Silverchair: True Confessions
By Samantha Clode (Juice Magazine)
With new album Neon Ballroom silverchair strike back and prove they ain't going nowhere
In an empty office block just off Newcastle's Hunter Street, silverchair - Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou - are busy rehearsing the songs from their new album Neon Ballroom. With them is keyboardist Sam Holloway, who's been incorporated into the trio's live show. The four are about to depart for a month around the globe of one-off gigs promoting the new record, in cities like London, LA and New York. It's a long way from the garage. Johns, who turns 20 later this year, stayed at home during the band's year off, writing songs while his partners in crime headed to the beach. The result is the group's best work so far. Eschewing the darkened indoors for the grass of a nearby park, the Daniel Johns I meet is friendlier and far more gracious in person than expected. Decked out in a green t-shirt and shorts, he's proud of his new record, and happy to talk - even if he does apologise after an hour and a half for "not being fun enough."
SC: So how's today?
DJ: All right, pretty good. We haven't done anything too strenuous yet. I'm sure it will deteriorate as the day goes on. [laughs]
SC: When did you start writing this record?
DJ: Most of it was written in the first half of '98.I was living in a house by myself for three months, writing songs and watching movies.
SC: Don't you live at home?
DJ: I do now, I moved back out because people were complaining about me having a dog and the music was too loud, so...too many bills and too much stuff to think about.
SC: Are you worried about how critics will rate Neon Ballroom?
DJ: For the first two albums I was very self-conscious. I was really worried about credibility. I didn't care about how many records we sold. I was always really obsessed with making our live shows very stripped down and very basic. I wanted our ticket prices to be low and our T-shirts to be cheap. But now, fuck it. I couldn't give a shit whether we're credible or not. People are always going to have their perception of you.
SC: What's your favourite track?
DJ: "Emotion Sickness," definitely. I'm more proud of that than I've ever been of any song I've written.
SC: By the way, are you singing, "I'm just a cunt" on "Dearest Helpless"?
DJ: [Laughs] Oh, no. "I'm just the kind." I'd never do that. I don't swear in lyrics. [Laughing] I can't say that word. That's out of my range. 'Fuck' is as extreme as I get.
SC: This album makes me more interested in what you'll be doing in five years.
DJ: It's kinda good if people think that but it's not. There's only so much you can do. At some stage, there's going to be a long break before there's anything else done. I just don't want to over-expose silverchair. I don't want to be some marketed product like a lot of bands are. I just want to be honest to the people who listen to our music. I don't want to be famous for being a celebrity.
SC: Do you think people know the real you?
DJ: I think the people that have a slight understanding of who I am are the people who listen to silverchair. But my lyrics are the negative aspects of life that I like to get out of my system. If people think I'm just my lyrics, they're wrong, because I'm not sitting in a corner depressed. That's a common perception of me, that I take myself really seriously.
SC: Do you feel lucky?
DJ: Yep. In most professions there are ups and downs. I can't think of one job where everything would be good. But the best thing is that you're doing something that is artistically satisfying rather than just being stuck in an office doing what you're told, from nine to five, every day. I'm grateful for that.
SC: You'll never have to take the bus.
DJ: I could never do that. I've always had really bad attention spans. Even when I was a baby I had attention deficit fits and shit like that.
SC: So accountancy is out.
DJ: I could never do it. Or a lawyer! I can't see that anything would be satisfying.
SC: I like that you actually sing on Neon...
DJ: Yeah, on the first album I was singing a lot.On the second I got into this mind frame where if it's too melodic or you're getting a certain range, that's too wimpy. I didn't want to be percieved as being too feminine because people always thought I was gay.
SC: A lot of people have told me that.
DJ: Yeah. I was self conscious about that with the second album. I was like, [adopts macho voice] 'Everything has got to be tough,' and with this album I just said, 'Fuck it. I'm just going to do what I want to do.'
SC: I was told you had sex in a toilet with a certain male radio announcer.
DJ: Yeah, well anything is possible these days in the world of rock n' roll. I've heard lots but they don't bother me anymore. They used to. I didn't appreciate them 'cause for a lot of years every time I left the house I was called a faggot, and it really made life difficult. But now, I like when people make up things because it makes life interesting. You can talk to one person and they might think you're gay, and you talk to another and they think you're some hardcore smackhead.
