Silverchair – Interview [1999]

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Silverchair

Friends since primary school, silverchair began their musical career as Short Elvis. It was 1994 when the band, renamed the Innocent Criminals, submitted a demo-tape to a contest called ‘Pick Me’, run by Nomad, a cultural pop-music TV show. It is then that their career truly began.

Their four-song demo was chosen from eight hundred entries. The original version of “Tomorrow”, which chimed in at over six minutes, caused Robert Hambling, video director and one of the judges, to proclaim that the song could “become a megaworld smash hit.”

The band won the right to make a video for “Tomorrow” and re-recorded the song at 2JJJ-FM’s studio, Australia’s national modern-rock station. The band was quickly courted by many record companies, but signed with Murmur, a Sony subsidiary. Before “Tomorrow” was released, the band decided on a new name, silverchair. The name came from the combination of two song titles, “Sliver” by Nirvana and “Berlin Chair” by You Am I. The story is that the guys wanted to request “Sliver” and “Berlin Chair” on 2JJJ-FM, so they jokingly said, “How about we request … sliverchair?” Chris Joannou (silverchair’s bass player) wrote it down and mistakenly misspelled it as silverchair. The rest is, as they say, history.

The Aussie band from Newcastle quickly found fame knocking at their door as their debut album, Frogstomp, became the first album from an Australian artist to enter the national charts at Number One. “Tomorrow” invaded American airwaves in the summer of 1995 with heavy rotation on MTV and topped the Billboard Alternative and Rock charts. Frogstomp went on to sell over two million albums. Not bad for sixteen-year-olds.

Their next album, Freak Show, made all the skeptics bite their tongues as it reached No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200 and sold one and a half million copies. But it wasn’t the critics’ reviews or the Billboard charts that the band was studying; they were studying for exams as they were trying to graduate from high school. At the end of 1997, the guys finally finished high school and were able to work on music full time. While most people were preparing for college, silverchair began working on their own summer project, Neon Ballroom.

I had a chance to speak with Ben Gillies (drummer) about Neon Ballroom, life, and the new millenium.

How much have you grown personally and musically since your first album, Frogstomp?

Personally we’ve grown heaps. As people I think we’ve really changed; all our interests have changed and the three of us have kind of gone off on our own little tangents. Musically we’ve obviously changed a lot, too. I think just getting older has made us much better players. Getting older has changed the way we write music and the music that we listen to has changed as well.

What was the inspiration for the name and sound for the new album, Neon Ballroom?

Well, Daniel actually wrote the album, so his inspiration, well this is what he told us, is that he really wanted to do something different. The name comes from two meanings. ‘Neon’ means, is a representation of, all the modern sounds on the album, like our hidden little techno sounds and the overall modern sound of the album. And the ‘Ballroom’ has got to do with the kind of older sounds on the album like the strings and the piano and keyboards. It’s actually just a mix of old and the new. That’s what it represents.

Was there a different approach to this album?

Not really. There was a different approach in that there was a lot more to do in the studio because we had all the instruments. It just took us a lot more time to record, also a lot more time to mix. The actual band stuff took the same, but other than that we basically haven’t changed much when it comes to that.

You stayed with the same producer that you used for your last album, Freak Show . Any particular reason?

I think we all just kind of click with Nick [Launay]. It’s like he’s a big kid. Also, when we are in the studio, he is really open to lots of suggestions where some of the, well not that we experienced but we have heard, big time producers think because they are big time that they can boss you around and tell you what to do. Also, Nick’s got our musical tastes in his best interest; musically we also click with him really well. He knows what we like.

Many of the songs have an epic feel to them, especially “Emotion Sickness”. Was that how the album started out or is that just how the album evolved?

It was something that evolved. We wanted to do something really different compared to our other stuff and we wanted to do something different compared to what other bands have been doing over the past few years. I think the only way that we could really get around it, without going techno or something like that, the only way was to combine the two; to combine the modern, classic, plus having the band in the middle. That was the way to do something new.

What was your favorite moment recording the album?

Definitely the day when David Helfgott came in and played on “Emotion Sickness”. It was just a really cool day. He is a well-known pianist and we were just really excited to be able to meet him and he was more excited by the fact that he was playing on our album. It was a pretty cool day.

Did you ever see the movie based on David Helfgott’s life, Shine?

Actually, I haven’t seen it, but there are times when I’ll start watching it, like in a hotel, and then we’ll have to go on our tour or something. I’ve seen parts of it. It’s really frustrating that I haven’t seen it. I’m determined to see it all soon.

Did you record with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra or is that something that was done separately?

We did that separately. What we did with all the songs is that we recorded the band, just the three of us first, and then Chris and Daniel will fix up any guitar parts that they stuffed up. And then we’ll go back and do our overdubs, like the orchestra and the piano.

Were you involved with the orchestra?

Daniel was pretty involved in it because they were his songs we just let him do his thing. He was pretty involved. I mean, if we didn’t like something, we could turn around and say, ‘no, we don’t like that,’ but everything panned out good.

This album seems to be full of emotion. Do you feel the emotion when you are in the studio?

Not personally for me because I’m just thumping away on the drums, but I can imagine that for Daniel they are very emotional. The lyrics on the new album are very personal to him, where on past albums it was more like anger. It is good to be the drummer though because if you are angry, it’s [a] good [way] to get your anger out.

How many songs did you record for the album?

I think it was like sixteen. Fifteen or sixteen. We thought we’d leave a few off and leave them for b-sides. We also went back into the studio a couple of times and did some covers.

You did do one for the Clash tribute album right?

Yeah, “London’s Burning”, that is going on the tribute album. There are a few more. We did a couple of old school punk songs, like [some by] Black Flag.

Which Black Flag song?

We did two, “Fix Me” and “Wasted”.

What is your favorite song from Neon Ballroom?

“Emotion Sickness” is one of my favorites. “Anthem For The Year 2000” is one of my favorites, but I’m not sure if I’m going to get sick of “Anthem For The Year 2000” now because I’ve heard it so much. “Spawn Again” is a big favorite of mine just because it is so good live. There isn’t a song that I hate on the album. I actually really enjoy playing all of them.

Speaking of playing live, what do you like and dislike most about touring?

I like the actual playing. It’s pretty cool to be able to see so many cities and see so much of the world, especially at such a young age. Not many of our friends have gone much further than around Australia, so we are pretty grateful. The only thing I really hate is the traveling and the jetlag. And the hours that you get to sleep are just a nightmare.

Why the addition of the keyboardist for your tour?

He’s actually making up for all the extra parts on the new album that are not there when we play live. And it’s pretty amazing how much he does make the sounds sound like they do on the album. He makes up for the strings and keyboards.

How did you find him?

We actually put an ad in the paper, but didn’t say what band it was for. We auditioned a bunch of people, but he was the best. He’s a real good bloke. I mean, that was important because if he was a dick, then no matter how good he was we wouldn’t have chosen him. We needed someone that we could get on with, but Sam is a good bloke.

With a song like “Anthem For The Year 2000”, what do you plan on doing in the year 2000 and how will you ring in the millennium?

I’m not sure. I would like to play a big event with the band, but then again I’d like to stay home and celebrate with my family. It’s a tough thing. There is always some tradeoff.

+ charles craine

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