Silverchair, All Grown Up

By Jodi Summers (Hit Parader)

Believe it or not, way back in the days of our great grandparents there were no color movies, no television and heaven forbid, no MTV. For mass culture entertainment, people tuned into Amos & Andy on the radio, or paid a quarter to see a movie. It was a simple existence, kinda like living in the Australian outback. The most exciting time was when the carnival came to town and pitched its tents amid roaring elephants and electric atmosphere. Everybody was there to see this new and different spectacle -- it was the place to be.

The acrobats, clowns, and performing horses were cool, but Americans in particular loved the sensationalism, and for this reason, they especially loved the "freak show." People paid to see bearded ladies, Siamese twins and two-headed calves, anything that was peculiar or different drew their attention.

The members of the group silverchair are freaks in their own right. The album Freak Show is silverchair's second attempt at platinum, even thought guitarist/vocalist Daniel Johns, drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou are not even out of high school yet. They're too young to be full-fledged rock stars, yet they've seen too much of the world to be "normal" high school students in the backwaters of Newcastle, Australia. So silverchair exist in a strange twilight zome located somewhere between the teenage wasteland and the "real world;" it's a feeling that sometimes makes them feel like true members of a freak show. Recently Hit Parader had a chance to talk with Ben and Chris about the power and pleasure of being successful and 17.

Hit Parader: Do you really feel like life on the road is a freak show?
Chris Joannou: Our whole life is a freak show. We're in our final year in school and we've just released our second album. We should be touring more, but we're not because we have to be in school. I've asked me really good mates, if it's weird when we say, "We're going overseas for a week, we'll see you when we get back." They're like yeah, yeah, it's weird.
Ben Gillies: When we're on the road, everyone's always trying to get a look at us. Kids crowd the hotels. It totally makes you feel like you're a member of the old traveling freak shows with a dwarf and bearded ladies. Life on the road is fully a traveling circus. The whole thing about making rock and roll is that a band goes from one town into another town and sets up like a circus. As well, there are so many freaks in the music industry. So it seems like an appropiate name for an album.

HP: Your first album, frogstomp, went triple platunum in your native Australia, double platinum in the United States and Canada, and gold in New Zealand and the Philippines. Did you feel a lot of pressure to continue that success when you went into the studio to record your second album?
CJ: Not particularly, anything can change in the music business. One day you're not accepted and the next day you can be accepted by people. Things change, people have different tastes in music. So you can't really get your hopes up. You have to go in with the attitude that you don't know what to expect.

HP:Freak Show shows a lot more musical diversity than your debut. Are you influenced by new musical trends?
CJ: Not really. You just be yourself, and you can be that. You can't be what people want you to be. The playing on the new album is a lot better than the first album, as are the songs. Freak Show is a bit better all the way around.
BG: A lot of people think they're not being influenced by the trends, that they're not going to change. We're not influenced by the latest fashion, there's a lot more variety on this album. frogstomp was just there, it encompassed a smaller box. Freak Show encompasses a much bigger creative space, there's a lot more variety on it. Our world has gotten larger. The heavy songs are heavier, the quieter songs are quieter, and then we've got all these songs in between. There's a punk song, there's a song with Indian instruments on it, there's a song with strings. It's just better than the first album.

HP: Where did you find your influences for this record?
CJ: There's so much. For this record, we went back to old stuff like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, and listened to new stuff as well, like whole heaps of stuff from Tool, Korn, Quicksand and Rage Against The Machine.

HP: You live in Newcastle, Australia, and you recorded this album in Sydney, so your influences are decidedly Australian. What is the local music scene like in your country?
BG: You mean in Australia? We're not really influenced by Australian stuff because there aren't very many Australian bands that play the kind of music that we're into. Most Australian bands are into American pop kin of stuff. We do like some of the bands, but it's not the kind of music we're really into.

HP: What's Newcastle like?
BG: Newcastle is a small, industrial steel city. There's a big steel works there.
CJ: And heaps of beaches, it's right on the coast, it's very beach-oriented. It's not very big, only about half a million people there. The music scene is very pub rock, mostly cover bands. When we started silverchair, we didn't play around that much, the odd gig for a few people in a pub. That's about it. We only played gigs around Newcastle really, we never played in Sydney untiil we got our first deal.
BG: Fashion-wise the look is all paint on jeans, long hair, dark glasses, dark jeans, it's pretty funny. Musically, it's all four-four songs, very AC/DC.

HP: Are AC/DC still the most legendary Australian band?
BG: The most legendary hard rock touring band definitely.

HP: So if there's not really a whole lot happening musically in Newcastle, how did you get signed?
CJ: We won a demo competition and we got to record a song in a proper studio and make a small film clip for it. We recorded the song Tomorrow for a radio station, and it actually got played on air. Then the record company saw the film clip and liked the idea and they came to a gig where there was about 12 people and it just went from there.

HP: How has your success changed your life?
BG: It's like we're living two lives now. When you go home you're like every normal 17 year old, going to school, going to the beach, parties, hanging out with friends. Then you've got your other life where you get to travel around the world and meet millions of people. Each night you're playing for thousands of people and staying in nice hotels. It's pretty weird, but you get used to it.

HP: How has touring internationally changed your perspective on things?
CJ: It takes a while for it to sink in, and for you to realize what's happening to you. When we came to the States, we realized it was a whole, big adventure.

HP: What have been some of the standout experiences in your travels?
CJ: It was a big shock to see a city like New York for the first time, I was pretty excited about that. Sydney is like nothing compared to New York. It was just like straight out of the movies, everything I expected if to be -- a real freak show.
BG: We played the Whiskey, the same place the Doors played, that was great. Then we played the Santa Monica Pier, it was the biggest shocker we'd ever had. It was just a nightmare because the whole PA went down. We were screwed around by the PA people. They didn't give us proper generators to run the PA -- there was no power, we were pretty angry. The crowd was socko, so we were pretty happy about that. We've yet to play a good show in L.A. We're going to have to do that on this tour.

[Thanks to Katie and Haylee for their help.]