MTV News Feature
Ah, to be a big league music industry veteran before age of 20.
Such is the position occupied by each of silverchair's three members, who all log in at 19 years of age.
While it may seem like an enviable place to be, the gents of silverchair have had to handle most of their adolescence while under the weight of some heavy expectations. The band's debut album, frogstomp, blew up in a big way shortly after its release in 1995, vaulting the then 15-year-old band members onto music's A-list.
Since then, the band has spent its teen years trying to recapture that magic. After getting good and angry on 1997's Freak Show, the band has opted for a more intimate approach this time around for the recently released Neon Ballroom.
In a conversation with MTV News' John Norris, silverchair frontman Daniel Johns explained the psychological issues at heart of album, his need to get away from his anger, and how he decided what emotions to give away, and which to hold onto when writing the album. He also outlines why he think everything the band has done so far has been "leading to something a lot bigger and better."
Are they there yet? Find out for yourself in our MTV News Online feature.
John Norris: Tell me about
Neon Ballroom. Did you all along envision the orchestral direction of this record or did you just know that you wanted to do something different?
Daniel Johns: When I was writing Cemetery [from silverchair's 1997 album Freak Show] I wrote the song and then added strings to it later, and that¹s the only song we really devoted to strings before this album. This new album was written for strings. So it wasn't written as a song and then strings were added later.
John: But when you first thought about doing this record, you've said that the lyrics came first. You started writing poetry [first]. Is that different? I mean, do you normally come up with music first and then lyrics?
Daniel: Yeah, with the previous two albums the music was written first and then I just went home and wrote lyrics and I didn't ever want to get too poetic with the lyrics in the past, because lyrically I've been very influenced by old school punk bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag and Youth of Today and things like that. So I wanted the lyrics to be very direct. With this album I wanted it to be a little more obscure and really kind of focus on what I was feeling at the time.
John: What do you think that comes from? As you get older do you get more comfortable writing in a less direct way?
Daniel: Yeah, with the previous two albums the lyrics were very focused at anger. I was feeling towards certain groups and subcultures of people and with this album, as I said, musically and lyrically I wanted to do something that people didn't expect. So I really just focused on things I was feeling about myself and psychological issues and lyrically it's a lot deeper and it means a lot more to me.
John: At the same time, they're not traditional relationship songs. It still seems to me that you're talking about things that have a little bit more going on.
Daniel: Yeah, it's definitely not about things that are regularly written about. It's very honest. It's about exactly what I was feeling in that period. It started as lyrics. It was never intended to be lyrics for silverchair songs, it was just basically a form of expression and I liked the words so much that I changed it to a more lyrical format and put music around it.
John: Like the lyric for Miss You Love, I mean, that's pretty vulnerable to the point that I wouldn't think when frogstomp came out you would have been pretty comfortable putting out a song like that, right?
Daniel: No definitely because with the first two albums it was very [much] just about anger. I didn't want to do anything too soft. The softest lyrical song was Cemetery and that still didn't focus on love because it wasn't masculine or whatever and when your at that age, you know, [it's a] pretty insecure time so...
John: You don't want to do anything that looks even slightly weak or whatever?
Daniel: Yeah exactly. But with this album I basically came to my senses and realized I'm never going to be tough anyway so I might as well just focus on dealing with the issues that I feel.
John: So from a songwriting point of view, do you see yourself moving in a more political or socially aware direction?
Daniel: I don't really want to be the band to speak on behalf of large groups of people. But really political lyrics have always interested me. I've always been interested in the Dead Kennedys and '80s hardcore bands that focus on very political social issues. But I find it a lot more creatively satisfying to kind of express myself the way that I feel inside my head or inside my heart or whatever rather than focus on things that, you know, that are more political. Because I don't know much about political issues, I just know what I feel strongly about, something that's good to write about it.
John: Spawn Again is actually a re-recording of the song you did for Spawn. Why did you decide to do that? Just to give it a different feel?
Daniel: Yeah. We just really liked the song. It was something different again and we wanted the album to be as diverse as we could make it, which it definitely is. I mean, we talked earlier about the strings and about the some of the poppier stuff, but there are a lot of hard tracks on this album as well. Neon Ballroom basically just covers a lot of the things we like listening to. It's not limiting in any way. We just did what we wanted to do, which is good.
John: When you remember your first album coming out or yourself at that time, do you feel like you've come a long way just as a person?
Daniel: Yeah, definitely. I think when we released the first album I was 14 or 15 years old so it was it was at the time between 14 and 18 years old I think most people do pretty much the majority of their growing up or the most dramatic changes in their life occur at that time. So it's kind of, in some ways, it's uncomfortable looking back and seeing the change and seeing how you've changed in the public eye. But in some ways its gratifying to know that you've done that really strange part of growing up and done it in the public eye and still managed to maintain a certain level of sanity.
John: Are you still enjoying it as much, or in a different ways?
Daniel: Yeah, in a different way now. When I first started, it was more about playing live and everything was about energy. Everything was about being really loud and playing live. I still like doing that but the reason, the thing that keeps me doing it is just creating music and exploring different elements of musical and lyrical angles that's good.
John: I don't know if you guys are looking ahead to what's going to be the next single, but to me, Ana's Song seems like it would be a great hook. Can you tell me about that song and how it came about?
Daniel: Ana's Song was written as a poem and it was the last one recorded for Neon Ballroom because it was kind of a bit a bit personal. I didn't really wanna' [because], as you said before, you've gotta' kind of put limits for yourself. But because it was so honest as a song I didn't want to censor myself at all, and just put it on the album. It focuses on hiding behind a psychological disorder like an eating disorder or any form of anxiety and kind of hiding behind it to escape reality, and musically it's a lot simpler than a lot of the songs on the album.
John: Is there an Ana?
Daniel: Yeah, Ana is a composite of people hiding behind a disorder and it¹s just a play on words hiding behind anorexia.
John: Do you get a lot of press in Australia like trying to find out who you're dating or who you're you know your private life and does that kind of thing get to you?
Daniel: It used to get to me a lot. I use to find it really uncomfortable but...
John: So you did get it quite a bit?
Daniel: Yeah, especially on Freak Show, on the second album when we were, you know, grown up and we weren't looked at as being a kiddie rock band anymore. Now I still really hate it, actually, but at least I can deal with it now and make things up and start stories and rumors and at least make it interesting.
John: Are you excited about this record? I mean, do you feel differently about this record coming out as you did with your other two?
Daniel: Yeah. I'm really excited about this album because, as I said before, on the last two albums, we were still really playing them live and we still like them as albums but always knew they we're leading to something a lot bigger and better. So this is the first album that I'm really really proud of. I want people to at least get the opportunity to hear it and decide whether they like it themselves.
John: Even though it's coming out at a time when maybe the world is not as rock friendly as it has been in the past.
Daniel: Yeah, that's good though. It makes it more interesting. You're not a ripple in the surf, you're a tidal wave.