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Silverchair: skeletons in thecloset

It’s almost midday. He’s leaning up against the Quay Hotel, puffing away on a ‘tube’. Suits and Japanese tourists drift by down Macquarie Street, paying the lone figure no notice. That smoker, with his shaved head and white-speckled grey t-shirt, is none other than Silverchair’s enigmatic musical genius Daniel Johns. In the middle of a hectic press schedule, a cigarette is Johns’ only respite from a barrage of journalists eager to pick his brain about the band’s brand new and eagerly awaited record Young Modern.

He offers me a smoke, which I decline. We chat about the TV show Sunrise and that if it’s good enough for Koshie to drink a Guinness at 8.30 in the morning, then its fine for us to be downing a beer at midday. So we make a beeline to the hotel’s empty restaurant to grab an amber ale and wax lyrical about all things Silverchair.

What strikes me instantly is that this isn’t the Daniel Johns I had expected. Gone is the withdrawn, reticent character I’d seen on television during interviews, or heard on radio. In his place is an effusive individual, surprisingly funny and lighthearted; a man no longer trapped under the weight of expectation or plagued by doubt and insecurity.

It’s been exactly five years since the release of Silverchair’s epic opus Diorama. During this period, Johns has developed, and overcome, a debilitating bout of reactive arthritis, married pop star and former Neighbours bombshell Natalie Imbruglia and formed The Dissociatives with longtime friend Paul Mac. Despite announcing that Silverchair was on an ‘indefinite hiatus’, Johns says he was never prepared to say the band had broken up. “I know we’re really good friends and we make good music,” says Johns with a beer in hand. “Especially live, it’s really hard to give up being in a band that I think is a really good live band. It’s always fun when we’ve got shows. We’ve got rituals that we’ve been doing for years and they’re really addictive [laughs].”

After the Dissociatives tour, which Johns describes as debaucherous, it was Silverchair’s reunion performance in early 2005 for the Wave Aid charity concert that reignited his passion for the band. At the time, he had already begun writing new tunes – 54 to be exact – but they were intended for a possible solo release. “After [Wave Aid] I decided it would be better if it was a Silverchair record,” laughs Johns. “I wanted to play with those guys again. I showed them the tracks and they really liked the songs. If I had have played them the songs and it didn’t look like they were responding very well to them, I possibly wouldn’t have made a Silverchair album. But they seemed to be really liking it, so it seemed like a really natural thing to do.”

Johns describes the musical transition from Diorama to Young Modern as the toughest of any Silverchair record. “Usually it comes pretty naturally what direction I want to go with the songs,” he explains, “but I kind of decided not to go in a direction with this one.” Julian Hamilton, a member of both The Presets and The Dissociatives, co-wrote a handful of songs on Young Modern. Johns admits Hamilton helped him to focus his songwriting more, as each song was becoming ‘crazier and crazier’. “I really felt like we could do a really straight-ahead pop album with songs like Reflections of a Sound or something, and do real Lennon-esque pop, or we could really go to town and do a crazy 80-piece orchestra, circus marching band album,” Johns says. “But it seemed like the best option to do kind of everything – genre-hop and go all over the place but make sure that the core of the band remained at the forefront of all the mixes. It was really important to make sure that it sounded like a band this time around as opposed to just another big soundscape.”

To achieve this live sound, the band enlisted the help of producer Nick Launay, who had twisted the knobs on the Chair’s previous albums Neon Ballroom and Freak Show. Legendary Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks, who worked on a number of the string arrangements on Diorama, was also brought back for Young Modern. “It feels like every record I’m trying to invent a new band and a new sound,” states Johns. “And the same thing still applied with this record, but it’s also instead of moving forward and doing something else, it’s about moving forward and incorporating everything we’ve learnt over the last 15 years as a band. We tried to do something that was layered and bordering on excessive, but really simple – I really wanted to make a simple record. My main goal the whole time was to simplify.”

While Johns describes Diorama as a very internal album, Young Modern comes from a different place altogether. He recalls how he would go out night after night to become involved in the world and “get a better perception of what the world is like, but I realised that the more you involve yourself in the world, the less it makes sense”. He admits to feeling alienated from the world at times, but not as much as he used to. “I think now I have a lot more friends than I used to when I was writing Neon Ballroom and Diorama,” he says. “I always felt like I didn’t really want to be with any people because no one seemed like that much fun [laughs]. I think that was the catalyst for writing this record, when I started going out and meeting people. I thought ‘This’ll be a good angle for the record – I can go out and look back at myself as opposed to stay inside myself and look further in’.”

Young Modern definitely satisfies Johns’ goal of making an “eccentric, psychedelic pop album with rock and roll elements”. It’s light years ahead of the band’s teen angst-ridden records Frogstomp and Freak Show. “To me, I honestly feel like our first record was Neon Ballroom,” admits Johns. “I’ve never felt any different. I don’t feel like our first two albums were Silverchair: that’s our teenage high school band. I don’t like them at all. I listen to them and go ‘That’s cute’, especially the first one, because Frogstomp we were 14. But the second one we’re like 16, I’m like ‘You’re getting older. You’re running out of chances’. Everyone in any band, no matter how good or how cool they’re believed to be, has got some kind of dark, high school band skeleton in their closet [laughs]. I fucking guarantee you! It’s just that ours sold five million records [laughs]. It’s supposed to be a secret – fucking hell!”


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Comment Added

Huzz said on the 29th Mar, 2007

Wow, good article. Very interesting to hear John's thoughts on Frogstomp and Freak Show, though in my personal oppinion they were both great albums, he should be more proud of them. I must say from what I have heard of Young Modern so far, is far from


bigval said on the 30th Mar, 2007

It's over. It's more than a little obvious that The Daniel Johns Trio have soldout. After Diorama everyone knows Daniel never had any intention of reforming Silverchair but despite the fact he'll say it was that brilliant Wave Aid gig that got him "in the