Silverchair Display More Polished Sound On Tour

Grunge-rock band shows off new classical and futuristic edge to fans in the States.

Silverchair vocalist/guitarist Daniel Johns realizes the strings and

classical piano on the band's new album, Neon Ballroom, might be

catching fans off-guard as the band completes its U.S. tour.

But that wasn't his intention.

"We've always been a kind of traditional hard-rock band," 19-year-old

Johns said, speaking from a tour stop in Ohio as the band wraps up its

three-week stint in the States. "We wanted to take the best elements of

Silverchair but take it a lot further."

With Neon Ballroom, the Australia-based trio wanted to layer

their sound without compromising the power chords and turbo grooves

displayed on the album's predecessors -- 1995's Frogstomp and

1997's Freak Show. The tour was the band's chance to demonstrate

what may be its long-term musical future.

Silverchair's conscious movement toward a more textured, sophisticated

sound is clear from the album's get-go. The opening track,

"Emotion Sickness"

(RealAudio excerpt), creates a symphonic feel by using strings and

classical piano, the latter played by David Helfgott, whose struggle to

overcome a debilitating nervous disorder was dramatized in the Oscar-winning

1996 film "Shine."

"I really wanted that song to be kind of a classical song with a rock

backbone, rather than the other way around," Johns said. "It was just

basically experimenting and getting the right combination."

Produced by Nick Launay (Semisonic, Midnight Oil and Silverchair's

Freak Show), Neon Ballroom -- which debuted on the

Billboard 200 albums chart at #50 this week -- was the first

post-high school album Silverchair has recorded.

The bandmembers say being able to put aside their academics made a big

difference in the studio.

"It was a lot better for us, a lot easier to focus, because we didn't

have to think about one or the other," bassist Chris Joannou said.

All the album's songs began with Silverchair playing live in the studio

as a three-piece band. Then they began adding different sounds and

textures to the basic foundation. As a result of that experimentation,

many of the songs on Neon Ballroom include strange electronic

noises intended to convey a "futuristic" sound.

On the more familiar front are the groove-laden "Spawn Again" (RealAudio

excerpt), "Dearest Helpless" and the album's first single, the stadium rocker

href="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-

music/Silverchair/Anthem_For_The_Year_2000.ram">"Anthem for the Year

2000" (RealAudio excerpt).

"I thought it would be a good way to get royalty checks on New Year's

Eve," Johns said of that song, whose title he says is meant to be

sarcastic. "Anthem" is one of seven songs featuring keyboard

contributions from Jim Moginie of fellow Australian rockers Midnight

Oil.

On the flip side of songs such as "Anthem" are ballads including

"Ana's Song (Open Fire)" and "Miss You Love" (RealAudio excerpt).

Johns said he adapted poetry he had previously written to create many

of the verses on Neon Ballroom. That's why, he explained, the

lyrics are deeper than those on previous Silverchair albums.

"It's a result of not intending them to be Silverchair lyrics," he said.

"They're just honest and very open -- I never put any restrictions on

myself, because I never thought anyone else would be hearing them."

Schoolmates Johns, Joannou and drummer Ben Gillies formed what would

become Silverchair in Newcastle, Australia, when they were just 12 years

old. After inspiring a bidding war among Australian labels, they signed

to the Sony subsidiary Murmur.

The bandmembers derived the name Silverchair from Nirvana's "Sliver" -- which was

accidentally misspelled as "Silver" -- and You Am I's "Berlin Chair."

Riding the successful single "Tomorrow" (RealAudio excerpt),

Frogstomp was released on Epic in 1995 and eventually went

double platinum (2 million sold); it was followed by Freak Show

in 1997.

Though Johns and Joannou agreed Neon Ballroom has been their most creatively

satisfying album so far, they don't think they've yet found a

"definitive" Silverchair sound.

"You can see the change within a couple of albums already is so dramatic

that, I don't know, it's kind of hard to say where we'll go next,"

Joannou said.