Everything in Order for Silverchair

By Denise Sheppard (Jam Showbiz Magazine)

SEATTLE -- Against all odds, Daniel Johns -- front boy for Australia's silverchair -- is one healthy, happy, well-adjusted young man.

Imagine yourself in his situation. At 17, his band's debut disc, frogstomp -- which was released when he was the ripe old age of 15 -- has sold more than two million copies all over the world, making him a millionaire.

His sound came out of a period of time that has since become dated and mocked (can you say 'grunge'?). And then there's the most significant bane of Daniel Johns' existence: The fact that he looks, plays and often sings just like this decade's most famous deceased celebrity, Kurt Cobain.

The hazard to that situation is that everyone is waiting for Johns' to crack. But interviewing him and his bandmates in Seattle mere moments after their only public North American performance this year prior to the release of their sophomore effort, Freak Show (out Feb. 4), everything seems remarkably in order. The backstage area is devoid of sex, drugs and hangers-on; instead the brightly lit room is filled with water pistols and parental units.

Johns and his musical cohorts -- drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou -- are less-than-impressed with the evening's performance ("That show was f---ed!" apologizes Gillies) but obviously thrilled and proud with the music on their upcoming disc.

"frogstomp was recorded in nine days," drummer Gillies explains. "For Freak Show, we took three weeks. We rushed the first album a lot, recording it in a lot of eight-track places, places where you've got like six hours to record six songs, so we were used to doing it fast. In a way it was good 'cause it sounded pretty live.

"On the second one, we went in and really focused on what we wanted to do this time, spent more time getting the sounds right. Three weeks was the perfect time," he concludes, nodding his head. "We got all the best takes of the song. I think it turned out for the better. On Frogstomp, we didn't really know what we wanted 'cause we were so young."

Now, older and wiser at 17, both Gillies and Johns' believe that their cumulative experiences in the last two years have made for a much richer album. To hear an 'average' kid speak that way, the explanation would seem unbelievable, but just think about it. The trio have gone from being complete unknowns to world-famous since, from getting an allowance to each being wealthier than all their individual families combined.

Their experiences -- good and bad -- have helped to make Freak Show a stronger disc, according to frontman Johns. "On the first album, the lyrics were fictional. Of dreams, the telly and stuff. With this one, the lyrics were a lot more personal. Some were actually changed 'cause they were just too personal. But they're a lot more real this time around. We've had a lot more experiences, lotsa crap that's happened to us that was bad but it was worth it 'cause it made the music better."

One of the things that makes silverchair so refreshing to some and annoying to others is that they wear their musical influences proudly on their sleeves. In that respect, the music on Freak Show is no different. One notable track, Freak -- the first single everywhere except Canada and the U.S., where we'll get Abuse Me -- is 100% Nirvana-esque, from its quiet bridge to Johns' screaming, anthemic chorus. Listen closely and you'll hear echoes of Pearl Jam and Tool on the album as well.

But new to the overall sound is the band's use of East Indian instruments and rhythms. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan perhaps? Or Sheila Chandra? No way, say the trio. "It's Led Zeppelin, only and exclusively," beams Daniel. "We really like that they mixed different instruments with rock music, and we want to do that same kind of thing."

But if all of these escapades have left them with their exuberance intact, there must be some way in which this lifestyle takes its toll. "It's not like we don't feel pressure," says Johns. "We do. It was always in the back of our head, but it was only about making a better album from the first. We think this album is a lot better than the first one but we don't expect it to do as well. This one doesn't have as many 'radio' songs.

"If this album sells enough to build a solid, consistent fan base, we'll be happy," he adds. "As long as people see us as being a 'proper' rock band, not just a one-off thing."