SilverChair

Silverchair
by Dave Schwartz

The story of Silverchair is almost legendary.  At age 14, a group of school kids win a national demo competition with a song called "Tomorrow."  The prize included a chance to record the song and do a video.  Silverchair's popularity didn't go unnoticed and they quickly landed a three-album deal with Sony Music.  Sony rushed "Tomorrow" to market, where it subsequently spent six weeks at #1 on the Australian Singles Charts.  In 1995, a re-recorded version of "Tomorrow" and a new video were made for the US market, and it event became the most played song of the year on U.S. modern rock radio.

"Young Modern" is Silverchair's fifth and most recent album. The group has enjoyed more top 20 hits in Australian charts during the last decade than any other local artist. Additionally, they have sold more than six million albums worldwide. Every album released by the band to date has spawned at least one # 1 single and debuted at the #1 position on Australian charts. Silverchair is also one of only three Australian bands to have three #1 singles on the Australian Singles Chart, and the only Australian band to have their first album chart at #1 in the Australian Album Chart. They are the most successful act at the ARIA awards, having won more awards than any other act.

On November 21st I had the chance to sit down with Chris Joannou, bass player for Silverchair.  The following is a transcript of that interview. 

DB:  First of all, welcome to Arizona.  Have you ever been here before? 

Joannou:  Yeah, we have, but I think it's been maybe seven years since we were last here. 

DB:  I noticed that you missed us on the first leg of your tour. 

Joannou:  We actually didn't plan on doing any more dates.  It's fortunate that some good has come out of having to cancel a few shows,  you know, instead of coming back to makeup four shows, we came back for four weeks. 

DB:  Yes, it would seem ridiculous to travel all the way from Australia for just four shows.  Congratulations on the new record, "Young Modern."  What can you tell me about the album?

Joannou:  I guess this is a record that we made over the course of a couple years. Daniel Johns did some song writing while he was in London and then we all got together.  We hadn't recorded music together for a while, so it was almost like one big long reunion.  We did pre-production in Australia.  We got a little house in the country out in western Newcastle where we all live and so we just set up in this house and played music every day.  We had campfire dinners and there was a little old bathtub out under the stars.  It was nothing to use, but it looked cool!  It was just a real enjoyable experience doing this record.  Then we came over here to Los Angeles and recorded the album at a studio in the valley called Seedy Underbelly.  Then we went to Prague to record strings and ended up mixing in Toronto. 

DB:  It sounds like this was a completely international experience.  I was going to ask about recording in L.A.  I know many bands enjoy getting away from their home city when they record because it limits the disruptions and distractions.  But you must admit, Newcastle to Los Angeles is a bit of a commute.  Why did you choose to record in L.A.? 

Joannou:  We were just out for something completely different than what we did last time.  We always recorded in Australia.  Many things can influence a recording and we just thought that we would try L.A., iIt seemed like a good idea. 

DB:  So how long did you take in the studio in L.A.?  It sounds like you really worked on the pre-production, so I would imagine that the recording process moved along quickly. 

Joannou:  We tracked the songs in L.A. for maybe eight weeks and then went to Prague. 

DB:  You're first dingle off this record was called "Straight Line" and, obviously, it has been quite successful for you.  You've recently release your second single. 

Joannou:  What is our second single? 

DB:  I didn't know there was going to be a test!  The second single is called "If You Keep Losing Sleep." 

Joannou:  Actually that's our third single. 

DB:  Well, yes, you also released "Reflections of a Sound" back in July, but that was a digital release, only in Australia.  So you're right, "If You Keep Losing Sleep" is your third single in Australia, but only the second here in America. 

Joannou:  When did "Losing Sleep" come out? 

DB:  Let's see here, according to my research the single was released on October 6th.  I'm guessing to coincide with this leg of your American tour.  So let's back up for just a moment.  I wanted to ask about "Reflections of a Sound"--  last July you released the song in a digital format, available only in Australia.  Why did you take that approach? 

Joannou:  It's just one of those things.  These days not a lot of people go out and buy a single. 

DB:  The face of music has really changed. 

Joannou:  Yes, in a sense we are trying to move with the times.  But I think really in some ways it's a little bit pointless for those things. 

DB:  It certainly has to be more economical for the band and record company. 

Joannou:  Well yes, for the record company it is way economical.  I think we may have done a small run of CDs but I don't think it was ever released to the public. 

