Triple J's 2000

Daniel Johns of silverchair speaks to Richard Kingsmill

(Nov 29, 2000)

R. How's this year been? I'm curious to find out.

D. It's been pretty good.

R. Quiet?

D. Yeah relatively quiet. I've just been writing pretty much the whole year. In January and February I didn't do very much. I just kind of sat around because I moved out of my parents' house finally and so did Ben and so did Chris so we're all just kind of re-adjusting.

R. Each living in separate houses not sharing or anything?

D. We're not together, no way!

R. You say emphatically. So you've found a place in Newcastle to live?

D. Yeah. Once I got that all set up in about March I really wanted to start writing some stuff again so I had a home studio put in which is just like a demo studio and basically I've just been writing ever since. Between doing silverchair writing, I did that thing with Paul (Mac, “I Can't Believe It's Not Rock” EP).

R. Well Paul helped you set up the home studio.

D. Yeah, because I really don't know anything about technology and I don't know what to do. I don't even know what buttons to press so I rang him and my guitar tech Bailey and said I want the simplest thing possible. I don't want too many buttons because I'm not going to remember and can you write it all down on bits of paper for me so I can remember what buttons…

R. Put pieces of gaffer tape with arrows.

D. Yeah, that's pretty much it. I felt so hopeless that's pretty much what they had to do.

R. And you've just been going for it, writing heaps of songs?

D. Yeah, I've been writing heaps but recently I've been doing some culling and getting rid of heaps as well.

R. Is there much trash in there or is most of it pretty good?

D. Most of it I didn't like but I've probably got about eight songs that I'm really happy with.

R. Well that's a foundation for an album for maybe next year?

D. Yeah definitely next year. We want to start recording maybe in the middle of next year.

R. silverchair made a decision towards the end of last year to take all of 2000 off. Are you happy with having done it that way?

D. Yeah, because I'm not really the kind of person who really wants to go on tour all the time. I feel that everyone's got a threshold and sometimes you can just do too much. The last tour I don't think we did too much. It was just that I wanted to write a good album for the next time around. I didn't want to have to squeeze in the writing between tours.

R. And also you've had five pretty intense years too, haven't you?

D. Yeah, because with the last albums whenever we had a break we pretty much had to go back to school. We never really felt like we had a break. This year's been a real break.

R. So besides writing and using your little home studio, have you travelled the world? I suppose you've travelled the world enough really with silverchair. You haven't gone overseas for a holiday or sightseeing?

D. No. I did think about going overseas for a holiday just because everywhere that we've been I didn't really get a chance to take it in because I was just sitting in my hotel room waiting to get to sound check. But I decided not to do it. I don't know why. I just didn't want to. I just wanted to sit at home.

R. Did you get bored at all?

D. No, I don't get bored by myself at all. I'm quite happy to be there with my dog and just play guitar.

R. With not playing on stage, were you getting withdrawal symptoms at any stage during 2000? To get back out on stage at any point?

D. No, not to get back out on stage. I'm still not itching to get back out on stage. I mean I'll enjoy it when I do it but it's not the kind of thing that I crave.

R. That's pretty rare because a lot of performers do find that. They want a break to have a holiday, but after a couple of weeks off they go “oh god, can we go back out on the road now”?

D. I'm like that with writing. Two months went by and I was writing again.

R. You're doing the big New Year's Eve Falls Festival and then the even bigger Rock in Rio in January. They're pretty big gigs aren't they to start back with?

D. They are big, but we're going to enjoy them. I'm not dreading them at all. It's going to be good.

R. You won't be nervous?

D. Yeah, I'll be nervous. Because I remember we had some time off before Neon Ballroom came out and we played the Peaches & Cream Festival and that was like our first show back for six months and I just remember being like “oh, there's just too many people. We haven't played for so long, I'm going to forget words. Everything's going to be bad”. But it was fine.

R. You got through it. Was it simply a case of just getting up there on the stage, playing the first chord and then you go “it's OK”…

D. Yeah, but more like the first song. Once you get through the first song everything's cool. It is like riding a bike even though it's a cliché but it is once you get up there. It's fine. It's just the nerves beforehand because you're just expecting something to go wrong. I don't know why.

R. Well because you haven't done it for a while and you don't know whether to trust the technology or trust your own memory.