SC: It's tough growing up, but it must have been even tougher under the spotlight.
DJ: We all had really good, stable childhoods. I think without the stable childhood that I had, I'd be a lot more fucked up than I am. But it does mess with your mind a lot. Especially when you're 14-years-old and you're being picked on a lot by different people and you're trying to find yourself and discover who you are - without trying to sound like a wanker. It makes it difficult when you actually find yourself, because they put you in a category. Once they saw you at 15-years-old they think that's what you're like forever.
SC: Either your history could work as a hindrance or it could create even more interest in the new album.
DJ: Yeah, well, that's what I'm hoping. It's a big risk actually, because we had a formula that was obviously successful. We could have just easily done the same thing just for the sake of selling three million albums in America, but I really wanted to do somthing which was more satisfying. I don't think I'll ever, ever regret it. It's something I had to do.
SC: Do you get hassled much now?
DJ: I still get recognised a lot but not like I used to. when I was about 16, after school I was getting beaten up, constantly being called faggot, people throwing shit into our pool and hassling my family. That was really hard. There was a point during Freak Show that silverchair was about to end because I didn't want to inflict anything else upon my family.
SC: It was bigger than you could control.
DJ: Exactly. I could handle it being directed at me, but when they started doing it to my family it really took a toll that I didn't think it would. That paparazzi kind of bullshit, photographers following my brother to school and my little sister. I mean, she's ten.
SC: If you could go back five years and take yourself under your wing, what knowledge would you pass on?
DJ: I've learned to separate my personal life from my silverchair life. I was confused because I thought for music to have integrity you had to be the same person towards the media as you are towards your friends, otherwise it's dishonest. But now I know what to talk about and what not to talk about.
SC: Have you ever chucked a big hissy fit?
DJ: Yeah, many.
SC: What gets you crazy?
DJ: I don't know, sometimes I come home angry and just break stuff. But I grew out of that, that was all teen angst. [Smiles]
SC: How did you feel when you heard about the teenagers in the USA who murdered their folks while playing your record? Could you disassociate yourself from it?
DJ: Yeah, at the time. I remember when I was told it happened. I was in a bad perios of my life anyway, I was not feeling too good. I was very devastated, actually. I got very weak at the knees, because at the time I wasn't thinking that straight. I thought if people are taking my lyrics that literally I'm going to stop. I don't want people to act upon what I write.
SC: So do girls come on to you all the time?
DJ: [Grins] No. Girls don't like skinny guys, it's just the way it is.
SC: But girls love rock stars...
DJ: They do love rock stars but...um, no...
SC: Are you saying that never happens?
DJ: It does happen on tour. When you're actually 'Daniel Johns from silverchair' it happens, but when I'm actually me, and when people realise that I'm not very good...They expect you to be this superhero. I'm totally not. [Shakes head] Most people are better at most things than me.
SC: Isn't that being a tad self-deprecating?
DJ: No it's true! The only thing I'm actually kinda relatively good at is music, so that is why I focus on it a lot.
SC: Well, you're very good at it, actually...
DJ: Oh well. [Laughs] I'm just saying, when I'm 'Daniel Johns from silverchair,' Mr Rock Star, people tend to come up to you, sit on your lap. But I'd never take advantage of it.
SC: How do you deal with things like that?
DJ: It's very invading. I'm very uncomfortable when people do it because I don't know how to react. I'm never going to take advantage of that situation. I'm never going to tell them just to fuck off, because they're being nice - a bit too nice. I don't think they're doing it because they find me particularly attractive. They're doing it because they want to say, "Yeah, I was with Daniel Johns from silverchair," and that would make them feel better for like, 30 seconds, and then they'll realise they've been used up.
SC: People see famous folks as being on a pedestal above them. So if they are recognised by someone famous then they must also be up there.
DJ:I've always thought that. I'd really like it, though, if I had the confidence to be able to do it. It could be a really self-deprecating act, where they think, "I am so much lower than you but if I get with you you'll bring me up," or it can be, "You're on this pedestal and I'm really good, so we're kinda made for each other." [Laughs] Speaking of misconceptions, the biggest misconception about me is I'm constantly on tour getting different girls every night, being this wild sex machine.
