Silverchair singer/guitarist Daniel Johns may have graduated from high
school not long ago, but in the world of rock music he is a grizzled
Yet despite having performed with the Australian grunge band since he
was 12, this teen-age rocker acknowledges he has a lot to learn.
Consider Silverchair’s third LP, Neon Ballroom (March 16),
something of a postgraduate report card.
“I think a lot of [maturing as a band] had to do with leaving school,”
Johns, 19, said, referring to the trio’s graduation from high school.
“I finally got a chance to do what I wanted musically, rather than
trying to fit it in between studying and things like that. I focused
exactly on what I wanted to do.”
That freedom to explore with fewer adolescent worries led Silverchair
to call on the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to contribute to the album
opener, “Emotion Sickness”
(RealAudio excerpt). The result is a giant step away from the band’s
typically raw grunge sound.
But the song does not stand alone. Other tracks on the new album —
such as the ballad “Miss You Love”
(RealAudio excerpt) — are graced with keyboards and what Johns termed “futuristic sounds.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the disc is the inclusion of “Emotion Sickness,” featuring David Helfgott, the classical pianist whose struggle to overcome a debilitating nervous disorder was dramatized in the Oscar-winning 1996 film “Shine.”
Silverchair contacted Helfgott after concluding that his style would be perfect for a piano part that Johns described to the band.
“He was great. I thought it was going to be quite an uncomfortable situation, but everyone was relaxed,” bassist Chris Joannou, 19, said. “I’ve only seen shorts of the movie ’Shine,’ but everyone said he acts exactly like they show him in the movie.”
“He has no internal dialogue, so everything he thinks, he says,” Johns added.
Many dismissed Silverchair as a Nirvana sound-alike when they first appeared on the music scene in 1995 with the release of the LP Frogstomp and the MTV hit “Tomorrow” (RealAudio excerpt). But the three teens have worked hard to separate themselves from the scores of here-today-gone-tomorrow adolescent acts that regularly flood the pop-music soundscape.
Formed in Newcastle, Australia, in 1992, the trio of bassist Joannou, Johns and drummer Ben Gillies saw “Tomorrow” go to #1 in Australia before any of them was old enough to drive.
But even though they’re older now and have developed a more-experienced band’s inclination to switch musical gears, the band still holds onto something of its past. Intermingled with the new album’s different-sounding songs is one throwback to Silverchair’s previous records, “Anthem for the Year 2000.”
In this case, Johns said, he deliberately kept “Anthem” simple so its political message could be understood easily.
“[It’s] a stadium kind of rock song to lead people into the new Silverchair record,” Johns said.
“The One Nation party in Australia is looking to put curfews on people of certain ages, which I think is ridiculous,” he added. “I felt strongly about it. Young people should stand up for their rights, and I wrote that song to convey that lyrical idea. I didn’t want the music to be too dramatically different.”
Still, the more lush compositions and complex arrangements gave the band a chance to use the knowledge it has accumulated through the years, musical and otherwise, John added.
“It was creatively satisfying,” he said about putting together the new material. “The old songs, although I really like playing them live, I never really took it as far as I should have in terms of songwriting.”