Aussie Freaks Invade California Shores

kinda crappy band promo photo

Bassist Chris Joannou of Silverchair

Interview by Daniel Ewacha

You can't call Australia's Silverchair the darlings of the music industry anymore. Why not? For one, they graduate from high school this year. Two, take a listen to their new album, entitled Freak Show, and you'll hear a much more mature, if you will, sound than you do from its generic grunge-sounding predecessor, Frogstomp. And, finally, they were recently arrested for driving without a license on a public beach in California with Dave Navarro from the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the passenger seat!

(After a couple of leading questions and prodding on my part, I finally got bassist Chris Joannou to open up a bit on the subject: "Yeah, we got in a bit of trouble, no big deal," he says. "Daniel [Johns, guitars/vocals] just got his wrist slapped a bit and a fine, I think. Nothing, really." Spoken like a true rock 'n roll veteran.)

With the success of Frogstomp (over three million copies sold, world-wide), Silverchair approached the dreaded sophomore album differently than most bands: they didn't worry about it.

cover of 'Freak Show' "We just wanted to do what we wanted to do. We didn't think about it, really. We just jammed on a bunch of ideas and the songs came out. With Freak Show we were, I guess, in a way wanting to do something different, so we thought about it a bit that way -- but, really, it just happened naturally."

"We like this album a lot more than Frogstomp because the lyrics and music sound better, and we're looking forward to playing them live, because we were getting tired of playing a lot of the songs from Frogstomp. But, yeah, recording Freak Show, we just went in and were ourselves. The bass is louder on this album, as well, which I'm happy about."

Part of the success of Frogstomp was due to the "radio-friendly" singles which allowed a broader audience to become accustomed to Silverchair, and to become aware of their existence. Songs such as "Israel Son" and "Tomorrow" were staples on the charts last summer. However, the lack of any real "radio-friendly" songs on Freak Show is a bit surprising. The first single, "Abuse Me," is fairing quite well on the charts, regardless, but Chris ponders the question before delivering his response:

"Hmmm... yeah, I see what you're saying, but really we never set out to write a number one or another 'Tomorrow.' We don't think about it, really. We just play what we hear inside and what we feel. If a song does really good, then yeah, great; but if it doesn't it doesn't. It's like if you're worrying about that, or about how the song might sound live, then it's going to be shit. We just do it and go with it."

Influences abound on Freak Show, from Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day -- which surprises Chris quite a lot, saying that none of them are really fans -- to traditional Indian music. The decision to incorporate sitar and strings adds an element that wasn't apparent on Frogstomp, and is yet another example of the band diversifying and maturing.

"They just fit," says Chris of the addition of new instruments. "We listened to the music and thought that the sitar and strings would fit on 'Petrol and Chlorine.' Ben [Gillies, drums] also uses a timpani to add a bit more variety." Was this anything to do with the album's strong Led Zeppelin influence? "We like them, and they are definitely an influence, a good one at that. But in the end it was our decision to use [the extra instruments]."

It is interesting that the new album is entitled "Freak Show." The imagination runs wild as to what this phrase refers to, but Chris sums it all up with the insight that only a person who has spent the last two years touring the world could possess: "Being in a travelling rock band you meet a lot of people and see lots of different things and places that are just really different than what you're used to. And a lot of the people you meet act differently towards you because you're in a rock band and you're famous. It's like you're treated like freaks. People stare and talk about you and all that." He then adds, "It's not a bad thing -- it's really heaps of fun!"

I admit I wanted to stay away from the age questions, but, in the end, I had to ask Chris whether or not he looks at all the extra attention their youth has attracted as B.S. and would he rather just concentrate on playing.

"Yeah, sometimes," he replies. "But it has to be done, the interviews and the press and all that. We probably won't deal with that so much this time around like we did with Frogstomp. I think we've proven ourselves -- so, yeah, we're just here to play and do our thing."

First published in Drop-D Magazine on February 21, 1997

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