Silverchair Older & Wiser

By Derrick Clempson (Hit Parader)

Daniel Johns has grown up under the occasionally harsh glare of public scrutiny. From the time he was all of 15 years old. silverchair's guitarist/vocalist/ songwriter has been hailed in various quarters of the rock world as everything from a budding musical genius to nothing more than a regurgitator of time-tested ideas. Today, however, with the arrival of silverchair's third album, Neon Ballroom, is now-19-year-old Johns is finally being fully recognized for his gifts as a song craftsman and lyrical master. Along with bandmates Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou, Johns has proven that this Australian power trio is clearly much more than just some flash-in-the-pan rock "gimmick." While the band has already sold a combined total of more than four million copies of their two earlier discs, Frogstomp and Freak Show, with the release of their latest effort Johns realizes his unit is at a critical stage of their still-budding career. Recently we caught up with the blond-haired frontman to discuss the band's new disc as well as many other silverchair-related matters.

Hit Parader: How do you feel that silverchair has changed over the last four years?
Daniel Johns: We've grown up a lot. You don't really notice things like that on a day-to-day basis, but when you look back at where you were four years ago, your realize how much you've changed. I think our music really shows that change. The first two albums were basically just explosions of youth. They were very angry, energetic albums filled with a lot of somewhat simplistic, somewhat derivative rock styles. This one is totally different. This time we're doing things that no one else is doing; we're now a much more mature band that's ready to prove what we can do.

HP: You seem particularly focused on the fact that this album isn't derivative. Is that because of past criticism that compared silverchair to everyone from Nirvana to Zeppelin?
DJ: To some extent it is. Those claims that we sounded similar to those bands were annoying to some extent--not the comparisons themselves, which were rather complimentary, but rather because people didn't take us that seriously. But I do agree that the music we presented in the past was somewhat generic. That's why a song like Emotion Sickness means so much to me. That song is the highlight of my musical life so far because the elements that comprise it are really unique and special. The lyrics come from one of my poems--as all of my lyrics do--and the music is unlike anything else we've done, and quite possible unlike anything anyone else has ever done. That's exciting for me.

HP: You mention that your lyrics come from poetry. When do you write your poems?
DJ: Just about anywhere and everywhere. I particularly like to do it when I'm by myself in a very quiet spot. I'm very inspired by nature. Most of the poems that I wrote for this album were written over a three month time period after we finished touring last year. Then it was the process of going through 112 poems I had written and figuring out which ones could be used as part of songs. That took two more months. But all of that extra work is what made this album so special. A record like Frogstomp we did in a matter of weeks. This one took months.

HP: Would you ever consider releasing an album of your poetry?
DJ: I don't know. My poems are really done for me...and to be used to some extent for song lyrics. Maybe it would be fun one day to do something like that, but it's certainly not something I'm planning on doing.

HP: Are you also inspired by music while you're writing your lyrics and poetry?
DJ: Actually, as much as I love music, I tried not to listen to any music during the six months that I was writing the songs for this album. I wanted the motivations to come from the world around me and from my own experiences and thoughts. Even if you're very aware of it, when you're listening to a lot of music it does begin to influence you. I wanted to avoid that this time.

HP:Did the fact that you're all finally out of school help you focus this time?
DJ: It made a huge difference. When you're in school, whatever else you do is nothing more than a part-time thing. You write, record and tour around school responsibilities. But once we finished with that, we were free to concentrate fully on our music, and that's made a big difference to all of us.

HP: It mst be nice not to tour with your parents in tow.
DJ: That was never that big a problem. It was a legal thing that until we were 18, we had to have our parents along when we were on tour. But since we all turned 18 last year, we've been on our own. But our parents were always very good about things, they were all very understanding. They didn't really try to restrict us-- they knew we were fairly responsible.

HP: At the ripe-old age of 19, have you started to get more of an appreciation of what silverchair accomplished when you were all just 15?
DJ: Yeah, I think I am. Sometimes I go back and listen to what we were doing and I realize that it was pretty good...for people 15 years old. But the best thing is that now we're all 19, an age when alot of bands are just starting out, we've already recorded three albums and toured the world. That's a big advantage for us.

HP: Is there a story behind the title of the album, Neon Ballroom?
DJ: We were looking for something that reflected both the old and the new, and we felt that Neon Ballroom did that. There are some older elements on the album, as well as some very new things, so that title works very well. In addition, it's a very visual title; you hear it and an image comes to mind. We all know that is a very important album for us, so we wanted to do everything we could to make every aspect of it special-- the music, the lyrics, even the album title.