Silverchair, The Hottest Band at Edgefest

By Shawn Ohler (Edmonton Journal)

Silverchair bassist Chris Joannou, like the majority of people who'll see his band rip it up at Edgefest today, goes back to high school next week.

His buddies, drummer Ben Gillies and singer Daniel Johns, do too. In fact, they're all in the same grade -- 12 -- at the same school in Newcastle, Australia, a coastal city just down the road from Bulahdelah and a stone's throw from Budgewoi and Kurri-Kurri Weston. (North of Sydney, in other words.)

So, will they be mobbed on their return by starry-eyed classmates? Begged for autographs? Pressed for lurid details about the band's world tour?

"Nah, mate," Joannou said on the phone from Vancouver's Edgefest earlier this week, drawling his reply like an adenoidal Crocodile Dundee.

"It's nothing like that at all. We get treated the same as everyone else. It's cool. We've had the same friends for so long. They ask us how the tour was and we say it was great, and that's about that.

"We could act like rock stars, but whether people would like you or want to have a conversation with you is another thing. We decided when we were really young that the rock star thing didn't really work for us."

No kidding, really young.

silverchair recorded their first album, 1995's frogstomp, when the boys were barely 15. On the group's early tours, some of the band members' parents came along as chaperones.

But nothing on frogstomp betrayed the trio's tender ages, not the air-tight musicianship, not the efficiently derivative Seattle-sound song structures and certainly not Johns' Eddie Vedder-esque vocal growl.

Still, silverchair was mercilessly hassled about its youth immediately after frogstomp's release. The band was saddled with jeering nicknames -- silverhighchair, Soundkindergarden, Nirvana-in-Diapers -- and decried as little more than a novelty act.

But once hit singles started piling up - Tomorrow, Pure Massacre, Israel's Son - cynics quickly forgot about the band's ages.

"We knew we were going to get slagged for being young. It was just a matter of how long it was going to last. Luckily, it died pretty quickly," said Joannou, now a couple months shy of 18. (Johns and Gillies are both legal.)

"People started to judge us more on our music, and we'd just ignore it if someone asked us about it in interviews."

Once silverchair's second album Freak Show was released last year, the age thing was history.

Even the band's most vociferous critics recognized it as a solid hard rock record, just as intense, complex and varied as albums released by silverchair's older contemporaries.

"All that playing and experience we had when we were touring for frogstomp made Freak Show more refined and more heavy. More us," he said.

"We did frogstomp in 12 days and it was really simple. Freak Show's more what we want to sound like on album. frogstomp was a great starting point but it takes everyone one or two records to find out what they want to sound like."

After Joannou and his mates finish school, they'll tour Australia for the umpteenth time and then take two months off to do "absolutely nothing."

The band will start recording a third album in the new year, though Joannou says he hasn't a clue which direction it'll take.

"I don't really know. It could be reggae, it could be classical pop, it could have a 50-piece orchestra on it."

But it'll still be heavy, right?

"Oh, yeah. Of course."