The Daniel Johns Interview
By Dan Davis (Circus)
List the biggest surprises in the music biz over the last two years and Silverchair will be among the top of the lengthy list.
The Australian trio's debut disc, frogstomp, landed them at the top of the sales and radio charts as it sold over a million copies. Its hit single, Tomorrow, became an anthem for America's youth and helped propel the band to household name status.
Not too shabby for guitarist/vocalist Daniel Johns, bassist Chris Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies, considering they're still not old enough to drive in the good old U.S. of A. in many states.
With success there always seems to be detractors and silverchair garnered a ton of votes for "worst new band" at the same time they piled in for "best new band." Critics dubbed them a Nirvana rip-off and Johns a teenage pinup version of the late Kurt Cobain because of his blonde locks and throaty singing style.
But silverchair were not to be denied and took it all in stride. They toured successfully with the likes of alternative monsters as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and set out to prove they were not to be taken lightly.
Without hesitation, Johns and company set forth writing materials for their sophomore effort, and the band are continuing their journey into musical respect.
Freak Show is a collection of 13 songs that reflect the band's vision and memory of what has transpired in their short lives and their current success. The first single and video Abuse Me, as well as No Association and Freak, is currently a staple on MTV and radio and looks to be following the same path Tomorrow did two years ago.
Johns spoke to Circus while he was back down under to see how things have changed since frogstomp made waves. This is what the quiet but seemingly confident frontman had to say.
Circus: Since the last time we spoke, things have certainly gone on an extreme upward swing for silverchair.
Yeah, I think so. I'm not quite sure (laughs) but it appears that way at times (laughs)
How excited are you guys about the new album?
We're really happy with it. When we went in to record it and actually did it, we had a certain idea of how we wanted it to come out and it came out exactly how we wanted it.
In your experience as a musician, and in mine from speaking to musicians, that scenario is a rare one.
Yeah, usually you get things similar to how you wanted them but you don't usually get it exactly how you wanted it to sound. With this album we did and we're really happy with it.
Were you able to take things you learned during the recording of frogstomp and apply it to the recording of Freak Show?
All the experiences you have every time you go into a studio, you learn different things. You learn how to make different things better and use it the next time you go in.
What did the frogstomp experience teach you as a whole? Did you take the whole thing as a sort of educational experience?
The whole thing about sounds. When we went into to record frogstomp we had an idea but we really didn't know how to get it. So we just went in there and turned everything up to 10 and just played. With Freak Show we had ideas how we wanted each song to sound and how we wanted the guitars, the drums, the bass to sound.
Are you sick and tired of hearing people concentrate more on your age than the music? It seems the first thing out of people's mouths is usually about the youthful age of the band members.
Sometimes but it's kind of died down a lot now. It was really bad when we released the first album. The age thing has died down more these days so that's good.
What are some of the hightlights of the past year or so for you?
Just getting to play live to people who appreciate and understand the music was the best thing, really. That's always what we ever wanted to do. Just play to people who like the music and kind of [get] off on the music. That's really cool and the best part.
I'm sure it was also a huge thrill to play with and meet some of the bands that were an influence on your music.
Yeah. If we said [during an interview that] we liked a band and they would write in and say that they got the record, it was really cool. That's always good.
Just as the media has concentrated more on your ages than the music, they've seemingly written off a lot of your success. Do you think Freak Show will stop that once and for all and get you some of the respect you deserve?
I hope it's going to stop but you can never really tell. I think we've kind of gotten away from the comparisions with this album. I think we've tried to find a sound that's ours. People can hear it on the radio and know it's silverchair and that's all we've ever really wanted.
Tell me a little about Freak Show. How did you as a member of the band really see the album?
We wanted to go in there and make more of a diverse aibum than the first. Because on the first album we didn't want to get too experimental with the instruments and sounds so when people came to see us live knew it was us. And by doing that on the first album to experiment with sounds and instruments so we could make a more diverse album. We got in there and tried some different stuff and just make each song have a different sound or a different instrument that made it sound different to the other songs. We went in there and did it. We did some quiet songs and some loud ones and some heavy songs.
If you had to put the two albums side by side and pick one that epitomizes silverchair best, which one would you choose and why?
I definitely would choose the new one. Every band's first album always sounds a little like someone else. This album we seemed to have found the sound that we have and really like the sound of this record a ton.
What's in the works as far as touring goes for this record?
We [started] a small headlining tour in the States [ in Feburary] and then are coming back in April [to Australia] and will do a bigger one. But I'm not sure how were going to do it, whether it's going to be on our own or opening for someone.
When you and I last spoke, you had yet to come over to the States and play live. What was the biggest surprise for you guys playing here?
The best was just getting there and knowing that people on the other side of the world appreciate and understood the music. Knowing that people on the other side of the world can really like the music and enjoy it live.
Were you surpised about the level of success that was reached when you finally made it over here? That must have been overwhelming at times for you.
Yeah it was strange. I just felt really weird being in a different country and people knowing who we were.
How do you think the experiences and success you had with frogstomp effected you and your music?
I think musically or lyrically it makes it easier to write just because I've had more experiences to write about over the last couple of years. It's just good to have music there to kind of get enerything off your chest through music and that's a really cool outlet to have. Also, it's good to be able to play to people who like the music.
When you went back in and started to write this record, was it a tough adjustment getting out of "live mode?"
Not really because I just enjoy writing songs so much. Usually when we're home, Ben is going out every night and Chris is out with his girlfriend and for my own pleasure I sit in my room and write songs about stuff. So it wasn't hard. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this album.
Are you more a guiet homebody than other guys?
I just really don't like going out that much. I'd rather sit in my room and listen and watch telly and write songs.
So your social life hasn't changed all that much with the success you've achieved?
I never really went out that much to start with. I would just go out occasionally but i don't even go out as much as used to 'cause I can't be bothered (laughs). When you finally get time off you just want to relax and chill out..
What would you like to see happen as a result of Freak Show?
We don't really expect it to sell as well as the first record did. It doesn't have a song like Tomorrow on it. But we think people will hear the record as a whole and understand that we're just not a one album band. People will realize that we're kind of here to produce music and not for anything else. We just want to get away from comparisons. That's all we really want to do.
[Thanks to Katie for the transcript.]