Recently I spoke by phone to bassist Chris Joannou and singer/guitarist Daniel Johns.
Have you started doing the whole press-tour thing again?
Joannou: Yeah, we just finished a record and are promoting it now. We were just on the road for the last three weeks doing a small town or two with a few shows here and there. More interviews than anything else, though.
How long has it been since you were in the States? I think your last stop was here in San Francisco?
Yeah… It’s been a year and a half, maybe two years.
What was it like going back to school after being rock stars?
It was good for the social side of things. It was kind of confusing sometimes, trying to lead two completely separate things.
What was it like making way more money than your teachers; do people ever give you attitude?
No, that was never really a situation. It was quite cool, the school we went to. I really liked your new album. I’m a little younger than you guys. I can relate to your feeling like a novelty, because people are often just writing about my age.
Now you’re getting older, and people stop writing about the novelty and concentrate more on the art. How do you feel about that? Do you feel that you’re under more pressure?
I think during the Frogstomp time, when the age thing became an issue to many people, once they came to a live show it wasn’t an issue anymore. They understood what we were about.
People really do think of you as a novelty act. They didn’t take you seriously. It’s like, “They’re just kids.” But I think you really proved yourselves with the second and third albums… Do you feel nervous about whether people like you or not?
Yeah, you do have a sense of nervousness. You’re just kind of curious to find out reactions of people, just intrigued by it all.
There seems to be this thing that people want, you know, “Teenagers washed up by 20.” Do you feel that?
In a sense, our whole idea on this is we want to go out on top, we don’t want to be slugging it out 10 years down the track and not going anywhere.
So how long do you think you’ll be doing this?
I don’t know. The end could be 15 years, it could be…who knows?
How do you guys deal with groupies?
You get the occasional one that gets a bit crazy and carries on.
They just get really anxious.
Do you ever get girls throwing panties? I know guys threw underwear.
I’ve never had guys throwing underwear.
I’ve seen it, in San Francisco. Don’t you know how many guys are totally into you? And they threw their underwear?
Wow. Whew. Matter of fact, you guys are in a book. Guide, by Dennis Cooper. He wrote about Blur, and you’re called Tinsel Stool in the book.
Yeah. But he loves you guys. The book is sexually explicit, I got to warn you. This guy’s gay.
And he kinda has fantasies about you guys in the book. Blur’s totally into it. In real life they’re like big Dennis Cooper fans. And in the book guys are perving on you. It’s really funny. Don’t get insulted because he totally digs you guys. He’s like a famous underground American writer.
Get us a copy of it?
Yeah. Anyways, I know Daniel Johns makes a lot of gay jokes and things like that. He’s just dicking around.
Kurt Cobain did that too, makes you feel like it’s not a big deal.
Yeah. I’ve got nothing against gay guys. It’s not a phobia of mine. It’s up to the individual.
You don’t ever worry that fans or people will get the wrong idea with everything that Daniel says? Like kissing David Helfgott? Even though it was clearly a joke, folks get ideas.
Yeah, I mean, people who are getting Daniel wrong on that, I mean, I don’t think they’d really get this guy’s book then. (The press agent cuts us off and moves me on to Daniel Johns.)
I’ve very much related to you guys because I got signed to a book deal at about the same age. And I would read press and it was like, stop writing about my fucking age.
Yeah, it’s just something that the media can focus on that they see it as something different, they focus on it and forget about what the whole intention is behind what you’re doing.
It can make you feel really insecure.
Yeah, it definitely does. It did the same thing to me. You forget why you’re actually in the industry you’re in, you’re constantly told what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it even though they’ve got the wrong perception.
Do you ever get hurt the way you hurl yourself around onstage?
Yeah, wherever we’re playing, usually after it’s all over I’ve got small lacerations on my arm, bruises on my hips and stuff just from throwing guitars into my body and throwing myself into amps. I actually enjoy it… It’s good fun.
Talk to me about your lyrics.
The first two albums, lyrically they’re focused on the anger that I felt toward groups and subcultures. The mood of the vocal style was very angry. With this album, although we really like the last two albums, I was just sick of the whole traditional angry rock thing and really wanted to focus on doing something unpredictable and different lyrically and musically… It’s not as straightforward this time around, it’s a little more obscure.
