Silverchair is an Australian alternative rock band. The band formed as Innocent Criminals in Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1992, with their current lineup of vocalist and guitarist Daniel Johns, bass guitarist Chris Joannou, and drummer Ben Gillies. Silverchair has been highly successful in the Australian recording industry, receiving the industry's flagship awards, the ARIA Awards, a record 21 times. The band has also received six APRA Awards.
Silverchair found early success when one of their first songs, "Tomorrow", won a local music competition run by Australian television network SBS. The band was soon signed by Murmur, and were successful on the Australian and international rock stages. In 2003, following the release of Diorama, the band announced a hiatus, during which time members recorded with side projects The Dissociatives, The Mess Hall, and Tambalane. Silverchair were reunited at the 2005 Wave Aid concerts, and went on to release Young Modern and play the Across the Great Divide tour with Powderfinger.
Silverchair's sound has evolved throughout their career, differing sounds on specific albums steadily growing more ambitious over the years, from post-grunge on their debut to their more recent orchestral prog-infused chamber-pop. The songwriting and singing of Daniel Johns has been noted as improving steadily while the band has developed an increased element of complexity in later works. Silverchair have sold in excess of six million records to date.
Formation and early releases (1992?1996)
In 1992, teenage singer/guitarist Daniel Johns and his school friend, drummer Ben Gillies, started playing music together at their primary school. When they moved on to Newcastle High School, schoolmate Chris Joannou joined the pair on bass. They formed the band "Innocent Criminals". They played numerous shows around the Hunter Valley region in their early teens, as well as unsuccessfully participating in Youthrock in 1994, a competition for school-based bands.
The band's mainstream breakthrough came in 1994, when they won a national competition called "Pick Me", conducted by the SBS TV show Nomad and alternative radio station Triple J) with a demo of their original song "Tomorrow". As part of the prize, Triple J recorded the song and ABC filmed a video for it. Innocent Criminals were then given the opportunity to change their name before the release of "Tomorrow" as a single. There are a number of stories as to how the name 'Silverchair' came about - from a list of possible band names given to them by management; from the Narnia book "The Silver Chair"; or from a combination of You Am I's "Berlin Chair" and a misspelling of Nirvana's "Sliver."
Following a bidding war between rival labels, Silverchair signed a three-album recording contract with Sony Music subsidiary Murmur Records; Sony A&R manager John Watson, who was jointly responsible for signing the group, subsequently left the label to become the group's manager. Their Triple J recording was released in August 1994 and the single spent six weeks at #1 on the ARIA Singles Chart. In 1995, a re-recorded version of "Tomorrow" (and a new video) was made for the US market, becoming the most played song on US modern rock radio that year.
Silverchair?s debut album, Frogstomp, was recorded in just nine days, and released in 1995. At the time of recording, the band members were only 15 years old, and still attending high school. Frogstomp's lyrical concepts were fiction-based, drawing inspiration from television, hometown tragedies, and perceptions of the pain of friends. The album was well received; Allmusic and Rolling Stone rated it in four and four-and-a-half stars respectively, praising the intensity of the album, especially "Tomorrow". A #1 hit in Australia and New Zealand, Frogstomp went on to hit the Billboard 200 Top 10, making Silverchair the first Australian band to do so since INXS. The album sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide. As Frogstomp and "Tomorrow" continued to gain popularity through that year, the group toured with Red Hot Chili Peppers and played on the roof of Radio City Music Hall, while also continuing with their education in Newcastle that year.
In a January 1996 murder case, the defendant counsel for Brian Bassett, 16, and Nicholaus McDonald, 18, claimed that the pair listening to "Israel's Son", from Frogstomp, caused the murder of Bassett's parents to take place. The band issued a statement denying that they condoned any such acts of violence, and the defense case was rejected.
Critical and commercial success (1997?2001)
While experiencing the success of Frogstomp in Australia and the United States, Silverchair began recording their second studio album, Freak Show, which they released in 1997. The album yielded three Top 10 singles in Australia ? "Freak", "Abuse Me", and "Cemetery". The fourth single, "The Door", reached #25. The songs focused on the anger and backlash that the expectations of Frogstomp brought upon the band. Freak Show was certified gold in the United States, and global sales eventually exceeded 1.5 million copies.
After graduating from school the band was able to spend much more time creating their next album, Neon Ballroom, released in 1999. The band originally intended to take a 12-month-break, but in the end decided to devote their time to making music. Neon Ballroom produced four singles; "Anthem for the Year 2000", "Ana's Song (Open Fire)", "Miss You Love", and "Paint Pastel Princess", three of which reached the top 50 of the ARIA Charts.
Both Freak Show and Neon Ballroom topped the ARIA Albums Chart, making them the band's second and third, respectively, to do so. The albums charted well overseas; Freak Show reached #2 in Canada, and Neon Ballroom reached #5. "Freak", "Abuse Me", and "Cemetery" all made the top 10 in Australia, and "Abuse Me" reached #4 on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks and Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. "Anthem for the Year 2000" was the highest charting single from Neon Ballroom, at #3, while "Ana's Song (Open Fire)" peaked at #12 on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks.
