Roo Fighters
By Paul Elliott

For silverchair, fame has meant getting hounded day and night by the Aussie tabloids, and being blamed for inciting a mass murder. Then there's the good bits. "We can have as much money as we want," they inform Paul Elliott, "and we only have to buy our own underpants!"...

"Oi!" silverchair's burly drummer Ben Gillies wants a word. With Kerrang!. In private. Like now. We withdraw to a quiet corner of the band's hospitality tent backstage at the Peaches 'N' Cream Festival, deep in the heart of Australia's bush country.

"Just remember this," Ben whispers ominously over the trill of cicada wings in the gum trees. "If you misquote me - on anything - I'll come looking for you. Know what I mean?"

He is, of course, joking. Ben knows that his buddies at the big K! won't stitch him up. But you couldn't really blame the guy for being a little paranoid. Imagine how you'd feel if you found yourself in a world famous, multi-million-selling rock band - and you were still just 17 years old. Imagine how you'd feel if you had tabloid newspapers digging up stories about you every week. Imagine how you'd feel if a kid in America killed three people and then told the world that your music made him do it.

All this has happened to Ben Gillies and his schoolmates, Daniel Johns (vocals/guitar) and Chris Joannou (bass). Which makes it all the more remarkable that the three of them are still totally cool and unaffected by their success.

As they loaf around during the day, chatting about music and taking the piss out of each other, they could be any three teenagers. Then, as the summer skies darken and a violent electrical storm passes worryingly close to the festival site, the trio go onstage and rock a pissed-up crowd of 9,000 fans, and you realise that these are no ordinary kids after all.

Kids? Well, if you hang around Silverchair for long enough, you'll realise that, yes, they are still pretty young. They still play lots of daft tricks on each other, like when Ben is talking to Kerrang! and Daniel walks right over the wooden picnic table where we're sitting, yelling abuse and dropping his pants to show us his skinny white backside.

However, when they get down to the serious business, Silverchair have no problems mixing it with the big boys. They're a fearsome live act, and their recently-released second album, 'Freak Show', proves that their precocious and phenomenally successful 'Frogstomp' debut was no fluke.

"People have finally given up telling us that we're kids," says Chris Joannou with a shrug. "And the novelty has sort of worn off for people to realise that we're a proper band. There's no reason to treat us any differently to other bands. The age thing is the only difference. The music's all the same."

> "I don't think they'll call us kids anymore," adds Ben. "Instead of saying, 'Oh no, it's Silverchair, those kids', they'll just say, 'Oh no, it's Silverchair'!"

Such self-deprecating humour is typical of Silverchair, and clearly it helps. But you wouldn't think these three guys were much of a laugh if all you knew of them was gleaned from the lyrics on 'Freak Show'.

Okay, so the new single 'Freak' can raise a chuckle with its opening couplet: 'No more maybes/Your baby's got rabies'. But elsewhere, it's all anger, frustration and despair. Pretty depressing stuff all round.

Daniel Johns write the words to every Silverchair song. Deep down, is he really the new Cobain after all? Daniel laughs dismissively and pushes his straggly, unwashed blond hair out of his eyes.

"When I write lyrics, I try to get as much of the crap in my life out through them," he says. "I get all the shit out through the music, so I can enjoy the rest of the time I have. As a band, we always like dark, aggressive music, so I like to write about the dark side and get my aggression through music.

"I think 'Freak Show' is a darker record because the lyrics are a lot more personal. A lot more real. They're about things that really happen to us, things that happen to me at home."

Ben reckons that songwriting is the best therapy Daniel could possibly have.

"The reason the lyrics are like they are is so he can get all the anger and shit out of his life. That way," Ben grins, "he doesn't have to be a morbid bastard living in a total depression all the time."

'Frogstomp' was an amazing debut album. Of course it had loads of energy and a real buzz about it; that much could be expected of a bunch of hyper 16-year-olds. Only a seriously dull old f**ker could fail to be impressed by the adrenaline-charged power of a track like 'Israel's Son'. But the thing that most surprised people about Silverchair's debut was the strength of the songwriting.

Clearly, the trio owed a debt to grunge icons like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but 'Frogstomp' was not merely kiddie grunge-by-numbers. In 'Israel's Son', 'Pure Massacre', 'Tomorrow' and 'Suicidal Dream', Silverchair had a core of truly powerful songs.

And 'Freak Show' is even better. The heavy grunge riffs are still there - notably on 'Freak' and the crunching opener, 'Slave' - but there are some new ideas too. 'The Door' is downright groovy, while 'Petrol & Chlorine' nicks a few cod-classical moves from the 'Chair's heroes Led Zeppelin.

"I was about 11 when my Dad said, 'Listen to Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple'," Daniel laughs. "But yeah, on this record one of our main goals was not only to make a good record, but to branch out and find a sound that's ours. People can hear it on the radio and say, 'Yeah, that's Silverchair', and not, 'Oh, that's a bit like Nirvana or Pearl Jam or whatever'.

"In our minds we had a really clear picture of what we wanted before we began recording. We wanted a lot of diversity."

"We've grown up a bit now," Chris explains, "so we knew a bit more about what we were doing. For starters, we had all the songs finished before we went in the studio."

"On the first album, we didn't really know how mixing worked. But our manager said to us this time, 'If you listen to the mix and there's something you don't like, speak up'. With the first album, we heard it and said, 'Yeah, cool, see ya later!'."

Silverchair are growing up fast. Daniel, Ben and Chris all turn 18 this year, which means they'll soon be able to tour without having to take their Dads along for the ride (for now, the band can't play licensed venues unless at least one parent is present). And it won't be too long before the guys can get their hands on all that lovely money they've earned!

"We've all got trust funds set up for when we're 21," Chris reveals. "Plus, there's an account where all the left-over per diems (daily allowances) go, so if you need 20 bucks you can get it out of there."

"Really, we can have as much as we want, when we want," admits Daniel. "But I just don't want to buy anything. If we're on tour, I'll take $3,000 with me just in case I see a good guitar. But that's about it."

"I haven't paid for anything I'm wearing right now, except for my underwear," says Chris. "The shoes are my Dad's, the socks someone bought me, and the shirt and shorts I got given."

For the three lads in Silverchair, life is fairly simple. They still go to school back in Australia, but they know they don't have to study too hard. There's already a few quid in the bank, and they don't exactly need a school careers officer to tell them what they'll be doing for the next 5 or 10 years.

But if you think that life is a little too peachy for the 'Chair, consider this. In January of last year, the band were implicated in the triple murder trial of American teenagers Brian Bassett and Nicholas McDonald. The latter claimed that the Silverchair song 'Israel's Son' inspired the killing spree which left three people dead, including Bassett's own parents.

It's bad enough that a lawyer should try to blame a rock band for inciting murder, but when the accused band are just 16, it defies belief.

"We just tried to avoid it," Daniel sighs. "We knew that if we got involved in it, it'd just blow up and get totally out of control. We just didn't think about it. We didn't want it to be in the front pages of newspapers and shit. We let it die down. We knew it would."

"When people ask about it, we just tell them we've got nothing to do with it," says Ben. "All it was really was just a kid who committed a murder and didn't have anything to say about it, so he just tried to think up something that he could blame it on, I guess. Blaming a song was pretty far-fetched, but he gave it a go anyway.

"I think Daniel was a bit more upset than anyone, because they're his lyrics - but hey," he shrugs, "what can you do?"

They're still young, but Silverchair have got things pretty well sussed.

Killing in the Name...
That Silverchair murder trial in full...
1.In August 1995, 16-year-old Brian Bassett and 18-year-old Nicholas McDonald murdered Bassett's parents and his five-year-old brother, Austin, at their home in Washington State, USA. Bassett shot his mother and father, Michael and Wendy. It was alleged that McDonald had eventually drowned Austin.

2.In February 1996, following their arrests, both Bassett's and McDonald's lawyers claimed that the lyrics to Silverchair's 'Israel's Son' had provoked their clients to commit the crime.

3.McDonald's lawyer, Tom Copland, alleged that his client had been listening to Silverchair's 'Frogstomp' album before the murders took place, and that the lyrics to 'Israel's Son' ('Hate is what I feel for you/I want you to know that I want you dead') were "almost a script. They're relevant to everything that happened".

4.It was also alleged that, immediately after the murder, Bassett played 'Israel's Son' and danced around kicking his parents' bodies.

5.Before the trial began in March '96, Grays Harbour County's Superior Court Judge Mark McCauley said he would study the lyrics to 'Israel's Son' and listen to the song.

6.Silverchair's manager, John Watson, responded by pointing out that the song was inspired by a TV documentary about wartime atrocities, and that the band would never condone violence in any form. He added: "The band is appalled by this horrific crime, and they hope that justice will prevail."

7.Once the trial got underway, the allegations against Silverchair were quickly dismissed by the Grays Harbour County Court. Bassett was subsequently convicted of killing his mother, father and brother, while McDonald was convicted of two charges of second degree murder.

8.Both are currently serving life sentences.

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