My sexuality has always been kind of–I’ve never set up one way or another. I was sexual way before I ever had a chance to make my decision. So I appreciate how you are about it. Kurt was sort of like that, too.
Yeah. It doesn’t really bother me how people perceive me sexually at all. I don’t care. It’s kind of fun to fuck with people’s minds anyway. Quite enjoyable if people think I’m gay or whatever. I don’t care. I know that I’m not. I got nothing against people who are gay. I play with it. It’s good to confuse people.
Kurt said that he wished he was like a male prostitute, he wished he had experienced that.
Some people like trying different things. I don’t really wish that. Because it would be a bit too exposing for my liking… Being a human being, you have the right to do whatever you want, believe whatever you want. That’s the best part about being in a liberated society. You can be whatever you want, say anything you want, as long as you’re not hurting people.
Yeah, but what about the role-model thing? There aren’t a lot of bands that would feel comfortable saying that if you want to be gay that’s okay.
I’m secure enough with my sexuality anyway. I’m secure enough to fuck around with people. That’s one of the best things about being in a successful band, is the way you have the power to confuse a lot of different people at one time.
How do you deal with the press?
Um, I find it very exposing. I don’t like exposing myself to people. I don’t like people knowing things about me. The only things I really let people know about me is the things I write about, in terms of personality, in terms of what I feel for other things, I don’t really let people know because I don’t think they have the right.
Do you get into a mood to write or just decide okay, I’m gonna write now?
No, I’ve definitely got to be in a certain frame of mind. I only write when I’m dealing with psychological things… Like when I wrote this album, I was kind of alienated from the rest of the world. I lived in a house for three months and didn’t leave for one day. I just sat in the house for three months and I couldn’t leave the house. I had to get friends to drop groceries and things…. I was suffering from a really bad anxiety and depression… I have to be kind of suffering from something in order to write, otherwise I’m out trying to live a normal life.
Interviewer hardass question: Why are you depressed?
I’m not depressed all the time, it just goes in phases. And the phases tend to be pretty large. I’ve been on antidepressants since I was seven, eight years old. ’Cause I have to level out my moods, otherwise I’m way too manic. Some days I’ll be really happy and other days I’ll be, you know, a total wreck.
Which antidepressants are you on? I’m on them too. (laughter)
They’re called Arapax. The song “Paint Pastel Princess” is a three-word metaphor for an antidepressant. It’s basically about leveling out moods and dealing with depression through drugs… I think there are times when you just feel so low you just want to really batter yourself because you really don’t know what else to do.
I found when I would burn myself or cut myself, it gave me some way to identify the pain, you know? Instead of just this ache inside.
Yeah definitely. I agree with that.
The difference between writing and performing–I hate how solitary writing is. But for you–you can be with 100,000 people when you’re performing, and then be totally alone after.
That was the whole thing with touring, especially like with me, everyone wanted to know everything about me, for two months on the road everyone was treating me like this big rock star, really huge, really grand, and then we’d be thrown back into reality and all of a sudden I’d be getting bashed every day after school and totally being ridiculed, and that happened pretty much two years of my life, so that on and off being treated like a king and then being treated like scum, for two years, on and off, fucks with your head quite a lot.
You went back to school after Silverchair started doing well. Why?
Because I wanted to. It was always a good thing to lean back on. It was always good when things got too much to have school as an excuse not to tour or start writing any more songs–you could always just say, oh we’re busy… Not so much people in our school, but some days I’d leave school and there were gangs of people waiting in cars, and I’d start walking home and then get pounded after school. You know, just really bashed. Attacked by gangs of people.
How did you protect yourself?
I just kind of dealt with it, I never really talked about it until I left school, until the whole thing was over, because it was too hard to bring up. No one at school even knew, my family didn’t know. No one knew until after I’d left school and after I kind of told people in my family, and they were like, Fuck! And they realized why I was dealing with the things I was dealing with.
Were people beating you up?
Yeah. That happened for two years, on and off. I don’t know why I endured it. I didn’t know how to deal with it so I kept ignoring it.