Silverchair Let their Freak Flag Fly

(Rolling Stone)

Daniel Johns needs a watch. Badly. And although Silverchair's singer and guitarist could afford the real thing, he and bassist Chris Joannou are embarking on a famed New York tradition: buying fake Rolexes. They scamper out of a midtown studio, where they're recording B-sides for their new album, Freak Show, and find a shop that carries the (fake) real deal.

After two minutes of haggling, Johns and Joannou exit in fits of laughter. "Out of my store!" the owner booms. The two 17-year-olds hotfoot it back to the studio to share their exploits with drummer Ben Gillies and manager John Watson, who rolls his eyes. "These boys," he sighs.

These boys are growing up quickly. They had barely cleared puberty when they sold 4 million copies of their debut, 1995's frogstomp, and toured the world with grown-up kids like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Throughout, silverchair kept their refreshing what-the-fuck attiude toward everything except music. "On the first album, we didn't have much input into how the songs sounded," says Johns, relaxing in the studio's lounge and waiting for a summons from producer Nick Launay (PiL, Talking Heads) "We just played."

"Now that we're older," deadpans Joannou, fiddling with his bug-eyed Oakleys, "we know what we want."

If frogstomp was a sprawling slab of sound, Freak Show is more diverse, with bursts of guitar blending easily with strings, acoustic moments and quasi-Indian elements. Opening with the machine-gun punch of Slave and Freak, Freak Show careens from muscular, radio-friendly anthems (Abuse Me, the first single) to a mainline shot of punk adrenalin (Lie To Me) to -- gasp!-- a quiet ballad (Cemetery). This album is a more mature effort, but one that Johns says, as only a 17-year-old can, is "big and a little messy."

"We wanted a cross between a tight-sounding metal album and something that [Steve] Albini would do," Johns elaborates. The two have thrown Nirvana producer Albini's name out a half-dozen times. So why didn't they have him produce Freak Show? "Everyone would say we did it because Nirvana did," says Johns. silverchair was dubbed Nirvana in Diapers by critics, who blasted the band's familiar sound. Frankly, Freak Show will do little to convert the detractors, something completely lost on Johns and Joannou. "The only reason we were compared to Nirvana was Daniel's hair," Joannou says with all seriousness.

"I though about cutting it," Johns admits, toying with his locks. "But I don't want to give critics the satisfaction."

Joannou sees that his friend is riled up, so he breaks wind, to uproarious laughter. This quintessential moment of teen high comedy underscores their tender age, but the group has uncanny wisdom about its future. "We weren't mucking around as much on this record," says Joannou. "You want to look back and think, 'We had fun making that album and it was good.' After the first one, you think, 'Shit, we want to do this for the rest of our lives.'"

"But I don't want to do this for the rest of my life," interjects Johns.

"Yeah," Joannou says, looking at his mate, "I don't, either."

[Thanks to Gem's silverchair page for the transcript.]