Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Interview with Daniel Johns
By Dan Davis (The Aquarian Weekly)
Anyone who ever wanted to be a musician had the very same fantasy. Take
it back to when you were in high school. You were in a garage jamming
with some friends on some rock and roll standards like Back in Black or
maybe Paranoid. A name was given to the ensemble and other pals from
the neighborhood stood in awe as you put on your very best show for
them, a lawnmower, spare tires and whatever other crap your parents had
stored away in the garage.
One day one of your bandmates comes down with a new riff or a couple of chords strung together. You all start playing follow the leader and a song is made. Next thing you know you hop into a studio, cut a demo and now your band is complete. But wait! The demo gets in the hands of some guy at a radio station and in a whirlwind of events you win some contest and a record company executive signs this "garage" project. Now you score an MTV "Buzz" clip, have a bonafide alternative and metal radio hit on your hands and are getting set to go overseas to blow the roof off every venue that clamors to book you.
That was just a dream you just read, right? Perhaps to some but the beautiful thing about this world is that dreams do become reality and in the case of silverchair, welcome to planet reality. The band followed most of the simple steps that you just read and realized their rock and roll dreams.
From the land down under comes the heavy alternative trio that has set the music world on its collective arse with their debut album frogstomp. The Newcastle, Australia natives entered a June 1994 contest in their native land along with some 800 other bands. A song on the tape, tomorrow, won the whole kit and caboodle for them and sent them into a recording studio owned by Australia's national alternative radio station. In that precious day in the studio, silverchair re-recorded tomorrow and that very same radio station jumped all over it. Soon enough the song was one of the most requested and most played songs in Australia before the band had even spoken to anyone from a record label.
The band next were picked up by a small indie label in their homeland and released a four-song EP. Epic Records signed the band and in yet another whirlwind of events the band have used their track Tomorrow to show that three's a charm as the song has MTV, radio and the written media turning the band into stars seemingly overnight.
One of the weird things about silverchair is that none of these musicians are out of their teens! Daniel Johns sings with the same ferocity that he picks his guitar riffs with, Chris Joannou hits notes on the bass that can jar fillings loose and Ben Gillies holds it all together with his calculated bashing of rhythms on the drums. All three play and write beyond their years. I let my fingers do the walkabout and spoke with Daniel shortly before the band were [preparing] to embark on [an] American tour.
AW: Hey Daniel, how are things going over there?
DJ: Pretty good.
AW: How long have you three been together? It certainly sounds like it's been a while.
DJ: We've been together for about three years.
AW: Has the evolution of silverchair from those beginnings to now been a whirlwind of events for you or what?
DJ: We really didn't play that many gigs live for about two years. We had only played about five gigs in that two-year period because every time we played we didn't get more than 10 people at a show. Then, over the last year we started playing a bunch more gigs and entered the competition and that's when we got the contracts.
AW: How has the change to being a signed band been for you? Were the adjustments tough for you guys to make?
DJ: Not really. It's just about the same except we travel more now. (laughs)
AW: You guys are presently gearing up for your first American tour...
DJ: It's not our first but it's our first real tour. We went over once before and played like three gigs, just small gigs, and it was pretty good fun.
AW: And I'm sure you guys are attracting more than 10 people at a show these days. (laughs)
DJ: A little bit more! (laughs)
AW: Have you been receiving the news as to how well the record and single have been doing in the States? Are you really prepared for how you are going to be received over here?
DJ: Not really. We know it's going pretty all right on the Billboard charts, I think that's what it's called, it's going OK there. That's all we really know. I hope people like us.
AW: Is there anything like MTV in Australia that dictates the music scene as much as it does here in the States?
DJ: We don't have MTV. There's only like one music television show and that's on once a week at one o'clock in the morning and it goes till like nine and that's it. There's no real music television, there's only radio.
AW: So does radio have a huge impact on things in music? Here it's like MTV first, radio second. Is radio the only way for a band to build a buzz up in Australia?
DJ: It's usually just radio. It depends on what kind of band. Really mainstream bands are built up really on image and mainstream radio. In Australia, bands that are more alternative it's mainly just the music doing the talking and there's one alternative radio station called 2JJJ-FM that goes around Australia. They're the main thing that can make an alternative band successful in Australia.
AW: After seeing the American scene a little, how would you compare the scene here in the states with the scene in Australia?
DJ: We really didn't get to see as much in America as we wanted to the last time but from what I could see there weren't that many differences. A lot of bands play the same kinds of music and the same kind of stuff was being played on the alternative radio stations. The crowds were doing the same kind of things to heavy music like jumping around and that kind of stuff. It was really similar from what I saw but there might be other scenes that I didn't see that might be a lot different.
AW: One thing the media has really picked up on with silverchair is your ages. You guys are all 15. Do you feel that too much emphasis has been put on that fact rather than the music?
DJ: We're kind of used to it. In Australia that's all that people used to talk about. Then people really started focusing on the music. It really doesn't bother us that people talk about us in the mags. After all they're just going to get sick of focusing on that and are just going to have to think of something else. (laughs)
AW: Tomorrow has been receiving a ton of airplay here. Do you feel that it has been worked to the right markets? People here picture you as grunge or a heavy alternative band. Is that how you would describe silverchair?
DJ: Kind of, yeah, I guess so. We really don't like it when people say that we're a grunge band because there's only like one song that's influenced by that Pearl Jam or Soundgarden kind of sound. The rest of the album is more influenced by the New York hardcore scene and bands like Quicksand, Helmet, Tool, Rollins Band, stuff like that. Heavy alternative would be better than grunge.
