Winner Takes All
(Rolling Stone (Australia))
"Once it starts hurting me emotionally to sing, I'll just have to
stop," Daniel Johns said when silverchair's third album Neon Ballroom
was released in March 1999. "I don't want the songs to lose their
meaning... especially if people are paying money to see us play these
songs that might have helped them emotionally."
Almost a year after Johns told Rolling Stone about his eating disorder and battle with depression, his lyrics and thoughts are still helping many fans and touching thousands more. Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou worked tirelessly throughout 1999, taking the Neon Ballroom tour around Australia and the world. Despite the odds, Johns did keep the meaning in his songs and gave stunning, emotional performances night after night.
Now you, the Rolling Stone readers, have honoured Daniel Johns and silverchair with four top awards: Artist Of The Year, Best Male Performer, Best Rock Artist and Best Dressed. But you didn't just vote for silverchair, you took the time to thank them. Why? "Because they have given us emotional and honest music over the past five or six years," says Dana Voysey, 20, Brisbane. Another reader, Lila Sugarevski, 22, of Melbourne said: "There is so much emotion and pain in Daniel's voice, it gives me hope that I'm not the only one with disorders." And as 14-year-old Daniel Smith of Rowville said simply: "Because they work so hard and Daniel Johns is a survivor."
When we told Daniel Johns about the awards, he wanted to thank you personally by answering questions from readers rather than a journalist. So we randomly asked readers who had voted for silverchair to come up with three questions each. What follows is the questions Johns personally selected to answer:
Tshinta Hoey, 16, Venus Bay, Victoria
Q - Your song lyrics seem to contain such personal reflection and depth. Do you experience any difficulty in sharing them with other people, particularly if it's new material?
A - "Yes, I do initially because my lyrics expose parts of my life which I don't really talk about, but after a while I feel a sense of relief which is a gratifying part of writing."
Q - What has been the most dramatic change either emotionally or towards your personality since silverchair became so successful? A - "At first I was confused with the idea of fame, but I've learned to appreciate how lucky I am to be able to express myself for a living."
Q - If you could change anything about this world's current situation, what would be your first decision?
A - "For Neighbours to be played on weekends as well as weekdays."
Trisha Farman, 19, Perth, WA
Q - As a fan who's been there from the beginning, I hope the band stays together and stays happy forever. Failing that Daniel, maybe you'll do a Chris Cornell and go solo. How long do you think you'll keep doing the rock & roll thing? And don't say 'until you don't enjoy it anymore' because, honestly, you often seem not to enjoy it already, and you're still going!
A - "My life will always revolve around music in some form or other but at the moment I have absolutely no plans to do anything. It's the first time in over five years that I haven't been committed to something and I am enjoying that and just keeping my options open at the moment."
Antony Dwyer, 20, Newcastle, NSW
Q - Most of your lyrics could be described as somewhat melancholy in theme: does releasing this energy in your music leave you relieved and happy, or exhausted?
A - "The environment in which I write my lyrics is definately conducive to mental exhaustion but there's also a sense of relief that comes with that kind of expression."
Anna van Hees, 17, Brisbane, QLD
Q - In your career as a member of silverchair, have you ever had any regrets about the way you are presented in the eye of the public?
A - "Maybe just by the nature of my song lyrics, people may get the impression that I'm depressed all the time, but people who know me know that that's only a small part of who I am."
Q - Who was your role model as a kid? And why?
A - "Mr T, Mr Music and Mr Johns."
Buckley, 20, Cottesloe, Perth, WA
Q - When you are standing backstage just before the concert begins, the lights are turned off and you hear the roar of the crowd, how does that make you feel inside?
A - "I get a nervous energy just as the lights go down because I don't want anything to go wrong, but the best feeling is seeing the crowd respond to the music."
Melissa Fenwick, Christchurch, New Zealand
Q - How do you feel when you are sent letters from people who suffer from depression, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies, and they say things like you going public with your problems, the band's music and your lyrics have given them the courage to get help or deal with things better?"
A - "That has definately been one of the big positives to come out of my music - to know the music has helped people makes any criticism seem insignificant."
Q - Do you think it is easier to sing your lyrics with more passion in a "live" environment? If so, why?
A - "I think if you are passionate about the words, it is just as easy to convey that passion in the studio."
Q - Has fame, in your opinion, isolated you?
A - "Well to a certain extent it has to. It's a little bit scary to know that so many people that I don't know, know me... or think they know me. I have my own group of friends who I feel comfortable with, but generally I'm happy to lead a pretty solitary existence."
Q - What kind of influences has your parents had over choices in your life? For example, do you still ask for their opinions?
A - "I still ask for their opinions if I feel it is relevant, but I basically do what I feel is right."
Paul Bowell, 22, Montmorency, Vic and Casey Richardson, 19, Greensborough, Vic
Q - A year or so after the release of Neon Ballroom how do you feel now about the personal nature of songs such as Ana's Song?
A - "I don't regret anything at all about this album. I did what I wanted, and made a really honest album which I'm proud of."