D. Yeah exactly.

R. And what's it been like getting back with the other guys and rehearsing?

D. That was awesome actually. Because I didn't talk to Ben and Chris for months really. I was just locked in my house and then about July, I saw Ben somewhere. I was driving somewhere and pulled over and I said, “what are you doing? When are we going to play?” “I don't know. When do you want to play?” It just went from there and then we just started playing together.

D. There was seriously nothing. I don't think I really talked to anyone for six months. I was just in my house.

R. God that's amazing.

D. I talked to my family because they had to buy my groceries.

R. You must really enjoy your own company?

D. Yeah, I really enjoy my dog's company. I think if I didn't have a dog I'd be bored.

R. What have you got again? What sort of dog?

D. I don't know. She's just a little black dog from the pound. She's just a mix.

R. A cross, a mongrel?

D. Yeah but she's cool.

R. What's her name?

D. Sweep.

R. Why did you call it Sweep?

D. You know Sooty and Sweep? The English puppet show? You know how the dog squeaks as a means of communication? When I first got Sweep she couldn't bark, she would just squeak for months.

R. So honestly you're just there alone with Sweep writing songs and chilling out?

D. Yeah. But when I tell people that they give me all this sympathy and feel sorry for me but they shouldn't. I really enjoy it. I'm having a really good time just being at home writing songs.

R. I wouldn't have thought they would have given you sympathy. I would have thought they would have worried about you.

D. Yeah, well, that too. But I just say to them, “you know don't worry I'm fine. There's nothing wrong with me. I just enjoy being at home and writing songs. I just don't like anything else”.

R. Is it because in Newcastle it's a fairly small place anyway and if you go out you're going to be recognised? Is it that which also keeps you indoors a lot?

D. That's definitely an element of it. But if I go somewhere like Sydney, I still don't really want to go anywhere. You know what I mean? It's not…I think that's definitely part of it, being recognisable, but the main thing is I just like being by myself. I just get gratification from writing songs and that's what satisfies me, that's what makes me happy so I may as well do it.

R. Fair enough. We'll talk about the new songs that you have written so far for the next silverchair album but I interrupted the story. You saw Ben at the side of the road, you had a bit of a chat to him about getting back together and starting playing music. So did it eventuate from there getting back into a rehearsal room?

D. Yeah, all we had to do was ring management and say we need a rehearsal room. Three days later they say, “you've got a rehearsal room”. So then we just took our stuff to the room and we were really nervous. I remember we had a few conversations beforehand because we were obviously nervous. We hadn't played together for over a year and I hadn't even played any of the songs on guitar by myself and I'm sure Ben or Chris hadn't either. So we were understandably nervous about what it would sound like. And we were also nervous that if we got together and played together and it sounded really bad that it would turn us off the whole thing and we wouldn't want to do it. So I just remember talking to them about it a few times and eventually we just went into the rehearsal studio and as soon as we started playing it was just like it just clicked straightaway.

R. What did you choose to play for the first song?

D. I think it might have been “Spawn Again”. It was something really heavy because we just wanted to rock out. It was like 11 or 12 months that had just been building up inside us. I remember it was a really strange feeling, but it was reconfirming that it was the right decision (to have the year off). We looked at each other and it was that feeling of this is where we belong. This is what we should be doing.

R. It would have been a lot of pressure if you hadn't played together for a long time. Because with each album, bands ask themselves about whether there is still another album in them or if there is something new they can do. And until you get together and play, you don't really know the answers to those questions, do you?

D. Yeah definitely. To me it was more like can we keep it up. Do I want to continue to do this kind of show? Do I want to continue to play this kind of music? And there was a period even when I started writing, I didn't know whether it was going to be for a silverchair album. It was very mellow and acoustic and almost folky. But then I just started writing more and more stuff and it started getting closer to what I would expect silverchair to do. Or perhaps what I would get satisfaction from silverchair playing.

R. I'd imagine the next album will be a progression for silverchair, but can you put it into words?

D. I think it's got a wider scope this time round. I think Neon Ballroom was in a lot of ways very conceptual in terms of the instrumentation and the lyrical approach, but with this album there's definitely a wider spectrum. That's also one of the reasons that we took so much time off. Because I obviously had personal problems that I wanted to sort out and I did a lot of therapy and all that kind of stuff. It's not fun but it was definitely worth it.

