- Three Lads in the Fishbowl
By Sarah Chauncey
"It's Daniel's mother!!"
I'm walking from the "Live in Toronto" mobile studio to a van, through a
throng of screaming kids. They're here to see silverchair, who've just done
a radio appearance at Edge 102 to promote their new album, Neon Ballroom.
A half-dozen burly security guards are holding back the crowd. I'm thinking,
"Stop shrieking, I'm nobody," when a girl screams, "It's Daniel's mother!" I
look up and start laughing, until I realize that the crowd appears to have
taken her seriously, and now they're all trying to grab a piece of me and
get pictures of me.
I scramble into the van and collapse into the back seat, wondering what the
hell just happened. Australian teen sensations Daniel Johns, Chris Joannou
and Ben Gillies follow, trailed by their tour manager and the Sony
publicist. As a security guard shuts the door, there's an odd moment of
relative peace. We made it.
Not 10 seconds later, the tour manager remarks, "Someone's got in the back."
A young girl, clad in bellbottoms and a blue plaid top, clutching a tiny
teddy bear, is standing inside the space behind the last seat. Like the
proverbial deer caught in the headlights she's just staring at Daniel -- or
rather, the back of Daniel's head.
Because I'm the closest to her, I step over the seat and usher her towards
the door. She resists a little, and I wonder, "If she gets hurt, am I
liable?" As I lean out to try and grab the door handle, a cacophony of
voices pleads with me: "Please give Daniel this!" "Tell Daniel I love him!"
and other such desperate appeals.
I finally get a grip on the door handle, but the girl from the van pushes
her teddy bear towards me. "Please," she implores, "Just give Daniel this?!"
In the moment I pause to look at her, the crowd surges towards me. In a
panic, I slam the door shut, knocking the teddy bear to the pavement. I feel
like a jerk.
How each of the trio reacts to the scene encapsulates their personalities:
Drummer Ben, who looks like a punked-out Donny Osmond in an argyle sweater,
seems amused as he scans the crowd for cute girls. Bass player Chris is
wide-eyed, his cheeks flushed, appearing alternately embarrassed and
pleased. And Daniel, the blond object of all these fans' affection, is
staring straight ahead, willing it all go away. In this moment, they seem
every bit the 19-year-olds that they are.
The driver takes off without running anyone over -- an impressive feat in
itself -- and the van goes around several blocks, moving quickly so as to
"lose" any fans who might be trying to follow the band. I feel like I'm in a
slightly surreal cop show. We pull up at the restaurant, Superior, and
within two minutes the van is surrounded by screaming girls. "Aw, fuck,"
We pile out, and for the first time, I understand the "heads-down" stance I
always see celebrities take while walking through crowds. It's like walking
through shoulder-high underbrush, except that it's underbrush that moves and
screams and grabs. As we enter the restaurant, the other patrons stare.
Superior is an upscale restaurant; most of the folks here look like they
came from Bay Street or are perhaps former Maple Leafs in town for the
official closing of the Gardens. Three scruffy teenage boys with an
entourage look out of place.
We sit down in a booth upholstered with muted Southwestern greens, reds and
browns. The band seem relieved that the screaming fans are safely corralled
outside the restaurant, pounding on the window.
"I feel uncomfortable in these crowds; I hate it," Daniel admits. "I don't
hate the crowds; I just feel uncomfortable."
Chris chimes in. "It's great to have such fanatical fans, because you know
they'll pretty much be there the whole of your careers." Choosing his words
carefully, he adds, "You kind of feel bad if you're negative towards them,
but it's a hard situation sometimes."
Do they ever fear for their safety?
"Hanging around with a guy that pulls in that many chicks," Ben quips,
nodding at Daniel, "it does get scary after awhile." He smiles, indicating
it's a kind of terror he can live with.
"You're the troublemaker, aren't you?" I ask, noting his tendency to call
every female "bay-bee."
"Naw." Ben mocks a frown and nods at Chris. "He's the instigator."
"Piss off!" replies Chris. "I'm -- no way!" He looks at me, both eyebrows
raised. "I'm the good one."
"Good?! You're far from good!"
NEWSFLASH! CHRIS AND BEN BUNK TOGETHER!
It's the fantasy of most 19-year-old boys to be the object of millions of
adoring fans and screaming girls, throwing themselves at you wherever you
go. When it becomes a reality, though, day-in and day-out, even adoration
can take its toll.
"It's pretty overwhelming," admits Ben. "But it makes you think we must be
doing something right."
"It is what it is," shrugs Chris. Getting back at Ben for the "instigator"
comment, he grabs his bandmate in a headlock. Is this a wrestling hold?
"Naw, it's an embrace," says Ben, his features scrunched under Chris' arm.
Because you love each other so much?
"It's only because we've been bunking together," explains Ben, wriggling out
Chris smirks. "He comes and gets in my bed."
"Shut up!" retorts Ben. "You come and get in mine!"
Leaning forward, Chris explains in a confessional tone, "I'm on the way back
from the toilet in the middle of the night, he peels back my covers..." He
Ben shrugs, "Sometimes, I'll just muck around and go over to his bed and
pretend I'm starting getting in... It's all funny." He seems embarrassed.
Despite the fact that, at this point in their careers, each band member
could have his own hotel room, if not an entire suite, Chris and Ben enjoy
"It's just good to be in someone's room, like," explains Ben, "I'd be bored
At the other side of the table, Daniel pipes up again. "I'm by myself, and
I'm not very bored." He smiles wryly.
Ben rolls his eyes. "Yeah, but you enjoy, like, laying there and doing
Chris chimes in, "You enjoy your own company --"
"And watching telly," finishes Ben.
