Silverchair - Heirs to the Throne
When musician/writer Nick Fowler reviewed silverchair's frogstomp in October's Metal Edge, he had no idea the guys in the band were in their mid-teens. He based his extremely positive write-up on musical merit alone, and that, according to silverchair bassist Chris Joannou, is the whole idea.
When the trio (Chris, vocalist/guitarist Daniel Johns and drummer Ben Gillies) first started getting attention in their native Australia, naturally many teen magazines wanted interviews. The band, however, decided to stick to doing music press. What they wanted to avoid was "a hype sort of thing," explains Chris. "As soon as the hype dies, the band would die, so we went for a thing where the music does all the talking." Based on the success of single/video Tomorrow and frogstomp in general, lots of people are listening.
Though silverchair's music immediately calls to mind such influences as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana, the strength of the songs and tight musicianship would be impressive in a band of guys in their twenties. That two 15-year olds and a 16 year-old (Daniel) wrote and performed it is really nothing short of amazing.
We spoke to Chris the day after silverchair played Radio City Music Hall right before the MTV Video Awards were broadcast. (Actually, the band played two songs from atop the venerable venue's marquee -- a unique and somewhat precarious vantage point -- as part of the pre-show festivities. Chris understatedly describes the experience as "different.") The guys were in New York for their headlining show at the Academy the following night, one of several U.S. tour dates.
It's been a rather quick ride to the top for the three surfing pals from Newcastle, an industrial beach town that Chris describes as "quite different from this [New York]! It's a suburban sort of area, a lot of houses on the beach." According to the bassist, "I've known Ben since I was about five and we met Daniel about five years ago." Originally, Daniel and Ben started jamming together, "just sort of mucking around." When Chris joined on bass, they began to play for real, "covers and stuff, that's how we learned things," he says. "Doors and Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple." Soon Daniel and Ben were writing their own songs.
Last June, silverchair entered Tomorrow in a national demo competition. Chosen over 800 entries, they won a day in the recording studio. The recut version of the song was added to Australia's national radio station 2JJJ-FM, eventually going to No. 1. The band signed with Australian label Murmur and released an EP that included Tomorrow and three other songs. It was a monstrous hit, as was follow-up frogstomp, the first debut album by an Australian band to enter that country's charts as No. 1.
This past summer, silverchair played three U.S. shows before returning home to continue school (which goes from February to December Down Under, including two two-week breaks). When they returned for their recent U.S. tour, audiences were starting to react like those back home, and in some cases, even wilder. "A couple of them have been a bit rowdy," notes Chris. "It's good to watch...You get a vibe off it for sure." As for the unreality of it all, "It did happen pretty quick," he admits of the band's success in America. "It was sort of a big shock because when we were at home, we didn't know that it was really going to happen [in the U.S.], then when we came over, it was like 'OK, this is happening!'"
Chris isn't sure how much life has changed back in Australia: "We haven't been back there for awhile. We went away for a month, went back for two weeks, then came out again."
When asked what keeps the guys amidst all this hoopla, Chris is quick to reply, "Going to school." silverchair could have easily done many more U.S. dates, but returned home in mid-September to complete the school term that had already started. "We're missing it now," chuckled Chris, "but we'll just catch up when we get back ... We never intended to quit school for the band. It seemed like a wise idea to have a bit of both, so if something drops out, at least you have one or the other later on." Wise indeed, and something that the guys' parents no doubt are happy about. "Yeah, they help us out," says Chris the band's collective parental support.
This past summer, silverchair got the chance to play several European festivals and check out some of their favorite bands including Primus, Mudhoney, Neil Young and Soundgarden. Chris named the Rollins Band, Tool and fellow Aussies You Am I as some of his current faves. Judging from their Academy show, silverchair can easily hold their own with all of the above.
Much heavier than they are on record, their overall tightness and ease of execution -- plus Daniel's heart-stopping vocals -- had audience members twice their age shaking heads in admiration. The band included a few new songs that will probably be included on their second album, which they plan to start recording in March. Chris predicts it will "probably be a bit heavier, not like Pantera-heavy, but heavier riffs, and a bit slower as well."
The bassist laughs at one of the many silly rumors that have attached themselves to silverchair, an inevitability for any entertainer in the public eye. "Someone said that I had a heroin addiction ... what else? The little teen magazines have lots of them, they make up things." He, Daniel and Ben have been taking this sort of thing in stride. It's obvious from their admiration and enthusiasm for certain bands and music that they still feel more like fans themselves than rock stars. They're not yet used to being asked for advice, pointers for other up-and-coming bands, for instance. "I don't know," muses Chris. "Just try and play as much as you can, get as much exposure as possible. And if anyone tries to put you down, just say, "Well, I want to do this." It doesn't hurt to sound really good either."