Silverchair, Wizards of Oz

By Bryan Harper (Hit Parader)

Of all the earth’s continents, Australia may well be the most unusual. It is literally and figuratively an island unto itself, a huge land mass roughly the size of the United States, where the flora, fauna and indigenous animal forms are totally unique. Few Australian life forms appear anywhere else on our planet; certainly when we think of Australia, images of hopping kangaroos instantly spring to mind. But did you know that "Oz," as the natives are fond of calling their homeland, is the only place on the planet where marsupials -- the category of animals in which ‘roos fit -- can be found? Or were you aware that the continent’s aboriginal natives may be direct descendants of Asian settlers who crossed over to Australia more than a million years ago? Did you know? Do you care? We didn’t think so. But hey, we wanted to at least get you thinking about the Land Down Under before we launched full-scale into the true subject matter of this musical dissertation -- the band known far-and-wide as silverchair -- Australia’s latest gift to the hard rock world.

As it happens, the music scene in Australia over the last 25 years has been about as unique as its animal life. Yeah, there have been some major blotches on the Aussie artistic resume -- mostly such stains on human existence as Olivia Newton John and the Bee Gees. But there’s also been a tradition of great rock and roll. Of course, we all know and love AC/DC, a band spawned by the rugged "outback" barroom musical tradition that over the years has also produced the likes of the Starfighters, and Angel City -- each of whom borrowed rather liberally from Angus Young’s voluminous book of rock and roll know-how. But after years of being something of a musical backwater, where about once a decade a band or artist would emerge to make a significant imprint on the musical world, things are beginning to change Down Under, and Daniel Johns, Chris Joannou, and Ben Gillies -- collectively known as silverchair -- have much to do with this rather drastic shifts in Australian musical perspectives.

"Back home, people have tended to listen to the same things over and over again," Johns said. "They’re not very adventurous. But people of our generation are listening to everything. We didn’t grow up listening only to AC/DC -- though we did do a cover of one their songs in our live shows at one time. We listened to a lot of new things, and those had a big influence on us and a lot of other young bands in Australia."

Yes indeed, there is certainly a new generation of bands emerging from Down Under, a generation spawned by the likes of American rockers such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana rather than homegrown legends like AC/DC. In fact, almost from the moment that silverchair began to make a lasting impression on the psyche of the international rock crowd, comparisons to the likes of Vedder’s brood were almost inevitable. It happens that if you want to find a way of getting under the 16-year-old skin of the silverchair boys, just keep bringing up the fact that such songs as tomorrow and pure massacre sound hauntingly like a merging of the angst-riddled approaches utilized so effectively over the last half decade by the Jammers and Nirvana. These boys still might smile at you while you voice such comparisons -- after all, their parents are watching every move they make -- but underneath it all such comments have begun to make them seethe.

"At first, we took those comparisons as great compliments," Johns said. "But at a certain point it begins to sound like people don’t want to give us much credit. They just want to dismiss us as some sort of clones. Well, I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think it’s very fair."

While some critics may enjoy taking idle pot-shots at the gang, referring to them ever-so-cleverly as Silverjam or Pearlchair, the fact is that the group’s debut disc, frogstomp, has now sold over a million copies, making these baby-faced teens one of the most successful new hard rock acts of the last three years. They have been warmly embraced by a generation of fans that came along in the wake of the Seattle Scene, a melange of musical aficionados who don’t necessarily give a damn about where a band calls home or whom they may choose to make their primary influence. After all, didn’t AC/DC receive unfavorable comparisons to Led Zeppelin when they first came along? And wasn’t even the mighty Zep dismissed as a "second rate blues group" when they emerged in 1968? Trust us, they were!

"We like a lot of different types of music," Johns said. "But what is on this album happens to be the type of music we like to play. We plan on staying together and making a lot of albums, but this is all kind of new to us. I imagine we’ll keep developing in the future, but to be honest, we’re kind of pleased with the way this album turned out."

Considering that only a year ago these three young rockers were little more than 15 year-old high school kids whose grandest dreams were getting together after school to jam, their sudden ascension up the rock ladder has been nothing short of miraculous. The very notion that by 1996 they’d have one of the world’s biggest albums and be touring in the U.S. with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers would have been beyond their comprehension. But with frogstomp topping the hard rock charts in such divergent locales as New Zealand, Germany and Canada, silverchair’s success story now ranks as one of the most surprising and refreshing tales of recent vintage. The obvious is how this sudden rush of fan adulation and financial reward has impacted these still-impressionable kids. The answer seems to be that they really haven’t had the time to be affected at all.

"It’s all happened so fast," Johns said. "One minute we’re in school, the next we’re on tour. There really hasn’t been enough time for us to really understand what’s happened. All I know is that we’re trying to deal with it, and trying to enjoy it. Thankfully, all our parents have been really good about it. They’ve let us really go after it. Maybe they realize this is an incredible opportunity for us. If we decided to wait a few years, it may not have been the same. They’ve let us live out our dreams, and to be honest, I think they’re getting a thrill out of it too. In fact, I know they are."

[Thanks to Gaby for the transcript of this article.]