Fresh Blood

By Sandy Masuo (Rip)

Daniel Johns, Chris Joannou and Ben Gillies lead lives that are full of all the ordinary sorts of things that preoccupy 15-year-olds everywhere: school, the quest for a driver's license, video games, rock music, hang time and the tasty waves at the beaches near their home town of Newcastle, Australia. Three years ago they even started a band called silverchair, but there's nothing ordinary about the music they play.

The band's debut album, frogstomp, churns and burns with the kind of intensity and savvy that elude a lot of bands twice their age. Though the 11 tracks are full of allusions to their influences, they never fall into tribute and mimicry. There's a steely glint of Helmet (Israel's Son, Undecided), the draining charge of Soundgarden (Pure Massacre) and the sludgy impact of Black Sabbath (Leave Me Out). Johns' vocals resonate with energy that veers between the introverted anxiety of Kurt Cobain and the extroverted ardor of Eddie Vedder. In Cicada, when he sings about growing up being like a cilvil war, he makes the Guns N' Roses metaphoric opus seem a little blustery. Yet for all the seething feelings that give frogstomp its fetching edge, the boys behind it come across surprisingly low-key.

"We'd been going to school with each other for years and everything just fell into place," bassist Joannou says very matter-of-factly, defying any expectations of turbulent tales of teenage angst. "Ben and Dan were mucking around once and asked if I wanted to play bass, and I said, "OK, why not." We started mucking around in his living room and moved to the garage. Then we started entering demo competitions and ended up winning one. Everything went on from there 'cause one of the songs got airplay and, yeah, it went really well."

"Really well" is a polite understatement. After winning the demo competition, which was sponsored by an Australian music video show, they took advantage of their prize -- a day in a real recording studio -- and completed a 7-inch single, Tomorrow. Last summer (our summer, that is), the song became a top-5 hit in Australia, riding the alternative charts for months. Based on the strength of that single and a four-song-follow-up EP, silverchair were added to the line up of this year's Big Day Out, Australia's answer to Lollapalooza. The big summer (their summer, that is) tour last January through February took them all across Australia. So far, Tomorrow is double platinum and frogstomp went platinum within a week of its release down under.

Up over here in the States, the album has been making a smaller splash, but a splash nonetheless. With Tomorrow clambering up the charts and frogstomp in tow, silverchair will be spending their summer vacation (they still have two years of school left) trekking around the U.S. to support the album. It's an adventure that most kids (and a lot of adults) only dream about. "Yeah," Joannou says, unfazed by it all. "Everybody tells us that."

[Thanks to Amanda for the transcript.]