Anticipation Builds for Silverchair Set

By Doug Reece (Billboard)

After the startlingly rapid success of Frogstomp, the 1995 debut album by Australian teen sensation Silverchair, Epic Records has prepared the band's sophomore set, Freak Show, with a far more deliberate marketing strategy.

John O'Donnell, director of the Australian label that signed the act, Murmur Records, says that the plan for Freak Show, which bows worldwide Feb. 4, has been carefully plotted since its completion last summer. O'Donnell says that during the ensuing months, the label squared away album art and fine-tuned marketing and sales details.

"The album was recorded in June, which essentially meant that we could have rushed to realease it in 1996 or put it out early 1997," he says. "All around, the extra time has been used very well."

Epic Records Group senior VP of sales Jim Scully says that the label has had a good reason to bide its time.

"This is probably the strongest realease for the [first] quarter, and we wanted to make sure that we had enough time and energy to release it properly," says Scully.

"This is a young group, and there's a lot of interest in them, but we're going to be cautious," he adds. "We're not trying to put a million albums out there, because we first want to make sure the band is in front of the consumers' faces."

frogstomp, which peaked at No. 9 on The Billboard 200 only three months after its release and has sold more than 1.7 million units in the U.S. according to SoundScan, has undoubtedly set a high standard for Epic.

Hastings Books, Music & Video senior music buyer Skip Young says that the Amarillo, Texas-based chain is awaiting the release "with much anticipation."

"We're excited about it, and I think that kids are, too," says Young. "The last album just kept selling well, and I don't think the band was even able to tour here because of their school schedule."

Epic senior VP David Massey says that while the label is sensitive to the fickle tastes of radio and a volatile retail environment, it is confident that the market will respond enthusiastically to Freak Show.

"We're not daunted at all [by the success of frogstomp]," he says. "We are quietly confident that this is the album that is going to take them to the next level. The feedback we're getting from press and radio is that it's like the band has skipped its second album and this is its third."

Indeed, though Freak Show contains a fair amount of straightforward familiar grunge elements, such as on the wailing refrain to Lie To Me, silverchair surprises with appealing symphonic elements on the rock ballad Cemetery.

silverchair drummer Ben Gillies says the new sounds came about after the band members found that a few of the songs they composed on acoustic guitar didn't translate properly in a full-on rock assalt.

"Cemetery just didn't suit drums, so we thought we would do something to make it a little more exciting, and that turned out to be the strings," he says. "And on Petrol & Chlorine, it just had an Arabic/Indian feel, so we started to use some Indian instruments. I guess it came from listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, too."

The band's songs are published by Fat Llama/Dirty Water Music.

Gillies also says that the band members, who are all 17 years old, felt more comfortable contributing their thoughts on production this time around.

"We spent a lot more time and were much more involved on this album," says Gillies. " On the last record, we were so young that we didn't know what was going on. Now that we're older, we knew what we wanted, and we knew some of the basics to getting to that."

To target the act's multimedia-savvy fans, Freak Show contains enhanced-CD features, including a band bio, interview footage, and in-studio and live performance clips.

The act will also remain active on the Internet, where O'Donnell estimates it has 30 dedicated World Wide Web sites.

Of those, Murmur selected a site run by fan Pete Walton as the official silverchair site. In addition to linking with Sony's site, it will begin a countdown 30 days prior to the album release date that features band diary entries and interview segments with the album's producer, Nick Launay.

The band members, who don't graduate from school until the end of 1997, will break from studying to perform in the top 20 U.S. markets during a month-long tour in February, followed by a nationwide U.S. tour from April 13 through May 14.

silverchair manager John Watson explains the band's tour schedule in biblical proportions.

"We're juggling around their schooling, and it's like trying to feed 5,000 with three loaves of bread," he says. "It made it more difficult, but I don't think the band is going to suffer."

The album's first single, Abuse Me, will go to modern and mainstream rock radio Jan. 13. The label serviced key markets with the album during the first week of November.

The band will appear on syndicated rock programs Rockline and Modern Rock Live. It is also returning to MTV, where it fared extremely well last year with the clip for Tomorrow. Videos for Abuse Me and Freak will both be in the can by the time of the album's release.

In Canada, the band is slated to perform and field questions on MuchMusic's Intimate and Interactive program during release week.

Epic will bolster these major efforts with fan-club mailings and fliers at concerts and board-sport events.

The label will also advertise an 800 number that will play snippets from the album.

As for the band members' youth, those involved with the project say that while they expect the usual gawking by the media, the music will eventually take center stage.

"It's one thing to be washed up at 32, but who wants to be washed up at 17?" says Watson. "The band delivered a great album, and we wanted to do justice to them by being in a position where all the pieces are in place."

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