Teens Tearing Up U.S. Charts

By Michelle Amabile (Asbury Park Press)

When listening to Silverchair's debut CD, Frogstomp, the first thing that hits a listener is how mature the voice of Daniel Johns is.

The vocals are powerful and worldly, growling, cynical, been-there-done-that lyrics over a majestic wall of guitar and drums.

There is, however, one catch. Johns is only 16. His band mates, bassist Chris Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies, are both 15. [Editor's Note: At the time this article was written, all three members of silverchair were 16.] The young members of silverchair have achieved worldwide status and album sales that musicians twice their age have only dreamed of reaching.

Their youth is a subject you cannot avoid, and you would think that Johns would get a bit edgy when the subject is brought up. Not so.

"It used to annoy us a lot, but now we are used to it," Johns said in a long-distance telephone interview. "Now we don't care. It doesn't bother us anymore."

For their meteoric rise, thanks to massive radio and MTV support for their Pearl Jam homage Tomorrow, silverchair has become the unlikely carriers of the grunge torch. Quite unusual for an Australian band that never really got into Nirvana.

"At the start, we were influenced by Pearl Jam. Tomorrow and another song, Shade, were written like that," Johns said. "But Leave Me Out was influenced by early Soundgarden.

Perhaps it is silverchair's love of American music, most notably New York hardcore bands like Helmet and Quicksand, that makes its sound so accessible to the American public. So much so, that when the band played three dates earlier this year, audiences moshed with great approval.

"It's pretty weird," Johns said. "The last time we were over (in America), nobody knew about us, so we didn't expect anything. I think it's good that people are listening to it now."

silverchair's entire career reads like a rock 'n' roll fairy tale. In June of 1994, the band entered a demo competition with an early version of Tomorrow. It was chosen over 800 entries, and the prize was recording time at the studios of 2JJJ-FM, a popular modern rock station in Australia. The band recut Tomorrow, and the song was added to the station's play list. Massive requests bolstered the song into heavy rotation, and the song went to No. 1. What made this story equally amazing is that silverchair was still an unsigned band.

Now signed to Epic, silverchair has become the most popular band in Australia and is destined to make a similar splash in America. A second single, Pure Massacre, is making an impact on metal radio, and the band was recently courted by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were interested in letting silverchair open their recently postponed tour.

If it all seems like a rock 'n' roll fantasy come true, there is one thing standing in silverchair's way.

"We're still in school," Johns said. "When we get back, we have to get tutored after school to get caught up. We have tests coming up."