Silverchair Enjoys Success Despite Adult Criticism

By Kim Blum (The Daily Egyptian (Carbondale, IL, USA))

A trio of 15-year-old Australian boys earn the number one spot on the American Billboard chart. They claim they feel "dumb."

A gathering of middle-aged American musicians insults the new number one group out of envy and disgust. They deny they feel threatened.

It is time for America's adults to take a lesson from Australia's adolescents. The jealous, aged rockers playing bars across the continent need to mute their moans about the unfairness of the industry and listen to what silverchair, the modest boys from Down Under, has to say about success.

silverchair has only visited the United States once [at the time this article was written]. Though the band wasn't anticipating a welcome parade, it was not prepared for the mixed reactions it received.

To the fans of rock, alternative, grunge and punk, silverchair's three-day mid-summer tour was treated as an opportunity to mingle with the maker and dance with the divined. To the unsigned songwriters of similar sound styles, silverchair's sold-out dates in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit were absorbed as a mockery of music and a satire scripted by Satan. In the center of the hate and praise sat Daniel Johns (vocalist/guitarist), Chris Joannou (bassist) and Ben Gillies (drummer), not sure what to make of the extreme attitudes they experienced. Since silverchair has returned home to Newcastle, it's had time to draw conclusions regarding its rude reception.

"I think (American musicians) that act bad or mean around me only do it because they're not used to bands our age," Johns summarized. "They worry. But, as soon as more bands our age start coming through, they'll be the odd ones out. We don't really care if people hate us, it's just something for them to argue about. Enough people hate us that don't even know us. And that's just dumb of them. Most bands in Australia are really happy for us."

Australia has every right to be happy. silverchair earned its success, obtaining only its name by accident.

"The band name was a spelling mistake," Johns admitted. "We were writing down two songs: Sliver by Nirvana, and Berlin Chair by You Am I (a trio from Sydney). We told Chris to write 'Sliver, Chair' but he spelled it `silverchair.'"

Johns, along with classmates Joannou and Gillies, walks the halls of his high school like any other sophomore, racing tardy bells and slamming canned soda between passing periods. At home, silverchair doesn't generate the attention of American stars in public places and is granted its civil right of privacy.

"We just don't get as much free time," Johns said. "That's about the only change I know. Everything else is just normal around where we live."

So, one could say "normal" in Newcastle is being part of the first Australian band whose debut album entered the Aussie Billboard chart at number one and went platinum in a week. "Normal," therefore, must include having a double platinum single (140,000 units) in the top five while holding the number-one single spot with the debut's second release.

"Normal" merely means being voted Artist of the Year, Best New Band, Best Hard Rock Act, and Brightest Hope for 1995 in Australia's Rolling Stone Reader's Picks. silverchair also won Best Single for Tomorrow, the song that started the band's success.

In June 1994, Tomorrow was chosen out of more than 800 entries in the "Pick Me" demo tape contest sponsored by an Australian music video show.

"We had just recorded that at a really cheap studio," Johns recalled. "It cost about $75. We weren't in there for more than an hour. The version we entered went for about six minutes."

The first-place prize was a free video shoot and an afternoon in the recording studio of Australia's national alternative rock station, Triple J-FM. silverchair translated its studio and video time into the versions of Tomorrow that gained heavy rotation on MTV and radio stations across the globe. A screening of the video led to an abundance of radio requests. silverchair's single reached top status before the group was signed.

"The first time we heard Tomorrow on the radio, it was really embarrassing," Johns said. "We were in a car with a whole heap of our friends and it came on. We turned it off as quick as we could."

A branch of Sony Music Australia, which happened to like what it heard, won the bidding wars over the new band, and silverchair joined the Murmur label in September 1994. Murmur imposed a media ban on the group to protect its music from being judged by irrelevant factors like looks and age.

Determined to have the song rated on its sound, Murmur purchased circulating photos of the band and forbade all forms of press and publicity until the eve of the album's release.

"We named the album after a '60s pop song," Johns says. "We thought it sounded funny, so we used it."

During the mere nine days silverchair spent in the studio recording frogstomp, the band picked up on some tricks of the trade.

"Now we understand how to get the sounds we want," Johns said. "The first album isn't as well produced as the next album probably will be. Now we've got an idea of what we want it to sound like, so it should come out a lot better.

"We've been playing together for about three and a half years now, so I guess that's long enough for us to know what we're doing." Johns said the band's new material will be heavier, citing Helmet and Tool as the influences replacing Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.

"Our new stuff is a lot more intense than our other stuff, and it's a lot more round," he said. "Different time signatures, it's just more inventive. Me and Ben usually do the writing, but we haven't really thought about how we'll write all the new ones."

Johns said he has written six songs for the next release by recording band jam sessions and practices.

"If people don't think (the next album) is as good as the first one, or people think it's better, it doesn't really bother us," Johns said. "Hopefully, we'll record it in March, but dates aren't for sure. We don't feel any pressure. We don't really have a plan. We're just going to keep releasing music."

If one was to analyze a silverchair audience, a mosh pit of 14-to 26-year-old males and females would be discovered, shouting out the psychologically insightful lyrics to Suicidal Dream: "People making fun of me / for no reason but jealousy," they sing along with the teenage musicians who are too familiar with actions of envy.

"That's all it is, it's just music," Johns said. "Whenever we feel like releasing an album, we will. And if we feel like going for a surf, we will."

The boys won't be hitting the waves this weekend. silverchair returns to America tonight for a sold-out Christmas concert at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. Tomorrow, the band will travel to New York for their first appearance on Saturday Night Live. Hopefully, this trip, (which coincides with their school vacation) will leave the Australian adolescents with a more accurate image of American musicians.