Frogs & Llamas, Silverchair Story By the Guy who's Late for Work

(Concrete Press (Newcastle, N.S.W., Australia))

While most year 10 students around the state are currently lamenting on missed opportunities from their Moderator exams, there are three teenagers from Newcastle that you could excuse for their minds being somewhere else. Somewhere like the American Billboard Top 100 chart where their debut album is sitting pretty at number 32. The album [is] frogstomp, the band is of course silverchair. This weekend (August 12) sees the boys play a rare all-age gig in Newcastle before jetting off to the U.S. and Europe for another series of concerts. It seems the silverchair juggernaut has just blasted into outer space.

The last twelve months has seen an incredible metamorphosis for a young band that started out as Innocent Criminals. From garage jamming to international success, the three-piece outfit have come a long way from the early gigs where they virtually made up the lyrics to the songs as they went along. In what can only be described as a touring blitz, the lads have spent the last few weeks playing across Europe and the U.S. at selected shows and festivals creating a media storm along the way. Their debut U.S. show at The Roxy Theatre in Atlanta sold out in a matter of hours while another 1,500 disappointed punters that had lined up for three blocks for tickets were turned away. In Europe they played at some huge shows including the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen where they shared billing with bands like Offspring and REM. It's about as hectic a touring schedule can get for any band. Getting back to the normalities of home-life must seem quite sedate.

"Yeah, it's heaps good," says vocalist/guitarist Daniel Johns. "It's good being back near a beach."

In a couple of weeks the guys will be back overseas in the thick of it to play more gigs. A more extensive tour of the States has been planned as has a bit of a holiday this time.

"We didn't get to see anything of America. It was just travel, have interviews, play a gig ... This time I think we are going to spend a week or so at the beach in Los Angeles just surfing and hanging out."

After that, the 'chair head over to Europe for a few more shows. Included in this stint is an invitation to play at the legendary Reading Festival in London where they will share the stage with the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Pennywise, NOFX and White Zombie. This is a huge achievement for any band. Most would consider it the pinnacle of their career; performing there at the age of 16 is just phenomenal. Daniel is not quite sure what to expect but if the highlights from the recent tour [are] anything to go by it should be huge.

"We played festivals and stuff but the ones we played with Page and Plant (from Led Zeppelin) were probably the best. My favourite gig was this small pub gig in France. There was about 400 people and there was no punter barrier, just a tiny little stage and everyone was getting up there and running around. It was really intense. We were all just stage diving and jumping around. We didn't play any good but it was hell fun."

Daniel scoffs at recent media reports of the band earning enough to build a bionic man ($6 million). Still, the album has been enjoying some incredible success on the American charts. For the uninitiated, these charts can be quite confusing. silverchair first broke through on the Heatseeker Chart, a listing for acts that have never had a hit on the official Top 100 chart. The CD debuted at No. 8 before spending two weeks at the top spot. Then they cracked the big one, the Billboard Top 100, coming in at number 55 in their first week. Since then, the album has leapt like the prize winning amphibian on the cover to 43 and now 32.

"It's pretty good," says Daniel nonchalantly. "It doesn't really bother us if it doesn't go any better than that, but it would be pretty good if it keeps going as well as it's going. So, yeah, we're pretty happy with it."

It's a bit of an understatement. I know if I had an album in the Top 50 in the States I'd be letting everyone know about it. But that's not silverchair's style. These guys are as down to earth as any normal 16-year-old guys. Hell, most of the time they don't wear any shoes, that's how firmly they've got their feet planted on the ground!

Talking to Daniel, you are left in no doubt what his great love in life is. Music. He knows a heap of information about bands, musicians, instruments, crowds, etc. He's got a great collection of hard to get vinyl records like some Pearl Jam stuff still in their plastic covers unopened. For my visit, though, I am treated to a barrage of current favourites. One in particular is the vinyl version of Helmet's "Strap It On." Of course, it is blasted out of the stereo in much the same fashion as the reaction silverchair get from the crowds they play to, full bore.

"The crowds in America were unreal, they mosh really weird. They like, run out and leave this big gap in the middle of the floor. I don't know how they can create this gap because it's so packed but they do. So all these people are squashed around this big gap and then everyone just runs in punching and jumping all over each other. They just hammer each other. It looks like hell fun."

The crowd at this weekend's gig at the Newcastle Workers Club sure have a lot to live up to.

"The Llama Ball should be unreal. We just want it to be a really heavy night. All the bands on the bill are cool, it's going to be so heavy and loud. That's the reason why we had to change from the basketball stadium to the Workers Club, because of noise complaint reasons."

With seven totally intense bands playing in five hours it should be an energy zapping affair.

Playing with stacks of other bands on festival bills has exposed the silverchair lads to a plethora of musical talent around the world. Surprisingly, though, Daniel votes Australian bands as equal to, if not better than their overseas peers. "You don't have to go far to find good bands. I reckon there are heaps of good Australian bands like You Am I and Magic Dirt as well as other unsigned bands like Midget, FACEplant and HARDWARE that are all just producing hell music."

For the more established acts on the rock scene, the rapid rise of silverchair can be a bit mystifying, but Daniel admits that working with quality people in the industry has allowed the band to progress at a fast rate. "We've got good advice from a lot of people, like Kevin Shirley, and Tim Rogers from You Am I. He's told me a lot about guitars and stuff."

Also, having better equipment has helped too. "Yeah, like Chris (Joannou). He's got a heaps better bass sound. He's just got all this really good gear. His sound now is really bottomy and really clear but it's still got a bit of that break up in it. It sounds unreal. When I first started I had a 60-watt Fender amp. Now I've got better gear and it's a lot better. Ben (Gillies, drummer) has got a whole new kit and he's just goin' off."

The lads from silverchair are not content to just rest on their laurels. They already have plans for the future. "Findaway will probably be the next release here. We could release Undecided or Suicidal Dream, but if we release Findaway that will be five diverse songs from the one album," explains Daniel. "Then the next album we do is going to be really experimental. We are going to use some really different tunings and weird changes in different time signatures and stuff like that. There's also going to be heaps of feedback, something kinda like Sonic Youth."

Just for the record, how does Daniel think he went in his Moderator exams? "I should go all right, I reckon. In English, I think I went pretty good, in Science I went pretty shit and in Maths just average." Well, if the media can come up with a figure like $6 million from a band doing a couple of shows in the States and having an album on the charts for just three weeks, then surely a Year 10 kid can be excused for making a few simple mistakes in an exam, don't you think?

[Thanks to Lisa Theunens for the transcript.]