R. Is this the stuff that was talked about in the press at the time (eating disorders)?

D. Yeah. It was just too hard to get over something like that while you're on the road and while you're doing interviews and playing shows and you're in tour buses and constantly being surrounded by people. It's too hard to combat problems like that so you definitely need a period where you can just close yourself off and talk to people that are important in making sure that you get better.

R. Well you look fine. Do you feel fine?

D. Yeah, I'm definitely a lot better than I was last year for sure.

R. And the pressure too I guess. Put yourself outside your own body and look at how young you guys were over the last five years.

D. Yeah, definitely. It was just a combination of things. I think partly just because I was naïve and young and there was obviously a lot of pressure. It was just a whole mindset and I guess you just get trapped in it. It's like a spiral that you just get caught in.

R. So are the new songs as personal as perhaps the stuff from Neon Ballroom?

D. Yeah. For me they have to be because I don't really have anything else to draw from. I don't have really a social life or I don't have many travelling experiences or anything like that so really the only thing that I have to draw from that's real is how I feel and what's going on in my life and what's going on in my head. But there are definitely some songs that are more positive than anything I've ever written before. And there are also some darker moments. But it's not as conceptual as Neon Ballroom. It's not all one thing. It's not all about mental illness or being trapped or anything like that. There's a wider lyrical and musical spectrum.

R. And happy songs too? Positive songs?

D. I wouldn't say happy. I don't want to sound depressing, but I've never really liked happy music. It's not something that I get anything from. But there are definitely positive spins on a lot of the lyrics seeing hope and light at the end of the tunnel.

R. Major songwriters always say that writing about the bleaker side of human behaviour or the more depressing aspects of your own condition is much easier.

D. Definitely. Even at the end of Neon Ballroom I was also getting a little bit sick of people feeling sorry for me and I think I brought it upon myself in a lot of ways. I think I was a little bit honest in interviews talking about how I feel. I know it helped a lot of people but I regretted it too. And this time around I just wanted to get better and I wanted to write about something more positive. Because I don't want people to think that I'm just sitting at home wanting to die.

R. And if you do write another album like that you'll then have to basically go through therapy every time you do an interview.

D. That's what it was like. It was just killing me. At the end of Neon Ballroom, instead of talking about music, everyone wanted to know how I was doing. And I know that a lot of people were genuinely concerned, but it was like doing therapy three times a day. It was just killing me. I couldn't handle it.

R. That must have been after a while very tedious.

D. Yeah and I couldn't really complain about it because it was my fault. I mean it was no-one else's fault. I'm the one that talked about it so I brought it all upon myself so I couldn't even tell them to stop.

R. It sounds like you've learnt.

D. Yeah.

R. Let's talk about the project you've done with Paul Mac – “I Can't Believe It's Not Rock”. Is that the actual title of the CD or the project or both?

D. It's the actual title of the CD. We couldn't think of a band name. It was actually really funny. We had so many conversations about band names and we just couldn't agree on anything. But we had this title for an EP that Paul's friend came up with - I Can't Believe It's Not Rock. Then we ended up just calling it “I Can't Believe It's Not Rock” until we came up with a title and eventually it just got stuck in our heads and we were just so used to it being the name that it just became the name of everything. I don't think the band actually has a name.

R. And it's an EP of five fairly hard to classify songs, if you can call them songs because some of them aren't really songs?

D. Yeah. Well a lot of people that have heard it are really confused by it. So it's one of those things that the more you listen to it, the more they become apparent about what they mean and what we're actually trying to do with them.

R. What were you trying to do?

D. When we originally got together it wasn't even for release. We weren't planning anything. We got together and the first song was actually “Rain” which at the time we thought was different but it turned out to be the straightest track on the whole thing. We were just jamming, just playing together and just wanting to have fun and get enthusiastic about music again.

R. How do you jam with Paul because his background is Itch-E & Scratch-E and a lot of electronic music?

D. I've never been into computer music and as I said I don't really understand technology. But we've been friends for a while. He originally did the “Freak” remix which we really liked. And then he played on a lot of stuff on Neon Ballroom and we became friends then. We were just basically talking one day and he said that we should write some songs together. I've never really been keen on writing with other people but I did it because I really liked him as a person and I just thought it would be interesting because we were obviously from two different backgrounds. I went to his house (in the Blue Mountains) just because I hadn't left my house for about four or five months and I thought, “yeah, I'm just starting to feel a little strange”. So I went to Katoomba and it was really cold and we just lit the fire. The project started off when we sampled the fire crackling. We miked that up and that gave us a bed for something and that got the ball rolling. We really liked “Rain”. That only took us two days to totally complete and then he came up to my studio and we did some jamming there. We recorded three of the instrumentals, and “Staging a Traffic Jam”.

