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Members are Ben Gillies (born c. 1979), drums; Chris Joannou (born c. 1979), bass; and Daniel Johns (born April, 1979), vocals; guitar. Addresses: Record company--Murmur Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
Unlike the teenage pop acts of yesteryear, Silverchair comes across sounding far more mature than their relative youth and inexperience might allow. Dismissed by some critics who considered them an unviable band, the band's 1995 debut, Frogstomp, nevertheless sold four million copies worldwide and made them one of the most successful acts to ever emerge from Australia. Silverchair's success can partly be attributed to timing, while their very grown- up, modern-rock sound might be ascribed to the cultural pervasiveness of rock and roll--the teenagers of their age group, born in the late 1970s, have been exposed to rock music at a precociously young age, thanks in part to music videos.
Silverchair came together in Merewether, a beachfront suburb of Newcastle, Australia, in the early 1990s. Daniel Johns, Chris Joannou, and Ben Gillies had known each other since they were in elementary school, and, as junior-high-schoolers, decided to start a band. They called themselves the Innocent Criminals. Johns told Rolling Stone writer David Fricke about their humble origins: "We just wanted to be a garage band. We started playing Black Sabbath and [Led] Zeppelin covers because we had nothing to do. We never expected to do anything." Eventually they started writing their own songs.
Teenage life in Merewether continued uninterrupted for the trio until June of 1994, when they sent in a demo tape to "Pick Me," a contest sponsored by a television music program in Australia. The first track was a six-minute-plus version of "Tomorrow," and it astonished one judge after another. Out of the 800 entries, their demo tape won first prize. The prize was a day in a real recording studio and the chance to make a video for their song. The shorter, more polished version of "Tomorrow" soon began receiving air play in Australia, and Australian record companies were begging to sign them. Yet, it was not until two executives from the Sony-affiliated Murmur label came to see a live show in Newcastle that things clicked. Murmur co-founder John O'Donnell told Rolling Stone's Fricke that "they were literally playing to 15 people.... The important thing was they had good, well-written songs, and Daniel's voice was amazing. I remember how we tried to hide our excitement, because you don't want to look too uncool when you're trying to sign a band."
A name change was in order, and the band made up one by combining the Nirvana song "Sliver," which they accidentally misspelled, with "Berlin Chair," the title of another favorite song by the Australian band You Am I. As a result, the band's name changed from the Innocent Criminals to Silverchair. By the end of 1994, "Tomorrow" had reached number one in Australia. In January of 1995 they played the Australian equivalent of Lollapalooza, Big Day Out (in Australia, the seasons are backward--winter comes in June and July), and drew an enormous, enthusiastic crowd. Ironically, the day also marked the first concert Johns, Joannou, and Gillies ever saw--The Screaming Jets, the headliner act. Murmur released Silverchair's four-song EP in Australia, and the band recorded a full-length LP in nine days over a school vacation.
Frogstomp was released in the spring of 1995 and made them stars elsewhere as well. The tracks included "Tomorrow," which would become Australia's fourth best-selling single in history, as well as "Pure Massacre" and "Israel's Son." Frogstomp would eventually sell four million copies and make the teenagers millionaires. Yet North American critics derisively sniped about their age and compared them to Black Sabbath and Nirvana. Unfortunately for Johns, he even resembled the late lead singer of the latter band, cult icon Kurt Cobain. In response to the negative comments about their age, when they won a 1995 ARIA--the Australian equivalent of a Grammy--the band sent their producer's seven-year-old to the stage to accept the award. Other critics took a more measured view, exemplified by Fricke in Rolling Stone who opined, "the unpretentious vitality of Johns's singing and the precociously vivid ache he can summon in something like 'Suicidal Dream' is a genuine treat."
