By Richard Lewis (Blunt Magazine)
In just a decade they've gone from high school freaks shaking it up in
a suburban garage to international rock heroes doing pretty much as
they please, when they please. Their strange trip, however, still has a
hell of a long way to go, and their story, in contrast to their
easygoing attitudes and blokes-you-can-trust demeanors, is as unique as
their music - music that has taken them to the top and beyond.
The fact that Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou are all still in their early twenties wouldn't bear mentionioning (especially as their age has been harped on about ever since they sprang to the public's attention with 'Tomorrow') except that, even this far into their career they're still so bloody young compared to most of the aging, leather-panted or big-shorted clowns they share stages with. Looking at photos of the boys in full flight, it's hard to believe that, if they had worked together in a factory all this time, they'd be entitled to long service leave.
Australia has watched the 'chair grow from young Deep Purple fans with de rigueur long hair and a strange love for llamas, to cutting-edge musicians renowned for putting 110 percent into everything they do: From schoolboy wannabes to high profile targets of the international paparazzi (as evidenced by the prices demanded for recent shots of Natalie Imbruglia and Daniel Johns having a reunion pash). The fact that their journey coincided with puberty only endeared them further to most music fans, while fueling a bizarre hostility in some critics who believed the 'chair were all "hype" and hadn't paid their "dues".
With each successive 'chair release, the tall poppy cutters have been out in force, ready to knock what they saw as a grunge-like "kiddie band" down to size. Silverchair, however, have only grown exponentially stronger as a band, silencing their detractors, and retaining credibility where others go for the cash that carbon copies of past hits can bring. Frogstomp, Freak Show and Neon Ballroom each saw the group grow in scope, vision, skill and, most importantly, in delivery, while developing a sound that is inherently their own. Diorama, their long and eagerly awaited fourth opus, is set to raise the stakes yet again. A furthering of their musical maturity, silverchair, it's safe to say, are about to become the biggest band in the world. Again.
Even though the band spends so much time out of the public eye, they're always in the hearts of Australian music fans, their back catalog a staple on both mainstream and 'alternative' radio, their T-shirts found on backs from West Pennant Hills to Wangaratta. While they were recording Diorama at Sydney's Studio 301 in Alexandria, two girls braved the weather conditions for the entire two months the band were bunkered in with Tool producer David Bottrill just to catch a glimpse of their idols.
And even with an ever-increasing slant towards grandiose arrangements and emotion-fueled, carthartic displays of musicianship - epic songwriting meloding perfectly with a swinging bottom end that kicks major butt - they are rightly counted amongst our hardest rocking outfits. And if that's not enough, they come complete with a well-deserved reputation for putting on one mother of a live show, despite the fact that up until their six spots on the recent Big Day Out tour they only played two actual gigs since the 1999 Neon Ballroom tour, and one of those was in Rio!
Still, as any fansite will attest, their shows are the stuff of legends. They may be comparatively few and far between - schooling commitments meant the band hadn't even completed a proper national tour until 1997 - but the stories are spoken of wherever music fans congregate: Thrilling a packed showground during the Royal Easter Show; rocking out in front of Luna Park's laughing face at Sydney Harbour; adding much needed spunk to a stale ARIAs ceremony by caning Radio Birdman's New Race alongside You Am I's Tim Rogers; causing mayhem as 10,000 punters cram into enough space for 5,000 on their debut BDO where the crowd were, quite literally, hanging from the rafters, and anything else they could swing from. The list goes on - from getting tackled by Art from Everclear at Livid to premiering new material at this year's BDO - each Silverchair show is a new high point.
Just when you think they can't get any bigger - or better - they go and top themselves again. And Diorama is set to absolutely burst them through the stratosphere. Not bad for a bunch of blokes outta Merewether, near Newcastle, on the New South Wales Central Coast. A band that themselves have admitted, "We wanted to be a garage band. We just wanted to have fun and play a few covers, that was all we wanted to do."
In spite of their relative youth, silverchair are veterans of the upper echelon of the world music scene, headlining festivals alongside the same bands they used to idolise, and counting many of their older peers as mates while remaining, at heart, steadfast music fans. Drummer Ben Gillies even famously spent part of the band's post-Neon Ballroom time off working in a local record shop for fun, while the You Am I/Nirvana origins of their name has passed into Aussie music folklore. When bass player Chris Joannou was recently asked who - in all the world - he would choose to form a supergroup with, he replied; "Pat (from Grinspoon), and some other dude..." Down to earth and in the Big League - it's a rare mix.
Since Frogstomp, the band has shifted more than six million units worldwide without ever 'selling out' or dumbing down their sound. Quite the opposite, and that figure is only going to skyrocket when the world goes 'chair-crazy once again with Diorama.
While the band aired five new songs - including the can't-turn-on-the-radio-without-hearing-it single 'The Greatest View' - to a great reception on their recent conquering heroes return to the Big Day Out line-up, they were still recording a final track just two weeks before the tour started. The band then went into serious rehearsals, bunkering down in sunny Newcastle with their touring rig and stage crew for a week-long daily drill so that they could iron out any kinks that may have crept into the set, as well as working in the two keyboard players brought in to flesh out Daniel Johns' songwriting vision in a live scenario. And before anyone starts complaining about keyboards and the like, remember the Beatles stopped playing live because they couldn't reproduce their sound outside the studio. Let's hope the 'chair - sonic explorers that they are - don't suffer the same fate.
When asked about the inclusion of the live keyboard players, bass master Chris Joannou promised there was no way that it singled a turn to soft metal for the pleasure of the masses. "It's going to be straight down the line rock 'n' roll," he swore, and any punter lucky enough to catch the shows knows he wasn't bullshitting. In fact, they'll be downright hankering for the band to hit the road again in a couple of months for their own headline tour.
While most acts on the BDO bill used a degree of electronic trickery of some kind in the form of backing DAT tapes, programmed sequencers or tape loops, the chair's employment of two keys players allowed them to faithfully replicate the string arrangements they're becoming revered for manually, without resorting to the press-one-button-and-you're-away method. Every moody wash of violin, every sitar twang, every lilting orchestral line was delivered with a human touch, rather than by pre-programmed technology.
Indeed, even drummer Ben Gillies rocks the house without the aid of a click track, a virtual staple of modern concerts, without missing a beat. All the while, Daniel Johns - reported to be feeling more on top of his game than in years after taking himself off anti-depressant medication - veers from caressing his guitar to choking it, treading the same path with his vocal chords to express emotions many never want to feel; others everyone knows too well.
Who would ever have thought a simple little three-piece from the Central Coast would go so far.
"We got offered all these contracts but we didn't know what to do with them. Ah fuck, we didn't know anything. We were just this garage band and all of a sudden..."