SC: Isn't that Ben?
DJ: Well, Ben, yeah, used to be. But I was never like that. It never interested me at all. I just didn't see what was good about it...although having sex with lots of different girls I'm sure is good for people who like it, but I'm not into that. Whenever we're being interviewedby a guy, they're like, "So you must be so happy with the girl situation, man." It's like, well no, not really. It's just silly.
SC: I was suprised to hear you sing lines like, "Maybe I'll fall in love..."
DJ: We were starting to get this macho following by the end of Freak Show, especially in Europe. Our crowds were pretty much dominated by skinheads and metalheads, it was avery male orientated audience. And that was what we were always going for - without trying to sound sexist - we always wanted to appeal to males more than females. We didn't want to look like some teen band. But this album is the most mellow we have ever been and the heaviest we've ever been, I think.
SC: The songs are a lot more personal.
DJ: Yeah. I've never really been this deep. In these songs I've explored things, gone into territory which I haven't really talked about to anyone. The only documentation of these experiences are in these songs.
SC: So what's the deal with "Ana's Song?"
DJ: It's not actually a love tune. It's written with the intention of people percieving that it's a love song. It's about an obsession, whether it's an eating disorder or whether it's a distorted image of one's self...anything where your mind frame is distorted. It's about that, and relying on how the whole mental phobia that you have just to get through life. It's referring to that as a girl.
SC: I like the lyric, "Would I be read if I was see-through/Or would you just read my spine" from "Do You Feel The Same".
DJ: Well, thank you. Sometimes when I go out people immediately pursue me, and that whole line is, could I be read if you didn't know who I was? Would you know anything about me if you haven't read 200 interviews?
SC: You're known as being a no-drugs guy.
DJ: I'm not straight-edged, I just don't drink because I have had stomach health problems. I've had stomach ulcers and alcohol really agitates them. It made me very sick but I'm definitely not straight-edged, I'm far from it. I'm not some drug king but I don't want to but a label on myself where I can never go out and have fun.
SC: So you're not a bucket bong man.
DJ: If my friend is having a party or something I'll go and be under the influence of whatever, but as long as you're not silly about things you can have a certain degree of fun without making a mess of yourself.
SC: What does it feel like to have money?
DJ: Well, it's good to know you have financial security.
SC: Do you ever just go, fuck...
DJ: Yeah. A lot. The whole concept of having meetings with accountants is just so unreal when you're 19 years old. Every few weeks you are having a meeting just to see what shares are up and all this crap.A lot of people are obsessed with being successful because they want mansions on hills. Money is nothing except a false sense of power.
SC: How did your folks feel when you started earning big cash?
DJ: My parents have been really, really good. If I had a kid and I could see that he or she was having a certain level of success, but I could also see how, at one stage, what was happening to my head and my behavioural patterns, I would be putting a stop to it. But they were the best, really supportive the whole way.
SC: The guitar solo on "Do You Feel the Same" was your Dad's suggestion, yep?
DJ: Dad heard some of our new songs, and he was like, [Adopts parental tone] "Oh, you know what you should have man?" [Laughs] And I go, "What?" "You need more guitar solos, like Neil Young, Ritchie Blackmore. That's what you need." [Laughs] I was like, "Yeah, all right, Dad." That song's for Dad.
SC: So you're not moving out of home?
DJ: No, I'll probably move out next year. I get on really well with my parents, we've grown really close. I never fight with them. They were the ones who got me into music. Mum and Dad got me into Black Sabbath. Before that I was just a break dancer.
SC: What's the greatest myth about fame?
DJ: The biggest myth is that fame equals contentment. You've still got everyday life.
SC: What are you afraid of?
DJ: I've got lots of phobias. I'm extremely claustrophobic, like if I'm in a portaloo and i can't open a door, I cry. Not cry as in scream out but I get really frantic and start shaking. I'm scared of so much. I can't be in large crowds for very long, otherwise I start shaking...
SC: You address suicide in your lyrics. How realistic are feelings like that for you? You're not going to do a Kurt Cobain?