In 1999, Johns announced that he had developed an eating disorder due to anxiety. Johns noted that the lyrics to "Ana's Song (Open Fire)" dealt with his disorder, where he would "eat what he needed ? to stay awake". Johns later revealed that he had written Neon Ballroom while he was suffering from the disorder, and that he "hated music, particularly, my own" at the time, but felt that he had to disappoint music fans nonetheless.
Silverchair toured extensively in support of Neon Ballroom, propelling it to stronger worldwide sales than they had achieved with Freak Show. Rolling Stone's Neva Chonin attributed the success to the album's more "mature" sound. In Europe and South America it became the group's most successful album to date, with Silverchair touring live and making appearances at festivals in Reading and Edgefest, amongst others. Silverchair's only live performance in 2000 was at the Falls Festival on New Year's Eve. On 21 January 2001, the band played to 250,000 people at Rock In Rio, a show they described as the highlight of their career. Following the tour, the band announced that they would be taking a 12-month-break.
After the release of Neon Ballroom, Silverchair's three album contract with Sony Music ended. The band were subsequently pursued by record labels during their hiatus. At the end of the break, they announced that they would be signing with Atlantic Records for North and South America, as well as forming their own label, Eleven: A Music Company, for Australia and Asia. After the announcement, Sony released The Best of Volume 1 without the band's consent.
"Luv Your Life"
"Luv Your Life" was typical of Johns' new-found method of writing songs on piano, and also featured an orchestral arrangement by Van Dyke Parks.
In June 2001, Silverchair entered a studio in Sydney with producer David Bottrill (Tool, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson) to start work on their fourth album, Diorama. This time, Daniel Johns formally assumed the role of a co-producer. The album, which Johns described as "a world within a world", came from his newfound method of writing most of the material on the piano, a technique he had developed during the band's break. In order to complete his vision for Diorama, several other musicians were drawn in to contribute to the album, including Van Dyke Parks, who contributed orchestral arrangements to "Tuna in the Brine", "Luv Your Life", and "Across the Night". Paul Mac and Jim Moginie also collaborated with the band. While recording Diorama, Johns referred to himself as an artist, rather than simply being in a "rock band". Upon the album's release, critics commented that the album was more artistic than previous works.
The first single from Diorama, "The Greatest View" was released to radio networks in Australia in early December. The single was then released to coincide with the band's appearance on the Big Day Out tour. During the tour, Johns' reactive arthritis made it difficult for him to play the guitar.
Diorama topped the ARIA Albums chart, and spent 50 weeks in the top 50. Five singles were released; "The Greatest View", "Without You", "Luv Your Life", "Across the Night", and "After All These Years". Of these, "The Greatest View" charted strongest, reaching #3 on the ARIA Singles Chart. Diorama was successful at the 2002 ARIA Awards, winning five awards including "Best Rock Album" and "Best Group". The band played "The Greatest View" at the ceremony; the song was also nominated for "Best Video". The album, and singles from it, were nominated for several awards in 2003. Following the 2002 ARIA Awards, the band announced an indefinite hiatus. Johns says it was necessary "given the fact the band were together for over a decade and yet were only, on average, 23 years old".
Extended break and side projects (2003-2005)
In 2000, while also working with Silverchair, Johns and Paul Mac released an internet-only EP titled I Can't Believe It's Not Rock. After the announcement of Silverchair's hiatus, the pair re-united and formed The Dissociatives, releasing a self-titled album in 2004 as well as providing the theme music for the popular ABC-TV music quiz show Spicks and Specks (a reworking of The Bee Gees' 1966 hit of the same name).
Johns also collaborated with then-wife Natalie Imbruglia on her Counting Down the Days album, released in April 2005. Meanwhile, Joannou worked with side project The Mess Hall, producing their second album Feeling Sideways. The album was nominated for the ARIA Award for "Best Independent Release" in 2003. Gillies also worked with a side project; releasing a self titled album with Tambalane, and touring across Australia.
Following the Boxing Day Tsunami, Silverchair reformed for one show at the Wave Aid fundraising concert in Sydney in 2005, to raise funds for aid organisations working in disaster affected areas. At the same time, the band decided to reunite. Reflecting on the occasion, Gillies put the band's reuniting down to a special "chemistry" between band members, telling The Sydney Morning Herald "It only took us 15 years, but recently we've realised, 'We've really got something special and we should just go for it.'"
Return from hiatus (2006?present)
Silverchair performing on the Across the Great Divide Tour in September 2007
After performing at Wave Aid, Silverchair reunited and began preparations for their next album. In 2006, Young Modern was demoed in the Hunter Valley, and recorded at Los Angeles' Seedy Underbelly Studios with producer Nick Launay. Van Dyke Parks again worked with the band, who travelled to Prague to record with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Silverchair produced the album independently, to ease the pressures faced previously when working with a record label.
