Even though it came out in Australia a year ago, the self-titled debut by the Dissociatives just hit U.S. record stores last week. The duo features former angsty teenage frontman Daniel Johns of Silverchair and dance-music maven Paul Mac — but the result isn't what you might think.
"Because of Paul's background and my background, [a lot of people] expected it to be a dance-rock collaboration, which we're trying desperately to dispel," Johns said. "We're not really fans of that genre."
Instead, they set out to make the perfect pop record.
"Some people jokingly referred to it as a 'happy radio hit,' " Mac said, "which I think is actually quite a good description. We're trying to make interesting, really colorful, but at the end of the day, pop music. Songs that provide you with a kind of certainty and also challenge you with what we were trying to do. Not so much fit in, but trying to fill what we thought was kind of a void in modern pop music."
And with that goal in mind, the two retreated to begin work on their Project X.
"No record company knew we were making it. No one really knew except for us and management. We just went into the basement, recorded it, and when we were finished, handed it in and asked if anyone was interested," Johns laughed.
While he expressed a sense of humor, shyly downplaying the work that went into the album and even showing where some of the good-natured humor in the songs comes from, Johns doesn't view the Dissociatives as a joke.
"We both took it incredibly seriously," Johns said. "We were both intent on making an album that had artistic validity and wanted to make something that was different [than] everything out there. Something inspiring without being pretentious. A lot of our favorite music [has] a sense of humor without being comical. You don't sit there and laugh, [but] a wry grin is always a good thing."
Plus, he continued, "It's good to have a little humor in music. It kind of brings greater contrasts when there are moments that you want to take seriously. There are always moments after that where you can kind of smile and breathe a sigh of relief."
Yes, this is the same brooding, world-weary guy from the Silverchair days of old. Dissociating has had a good effect on him, apparently.
"All those records are really honest reflections of how I was feeling," Johns said. "If I was sad, depressed or going through a bad time, I would write about it. It just happened that as I was making this album with Paul, I was in a really positive place. I wasn't going to cash in on fans who liked me because of darkness. Hopefully, I think the greatest music comes from ecstasy as opposed to darkness."
Either way, Mac liked what Johns was about. This particular collaboration has been nearly 10 years in the making. Back in 1997, Johns asked Mac to remix the Silverchair song "Freak." From there, the two worked on the next two Silverchair studio releases, 1999's Neon Ballroom and 2002's Diorama. But Johns and Mac wanted to try their hands at a truly collaborative effort. It started with Mac blowing Johns' mind with modern recording technology.
"Paul introduced me to a way of recording without having to go to the studio," Johns recalled. "[He] said, 'You know you can just record on a laptop?' I was, like, 'Wow, this guy's a genius.' "
So far, Dissociatives are cleaning up in Australia, most recently walking away with the award for Video of the Year at MTV Australia's first VMAs in March. The video was for their single "Somewhere Down a Barrel," directed by James Hackett.
"Normally when you're looking for a video director, you look at different show reels and kind of limit it to who's available and who's the most interesting," Mac said. "With James, as soon as we saw his work, it was so strikingly dissociative."
"He went to the extreme as soon as he knew we were quite bent," Johns added. "We had a lot of conversations about making the clip really connect to the music. ... When a flute comes in, so does a butterfly made of sparkles."
Likewise, Johns had some vivid language to describe the Dissociatives project on the whole.
"The Dissociatives, to both of us, is a creative outlet that neither of us would have if we weren't working with each other," he said. "Paul refers to it as a sort of cleanser between meals. I see it as dessert."