Sounds like Teen Spirit, Young Alternative Rockers Silverchair have a Score to Settle

By Kieran Grant (Toronto Sun)

Upstanding teens silverchair packed their second album, Freak Show, with enough sullen angst to bum out rock fans for yet another year.

Almost enough to hide the fact that behind the apathy, the Australian rock trio had a score to settle.

"It's good to be able to say f--- you to everyone who said we weren't capable of producing a second album," says silverchair singer Daniel Johns, during a recent visit promoting the disc.

"I hated it when people thought we'd just burn out after the last one. It's good to be able to prove them wrong with a better album."

silverchair's fairytale rise is by now firmly ensconced in '90s rock lore. Here's a refresher course all the same:

The trio won a 1994 talent contest with their song Tomorrow. It became a hit. They made an album, frogstomp. It sold four million copies.
At 15, singer Daniel Johns, drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou were Australia's biggest musical export ever.

Of course, there were those who said it wouldn't last. They had their reasons. silverchair's overly familiar sound was as remarkable as their technical skill. frogstomp was often dismissed as a Seattle-scene clone spinning on a Pearl Jam-Nirvana-Soundgarden axis.

Freak Show has somehow fulfilled the prophecies of silverchair's detractors and supporters: It's a stronger and less popular album.

After scraping Billboard's Top 10 -- it peaked at No. 12 -- Freak Show is steadily sliding off the charts.

But regardless of how it sells, Freak Show has come as a surprise to anyone expecting another disc of by-the-numbers grunge. The album's sound is all silverchair.

"We got compared to all the Seattle bands, I guess, 'cause they had similar influences to us," says Johns. "We didn't want to sound like Soundgarden, even though we like them.

"We've listened to music like Sabbath, Zeppelin, Deep Purple and all that '70s rock stuff since we were, like, 11 or 12. On this album, it's a lot more evident."

True to non-plussed form, Johns is selling silverchair short. He waits for his interviewer to point out that rather than ape their hard rock forefathers, the band enlisted producer Nick Launay -- whose resume includes work with rock oddities like the Talking Heads, PiL and Killing Joke -- to lace Freak Show's sonic thud with string arrangements, sitar and timpanis.

"Nick's done some seriously weird shit," Johns says with a grin, "and if you saw him, he's like a praying mantis with glasses. He's like a mad scientist. We could have done a lot more on this album. But if you start going too over the top, it becomes more of a novelty thing rather than taking it seriously."

Serious it is. Two years of touring and fame are audible, from Johns' cynical words to the group's more adventurous tunes. You'd almost forget they had fun making the record.

"We were open to experimenting, and it was cool," says Johns.

The singer-guitarist concedes that silverchair underwent a growth spurt with the new album. And while the band still bristles at any suggestion of age, Johns doesn't dispute that their youth was a problem last time.

"We didn't have any of our own experiences," Johns says. "Our whole life was sitting around at home, or going to the beach and being bored. Between the two albums we experienced a lot and I had more to draw from. "When you're 15 or 16, you can kinda understand the crap that goes on about your age. Although it's only a year or two, by 17 or 18 you've grown up a lot. "There's a lot of 18-year-olds in bands out there. But age isn't an issue for younger listeners. If anything, it gives them confidence that young bands can get somewhere."

Johns half-jokingly admits that much of the concept behind Freak Show was inspired by the sideshow effects of being the youngest alternative rockers around. "The Freak Show concept is a bit of an exaggeration," says Johns. "But people would perceive us as being different, treat us differently because we were in a band. And not in a good way."

Johns says silverchair never set out to become pop stars, and won't be heartbroken if they don't stay that way. "We just want to play music and hope that people like it," he says. "Most people we knew keep us normal, as down-to-earth as possible."


silverchair plays the International Centre in Mississauga April 25.

In short stints until they finish high school next year. Meanwhile, they have a tutor on the road.

"I think it's the same for us as it is for any teenager that's in school. We're just waiting for the freedom of graduation."

As for sharing a classroom with fellow students who might wear silverchair T-shirts, Gillies is modest.

"Anyone who goes to our school that does like our band doesn't acknowledge the fact," he says. "Our close friends don't care who we are. To them we're the same people we always were."