Band Gets a Higher Education, Interview with Ben Gillies (Cover Story)
By Patrick Mcdonald (Review (Adelaide))
Australia's international rock sensation silverchair is gearing itself
up for the publicity onslaught which will inevitably accompany the
teenage band's highly anticipated second album.
"Everything's starting to hit overdrive again," says drummer Ben Gillies.
For the past few months, the three band members -- Gillies, vocalist/guitarist Daniel Johns and bassist Chris Joannou -- have had what they regard as a holiday: going back to school in Newcastle. It's part of a plan to keep their feet on the ground.
"When we're home, it's just a normal, teenage life. We'll go out with our friends at night, we'll go to parties, we still go to school, go surfing with your mates," Gillies says.
Even the media has tended to leave them alone now that the hype over the phenomenally successful Frogstomp album has settled down.
silverchair is back on tour this month, playing gigs around Australia.
Given that they are still too young to legally indulge in most of rock 'n' roll's usual after-show excesses, what do the members of silverchair do to unwind on the road?
"Sometimes we just go back to the hotel and sleep because we're really tired," Gillies says. "Other times we'll be really hyped up and want to go out and do something -- basically make our own fun.
"Because we're all teenagers -- and you know what teenagers get up to -- we influence the older people to do teenage stunts, which is pretty funny.
"I won't mention any names, because we'll probably get in trouble, but we took this guy egging... like we were egging all these houses. It was too funny.
"Just being a hooligan, being an idiot really -- but nothing illegal."
silverchair's Adelaide Uni concert -- with United States band Everclear -- is presented by the Surfrider Foundation, which seeks to protect the oceans and beaches for all to enjoy. Both groups contributed tracks to the foundation's fundraising album MOM - Music for Our Mother Ocean [on MCA Records in Australia].
"We were like, 'Yeah, sure,' because we all surf and we come from an industrial beach city. We just thought it was a really good cause," says Gillies.
silverchair's version of the classic Surfin' Bird features heavy vocal distortion.
"My dad is like an old surfie bum and he was like 'play this song, play this song.' He kept bugging us," Gillies says.
"Then this soundtrack came up and we thought, yeah, we'll put it on there."
The track was recorded and mixed in just two hours before this year's Big Day Out in Sydney.
silverchair's second album was recorded in June but will not be released until February.
"I think it has changed a lot from the first album," Gillies says. "It's got a lot of variety on it. It's got your heavier songs -- just loud the whole way through. It's got songs with a lot of dynamics in it -- up down, up down, in the middle, whatever. And it's got really mellow songs, really quiet... there's even a punk song. We've used a lot of different instruments on it as well."
"The Indian guy that was playing these really weird drums [on Petrol and Chlorine], we asked him how long he'd been playing for and he said something like 60 years. And he said he still hadn't learned everything about it.
"We got a guitar-sitar in. You can play it like a guitar but it sounds like a sitar. Daniel actually played that on a lot of songs and it sounded better than the sitar.
"On one of the songs [Cemetery] there's strings and I play timpani on it... it sounds great. It just makes the song sound really huge."
The second album is often a difficult experience for bands which have a hit debut, as they attempt in vain to recreate the magic.
"A lot of people have commented that we've skipped our second album and gone straight to our third," Gillies says.
"It doesn't sound like Seattle. Now that we've traveled around the world, our music taste has just been widened immensely.
"Hopefully, when people hear the new album, they won't say that's a Pearl Jam clone. A lot of people have said that it's the silverchair sound -- that's what we were hoping for."
The band will return to the U.S. in October to continue mixing with Andy Wallace, who has worked with Helmet, Rage Against the Machine and Jeff Buckley.
"He was like our dream mixer," says Gillies. "Even when the first Tomorrow EP came out, we were going like, 'how good would it be if Andy Wallace mixed one of our things?' Then we were like, 'No way, it's never going to happen.'
"This album, when we had the opportunity, we were never going to knock it back."
Gillies expects 12 or 13 songs to appear on [the] next album, although the band has recorded a few more for bonus tracks on singles.
Some of the new material has already been incorporated into silverchair's live sets. Fans can expect to hear songs like Slave, Freak and Pop Song [for Us Rejects] when the band hits Adelaide on the September 28-29 weekend.
As usual, silverchair will be up to their teenage hijinks.
"I'm just thinking what I can say to some Adelaideans," Gillies says. "Put in that anyone that's looking for a good time, come to room 352 at the Hyatt after the gig." Believe it... or not.