Troubled Child

By Ashley Bird (Kerrang!)

On June 28, Silverchair's frontman Daniel Johns was accused of stalking and threatening to kill 26 year old Emily Spencer. The case was thrown out of court- but for a man who has battled anorexia and been through therapy it could have been the final straw...

At the start of 1998, after finishing the Freak Show tour, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns would refuse to leave his home in Newcastle, Australia because of an irrational fear of the people around him. he was also battling with anorexia and seeing a therapist regularly.

A year later, having successfully overcome some of his personal demons, he stepped out again to tour their new record Neon Ballroom. Then a 26-year-old calling herself Emily Spenser, took him to court claming he had stalked her and threatened to kill her. On June 28, she applied for an ‘Apprehended Violence Order’ against Johns.

The charge were eventually withdrawn after the accuser admitted she was lying. Johns issued a statement saying: "These completely false charges and the sensationalised media coverage have been very upsetting for myself and my family. I’m glad the truth has finally come out."

Cut to August 29, 1999. Daniel is sitting on the doorstep of silverchair's dressing room backstage at the Reading Festival having his photo taken for Kerrang!. Arms folded in front of him, he look frighteningly pale, desperately uncomfortable, and so thin that you could hit him with a feather and snap him in half. It's clear that this is a young man who still has a lot of problems. His bandmates appear from inside the Portakabin and gather around a table for our interview. Bassist Chris Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies look happy and healthy, if a little tired. By contrast, Johns hides behind a pair of gold rimmed aviator shades, spends most of his time looking down and speaks quietly and slowly.

Kerrang!: How do you feel about the Emily Spencer case?
Daniel: "Well, this kind of thing has happened a few times before, but for some reason this one got pretty advanced in the court case before she was proved to be a bit of a headcase. I’d never even met her. The way the law is meant that I had to pay for all the legal costs. It’s such a stupid law. "I wasn't really worried, I was more annoyed. It was so frustrating, because everyone knew I'd never be proved guilty because I'd never even met her. But the people around me had to go to so much trouble and I had to put up with a lot of crap for a while, until everyone realised that I didn't actually do it. It also created a lot of work for my family in having to deal with all that crap."
Ben: "It just pisses you off. The fact that people can just make up shit and people take it seriously is pretty shit. It makes me really angry."

Kerrang!: Daniel, there was a time in your life when you were scared of everyone around you. Has this brought it all back?
Daniel: "Not really, because I'm on a certain medication which stabilizes everything. For a while it made me a little bit more paranoid, but eventually the medication keeps it in check so it's relatively easy."

Kerrang!: Ben and Chris, can you help Daniel?
Chris: "it's not like we can do that much- it's just something he's got to get through and battle, cos he's a good little Aussie battler."
Ben: "It's all very personal, he just has to deal with it himself."

Kerrang!: Who do you turn to when things are difficult?
Daniel: "I dunno. Just like everyone else- family and friends, I guess. But all our friends, not including the band, are back at home, doing their own thing."

Kerrang!: Is the band having fun on the road at the moment, or is it all hard work?
Chris: "I'm having heaps of fun actually."
Daniel: "I don't think it's too much hard work at the moment. It's just not particularly exciting. Playing is good- we always enjoy that and it kind of makes it worthwhile- but the rest of the day is neither hard work nor fun. You're just kind waiting around, doing nothing."
Chris: "We went through our worst patch at the end of the Freak Show tour. We were really sick of touring and didn’t want to play any more. Everyone had kind of had enough. I think the break we had- recording the album and having some time off- has meant that this tour has felt totally different. It’s good."

Kerrang!: Do you ever think that all the hassle just isn't worth it and you'd like to be anonymous again?
Daniel: "That would be nice, but I think you can always get that afterwards. Once you'd had a certain time away I think people would forget about you and you could live a relatively normal life after that. I hope so anyway."
Ben: "This isn't the kind of job you do for 30 years, unless you're the Rolling Stones. It's a once in a lifetime thing and you just have to do it, because it's like a dream."

Kerrang!: Daniel, you’ve been compared to Kurt Cobain throughout your career. Can you now relate to his situation?
Daniel: "Yeah, but I think the distorted mind created by his drug use would dramatically distort what is happening, and a lot of his problems were down to drugs. But you can definitely relate to the pressures of it a lot more once you’ve experiences something along the lines of what he was experiencing. He had it all on a much bigger level, though."

Kerrang!: Do your families find it hard to watch you go through this stuff?
Chris: "I think they’ve grown with it as well, just as much as we have. You know, at home it’s still a normal lifestyle for me- Mum still tells me to do stuff and there’s nothing out of the ordinary, which helps you keep some sense of normality."
Daniel: "I still don't know what to do with myself when I go home. I don't really do anything but sit around. But at the same time, it would be good to get a long period at home to sort out some kind of a lifestyle again."

Kerrang!: What do you like about fame?
Daniel: "Just playing is good. Being able to write music and play music and seeing people reacting to it. That’s the best part."

Kerrang!: With hindsight, would you recommend getting singed at such an early age to someone else?
Daniel: "I wouldn’t recommend it or not recommend it. In some ways it was positive and in other it was negative. There’s always going to be different aspects to fame, whether you’re signed early, late or at w hat you think is the perfect age. If it happens, it happens. I wouldn’t say anyone should jump into it, but if it comes along don’t say no just because you think you’re too young. That would be missing an opportunity."

Kerrang!: Is there any way to avoid attracting the likes of Emily Spencer?
Daniel: "No, I don’t think you can avoid it. No matter what you do, no matter how you approach it, there’s always going to be obsessive people in the world. You can do your best to not over-expose yourself- which I guess limits things a little- but there’s always going to be obsessive people out there."

And with that, Johns and his bandmates shake hands with Kerrang! and depart to watch Feeder play on the mainstage. There's a positivity in their replies, yet there's still an overwhelming feeling that silverchair currently consists of two happy young musicians and one who desperately needs time to get his life together and find some sort of normality. When you consider that Daniel Johns has just turned 20, that's frightening.

silverchair's new single Miss You Love is out now.

[Thanks to Amanda Jenkins for the transcript.]