It's practically a rite of passage: the teen Rock band. They burn with the intensity of a high school romance - and last just about as long. Confined to the basement or garage or anyplace with sound insulation, rarely does anything come of these efforts. Maybe a partnership or bond is formed that will pay dividends 5 or 10 years down the road. When one of these teen groups gets a recording contract and actually manages to sell CDs (providing they're not some scrubbed or manufacturer teen band), it's a major achievement.
Making it in the U.S. is just about every band's dream whether they are in Cleveland or Sydney. Sometimes both places seem far removed from any influential music scene. However, if a band wants to be a success, it helps to be from the States - in a pinch, Canada will do.
England is another good place because the English have a knack for Rock. Of course, there are countless English bands that fail to make an impression in America - but most of these are actually little more than trashy pop bands slamming bonus beats. Beyond England though, and it becomes tough going. Being from an English speaking country helps, but only so far. Australia is about as far off the beaten path as you can get. And if it weren't for AC/DC and INXS that place would be known only as the home of the late Crocodile Hunter (Steve Irwin) and Olivia Newton-John.
That Silverchair made it while in their teens (early teens at that) and that they were from Australia was flat out amazing.
The group formed in '92 as Innocent Criminals. Daniel Johns (vocals/guitar) and Ben Gillies (drums) had already logged a few years as bandmates. They were joined by Chris Joannou (bass) and Tobin Finnane (rhythm guitar). But Finnane was gone before the group's debut album.
In a country with a lot of space, not many people and even less to do, talent shows are a good way to kill time. The Innocent Criminals entered various competitions until their demo of "Tomorrow" won the Pick Me contest. Sponsored by a T.V. program and a radio station they re-recorded the song and got to make a video of it - all while the lads were just 14. It was around this time they dropped Innocent Criminals and became Silverchair.
Their success landed them a deal with Sony and "Tomorrow" held the #1 spot on the Australian chart for six weeks.
OK, they're hometown heroes, what about the States? "Tomorrow" was re-recorded (again) and a new video was produced for the U.S. market. The song became a heavily played Modern Rock Track that paved the way for the group's debut album "Frogstomp." Recorded in a mere nine days by now wizened 15 year olds, the '95 release cracked the U.S. Top 10, making them the first Aussie group since INXS to do so.
"Freak Show" arrived in '97. While "Frogstomp's" lyrics focused on T.V. themes, the pangs of growing up and personal experiences, "Freak Show" mined the anger and frustration resulting from the expectations set by "Frogstomp." Kinda like young men throwing a bit of a snit or temper tantrum. Still, the album went gold in the U.S.
The group was looking to take a break but, according to Johns, "it felt weird not writing and making music," so "Neon Ballroom" hit just two years after "Freak Show." Johns was battling an eating disorder and the ailment became a song topic ("Ana's Song"). Later, Johns also suffered from reactive arthritis.
Silverchair incorporated a handful of keyboardists, most notably Paul Mac. Extensive touring with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blink-182 ensued. After that, Silverchair, having completed their Sony contract, took time off - and signed with Atlantic.
Silverchair rocked in '01 with an appearance before 250,000 at Rock In Rio. Later that year, the group began work on what would be "Diorama" (which wasn't released until '02). The album was co-produced by Johns and David Bottrill (Tool, Peter Gabriel). While Bottrill could be called a heavy-hitter, there was another name, far better known, involved in the project. Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson's one-time collaborator on some of the Beach Boys' more adventurous tracks, contributed orchestral arrangements to "Tuna In The Brine" and singles "Luv Your Life" and "Across The Night." Also, Paul Mac returned on keyboards (along with Jim Moginie).
Side projects kept members busy until they re-grouped in '06 to began work on their fifth studio album (and first album in five years), "Young Modern." Bottrill was back and Parks was brought in for orchestral arrangements on three songs. For some "warm-up" shows Mac played keyboards.
"Young Modern," featuring first single, "Straight Lines," went to the top of the Australian chart. That feat made Silverchair the only Australian band to ever have 5 #1 albums. "Young Modern" was released in the U.S. in the summer, '07. Next was a major move was a co-headlining Aussie tour, Across The Great Divide, with fellow-countrymen Powderfinger.
1997 Freak Show
1999 Neon Ballroom
2007 Young Modern
Like almost every teen Rock band in the world, Silverchair initially sounds derivative. Since they were lacking any real life experience it was logical (and expected) that they'd ape their favorites. That's not bad - actually this is very good.
Their debut, "Frogstomp," is post-Grunge Metal. A touch of Nirvana, some Pearl Jam and a shot of Helmet. "Tomorrow" has it all. On "Freak Show" Silverchair cast themselves as outsiders. That's a bit of a reach since their debut was such big success, deservedly so. Here, "Abuse Me" and "Pop Song For Rejects" grab attention while "Lie To Me" is a close alternate take of Nirvana's "On A Plane." "Freak Show" is not as forceful or as appealing as "Frogstomp" but it's rare a sophomore effort can outshine an impressive debut.
Oddly, "Neon Ballroom" backs away from the very elements that made Silverchair popular. But they pull if off - at least commercially. "Neon Ballroom" is a brooding, low-key effort with a lot of ballads and not much energy. "Diorama" still relies heavily on ballads but at least there's some sonic density and punch, not to mention solid melodies, on "Too Much Of Not Enough" and "The Greatest View.
"Young Modern" combines drama and bristling energy (finally back to where they started). "Young Modern Station," with driving guitar chords and piano, is just about as good an opening track as there is.
A lack of sleep - and what results - is a reoccurring theme. Silverchair goes theatrical and displays Art Rock tendencies for the strident "If You Keep Losing Sleep" then turns restless, "I'll stay awake for days," on Insomnia." "Waiting All Day" is an ethereal pop song while the bass-piano "Mind Reader" smartly leaves the rough edges exposed.