Silverchair's New Ballroom

By Greg Heller (rollingstone.com)

Band enlists Van Dyke Parks to lend hand on new sound, new album

 Silverchair have finished recording their fourth full-length album, and frontman Daniel Johns arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday to begin the mixing process with producer David Bottrill (Tool, Peter Gabriel). The follow-up to 1999's Neon Ballroom, was tracked at Sydney's Studio 301 in the band's native Australia, with producer Bottrill at the helm, a choice that foretells an imminent expansion of the experimental ideas suggested on Ballroom.

"Perhaps some people who've liked Silverchair in the past won't like it," Johns says. "But hopefully some who've never liked the band previously will love it. It's a lot more ambitious. Bigger risks are being taken. What I think this album is and what everyone else is telling me it is are two totally different things. I really don't have much perspective. All I know is I'm incredibly enthusiastic about it, and I've never felt this good about anything I've done in my life."

Fittingly for a band stretching out, Silverchair -- singer/guitarist Daniel Johns, bassist Chris Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies -- layered strings, horns and keys onto a handful of new tracks, many of which Johns originally wrote on piano. To oversee the elaborate arrangements, the band called on the legendary Van Dyke Parks, renowned for his work with the Beach Boys (he co-wrote their famously aborted Smile album), U2 and Randy Newman. Parks traveled Down Under to orchestrate three songs for the boys -- tentatively titled "Tuna in the Brine," "Across the Night," and "Love Your Life" -- and returned with praise to spare for Johns and company.

"The music was filled with detail and invention and anecdotes and it reminded me of the kind of ambition of Brian Wilson threw into his schematic," Parks says. "I was very fascinated. I didn't expect to want to do this work but I have learned so much from the experience. I haven't had this much fun or been this excited by a sense of exploration as well as opportunities for myself, in a long time."

"I'd never heard of him," Johns, twenty-two, confesses of Parks. "But when we recorded the demos, I was discussing with my manager the types of string arrangements I wanted for certain songs and he said to me, 'You are virtually describing Van Dyke Parks.' That was the first time I'd heard his name."

The band has recorded a total of fourteen tracks for the record, but Johns says they'll probably narrow it down to eleven come release time, around March of next year. A first single is expected around Christmas. Guests on the album include countrymen Jim Moginie of Midnight Oil (Moginie also played on "Ballroom") and electronica whiz Paul Mac.

Thematically, Johns says to expect a polar shift from the more dour material that populated Ballroom, i.e., the hit "Ana's Song (Open Fire)," in which the singer detailed his own struggle with anorexia. "I didn't want to write from a dark place anymore," Johns says. "A lot of this one is focused on healing and being positive. I knew that the last record had an emotional effect on people. I wanted to try and recreate that effect only in a more positive way."

Johns sites the track "After All These Years" as an example of the less gloomy direction. "It's a song I wrote to myself," he says. "I've always been kind of scared of writing something happy 'cause it always seemed cheesy, so as an experiment I sat down to try and write something happy that wasn't corny. I did it in about fifteen or twenty minutes. We recorded it as just me and a piano and a string arrangement."

No firm tour plans have been laid out, but Silverchair have just announced that, upon hearing of revamped security measures, they'll be playing all dates of Australia and New Zealand's tenth annual Big Day Out Festival tour alongside System of a Down, Garbage, New Order, the Crystal Method, the Prodigy and others. Last year the tour was marred by tragedy when one fan died and several others injured during Limp Bizkit's set in Sydney. This year's BDO tour runs January 18th through February 3rd. Save for two festival gigs in 2000, the shows will be Silverchair's first since 1999.