Time for a Break
The taste of reality isn't always sweet -- but sometimes a slightly
saccharin sensation in the back of a young band's collective palate
provides the most valuable lesson that a group can ever learn.
From the moment their debut album, frogstomp, was released in their native Australia in early 1995, the members of silverchair have found themselves on what everyone believed was a one-way rock and roll express ride to the top. Wherever they turned, whatever they did, Daniel Johns, Chris Joannou, and Ben Gillies appeared to posses the modern day equivalent of the Midas touch: seemingly a mere glance from this charismatic threesome was enough to turn single to gold and albums to platinum. Their faces jumped out from countless magazine covers, their videos continually graced MTV airwaves and their first world wide tour proved to be a sold-out sensation from Sydney to San Fransisco.
This time around, however, things haven't gone quite as smoothly for this still-developing teenaged trio. While sales for their latest album have been more than respectable, thoe sales figures have so far failed to come close to matching the stellar performance of their debut disc. And on the tour trail, the silverboys have often been relegated (admittedly, by their own choice) to playing in clubs and small theaters -- places they would have invariably packed to beyond capacity at the height of their '95 ascendancy.
So what does all this information really mean? Has the proverbial bubble already burst for silverchair? Have the ever-shifting tastes of hard rock society -- as well as the ever more jaded opinions of the average contemporary music fan -- forced these budding Aussie sensations to temporarily derail their hit making machine? Nah. More than likely, any setbacks the boys are currently experiancing are in fact little more than bumps along the road to stardom -- perhaps just what the doctor ordered for guaranteeing the long-term success of what has been called "the freshest new band to hit the hard rock scene this decade."
"We were as surprised as anyone how well our first album did," Johns said. "We never had any idea what to expect. None of us ever even thought about it selling millions of copies and because of that being able to tour all over the world. All we wanted to do at the that time was to be successful enough to stay out of school for most of the year and have the chance to make a second album. Now that we've done that, we've changed our goals a little. Now we know what it's like to be successful as we can be -- as long as we can play the kind of music we like in the process."
Perhaps it is the music contained on Freak Show that provides us with the most telling clues reguarding any commercial problems that silverchair may be having in late '97. Steeped heavily in both the blues rock energies of '70's-era Zepplin and the angst-filled passions of '90's-era Nirvana, the music of silverchair is a unique (though obviously derivative) amalgam of classic rock and roll styles. Unquestionably, the still occationally unfocused songwriting skills of Johns have taken a bold step ahead on such new efforts as Petrol and Chlorine and Learn To Hate -- which in scope and execution leave such earlier radio-friendly hits as Israel's Son and Pure Massacre languishing in the creative dust. But for silverchair to make a true and lasting impression upon the hard rock landscape they certainly must continue to evolve as both writers and performers. The 'gimmick' of three 16-year-olds making a hit record obviously worked wonderfully back in 1995, providing the group with worldwide celebrity wealth. Unfortunately, that gimmick has proven somewhat less appealing two long years later.
"It's too early to really get a perspectative on silverchair," a spokesperson at the band's record label said. "I don't think anyone doubts that this may very well be one of the brightest rock and roll lights to come along in many years. They've got the look and the sound to make great music for the next 15 or 20 years, if that's what they choose to do. They've already exhibited an amazing degree of maturity for what still are three teenage kids. They're growing up, but at their own speed. I don't think anyone who understands this business doubted for one second, however, that there was going to be some degree of backlash against them this time. They just came too far too fast to be readily accepted by everyone. But they'll overcome that. After all Freak Show will probably end up selling a million copies or so before all is said and done." [NOTE: As of November 1997, Freak Show had sold 1.5 million copies.]
Whether or not their latest disc does finally reach platinum paradise at some point in the not-so-distant future, it still seems as if many aspects of silverchair's career remain wide open for speculation. But, at the same time, certain facts surrounding silverchair's somewhat aborted run for the top in 1997 have now come clearly into focus. It appears as if the band's obvious allegiance to the already dated Sounds of Seattle -- and Kurt Cobain in particular -- proved far less compelling to MTV programmers and the average rock and roll fan this time than they did the band's first time around. In addition, the group's still surprisingly stagnant stage presentation has left a number of loyal followers somewhat surprised; rather than developing into a dynamic and spotlight-grabbing frontman, the handsome, blond Daniel Johns continues to remain inexplicably distant and aloof on stage. While this may have been acceptable and almost "cute" when Daniel was 16, as his 19th birthday looms on the horizon, it appears that it's now time for him to grow up in both a creative and theatrical sense.
"Daniel is just Daniel," Gillies said. "You can't expect him to change that much. He's still the same person we grew up with, and that's not about to change that much. We've found it kind of funny that on one side we have people who are asking us to stay the same and to make sure that success doesn't go to our heads, and on the other side we have people who are asking us to stay the same and to make sure that success doesn't go to our heads, and on the other side we have people who think we should change. Thankfully, we don't have to listen to either side. We're happy just being ourselves. We're still just three guys from Australia out to see the world."
[Thanks to Tigerlily's silverchair Jungle for the transcript.]