IT'S ironic that Chris Cheney's opening song on his debut solo album is entitled Impossible Dream.
For many years just getting beyond his personal demons to actually finish the album felt like an impossible dream.
As the frontman of Melbourne punk rockabilly legends, The Living End, Cheney has enjoyed phenomenal success in his 25-year career.
He and his bandmates Scott Owen and Andy Strachan have notched up seven top-five albums, six ARIA Awards and built a reputation as one of Australia's hottest live bands.
In 2016 Cheney travelled from his then Los Angeles home to Nashville to begin recording his long-awaited debut solo album. While Cheney had faith in the Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty-influenced Americana songs, his emotional state risked destroying the record, as well as his family.
"It wasn't a mid-life crisis, but it was definitely a moment of reflection and I kind of went a little haywire and went down a pretty dark prickly path of drinking too much and abusing myself and being fairly reckless," Cheney says.
"It happened to coincide with being in Nashville to make this record, so it all started like a hurricane and it was all swept up in this swirling tornado."
Cheney believes the 2012 death of his father, Noel, was the catalyst for his descent into heavy drinking and reckless behaviour.
"We all go through those tough times," he says. "I just made some poor decisions and it started to affect my family, my marriage, my home life, and as an artist, what do you do? You write songs about it don't you? It was therapy."
When Cheney returned to LA he found the turmoil within the Nashville tracks cut too close to the bone. However, four of the 11 tracks recorded - Impossible Dream, Football Team, Call Of The Wild and 2am - were saved.
Cheney kept writing, while at the same time The Living End released the albums Shift (2016) and Wunderbar (2018). The latter was recorded in Berlin.
"There's definitely some dark moments on that record, but it's sugar-coated a little bit," Cheney says of Wunderbar. "My record didn't skirt around any issues. The nerve-endings are very raw and it's all in plain sight."
The 47-year-old took a very old-school approach to his recovery. No therapists or counselling - just a working-class mentality to never throw in the towel.
I knew it was going to end in only one way and that was self-destruction.- Chris Cheney
"I just pulled myself together, cleaned myself up off the floor and dusted myself off and went, 'Alright, you've gotta keep on going and pull your life together because this is no way to live'," he says.
"I knew it was going to end in only one way and that was self-destruction. I pulled myself together and threw myself into these songs.
"I definitely had a moment where I was like, 'If nothing else, if I fall apart at least I'm gonna have a strong record'."
In 2020 Cheney and his family relocated to Melbourne due to the pandemic and while riding out the Victorian capital's discombobulating lockdowns he continued to write and record, completing around 60 songs. The strongest 10 were chosen for the impressive debut solo album, The Storm Before The Calm.
It's a world away from the rock urgency of Prisoner Of Society and White Noise, and reveals a vulnerability even the most ardent Living End fan hasn't seen from Cheney.
Still Got Friday On My Mind is flavoured with country pedal steel, while Impossible Dream sees Cheney push his vocal high in the mix to channel the anthemic drama of Springsteen. California follows a more traditional rock template and the album highlight, Lost In The Darkness, is a delightful slice of '60s soul-rock featuring one of Cheney's best vocals.
"For the first time I was OK with stripping things away in the arrangement and stripping the big drums out and taking the guitars off and just having the vocal front and centre," he says.
"That's what I associated with the style of music I was trying to write and the records I was inspired by like Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen and even the Johnny Cash stuff with Rick Rubin, where you can almost hear the breath when they're singing.
"I felt like the messages and stories I wanted to get across didn't need all that instrumentation, it just needed the story to be told by the writer in the most direct and simplistic way possible."
While The Storm Before The Calm marks a new starting point for Cheney, he plans to record The Living End's ninth album next before focusing on another solo project.
"I'm celebrating at this point," he says. "There's nothing to be nervous about. It is what it is. I've made the record I wanted to make. I hope people like it. I feel like it's a personal triumph that I got it finished."
Chris Cheney's The Storm Before The Calm is released on Friday.
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