DB:  We've mentioned the record company -  you released the "Young Modern" on Eleven Records, was that a self-release? 

Joannou:  Well we self-funded the record, then we actually signed with a label here in the states. 

DB:  Yes, Warner Music Group for distribution.  It's a fairly common approach I'm told. 

Joannou:  It just seems to make sense.  You've got to make the record you want and then you've got to find people that are as excited about it as you are.  I think it makes a whole lot of sense. 

DB:  You've mentioned that it has been seven years since you've been here to America, what has changed? 

Joannou:  I guess we've changed a fair bit.  The music is forever changing in this band.  I mean "Diorama" didn't really much of a listening here in America. 

DB:  You didn't tour over here on that record did you?

Joannou:  Right, we toured on the first three records, but on "Diorama," we just weren't able to make it over here.  But we still see many of the same faces at shows!

DB:  (laughter)  You still remember them from the last tour? 

Joannou:  Well yeah, we have some of the most dedicated fans in the world! 

DB:  You spoke of the ever-changing music.  I was one of the many that ran out and bought your first record and I played the hell out of it, but for a hundred reasons I lost track of the band after that. A few weeks ago I was offered the chance to do this interview.  I remembered that first record, I knew you had a new single on the radio, I was very interested in speaking to you about the remarkable change from "Frog Stomp" to "Young Modern." 

Joannou:  On the first record we were 14 years old, on this record we're 28.  I think some people are a bit surprised from this record because you missed out on "Diorama" and the whole transition.  And we've never really been about finding a sound and holding onto it, it's more about trying to push the boundaries each time. 

DB:  So many of the better bands find a way to reinvent themselves with each new record.  It's just the nature of the business, you have to find a way to keep your fans interested. 

Joannou:  I think that some people don't like the change and get a bit weirded out when a band changes everything.  But I also think that many people underestimate the listeners. 

DB:  Yes, some mistakenly believe that fans are sheep. 

Joannou:  That's right, just feed them what they had last time and they'll eat it. 

DB:  Let's take a moment and talk about your producer, Nick Launay.  You've worked with him on at least three records. 

Joannou:  We worked with him on "Freak Show," "Neon Ballroom" and this album. 

DB:  You seem to have found a muse in a sense, someone you can work with.  I know that some bands expect a great deal from their producers, while others expect the producer to remain quiet and out of the way.  How does it work for you? 

Joannou:  Um, working with Nick, one of the main reasons we chose to work with him on this record is because of some of his most recent work with Nick Cave, the "Abattoir Blues" record and the fact that it was all recorded live.  That's exactly how we wanted to approach this record.  We wanted to set all four of us up in a room and do all the tracking live, together.  And Nick is really good at capturing the essence of a band in a room. 

DB:  There is a certain amount of energy that is captured that way. 

Joannou:  Yeah, he's real good at that. 

DB:  It's easy to sterilize a record by going through take after take and looking for perfection. 

Joannou:  And that's why we wanted to all get together and bang away all at once to make it the best. 

DB:  Did you rely on Nick for input on arrangements and so on? 

Joannou:  Absolutely.  We spent quite a bit of time with Nick in Australia before coming to L.A.  We sat in a rehearsal room just going over songs and trying new things.  We wanted to work on arrangements to be sure we tried every conceivable way of doing things.  We wanted the best songs possible. 

DB:  Silverchair has had spectacular success in Australia, but, by comparison, your star hasn't shined as brightly here in America.  I don't bring this up as a negative point, but rather a basis for my next question.  I'm sure that when you're back home you find yourself playing the larger venues., but for example, tonight the venue can hold 1,500 people-  is it easier to reach out and connect to a smaller crowd?  

Joannou:  Um, yeah, it's definitely easier.  I mean, the other night we played to only 500 in San Francisco.  And there is a certain intimacy that you can't get in front of thousands. 

DB:  Do you find the smaller shows invigorating?  Unnerving? 

Joannou:  It is a little unnerving!  It's like there's no barrier.  It's almost like the people are right there on the stage with you!  I mean it's exciting, but it's nerve-racking as well. 

With that the interview ended.  I would like to thank Chris Joannou and Silverchair for making themselves available for this interview.  For some here in America, Silverchair is that band of kids we all remember.  But the kids have grown up and so has their music and what is left is still every bit as worthy of you listening.  Silverchair will be touring America until mid-December when they'll return to Australia to spend the holidays with their families.  Get out and see them. 

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