AW: You just mentioned Quicksand, I just saw them on this big tour with a bunch of hardcore bands.
DJ: Really, who played?
AW: It was Quicksand, 17, Sick of It All...
DJ: They're unreal, that band.
AW: There was a ton of really cool bands, you would have loved it. What kind of stuff are you seeing being really popular around the world?
DJ: In Europe it's all hip-hop and it's just so annoying. Everyday you just see hip-hop and just go, "Oh fuck." (laughs) When we were in America, it was just totally different, it was so good, because every time you turned on the radio you'd hear a good band like Smashing Pumpkins or a Tool song and we'd be saying, "All right, this is good." (laughs) I don't know what the next trend is going to be but punk is real big in Europe at the moment so I reckon that punk will be popular for a long time.
AW: Who would you say are your influences as a songwriter? I would imagine that there would be a lot of recent bands in there.
DJ: Yeah. When we first started we were really influenced by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and then we started getting into Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and after that it was the New York hardcore scene.
AW: How did you get into the New York hardcore scene?
DJ: My next door neighbor is really into all this alternative hardcore kind of music. Every band I ever get into is usually from her. If I like it I would just go try and find the CD or just try to steal her CD. (laughs)
AW: Have you guys been offered to open for other bands or would you prefer to headline your own tours?
DJ: It would be good to support an alternative band that could get you the right kind of exposure. On this next tour we're just playing our own small little shows and hoping that they go pretty good.
AW: Where did you guys get the name for the record frogstomp?
DJ: I was at a guy from our record company's house one night and I was looking through his CDs because he's got a really good collection. I found this '60s pop collection record and I was just going (laughs), "Why do you have this?" I looked at the back and there was this song that some guy did called frogstomp and I said, "That's a pretty good name." (laughs) I just rang up Ben and Chris and we just thought it was really funny so we used it for the album.
AW: You guys took a real grass roots approach in the beginning to promote this album, opting for fanzines instead of larger publications. Why was this?
DJ: Because we're like 15, if we did teen press and things like that, we would be getting the wrong kind of audience. We're not going for the same people that listen to Bon Jovi and that kind of stuff. We just wanted to reach the alternative press, street press, fanzines, guitar mags and stuff like that. We really didn't do anything like Rolling Stone until after people already had an idea of who we were or what we are like.
AW: Obviously because of your ages there are things you can't do that your fellow musicians do. For one you still can't drink legally. Do you have problems playing over age clubs?
DJ: (laughs) In Australia the drinking age is 18. Most bands, when they play, do all-ages gigs. Most of the time when you do all-ages gigs a lot of people just get drink before it. (laughs) We didn't do any all-ages gigs for about four months because we didn't want people to think that we were just a teen band and we wanted to appeal to a teenage audience. After we got established enough we started playing more all-ages kinds of shows.
AW: Do you see a difference between the all-ages crowd and the older crowds?
DJ: Not really. They both do exactly the same things. When you play they just jump all around and smash into each other and totally fuck themselves up. (laughs)
AW: Do you have girls or groupies following you around Australia?
DJ: I hate that term groupies. Every time I hear it, it reminds me of Poison or something. (laughs) We just want to play.
AW: What are some of the things you're looking forward to achieving in your career? You had the opportunity to start out at a young age and really achieve more than most people get to. Do you have any goals set for yourselves?
DJ: Not really. Our only goal is to keep doing it for fun. As soon as it's not fun any more and as soon as we start getting really pissed off at each other and it's not fun to do we're just going to stop. At the moment it's really good and we're enjoying it and we don't really give a shit about what people think. That's just the best way to go, I reckon. You don't care what people think 'cause then it doesn't really bother you what people say. You say, "Well, who cares."
AW: Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
DJ: Most of the songs are about a lot of stuff you see on telly like documentaries, stuff you see going around you and our dreams.
AW: What was the inspiration behind Tomorrow?
DJ: That was on a TV show. There was this poor guy taking a rich guy through a hotel to experience the losses of the less fortunate than him. The rich guy is just complaining because he just wants to get out and the poor guy is saying you have to wait till tomorrow to get out. That's one of our least serious songs but it still has meaning to it.
AW: How does it feel when people say to you that you sound much older? Your voice sounds so powerful and the band's musicianship sounds very mature as well.
DJ: Oh, thanks. I never had singing lessons and I had some classical lessons on the guitar for about a year but that's about it. It feels really good that people are paying attention to the music.
AW: What would your dream gig be?
DJ: Us opening and then Quicksand, Tool, Helmet, Rollins Band and Soundgarden. It won't happen but that would be really cool. (laughs) You said dream gig.
AW: I read in your bio that frogstomp was recorded in nine days. Do you see yourselves working that fast all the time? You have to be pleased with the outcome on frogstomp?
DJ: We went in to record this album quick rather than this really expensive record where people would be saying we couldn't perform the stuff live. We went in, cut the tracks live, threw an extra guitar track down and that was it. Just so people knew how we sounded and just so people could get the true idea of what we are like. We didn't want to look like shit compared to the record when we play live. (laughs) We're heavier live, though. The next record we might take two, two-and-a-half weeks maybe.
AW: Wow, do you think the record company will give you that big of a budget? You better not take your time! What can people expect when they finally see silverchair live?
DJ: For starters, we're heavier live than on the record. We don't have these big light shows and big backdrops, we just get up there and try to enjoy ourselves. We're just three guys getting up there, playing some heavy music and then walking off.