DRINKS WITH DINNER?
Daniel is an introvert in the classic sense, someone who replenishes his
energy by being alone, as opposed to Ben, who gathers energy from the people
around him. Daniel confirms my theory with a nod.
"Yeah. I don't like being in crowds very much. It's a little freaky."
Jumping into the role of interviewer, Ben teasingly asks, "So you didn't
like what happened this evening very much, then?" Daniel stares at his
serviette, his silence communicating volumes.
"What goes through your mind when the doors to the back of the van open," I
ask, "or the window starts to crash in?"
Chris' response is immediate: "Get in the van!"
Daniel admits, without a trace of sarcasm, "I think I'm about to get
Our waiter, who seems to enjoy serving a table of musicians as opposed to
well-coiffed bankers, comes to take our orders. Daniel, a vegan, isn't
eating. Ben, who's just finishing up one beer, orders the soupe du jour,
plus another beer. This seems to be a sore spot with Chris, who smirks and
says, "Aw, Ben."
"Shaddup," Ben replies. "You gonna have another one?"
"I haven't finished the first one."
"Amazing how fast it goes down when you drink it in a glass," Ben tells me,
for lack of a better audience. One gets the sense that this is a
conversation they've had before.
"It's not about how many you can drink, Ben," Chris says, trying to sound
mocking for my benefit. The look in his eye says he's serious.
"I know," Ben replies petulantly.
"It's not a race," Chris continues.
"I'm not racing!" There's an edge of panic in Ben's voice, as opposed to
mere annoyance. "I'm just having a nice drink."
DANIEL'S ANXIETY ATTACKS
Daniel is still staring at the table, occasionally giving me a sideways
glance or a knowingly smile. He's heard all these fights before. How does he
cope with huge crowds, with people constantly screaming, grabbing at him,
wanting something from him?
"When we're on the road, and in crowds and things, I have to take tablets to
help keep me calm, because otherwise, I have anxiety attacks."
Ben gives a sideways glance. "Not when you get on stage, do ya?"
"Yes, I do." Daniel watches for my reaction. "When I'm at home, I don't have
to do that, because I don't have crowds."
Chris interjects, "Sometimes it's hard for Ben and I to understand panic
attacks, 'cause, I don't know, we just... We just laugh at it. My grandma,
she's... She gets very panicky as well, and sometimes, I have to go pick her
up in my car, it's like a four-wheel drive... It's kind of weird, it's a bit
frustrating sometimes, but it's just how some people are." Trying to sound
empathetic, he adds, "I'm scared of some dogs, like, that's, kind of, one of
Ben pipes up. "I'm afraid of sharks." He pauses, then grins. "Not that I've
ever come in contact with any, but still..." Daniel is staring at the table
again, realizing that his mates just don't get it.
DANIEL IN DENIAL
For a long time, the band says, they played ostrich with their success. They
were just teenagers with a garage band, like thousands of others around the
world, but they happened to be good.
"One thing we can kind of notice now," Ben explains, "is that we didn't
really realize what was happening. Like, just the idea of actually being in
a band that's kind of famous and successful. Like, we kind of didn't want to
Daniel, in particular, seems like he may never have wanted to be a teen
idol. "We didn't ever intend it to go this far," he admits, "but we're not
regretful. We expected to be a garage band forever. Even just winning the
competition that got our songs played on the radio, was like, a really big
Chris recalls the day the then 14-year-olds learned that their song had won
a local radio contest. "Daniel was over at my house -- after school, we'd go
past my house, and we'd always come in and have a drink, then he'd go home
-- and, like, Daniel's mum was at my house and she ran out and said, "They
won! They won!" We were just crazy, running around, going so berserk... It
was so exciting."
"We were just shocked," Daniel adds. "I couldn't really believe we were
actually going to get a song played on the radio. It was like, how? We can't
even get gigs! How can we get a song on the radio?"
He's referring to the not-so-long-ago days when the band was too young to
play licensed venues. "It took, like, three years before the actual
popularity of the band, the fame, hit all of us. For about two years,
throughout the whole life of the first album, we really were just confused;
we didn't know what was happening. It was when we released Freak Show that
we finally realized how big 'frogstomp' was."
When they finally realized they were famous, Daniel continues, "We were
like, 'What's going on?' We didn't ever have warnings, and we were never
told how to handle it." They dealt with fame by pretending it wasn't
happening. "We ignored it for ages. If people asked about it, we'd be like,
'We're not big, we're not famous.' We totally denied it."
There came a time, he explains, where it sounded worse to deny their fame
than to admit it. "It got to the point that, the fact that we were denying
it [in order] to not sound conceited or arrogant, started to backfire,
because we looked conceited and arrogant by denying everything. So we just
came to a point where we just had to say, 'We have to face it, or people are
just going to hate us.'"
Daniel slumps, exhausted from his mini-rant. The tour manager notes that he
has to get the boys back to the hotel, although Ben is already making plans
to go dancing. The throng outside has grown. Daniel and Chris smile sweetly
at the fans, but they waste no time in getting inside the van. Ben chats up
several lassies, nearly getting left behind.
As Ben climbs into the van, I pat him on the back and say, "Thanks." He
doesn't respond. I realize that he's become so accustomed to people touching
him and yelling at him that he no longer reacts.
As I walk towards the subway, I stop at the traffic light. Across the
street, I notice a bunch of girls giggling, staring at me. Then there's a
camera flash. They still think I'm Daniel's mother. It's kind of amusing,
this fame-by-supposed-genetic-association. But I get to go home and continue
my life in anonymity. Whether they like it or not, the hysteria I've
witnessed tonight is a way of life for silverchair.