome.” And I learned a lot of stagecraft from Tim; he’s very vaudevillian and there’ll be a moment in every show where his voice just fits like a glove. Josh wears this outfit; he’s got this beard… that beautiful voice. You just take advantage of sharing a stage with those guys every night.
Is it fair to say there’s been some rivalry between your bands over the years?
Chris: I think Phil and I always looked up to Tim and his writing in You Am I with awe, as did anyone who’s picked up a guitar in the Aussie music scene – we were intimidated by him. But certainly the Living End and Grinspoon had their own rivalry going on.
Phil: The Living End were more popular than us and I didn’t like that. The late-’90s was huge for alternative music in Australia and the Living End were at the head of that wave, so I wanted them out of the way. They had a drummer at the time who was quite mouthy, but it was just banter. Now Chris is one of my closest friends.
Chris: The only rivalry when we met up to do the White Album the first time around was, “What songs are you gonna get?” But it’s all been up to the MD to divvy them up, because otherwise the bloody thing would never happen. Apart from that there was a bit of one-upmanship each night: “Right, here’s my next three minutes – follow this, boys.” You were trying to be the stand-out.