Silverchair: Neon Knights

By Bryan Swenson (Hit Parader)

It's not exactly an earth-shaking revelation to state that rock and roll is a young man's game. Let's face it, for every almost-ready-for-the-glue-factory rocker like Mick Jagger or Jimmy Page, there are literally dozens of still-wet-behind-the-ears pups chomping at the bit for their chance at big time music biz recognition. But even in an industry controlled by superstars who are often judged to be "past their prime" by the time they leave their early 20's, silverchair are an exception. Vocalist/guitarist Daniel Johns, bassist Chris Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies are still in their late-teens, yet despite their tender age they've already sold over five million albums and emerged as a world-wide phenomenon. Their first two albums, frogstomp and Freak Show, have drawn critical praise as well as commercial kudos, and the group member's pouty good looks have made them international cover boys. Not bad for a bunch of kids who still haven't seen their 20th birthday.

And now with the release of their third album, Neon Ballroom, a new and potentially critical phase of silverchair's musical game is about to begin. The only thing worse than being a nobody at the age of 19 is the risk of being a "has been" -- and that's exactly the fate that this Australian power trio is working feverishly to avoid. Yes, they have sold five million albums. But a simply application of Math 101 says that such a number consist of four million copies of their debut disc and only one million copies of it's follow-up. Thus the success of their third effort will play a vital role in determining the eventual fate of these silverboys -- whether they will make a lasting impression on the rock and roll history books or rank as merely a passing blip in the annals of music lore. And while young Mr. Johns insist that such sundry side-issues play only a minimal role in determining his band's musical course, he also admits it has grown harder and harder for silverchair to avoid the pressure of public scrutiny.

"We've been quite successfulsince we first started," the blond-haired frontman said. "But we very much want that to continue. We always admired great bands that were able to produce many strong albums. That would be our goal as well. We want what we've already accomplished to serve as a starting point for us."

Clearly, in both word and action silverchair is as mature and exciting a band as has come down the pike in many a moon. This is a group whose style and attitude seems intent on proving that a pure hard rock band can still make a significant impact on the confused, jaded and unpredictable late-'90s rock world. While there may be some that state that silverchair's influences, whether they be Led Zeppelin or Nirvana, are themselves little more than fast-fading memories, others predict that with the release of Neon Ballroom, these Aussie sensations may just prove to be the tonic to give the rock scene a much-needed jolt.

We don't like putting classifications on the music we make," Johns said. "We've heard people call us everything from hard rock to grunge, and we understand that, but putting labels on what we do isn't what we're about. We let people call it what they want, but all we do is play it."

In retrospect, it's amazing how far silverchair have come in a short time. It was back in June, 1994 that these then 15-yearold boys from Newcastle, a town on Australia's south-eastern coast, decided to enter a national talent contest sponsored by radio station 2JJJ-FM. They recorded a song called Tomorrow for the contest, and submitted their entry along with over 800 other hopeful bands. Not only did silverchair win the contest (the first prize being a day in a local recording studio) but their re-cut version of Tomorrow soon was added to the station's heavy-rotation playlist---at listener demand! Amazingly, by year's end their song had reached the Number One slot in the Aussie rock music charts, and silverchair found themselves voted Down Under's top new band---all accomplished before the boys had even signed a record deal.

By The time 1995 kicked into gear, every label in Australia was pounding on silverchair's door, begging them to sign on the dotted line. But rather then jumping at the first tasty contract that was shoved under their collective noses, these boys showed sense beyond their years, waiting for just the right deal to come along -- a deal that would allow them to maintain total artistic control of their budding career. They finally agreed to sign with an indie label called Murmur Records and proceeded to record a four-song EP that launched their next single, Pure Massacre, to Number One -- while at the same time,Tomorrow remained securely ensconced in the top five. Pretty cool for a bunch on teens who had only been playing together for a year.

By the time the group went back into the studio to record frogstomp shortly after the release of their EP, they were being hailed in the Aussie press as "the freshest band in years." As one might expect, by the time their debut disc was released (after all of nine days of recording), it sailed instantly to the top of their native land's album charts, a position it held for the next five months! But the boys didn't let any of this instant success play with their heads. Rather than immediately adopting the rock star lifestyle, silverchair did everything in their power to maintain their street credibility. For example, when they were invited to headline the Aussie Big Day Out tour (their equivalent to Lollapalooza), the band insisted on playing the "second" stage-where indie bands were being featured. They also refused to appear on television or deal with the mainstream press, choosing only to talk to fanzines or music rags, publications they deemed as "cool".

"We just want to maintain some control of things." Johns said. "You can become just product if you all youselves to be. We don't want that to happen. If people don't like it, that's too bad."

We won't tire you with the intimate details of the group's initial world-wide conquest -- if you're reading this story so-far you probably know how frogstomp sold two million copies in the U.S. and equal number around the rest of the world. You also probably know how just as their fan base was soaring, some critics began dismissing silverchair with cute catch-phrases as "Nirvana in pajamas". And, most importantly, you know that the group's second disc, Freak Show rode it's strong Zeppelinesque feel straight to mid-chart purgatory before quickly disappearing from the scene. So now with the appearance of Neon Ballroom, these still-baby-faced rockers from Down Under have reached a premature crossroads in their tender careers. Will they soar or will they sink? If their confidence has anything to say in the matter, it seems safe to say that we'll have silverchair to kick around for a long time to come.

"We're very anxious for everyone to hear the new music," Johns said. "We're very proud of it. I think we've grown up quite a bit over the last year or so, and the songs we're recording show that."