For Silverchair, being a major alternative act whose members were still underage and in school had definite disadvantages. Their mothers, who acted as their management team for a time, would supervise recording sessions. Furthermore, their fathers took time off from their jobs to chaperon their North American tour dates in late 1995 and early 1996, and served as the band's roadies. The trio struck a deal with Newcastle High School whereby they were allowed to complete their schoolwork while on the road. They even earned special credits in music. "It's really great because one of the requirements of this course is to give them a recorded piece of music," Gillies told Rolling Stone writer Fricke. "So we can just give 'em the CD and go, thank you very much!"
Silverchair's Australian fan base has grown to monstrous proportions. A group of Melbourne teenage girls formed a tribute band, and though Silverchair have tried to limit press coverage to smaller magazines, canceling interviews with Australia's national music press, the coverage is still intense. Their manager, John Watson, informed Rolling Stone's Fricke that such press hassles are tough for anyone, let alone three unassuming teenagers. Johns was ambushed while riding his bike to school by a photographer who had bribed a classmate to ascertain his route. "It's breathtaking, man, and hard enough for you and I to deal with," Watson told Fricke. "Think about being 16 and having this."
Surprisingly, their status as rock stars was not an issue at school, to which they returned on a day-to-day basis in 1996 to begin their senior year. "It's pretty much a non-subject," Gillies told Rolling Stone's Fricke. "People know to stay away from it, and we keep away from it as well. If you talk about it, people think you're acting like 'Oh, I'm in a band, I'm really cool.' It sounds pretty dumb." During 1996, the band returned to the studio to record a follow-up to their ultra-successful debut. Freak Show was produced by Nick Launay, who had done albums for Killing Joke and Gang of Four, and released in early 1997. Its title was a reflection of their intense experiences over the last few years. "Being in a band is a lot like working in a circus or freak show," Johns told Guitar World. "You set up and play and then pack up and move to the next city."
The songs on Freak Show were also a reflection of a new maturity. Tracks like "Slave," "Abuse Me," and "Cemetery" showed a more introspective dark side as the band members emerged out of adolescence. "On the first album, we didn't have much input into how the songs sounded," Johns admitted to Rolling Stone writer Matt Hendrickson, and Hendrickson agreed that a shift had indeed occurred. "If Frogstomp was a sprawling slab of sound, Freak Show is more diverse, with bursts of guitar blending easily with strings, acoustic moments and quasi-Indian elements," Hendrickson wrote.
When Freak Show was released and began climbing the alternative charts, the band was set to graduate from high school. As 18-year- olds, they remained somewhat indifferent to their future. Gillies used to think about apprenticing with his father, a plumber, but thinks he might head into sound engineering instead. Joannou knows that mechanical training awaits him should he grow weary of the rock-star scene. Their manager, however, pointed out that Silverchair's nonchalance is quite normal. "What do you really care about when you're that age?," he posed to Fricke. "The only thing that mattered was that you looked good in the eyes of your friends. That you weren't a geek."
by Carol Brennan
Band formed in 1992, in Merewether, Australia, as the Innocent Criminals; submitted demo tape, with the song "Tomorrow," to a national competition in Australia; won contest, re-recorded the song, and made a video; signed with Murmur Records (an affiliate of Sony Music), and released Frogstomp LP, 1995; toured with the Red Hot Chili Peppers; released sophomore LP, Freak Show in February 1997.
Won the grand prize in "Pick Me," a talent-search contest in Australia, 1994; received an ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Award for Frogstomp, 1995; voted Readers' Choice award, Best New Band, Metal Edge magazine, 1996.
- Selective Works
- Frogstomp, Sony, 1995.
- Tomorrow (EP), Sony, 1995.
- Freak Show, Sony, 1997.
December 31, 2003: Silverchair frontman, Daniel Johns, married singer Natalie Imbruglia in a secret ceremony on a tropical island off the coast of northeastern Australia. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, December 31, 2003.
- The Buzz, August 1995.
- Guitar World, February 1997.
- Rolling Stone, February 22, 1996, pp. 44-47, p. 64; February 6, 1997, p. 17.
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