R. So you did most of it where you are?

D. Yeah but he obviously took it back to his studio and did the tweaking and programming.

R. Did you find singing on this material pretty different given the textures you were working with?

D. Yeah I really enjoyed the whole process really. It was really fun because we didn't intend to release it so there was basically no pressure. We didn't have any restrictions on how long we had in the studio because it was our home studios, we could take as long as we want.

R. And no restrictions on style?

D. Yeah exactly. It wasn't like a silverchair album where you know you're sitting there going “is it good enough, is it this enough, is it that enough”. It was more just we're having fun, no-one's ever going to hear it so who cares. Let's just do what we want to do. And lyrically it was also good for me because a lot of the lyrics are about what I was going through at the time and they were coming out the other side really positive.

R. I was listening to it and I wasn't gauging anything deeply personal. I was thinking maybe this is a stream of consciousness style of singing from you.

D. No, it's very vague and incredibly metaphorical. It is definitely about what I was dealing with and you know about coming out the other side and trying to make something positive.

R. Why the decision then to release it?

D. We were playing it for fun and then we didn't realise how much satisfaction we were getting from actually listening to it as well. We put it on my home stereo when we had finished and we just started talking that maybe we should release this because I really like it and he really likes it. Obviously it's not going to be huge…It's not going to be like a silverchair thing.

R. It's not a Video Hits type of record is it?

D. No definitely not. We just really liked it and obviously it only cost us $600 to record and most of that was to hire the cello player on the one instrumental. It was all just one-take stuff except for the cello.

R. And you're putting it out through the Net ( which kind of ties in with the fact that silverchair have split from Sony now and your manager has set up his own label (Eleven Records) to primarily, I guess, release silverchair recordings. That whole change, it's been for the positive? Something you've envisaged for silverchair to now do for years to come? Be independent of a bigger label?

D. Yeah hopefully. A lot of people got the impression that we had a really violent split with Sony but to us it wasn't a big deal. It was only a big deal in the media. We were in a position where we couldn't negotiate and, without being stupidly greedy, Sony weren't prepared to give us what we needed in order to continue happily so…

R. Plus this Greatest Hits CD didn't please you guys did it?

D. Well the Greatest Hits thing didn't come about until Sony knew we were leaving and then I think that was a little bit to get revenge on us.

R. You really don't like the idea?

D. We just really hate the idea to be honest. That kind of makes me a little bit sick. When I heard about it I thought it just really sounds like a cash in. It sounds like we're really cashing in trying to get some money before we record another album or something. I don't know. It was just to be 21 years old and to be putting out a Greatest Hits is a bit sickening. I just hate it. I hate the whole idea.

R. And you guys had nothing to do with it? You couldn't stop it or didn't have any input?

D. We couldn't stop it. We thought about putting out ads in the street press to make people aware that we weren't endorsing it, but that would have blown the whole thing out of proportion. So we just made sure that people knew that we didn't endorse it. We didn't agree with it but we didn't want to make something too big out of it.

R. The more you say the more advertising it gets, the more recognition it will get…

D. And then people want to hear it because they want to hear what we're so disappointed about.

R. And then they think that you're down on all the stuff you've done in the past.

D. Yeah, there's no objection to the songs. Although there are a lot of songs that we don't like on there but…To be honest we're not worried about it. As long as people know that we don't endorse it I don't really care. If people want to buy it, they can buy it but I wouldn't buy it if I was a silverchair fan.

R. Well I can't wait to hear the material that you're going to come up with for next year. Have you picked the producer yet to record with?

D. We haven't picked anyone yet. We've got a short list. Flood's one of the producers that we're keen on. Maybe Michael Beinhorn

R. Flood likes candles apparently.

D. Yeah.

R. Puts candles around the studio, brings the rugs out, goes for ambience in a big way I've heard.

D. Candles are good as long as you're not me and you don't fall asleep and your house burns down.

R. Well I'm sure in the studio there will be a few people to keep an eye on you.

D. Yeah there are people standing around with extinguishers.

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