Silverchair was a mid-nineties platinum-selling teen-alternative trio from Australia that looked like a younger Nirvana and sounded like a prepubescent Pearl Jam. The band's first single, the menacing, angsty "Tomorrow," shot to the Modern Rock Top Ten in the midst of grunge-mania in 1995, thrusting the fifteen-year-old band members into the discombobulating world of rock stardom with little safety net. By the early 2000s Silverchair had morphed into a more mature experimental pop-rock band employing the eccentric arrangements of Van Dyke Parks.
Singer and guitarist Daniel Johns was twelve when he formed the Innocent Criminals with his Newcastle, Australia, drummer buddy Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou. The trio had been playing youth shows around the city when, in 1994, they won a demo competition with "Tomorrow." Their popularity attracted the attention of Sony Music, which signed the newly christened Silverchair to a three-album deal. After "Tomorrow" spent six weeks at Number One in Australia, the band re-recorded the song and video for a U.S. release in 1995. It was such a huge hit on Modern Rock radio that the band's label rushed out a debut album, Frogstomp (Number Nine, 1995), recorded in just nine days. Critics dissected the band, calling them derivative and ridiculing the adolescent songwriting. By then, the members were all of fifteen years old. Silverchair gained a loyal fan base, though, becoming the biggest Aussie act since INXS, with Frogstomp selling 2.5 million copies worldwide.
Responding to all the scrutiny, Silverchair followed up with Freak Show (Number 12, 1997), in which Johns, in the track "Cemetery," announced in his self-deprecating, Kurt Cobain best, "I need a change/Not to imitate/But to irritate/All the ones who hate." The music still owed much to the so-called Seattle Sound, but "Cemetery" and other songs hinted at changes to come in the unusual string arrangements of Jane Scarpantoni, known for her work with R.E.M., the Lounge Lizards and Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh. Freak Show didn't sell nearly as well as Frogstomp, but it produced another Top Ten Modern Rock single, "Abuse Me" (Number 4).
The band members had graduated high school by the time of Neon Ballroom (Number 50, 1999), which continued Silverchair's experiments with orchestration in songs like the epic "Emotion Sickness." While the band's stateside fans were losing interest in the former teenaged grungesters, Silverchair had become superstars in their native Australia, as well as in Canada and South America, where Neon Ballroom became their biggest-selling album. The band members' personal lives became fodder for the tabloids, especially singer Johns' eating disorder, which he addresses in Neon Ballroom's "Ana's Song (Open Fire)" (Number 12, 1999).
Silverchair switched to Atlantic Records and took a three-year break before releasing 2002's Diorama, a radical departure from the band's earlier albums. Nearing his mid-twenties, Daniels' voice had both strengthened and softened, and the musical arrangements expanded to include multi-part songs with sweeping, Brian Wilson-like harmonies and melodies, partly courtesy of longtime Wilson orchestrator Van Dyke Parks. The album, with nary a hint of grunge, was embraced by critics but barely registered on the U.S. charts and produced no stateside singles. The band took an even longer hiatus between Diorama and 2007's Young Modern, which continued the band's collaboration with Parks (the title of the album comes from Parks' nickname for Johns). Critics again hailed Silverchair's growth, but like its predecessor the album tanked in U.S. It hardly hurt the band; back home in Australia, Young Modern was Silverchair's fifth consecutive album to debut at Number One, surpassing two of the country's other biggest acts, Midnight Oil and INXS.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies