Yes they’re still alive

Grunge cum pop band Silverchair release new summer LP

In the mid-90s grunge dominated North American mainstream rock. The screeching dirty guitars and muffled vocals of Nirvana Pearl Jam and Soundgarden saturated the air in music stores echoed through stadiums and gave angsty 14-year-olds countless anthems to cut themselves to long before “emo” was even a glimmer behind a goth kid’s eyeliner. Then seemingly out of nowhere — but actually out of Australia — came a group of 15-year-old kids who won an SBS TV contest with a hit grunge single called “Tomorrow.” Going by the Innocent Criminals at the time the band changed their name to Silverchair — often mistakenly thought to be a portmanteau of a Nirvana and a You Am I song — in August of 1994 in advance of their first and most popular LP Frogstomp. “The Silverchair name story about it coming from the two songs is actually a lie” laughs guitarist-vocalist Daniel Johns. “In reality we actually got our name from going through a big pile of old C.S. Lewis novels and we made up the story later. The Silver Chair was one of them. We just completely ripped it off. Later on we were like: You know what? We should have just told the truth.” Though Silverchair initially met with commercial success due to their sound’s similarity to then-megastars Nirvana their debut Frogstomp was a critical flop. Their follow-up Freakshow met with a converse reception succeeding critically but failing to sell more than a few copies. After one more virtually unnoticed effort with 1997’s Neon Ballroom Silverchair faded from the North American rock scene with the rest of the grunge movement. They didn’t disappear entirely though. “I think (getting famous early) is one of those things that has negatives and positives” says Johns. “One of the negatives is obviously that you are constantly judged for the stuff you did when you were a kid. A lot of people didn’t like our band when we came out when we were kids. But I think the positives outweigh negatives. Now a lot of people know our band and a lot of people have made that transition with us.” Cashing in on their established notoriety Silverchair blindsided the music community in 2001 with Diorama. Gone were the messy guitars the adolescent angst and pretty much every other hallmark of typical grunge music. Silverchair reinvented itself as a pop group complete with delicate string arrangements horns and a genuinely creative approach to composition. The album went triple-platinum and won six ARIA awards (the Australian Grammy equivalent) in 2002. Then after the success of Diorama was confirmed and the band’s relevance re-established the members of Silverchair did what any reasonable clear-thinking band would: They went on indefinite hiatus. “Diorama was an extension of everything that I’d learned” says Johns. “I took an interest in production — how to create atmosphere. I still like the sounds of big guitars but often if you have a big guitar in there you don’t have much room for anything else. It’s tempting to make things bigger like that but I now opt to make them smaller.” During their break many of the band members worked on solo projects or collaborated with other artists — the most notable being Johns’s work with Paul Mac on The Dissociatives — but Silverchair showed no sign of getting back together for nearly two years until fate intervened in the form of a towering wall of watery death ravaging Southeast Asia. Reconvening to play at a benefit concert for those who had their lives destroyed by the Boxing Day Tsunami Silverchair became inspired by Midnight Oil’s performance and decided to reform the band. They announced the release of Young Modern in 2006 and the album arrived in Australia in May of this year. After such a long time apart even Johns was surprised with how fast everything moved. “I didn’t think I’d be playing with Silverchair again that quickly” he says. “I thought maybe I’d want to do one more solo effort then do another Silverchair album. Then I did the benefit with Silverchair and we all just had a really good time. I think we probably would have gotten back together (without the Tsunami benefit) but I don’t think it would have been quite so quickly.” The release of Young Modern represents one more chance for Silverchair to establish themselves as the Radiohead-esque popular-cum-artistic group it’s been trying to be since 2001. Though record sales and star ratings are the great quantifiers for all artists and may ultimately determine the path of Silverchair’s continuance there’s that old saying about the journey — long one that it’s been — being the worthier part.