DJ: It's all very realistic. I would never commit suicide, just because I know my family would be incredibly hurt. The references to suicide in my songs are more like a 'what if' thing: would everything be better if I was dead? I don't want anyone to ever think that because I mention suicide that there's a possibility of me committing suicide, and that maybe they should contemplate it because even the people they look up to are thinking about it, because it's not..
SC: Kurt could have tried to change his life.
DJ: But to be honest, if he had he still would have been 'Kurt Cobain.' He wasn't even percieved as a person anymore, he was just some saviour for millions of teenagers.
SC: So let's go back. What's the first thing you remember?
DJ: Chucking a tantrum and my dad taking me around the block, like, 30 times. It was midnight. I was a year old or something.
SC: And your favourite childhood memory?
DJ: Probably every Christmas and every birthday, whenever I was getting stuff. [Laughs] Everyone sitting around and everone focusing on me, I was pretty happy.
SC: What's the best present you ever got?
DJ: My guitar. When I was eleven I got an $80 electric guitar. It was called a Rock Axe.
SC: What characteristics have you inherited from your mum and dad?
DJ: My dad's impatience. I've definitely got my mum's hair. I never want to hurt animals or anything, quash flies. I got that from mum.
SC: So you won't even kill a spider?
DJ: No. [Laughs] I'm a little bit scared of them but I still move them away, I just put them in a cup and let them go in the garden.
SC: [Noticing his recent Animal Liberation tattoo] When did you become vegan?
DJ: I became vegetarian when I was about 16. I did it purely for animal rights reasons. When I stopped eating meat I was just missing chicken, I got really angry because I like chicken so much. And then I just decided to do the whole thing.
SC: Are you an ambitious person?
DJ: Sometimes I am and sometimes I'm not. My life is black and white, it's either very good or very shit. [Laughs] Sometimes I just want to sit in my room and do mothing for years.
SC: What's your idea of perfect happiness?
DJ: Just having heaps of good shit to play with. [Laughs] Happiness would be finding someone special and living in a big house with a movie cinema in it. And lots of animals.
SC: What's the trait you deplore in yourself?
DJ: I pretty much hate everone before I meet them. I judge people, which I'm trying to stop, but it's very hard because I hate everyone before I know who they are. They've got to win me over...You've won me over.
SC: Have I? Of course, you could be lying.
DJ: No. I'm not lying. I don't lie.
SC: What's the trait you most like?
DJ: [Long pause] How I treat my dog. That's good. She's got a good life.
SC: So on what occasion would you lie?
DJ: When it stops people from being offended. No, not offended, more hurt, 'cause I offend a lot of people. I only tell small lies to prevent people from getting hurt...or myself from getting in big trouble. [Laughs]
SC: Where do you want to be at 50?
DJ: I certainly don't want to be in the rock & roll industry. I don't like spending my whole life in the potlight with everyone looking at you seeing you get old and fat and ugly and seeing how you lose the plot musically as well. I want to end before I get too sad.
SC: If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
DJ: At home, with my dog, watching Ricki Lake.
SC: That's terrible, Daniel.
DJ: Well, maybe for you, but for me that's heaven.
SC: When's the last time you cried?
DJ: I haven't cried for ages. Even if something really terrible happens, I can't cry.
SC: I even cried at Dawson's Creek.
DJ: Really? Dawson's Creek, yep, I think I'm gonna like that show. I was impressed with it as well.
SC: How would you like to die?
DJ: I would like to die very quickly.
SC: How did you go in your HSC?
DJ: Better than I expected. I just rocked in there and did the exams. I mean, I didn't go to school for more than half of the year.
SC: You've got people around you. How do you feel about them?
DJ: I'm very happy, we're fortunate. Oh, it's not just fortunate, we picked the right people. We have total trust in our management and our record company and they're totally open to what we want to do.
SC: Would you consider switching labels?
DJ: We're not thinking of leaving. I mean, from day one our label has always been cool with us and supported us so we're happy where we are. [Pause] Although I guess it depends how much money other record companies offer us. See, I told you i don't lie. [Laughs]
SC: So if someone offers you $100 million...
DJ: I'd be out of there. $100 million, fuck yeah.
SC: Nut what would you do with it?