Q - After seeing you live at Melbourne Park in '99 I got the impression that silverchair are sick of their number one hit Tomorrow. Is this true?
A - Tomorrow was written seven or eight years ago when I was 12 or 13. Obviously the most recent songs I've written are more relevant and meaningful to me but of course I can't deny that Tomorrow kicked off our career and people are still going to want to hear it no matter how sick we get of playing it!!"
Q - What advice would you give to young artists who have the chance to sign with a record label and produce a hit record?
A - "I'm not a big expert on any of this stuff - that's why we have a manager and a lawyer - but I guess if I had to offer advice it would be 'dont rush into anything'. From both a musical and a business point of view you need to take some time to make sure that each step you take is the right one for you. Once you've signed a bad deal or released a bad song then you're normally stuck with it for a long time so it's worth taking some time to really think about what you're doing and get some good advice from people whose opinions you respect. Also, I think you need to have realistic expectations. If you expect to make lots of money and have lots of fun while doing no work then you're almost certainly going to end up being very disappointed. Like any job, you have to be ready to make some personaly sacrifices if you want to do well at it."
Brad Lacey, 16, Mooroolbark, Victoria
Q - "I don't even try writing when I'm in a good mood" is something that you mentioned on the Neon Ballroom video. Do you think this alters the public's perception of you (maybe getting the wrong impression of Daniel Johns, the musicial, compared to Daniel Johns, the person), and is it something that concerns you?
A - "It doesn't concern me because I am comfortable with how much of myself I expose to the public. There are certain things I write about but don't release because I don't feel they will be beneficial to anybody."
Q - Have you ever ran wild and naked outside when you were drunk? What's the story?
A - "Nah, sometimes I'd like to do that sort of stuff, but it's probably end up in the paper and I'd have to live with it for the rest of my life! So I save it for private functions."
Q - I have read that you also pain. Who are your favourite painters and why?
A - Brett Whiteley because I admire his uncensored self-expression and because he's Australian."
Q - When you just chill at home, do you watch Steve the Crocodile Hunter? If so, what do you find so cool about his show? (Note: he is animal friendly.)
A - "He's the best!! Well, with a title like Steve the Crocodile Hunter I probably would have assumed he was running around with a gun killing things, so I wouldn't have even thought of tuning in. But if he's 'animal friendly' maybe I should tune in on your recommendation and see what he's about."
Jenna Harriss, 15, Perth, WA
Q - What do you want written on your tombstone?
A - " 'See, I told you I was sick.' "
Q - Why do you insist on having candelabras in your suite before you go on stage?
A - "Well they come in very handy in our suites for the satanic ceremonies which we conduct before each show... Actually we don't have 'suites' we just have exactly the same dressing room as every other band that's played at that venue and we certainly don't insist on having candelabras in them. If it's particularly bright and sterile we might turn off some of the lights or light a candle occasionally to give the room a bit of mood but nine times out of ten we just take it as it comes."
Q - Do you believe in reincarnation and if so, what do you think Sweep [Daniel's dog] was in her past life?
A - "I don't know what she would have been but it would have been something really special. Maybe she was Jesus."
Maria & Jadee, Melbourne
Q - If you could be a leader of a country, which would it be and what would you do to improve it?
A - "I'd choose Australia, and even though there's plenty of things that could be done to better it, seeing as though my particular passion is animals, I would love to see compulsory desexing of cats and dogs so that anyone who wants a pet would have to take it from an animal home and save their lives. I think it's a crime how many innocent animal lives are wasted just because people allow their animals to breed unnecessarily."
Q - Is it true you have a tattoo something to do with animal liberation? If so did you design it yourself or was the design your own idea?
A - "Yes, it has to do with Animal Liberation. Seeing as though you have to live with a tat for the rest of your life, I made sure that mine would be something that would always be relevant to me."
Helena Geyer, 19, ACT
Q - What's the best/funniest/most illegal thing that's happened on tour this year?
A - "We had an incident in New York which fits all three of your criteria. I wasn't there but I heard all about it the next day. We were doing some shows with Blink 182 so Ben and Chris went out with some of the guys from Blink after the show to this place called the Russian Vodka Room. Strictly speaking that was illegal because they were only 19, and the legal drinking age over there is 21. Anyway, they were all apparently drinking these really weird vodkas that tasted of different sorts of fruit and were really strong. Ben was very thirsty and he really likes fruit so he ended up accidentally drinking more than he should have done. At about 3am he projectile vomited right into the face of Blink's manager who was extremely unimpressed & went kinda crazy about it. Everybody else thought it was pretty funny though."
Kit Darling, 16, London, Ontario, Canada
Q - If sleeping didn't exist, what do you think people would do in those extra hours where humans usually sleep?
A - "Sometimes I feel that sleeping doesn't exist for me now! And when that happens I sort of use that time to think too much about stuff. So if it didn't exist at all I guess that's what people would do."
[Thanks to Helena Geyer for the transcript]