Silverchair Rock 'n' Roll Dreams Come True

By Julie Beun-Chown (News Weekly)

They’re 15, always do their homework, get on with their parents…and now they’re stars.

It’s Sunday afternoon in the NSW coastal city of Newcastle and the forshore park is the seething mass of rock fans. Three musicians walk onto the temporary stage and the crowd erupts in to a frenzy, chanting: “silverchair! Silverchair!” A 30 year old woman swoons and gasps, “Oh God, they’re gorgeous, I want to adopt them”.

Adopt them? That’s right. They may have two hit singles and be living the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll dream, but the boys from silverchair are still babies.

They’re so young, in fact, that they still pedal around town on mountain bikes and they don’t even shave yet.

Yet, at just 15, Newcastle High School students and lifetime best mates Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou already send girls into hysteria, are often mobbed just walking down the street and even have to enter their recording studio by the back door. silverchair hysteria is running so high that the band had to leave the January foreshore concert under guard.

“It was like Beatle-mania,” says one source close to the boys. “Girls were swooning and the crowd was rushing for the safety gates. After the show, they couldn’t get away, except in an amoured truck. A dozen kids even ran after that.”

And by all accounts, that’s only the beginning. Formed just two years ago, the teenagers described as “inseparable musketeers” have already sold in excess of 115,000 copies of the Tomorrow EP, have signed an undisclosed record deal with Sony’s affiliated Murmur label and are reportedly headed overseas next month to promote their first album. So serious is the record company about their young proteges, Bon Jovi’s 15,000-a-song producer (and former Newcastle man) Kevin Shirley has been hired to work with the band.

“They’ll be as big as INXS as far as overseas success goes,” predicts sound engineer Mark Henderson, who is working on the band’s pre-production at Newcastle’s Music Production Factory. “They’ll go off to America, the UK and Asia. Sony is certainly planning to shoot them to the moon.”

Yet one question remains. Who are they? Judging by the media speculation, nobody is sure. And if the Gillies, Johns and Joannou families have anything to do with it, nobody will find out-yet. Jointly managing silverchair’s career and T-shirt sales, the boy’s parents are adamant their sons will have a very normal childhood. And it’s been that way ever since the band called themselves Innocent Criminals, a “kind of baby name” that needed to be changed, said Daniel Johns in a recent interview with Newcastle rock writer Chad Watson, on of few journalists allowed near them.

Initially the boy’s were like any other garage band, until they won an encouragement accolade at the Sytate Youth Rock Awards in 1993. A year later, they won first prize. But it wasn’t all easy. In one of their first gigs during a school concert, lead singer and former trumpet player Daniel Johns was so shy he sang facing the curtains while drummer Ben Gillies played on.

“They were even arguing about who was going to walk on stage first,” bassist Chris told Chad Watson. A street gig they did a while later didn’t go much better. Playing at a fair, Innocent Criminals were cut short by a resident who complained about the noise.

Undeterred, they sent a video of one of their songs to a national demo competition conducted by the rock show, nomad, on SBS-TV. Their demo of Tomorrow was chosen from 800 entries and part of the prize was a day in the studios at Triple J radio studio.

Around the same time, the band entered a live band challenge run by a local night spot. In the audience-unknown to the band-was Mushroom Records guru, Michael Gudinski.

An offer followed, which Sony music countered. Sony won the day and the boys-still 14-signed to the Murmur label. By September last year, they were on a short term contract. It was then they changed to silverchair, an amalgamation of song titles from two other grunge bands. Now with success hounding their every step, the boy’s families struggle to remain “normal” amid the hype.

“Our prime concern is not to lose control of the values we have,” says Annette Gillies, mother of Ben and den-mother to the other two.

“We don’t have a plan. We go day by day on the decision making. The media ban is not a long term plan by any means. It’s up to the families to continue to appreciate the values we teach them-courtesy, honesty and consideration for others.”

So far, Annette says, it appears to be working. Although Annette legends at their own high school and under considerable pressure to act like rock stars when on tour around Australia, the teenagers are virtual paragons of well behaved boyhood. They attend High School everyday, peddle home on their bikes for lunch and do their homework before rehearsing at home or at the Music Production Factory.

When they’ve got a spare moment, they wander over to Merewether Beach for the surf and sun. the three families, who have known eachother for years, often go out for dinner together.

“They’ve got girls going off around them all the time, even a 30 year old woman. But when their mums remind them to do their homework,” says a source close to the families, “they do it.”

“They obey their parents and they don’t talk back. Basically, they’re good people. The families are very normal, very average.”

And if young Daniel, Ben and Chris sometimes wag school to play pool at Kings Billiards, they keep such a low profile, no-one really notices. Their hit singles, Tomorrow, and Pure Massacre, may be on the pool hall’s jukebox, but they’re still humble enough not to expect it, says pool attendant Scott Sheeham.

“They’re pretty quiet kids. They come in here a couple of times a week. The girls are always coming up to them and they are polite about it, but they pretty much stick to themselves.”

“And that is the most surprising thing,” adds Paul Coxon, lead singer of FACEplant, another Newcastle band, which plays with silverchair occasionally.

“You’d expect that their success would go to their heads. But they’re really down to earth.” And they will stay that way, if their parents have anything to do with it. While the boys themselves admit they “pay out on eachother” if egos run amok, Annette Gillies told on interviewer it really just boils down to their extremely good-natured personalities.

“They’re three very nice, ordinary boys,” she says, “who like their sport and music and have no idea of just how good they really are.”

[Thanks to Katherine Waddell for the transcript]