Shine On Silverchair, Oz High School Band Sidesteps the 'Sophmore Slump'

By Jennie Punter (Toronto Star)

Sand, surf and sun -- the main elements in a day in the life of most Australian teenagers this month -- are but distant, really distant, memories to the antipodean trio silverchair, whose second album, Freak Show, hits North American stores today.

The high school rockers, whose multi-platinum debut, frogstomp, hit our shores in June 1995, will likely encounter snow, soundchecks and the screams of fans during their "summer break," a jam-packed jaunt across the continent that lands them at MuchMusic headquarters tonight.

The broadcast of the Intimate & Interactive session, hosted by VJ Bill Welychka, begins at 8 p.m.

Television remains the ultimate all-ages venue for the 17 and 18-year-olds whose parents, triumvirates of moms (guitarist-singer Daniel Johns' mother was the band's first manager) and roadie dads, have had to accompany them on previous tours that included licensed rooms.


While tonight's show is the only live date the band plays in Canada this time out, the hearty response to Freak Show's first [North Amercian] single, the dreamy, slow-paced Abuse Me, and its stylish video indicates they will undoubtedly return when our climate warms up.

The single, which made its U.S. debut at No. 5 on Billboard's rock singles chart, climbs to the No. 6 spot on this week's rock radio chart in Canada, so far silverchair's best territory outside of their homeland.

And with the debut of the first Australian single, Freak, at the top of the charts Down Under, the natives of Newcastle -- a coastal city north of Sydney -- seem to have side-stepped not only the dreaded "sophomore slump" but also the critical backlash bands often experience after a massively successful debut.

Which is not to say the trio didn't feel the weight of anticipation upon entering a Sydney studio last year with producer Nick Launay (Midnight Oil, The Posies, for Squirrels), whom they first met when he did an edit of Tomorrow, the breakthrough single from frogstomp.

"The pressure was in the back of our heads but it wasn't a major thing for us," says Daniel Johns, as the long-distance barks of his "best friend," a little black dog named Sweep, echo in the background.

"We didn't set out to write an album that was going to sell," he continues. "It doesn't have a song like Tomorrow. But we hope people hear it and understand we're not just a one-album band.

"Since making the first album, I think we've found our own little sound," Johns says. Indeed, more than an ocean connected the early strains of silverchair to Puget Sound, specifically, the sounds of the Seattle grunge scene -- Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden et al.

Perhaps true teenage angst, the band's unpretentious demeanor, and an honest laissez-faire attitude towards chart positions and other accolades steered silverchair clear of the more critical slings and arrows that hit bands like the U.K.'s Bush X.

Grunge as an influence seems more acceptable when heard in a band of 15-year-olds as opposed to those almost twice their age.


And on Freak Show, Johns, drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou demonstrate an accelerated maturity that has much to do with growing up while seeing the world, albeit touring with bands like Everclear and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, maybe more importantly, expanding their CD collections -- as any music-loving teenagers with decent allowances would do.

"Musically, the album was pretty much written the same way," says Johns, who first jammed on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin covers, with his bandmates in Gilles' garage when they were 14.

"But lyrically, it's a lot more personal, more real, about things that happened to us at home with people or on the road," he adds. While most of the money the band had made -- reportedly $1 million U.S. each thus far -- is being held in trust accounts, some of it has helped indulge Johns' passion for axes.

"I've got about 22 guitars now, and they're all up in my room," he says.

"When we got our first advance in Australia, I bought a nice Gibson. I like collecting old rare guitars," he continues. "I take about 15 of them on the road. I write on different guitars, depending on the mood."

"We're just going to concentrate on the music for a while." Johns says, when asked what he'll pursue after high school graduation.

"If this whole thing is still going, we'll try to make the most of it while we can."