Chris Cheney, musician, The White Album Concert
We’re all on the same page and we're not in it to perform a cheesy Beatles tribute night. That’s not what this feels like ...
Any die-hard fan of The Beatles can remember the first time the sounds of The Fab Four captured their eardrums forever. Few artists in the history of music have seized the hearts of generations as monumentally as the combination of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, who created a lasting legacy that is still influencing budding musicians today. The Beatles’ back catalogue is littered with seminal hits and epoch-making albums, but few are as beloved as the tracks on the band’s self-titled record, affectionately dubbed The White Album. Recorded during a tumultuous time in the band’s career, the record nevertheless featured some of The Beatles’ best tunes, including ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, ‘Helter Skelter’, ‘Glass Onion’ and many more. Famed Australian musicians Chris Cheney (The Living End), Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon), Josh Pyke and Tim Rogers (You Am I) are set to hit the road for the third time to bring The White Album Concert to Brisbane. The experience will see the iconic tracks given a new lease on life, as these four veritable rock legends take on the album in its entirety. Ahead of the shows on July 19 and 20, we spoke to Chris Cheney about his love for The Beatles, his personal favourite tracks and what we can expect from the performance.
The Beatles are one of those formative bands that continue to inspire generations of musicians. Can you remember your first encounter with the music of The Beatles?
In primary school music class we had to sing ‘Yellow Submarine’. I had no idea who The Beatles were at that point. Mum and dad played Abbey Road a lot when I was growing up, so I always knew what amazing songwriters they were. It wasn’t until I was in late high school that I really delved into the records – then I was hooked!
In what way did their influence impact your own musical journey?
I don’t know if there’s a direct influence on The Living End, but their early influences were my favourites. Artists like Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Every Brothers. I’m continually amazed at their ability to switch styles and push boundaries musically, and also for the success rate to be so high! In my opinion, pretty much everything they did was great.
The White Album is heralded as some of The Beatles’ best work. What is it about the record that resonates with you?
It’s so diverse but feels cohesive. Perhaps that’s because I know it so well now, but there’s a singularity about some of the tracks that ties them to the rest of the songs on that album. There’s just some very odd tunes that I can’t imagine being on any other record – it’s definitely got a bit of everything on it.
How did the original idea to reinterpret and perform the record with Josh, Tim and Phil come about?
We were asked and we said yes! Our decision hinged on who else was involved. I’ve got lots of respect for what the other three do, so I knew it would be great. We’re all on the same page and we’re not in it to perform a cheesy Beatles tribute night. That’s not what this feels like.
What sort of approach did you take when it came to tackling the White Album, doing it justice and also giving it your own spin?
I just approached it by trying to bring what I could to the songs. You can’t improve them, but hopefully you can give them a little twist. It’s sacred ground so it’s not about complete reinterpretation, but it is about bringing our voices and styles to it.
Each member of The Beatles brought their own personalities and influences to the group. What do you, Josh, Tim and Phil bring to the mix?
Josh brings the calm and the falsetto. Phil brings the lunacy – never a dull moment with that one! Tim brings the style and swagger, and as we know is a mesmerising performer. He also brings the whiskey at the right time, every time. There’s a slight one-upmanship that occurs during the performance where we all seem to egg each other on. They’re all great – I’m in awe watching the three of them. That being said, we’d be nothing without the dream team behind us – what a band!
Is there a particular song on the album that you love performing more than others?
‘Glass Onion’ is great cause it’s just a cracker of a tune and I don’t play guitar, which is nice. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is the most intense for me, trying to add anything to George Harrison and Eric Clapton’s masterpiece is a tough one. It really helps that I’ve got such an incredible band behind me – those guys are world class.
This will be the third time you and the others have taken the show on the road. What can audiences expect from the performance this time around? We hear talk of a 17-piece rock orchestra …
It’s just grand and loud and odd and rocking and it’s The Beatles music played with nothing but respect and the right attitude. It’s not a show – it’s a concert!
What other iconic albums would you absolutely love to perform in a similar vein?
London Calling by the Clash would be a good one, just cause I love every song on it.