DJ: I'd release five albums so quick! Just retire and buy boats and cars and mansions. [Laughs] I'd feed countries.
SC: What's your favourite journey? This is a bit like Smash Hits, isn't it?
DJ: It just sounds like Dolly! Just joking.
SC: You're in a recent Dolly quiz.
DJ: Am I?
SC: It was a "who is your perfect rock star" quiz. And I got you.
DJ: Excellent. Well, let's hook up later on.
SC: What do you think of this record?
BG: I really like it. Hopefully we'll go back to our rocky roots on the fourth album.
SC: Why haven't you written anything?
BG: Basically because I had fun. We finished school, finished the final tour from Freak Show, and I just wanted to not worry about anything for a whole year, and that's what I did. Johnsy stayed home, didn't really come out much, and wrote a lot of songs.
SC: What did you think when he turned up with 'Miss You Love'?
BG: I wasn't suprised. Not that we've done songs like that before, but I was cool.
SC: Describe the others.
BG: Chris is quiet, but when he's pissed (Mad's note...Ben means 'drunk' here, not 'angry') his true side comes out, he's a yobbo. He likes relaxing. Daniel, I call him 'the hermit', because he sleeps strange hours and when he is awake he doesn't do very much.
SC: What's the weirdest thing you think people believe about silverchair?
BG: The weirdest thing that people think - and the funniest as well - is that we're not playing the albums. That's pretty funny. Most people think that being in a band is like, "Woah", just touring around and having fun and cocktails...
SC: I thought you were Mr Original Rock Guy.
BG: Yeah, kind of, I don't mind a bevvie now and again, but other than that, it's all a crock of shit. You go on the road, sitting in a black box all night, sitting in hotels, waiting for planes...
SC: So what would you want to tell the fans?
BG: Don't listen to what anyone says about the record, you have to hear it and have your own opinion. You can't put into words what it sounds like.
SC: Do you ever wonder what Daniel's on about?
BG: Some lyrics I'm not a fan of. In 'Spawn Again', when he's singing of animal liberation, it's funny 'cause me and Chris eat meat nearly every night.
SC: A steak and veg man.
BG: Yeah, but fortunately my girlfriend's parents cook different stuff every night. I go over there and if they put something new on the table I'll be like, "Oh no!" But they convince me to eat it. Then I'll go home and I'll be like, "Mum, can we get this?"
SC: So are you excited about this record?
CJ: Yeah, 'cause it's so different. As different as Freak Show was to Frogstomp, as big a step that was, this is an even bigger one.
SC: What did you think when you first heard the new songs?
CJ: It was a bit odd. Some of the ideas Daniel talked about were so different it sounded really interesting but it took a while to get a grip on it, what sort of frame of mind you had to be in. But in the end, I really dig it all.
SC: Do you feel the pressure of success, like wondering how this record sells?
CJ: You always have that doubt in your mind, but you just kinda push it to the back and think you just gotta get on with it, play some shows, etc. It's kinda hard 'cause not many people have heard it yet. I think after the first month or two we'll get the vibe.
SC: How do your folks feel about your success?
CJ: I think 'cause it's been going for a fair while now, that's just normal now, in a sense. You're just so used to it, going away for periods of time, and other things.
SC: Is it good now that school is finished?
CJ: Oh yeah. [Laughs] It felt pretty weird when we had all that time off at the beginning of last year, it was no school, no band, we were like, "What are we gonna do?" It did get a little bit boring, it took a while to get into that frame of mind of [having] nothing on.
SC: What's the biggest myth about silverchair?
CJ: The funniest one I had was that someone thought I was a heroin user.
SC: How would you describe Ben and Daniel?
CJ: Ben's easy, he's very outgoing, willing to try anything, except for food. He's very steak and three veg. And Daniel? Unique. In a creative sense. You can tell from his songs and that.
SC: What's something about both of those people that no-one else would know?
CJ: "Chainsaw" they call ben, 'cause he snores. When Daniel was younger he fell over and a watering can went in his mouth and he had to get stitches.
SC: What are you hoping comes out of this album?
CJ: With Frogstomp and Freak Show we kinda built the foundations, and this time around it's kinda make or break. I think this time around it really counts.