Another Point Of View
By Mark Neilsen (Drum Media Street Magazine)
There were eight songs that were the first ones Daniel Johns wrote for
Silverchair's new album. You won't find them om your CD though as on
listening back to them Johns found they sounded too much like previous
album Neon Ballroom. This led to drastic action.
"I drank loads of coffee and went down one morning and deleted the whole thing. It was deliberate because I didn't want to keep writing songs and keep having that security. I didn't want to be able to fall back on these eight songs that I'd written. I wanted to delete everything and know that I had nothing and I had to start from scratch," Silverchair's vocalist and guitarist Johns says.
Don't go looking for them on some bootleg CD or the internet though - they're gone forever, and furthermore Johns has forgotten them. "I think it's the best move I ever made. It made me change my perspective and I made a conscious decision to write something more uplifting and write something that made me feel good and made people feel good if they heard it and challenged the listeners, whereas the first eight songs I wrote, although I liked them, it sounded like something I'd done before. I was bored of it already before it had been released," Johns remarks.
This uplifting, positive mood is something that permeates through the whole of Diorama. Where as the other albums thematically seemed to be black, Diorama shows more colours added to the palette. "It's not incredibly stressful like it has been previously, so this time around it feels a lot more natural and everyone's happy," Johns states.
What was making it stressful in the past?
I don't know. I think a lot of it was to do with how you perceived things and on the last record I wasn't perceiving things. Even if they were good I was looking at them from the wrong angle. I was seeing things how they weren't and this time I'm seeing things how they are, so it's a lot better.
What's led to this clarity of vision?
I think it's just a natural thing. I don't think anything led to the clarity of vision other than an improvement in emotional stability. I think another thing that's making us happier this time doing it is we're approaching it in a different way and we're doing a lot of things that we haven't done before to make it interesting. We didn't want to keep doing the same thing on every album and this time we keep doing all this stuff that we've never done before, doing a Triple J Live at the Wireless thing with a small audience and then doing Rove [Live]. All these things we've intentionally avoided in the past we've decided to do to make it interesting and fresh again with something new and something to be excited about and not feel like you know the answers to everything.
Do you see your earlier material as from another time and now completely different?
For sure, but at the time we're still proud of our early records. It's just for me I don't have that personal connection with the first two records that I do with the last two because it was a different period in my life and I was still finding my feet and approaching music in a totally different way back then because I was a lot younger.
Do you have the connection with the last two albums more because you wrote every song for them?
That has something to do with it because it appeals more to my personal tastes. Everything that I'm writing is something that I enjoy playing and enjoy hearing. I also really enjoyed playing and hearing the first two records at the time, it's just now I don't relate to it as much. I'm proud of it but it does seem like another band a lot of the time.
I've noticed Tomorrow doesn't always get a run when you play live, is that related to those feelings in any way?
Tomorrow never gets a run anymore. It's been put to bed.
Yeah. Definately. We've stopped playing that song. It's not in anyway an elitist decision, it's not some artistic statement claiming that we're above it, it's just that if you're going to play music for a career, you should at least feel it and mean it and play it with integrity. That song I can't sing it and mean it, because I don't even know what it's about. I don't even like it.
What the hell was that anyway about water coming out of the tap being hard to drink?
Exactly! What the fuck was I talking about?
Age is another factor that leads to the more positive outlook on Diorama. Silverchair were teenagers for a good part of their first three albums, and the stereotypical view one has of teens is being moody and depressed and hence the material might have reflected that. Things are different now they're adults, "I definately attribute a lot of it to age," Johns begins.
"I think as you get older you start realising why you're seeing things a certain way and you start realising how to overcome things that when you're a teenager you really don't have the answers for and you just think the world's against you. Which isn't in any way to bring people who are teenagers down, I don't want to make teenager problems something smaller than they are because they can be quite serious, but I definately think once you get older you get a better perspective on things and you've got to try and make your way through it."
Are your songs seen as a release and a way of getting through things?
They always have been, even when we were writing the first two albums. Although they were pretty derivative musically it was always a good outlet for a teenage male, it's a good way to get aggression out and frustration. It's always been a good outlet it's just as I got older I started finding better ways of expressing myself musically.
You can definately see just how better Johns is now at expressing himself musically now on Diorama as it features production and song-writing that is a bit more realised this time around. Although done to a lesser extent on previous albums, Diorama has layers of extra instrumentation, from keyboards and pedal steel guitars to an orchestra of strings and brass. Johns always thinks about these additional instruments while writing. "That goes hand in hand with the way I write songs," he says. "I imagine what instruments are right for the right parts."
The writing process for Johns was different for Diorama as he wrote a lot of it on piano, something he's never done with previous albums. Initially he bought a baby grand piano to look cool in his big living room. He then started tinkering around with it and teaching himself how to play. It was more to play for fun than to write songs, but as his ability to play increased he started to compose on it.
How did writing on the piano effect your songwriting?
It dramatically effected the way I approached vocals because I knew what resonated and what sounded really nice when I was singing and playing piano, whereas when you're singing and playing guitar there's a different way that I think because I'm playing a guitar and trying to match it with the guitar tones. When I'm playing a piano I try and make it match that woody, rich tone that a piano has.
Musically it seems Johns was influenced by more than your standard rock and pop tunes, because some of the tracks have an almost cinematic quality to them, in feel as well as with many different movements and time signature changes. "It was a deliberate attempt to write things that sounded cinematic. As I was writing the record, when asked what the record was like, I was saying so far it sounds like a soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist. Even with the songs that didn't have large orchestrations I was trying to conjure up some kind of cinematic imagery through the music," Johns comments.
"As I was writing songs I was imagining scenes in my head, imagining characters and trying to portray what was going on in the scene but I can't remember any of them. It's the approach that I took to writing this record, I was making up little scenes in my head and a lot of them weren't even related. It was just a fun experiment."
Another experiment for Silverchair at the moment is playing live. Not long after Diorama was released the group performed a few shows in New Zealand. "We had them booked in and I've kind of had some knee problems so we didn't play a Hobart show that we were meant to play because I couldn't stand up properly, but now I can stand up so we're just playing them as an experiment really," Johns says. "We're just trying to see if we can get through the shows given that sometimes my knees give out on me."
Johns was suffering from a viral infection in both his knees, which caused Silverchair to pull out of Hobart's Gone South festival in mid March. The infection causes severe swelling in the joints and is extremely painful and as Johns said, made it impossible for him to walk or even stand unaided, a problem which has been alleviated by the fact Johns now has a cool cane. The knees are alright now though according to Johns. "They feel a lot better than they have felt in the past few weeks so hopefully it's getting better but I don't want to speak to soon," he says.
This means when you do see Silverchair live you won't see Johns jumping up and down a lot. Luckily a lot of the material on Diorama isn't really conducive to such exertion. "It's not very physical when we play live because I can't move so much, just stand at the mike and hope I don't fall over," Johns laughs. As for when we will get to see Silverchair live in Australia, Johns can't even hazard a guess as it all depends on those pegs of his. "Usually we do have rough ideas but this record we don't really know what we're doing yet because everyone's holding out on booking gigs to see what happens with my knees, and the record's being released at different times in different countries, so it's weird this time around," he says. "We're just playing shows here and there and stopping and waiting to see what happens."