With a new album, “Neon Ballroom,” to go out and promote, the Australian trio Silverchair couldn’t really hide the fact that lead singer and songwriter Daniel Johns now looks radically different from the way he did as a teenager just a few years back.
Catapulted into the rock-and-roll fast lane before he could even drive, life certainly hasn’t been what one could call “normal” in some time for Johns. Swamped by his group’s success, apparently, he sank into a deep depression and developed an eating disorder that reduced him to a sickly shade of his former self, as he revealed to MTV News’ John Norris.
The frontman’s illness is the general subject of his band’s new single, “Ana’s Song (Open Fire),” and the name “Ana” in the title is short for anorexia nervosa. The pain evidenced in the very personal lyrics Johns wrote for the song (and, indeed, for much of the new album) reaches beyond the cliched troubles of overnight success and clutches right at the heart of the emotional problems
he has been grappling with for the past few years.
“When it comes to just being a person and living a normal life and actually having a life, I didn’t for a year,” Johns told MTV News.
Johns’ depression and paranoia really began to surface as the group was touring in support of its “Freak Show” album in 1997. Back at home once the tour ended, on the advice of a therapist, he moved out of his family home and into a rented house. But things took a turn for the worse when Johns isolated himself to the point where he saw virtually no one and did nothing but write poetry for the first six months of 1998.
“I didn’t want to go in public,” he explained. “I had a lot of troubles with anxiety and had to take medication, because every time I left the house, I would think people had conspiracies and people were after me, and every time I left the house [I thought] I was going to get beaten up.”
While living alone, away from the watchful eyes of his family and friends, Johns’ eating
disorder intensified. Norris asked the singer-songwriter how little he was eating when his illness was at its worst.
“It got to a stage where it was pretty little,” he replied. “When I wrote ’Ana’s Song,’ when I wrote the actual poem, I was eating, like, I don’t know, two or three pieces of fruit a day… not very much.”
Unlike many people who suffer from eating disorders, most of whom are women, with Johns it had nothing to do with having a negative body image.
“It was never about my body, because I always… I was always embarrassed about being skinny,” he clarified. “Every time, I guess, I felt that my life was out of control and it was kind of out of my hands, I couldn’t do anything about it, I guess I took control of food intake, because it was the only thing that no one could really take charge of.”
Norris asked Johns if it seemed strange to him that most people assume it’s impossible for a man to have an eating disorder.
“Yeah, because I think the biggest
myth about eating disorders is that it’s all to do with fashion, and it’s all to do with feeding a certain stereotype,” he replied. “It’s not about losing weight to a lot of people, it’s more about just having control.”
But when Johns’ weight dropped to its lowest, he realized that the disease had taken control of him.
“I know that the lightest that I was, was like, fifty kilograms [110 pounds],” he said. “When that happened, that was when I saw a doctor and was told to change, or things would get dramatically worse.”
Fortunately, things took a turn for the better. The cathartic effect of writing poetry, combined with the helpful impact of antidepressant medications and the positive response of his bandmates (drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou) to the music he’d written, helped draw Johns out of his seclusion and into the studio, where Silverchair began work on “Neon Ballroom.”
Now, out on the road in support of the album, Johns is able to call the shots in
his career more than ever and is keeping things from spiraling out of control. Cynics might suggest that the frontman’s newly confessional side serves a promotional purpose as well, but he’s got little time for such charges.
“I don’t care what people think,” Johns asserted. “When you get letters that say, ’You’ve helped me admit to anorexia,’ and… ’I was gonna kill myself until I heard this album,’ that makes people that say, ’You’re exploiting your problems,’ just seem like such a little speck in the dirt. You just don’t worry about it.”
Norris asked Johns if he thought had been fully cured, or if he would be cured in time.
“I don’t think I’m a hundred percent cured. That would be naive to think that,” he replied. “But I’m definitely on the road to being cured. Definitely a lot better than I’ve been in the last… my state of mind, at the moment, is better than it’s been in the last two or three years.”
If you or anyone you know suffers from anorexia nervosa or any
other eating disorder, help can be had by contacting:
Eating Disorders Awareness And Prevention Hotline
Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.