Silverchair - Teens Love the Viper...and We Don't Mean the Viper Room!

By Katherine Turnman (BAM Magazine)

Silverchair drummer Ben Gillies is disarmingly forthright and unabashedly guileless, as only a teenager can be -- full of unbridled innocence and enthusiasm. True, much has been made of this Australian trio's youth -- too much, perhaps. But that 16-year-old enthusiasm is definitely evident in Gillies' conversation, if not on the band's surprisingly mature Epic Records debut, frogstomp, and the instantly memorable if not overly original single, Tomorrow.

Although musically mature, silverchair -- rounded out by singer/guitarist Daniel Johns and bassist Chris Joannou -- are still very much a product of their influences. In fact, Gillies notes that one of his group's most asked questions is whether they like getting compared to other bands. For the record, it's as emphatic a "no" as the easygoing drummer can muster. Still, he's not above paying homage to his faves -- he's eager, in fact.

"The next album is going to be a lot heavier," he assures. "And we'll get a bit of a different audience on the next album. That's just they way it's happening. We were really influenced by Pearl Jam, but we're not influenced by them anymore. The few songs on the album that sound like they have a Pearl Jam influence were 'cause we wrote them a long time ago. Now, all the stuff we're writing is, like, all Helmet-influenced. Tool, Soundgarden. Heavier bands."

Ah, the "H" word. And the members of silverchair are all major Helmet fans. Major. "Have you ever interviewed [Helmet singer] Page Hamilton?" Gillies queries, enthusiastically. "Well, I reckon they're one of the best bands in the world," he continues in all seriousness. In fact, when asked about his fondest dream, the drummer replies, "To play with Helmet. But it would have to be a theater, like with a bottom level and a top level." Which naturally segues into an ardent discourse of his dream bill. "I'd give you the best concert that would ever go down, right? Helmet, Soundgarden, Primus, Tool, Page and Plant, ummm, let me think. How about the Doors, if he was still alive? John Bonham by himself doing a solo. And then everyone getting on stage and just going haywire. That is the concert of the whole world. That would be the best concert ever!" Spoken like a true 16-year-old!

Short of the best-ever concert, silverchair are still having a pretty good time themselves at concert halls worldwide. They're heading off to Germany before returning to the States for the second time this month. And they say that the first journey to America was pretty swell. The highlight? Magic Mountain! "It was cool," gushes Gillies. "So cool. That roller coaster, the Viper! Me and [singer] Johnsy went on it four times. But I held on. No way did I put my hands in the air! Magic Mountain was probably the highlight of our trip, and that was our second day here, so it was really bad. It would have been better if we'd a lot more time. We only had about two hours time there, but we got four trips on the Viper, so I was happy."

The band's moniker even reflects this innocent happiness. It came from a combination of two songs, as Gillies explains. "Sliver by Nirvana -- I'm not saying I like Nirvana, but I was just curious to hear the song -- and Berlin Chair by You Am I. We were ringing up radio stations, and those were the two we wanted to request, so we told Chris to write then down abbreviated, and instead of writing Sliver and Chair, he swapped the letters and it became 'silverchair.' And there you go."

And so they went. Climbing charts and touring the world -- with their moms as chaperones. But contrary to what one might expect, Gillies doesn't seem to mind ol' mumsy hangin' around. "Well, we can't get into the venues that sell liquor, so they have to come with us to be guardians." Still, most 15 and 16-year-olds like to drink anyway... Gillies chuckles. "I'm not answering that question! But it's not too bad [to have moms on the road]. Sometimes I don't know why they come. Usually, we don't even see them. It's really weird; the only time we'll see them is when they say goodnight, and that will be it."

As for the girls who always seen to be an integral part of the rock world, it seems that this group's raging teenage hormones are not out of hand yet. Or else Gillies is a good liar. "I really don't take any notice [of girls in the audience]. I really don't. I just play. [As a drummer] I've got a shit view anyway. A couple of cymbals. I can't see jack." Nothing a drum riser wouldn't solve, though. Gillies laughingly demurs, "That's too rock-starish."

At the moment, silverchair's most pressing agenda entails balancing an increasingly high profile in the rock world with surfing, school and working through their own teenage angst. "We've started writing some new stuff, and at the moment, we're just concentrating on touring and school and having fun," says the drummer. "We usually don't do schoolwork on the road, though," he says with typically disarming innocence. "We catch up when we get home."

At least it's no doubt they'll be earning A's in their music classes!