The band toured extensively before releasing the album, performing at Homebake and numerous other shows. They performed a cover of Midnight Oil's "Don't Wanna Be the One" at the 2006 ARIA Awards as part of Midnight Oil's induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame. During the performance Johns spray painted PG4PM (Peter Garrett for Prime Minister) on a stage wall, paying tribute to the band's frontman, now a Federal Member of Parliament and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. On 12 June 2007, Silverchair and fellow rock group Powderfinger announced the Across the Great Divide Tour. The tour aimed to promote the efforts of Reconciliation Australia in mending the 17-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
Silverchair on stage at the 2008 Big Day Out
The album was released in 2007, as was the first single, "Straight Lines". "Reflections of a Sound", "If You Keep Losing Sleep", and "Mind Reader", were subsequently released. Young Modern became the fifth Silverchair album to top the ARIA Albums chart. "Straight Lines" also became the band's third #1 single in Australia. The album and song each won three awards at the 2007 ARIA Awards, taking Silverchair to a total of 20. Silverchair won three APRA Awards for their song "Straight Lines", including Songwriter of the Year, which Johns was awarded for a record third time.
According to Silverchair's website, as of 7 June 2009, Silverchair has begun work on the follow-up to Young Modern, having spent three weeks recording in Australia with future sessions earmarked for the summer. No release date has been set, but the band uploaded in-studio videos working on several tracks to their official website.
"Straight Lines", ARIA's 2007 Song of the Year, was described as an "instant rock classic" by Allmusic, with reviewer Clayton Bolger asserting Young Modern was drastically different to the straight-forward grunge on early albums, and the "few musical surprises" on Neon Ballroom and Diorama.
Silverchair are generally classified as an alternative rock/post grunge band, although their loyalty to specific genres has changed as they have matured. Much of the band's early post-grunge work was inspired by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Black Sabbath. Gillies agreed, noting the band were inspired by the "Seattle Sound", as well as The Beatles and The Doors, and were highly impressionable in their youth. In their early years the perceived stylistic similarities led to silverchair being derisively dubbed "Nirvana in Pyjamas" by the Australian media (a sarcastic conflated reference to the band's youth and the popular Australian childrens TV series Bananas in Pyjamas).
In writing Young Modern, Johns tried to make the music sound very simple, in spite of a complex musical structure. The lyrics were written after the music was produced, sometimes as late as the day of recording. As Johns has said he dreads writing lyrics, he suggested that the band could produce an instrumental album at some stage in the future. Johns is the band's primary songwriter, and notes that while Joannou and Gillies do not have significant influence on what he writes, they are key to the band's overall sound.
Joannou believed that Young Modern was simpler than Diorama but "still as complex underneath with simple pop song elements". He said that much of the success of him and the band resulted from silverchair trying to push themselves harder in recording and writing. Self-producing allowed the band to do so without the pressures of a record label.
Gillies notes that silverchair will often "run the risk of losing fans" in their work, and this was evident in the changes in musical direction in Diorama and Young Modern. However, he described this as a good thing, describing the fact "that we haven?t been pigeonholed, and people really don?t know what to expect" as one of the attractive elements of the band. Despite the ups and downs of success at a young age, Gillies says the band "appreciate what we?ve achieved and what we?ve got" in their careers.
Frogstomp was described as similar to Nirvana and Pearl Jam; Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine noting it followed in "the alternative rock tradition" of the bands. The band's songwriting was poor at that stage, with Erlewine stating that "their songwriting abilities aren't as strong" as those of their peers. Rolling Stone however, claimed that the band had risen above their peers, applauding Johns' "ragged vocals". Freak Show saw the band show more of their own musical style, rather than copying others, and thus received more praise for its songwriting than its predecessor. Yahoo! Music's Sandy Masuo described the lyrics as "moving" and "emotional".
Entertainment Weekly approved of the further advancement in Neon Ballroom, commenting on "plush strings on these adult arrangements". There were once again significant advancements in songwriting; Johns was described as "furious, motivated, and all grown up". However, Rolling Stone said the album seemed confused, commenting that Silverchair "can't decide what they want to do" with their music. Meanwhile, Diorama was seen as an extension of the band's originality, with its "eavy orchestration, unpredictable melodic shifts and a whimsical pop sensibility". According to PopMatters' Nikki Tranter, the album stood out in an otherwise dull Australian music market.
Allmusic's Clayton Bolger described Young Modern as an improvement by the band, praising "catchy melodic hooks, inspired lyrical themes, and stunning string arrangements". He claimed the album was the pinnacle of the band's development. PopMatters' Nick Pearson saw the opposite, claiming that "nce you reach the level of intellectual maturity where you can tell the difference between cryptic but poetic lyrics and nonsensical crap, you have outgrown Silverchair". Pearson called the album an attempt to secure a safer territory and assure sales, after the success of past works, calling it more boring than its predecessors. Other reviewers noted influences from cult British band XTC.
In July 2009 "Tomorrow" was voted number 33 by the Australian public in Triple J Hottest 100 of all time.