Ben Gillies still has the itch.
The drummer from Silverchair, now 37, is yearning for the magic, the magic that comes from nailing it, the magic that comes with satisfaction, the discovery of something original, the secret to success.
While he has invested considerable time and money in a start-up alcoholic beverages company, La Mascara, with his wife, Jackie, the buzz from business is not the same as you get from playing rock’n’roll. It may yet prove to be just as rewarding, as Gillies builds on his first products - the retail brands “100%” flavoured tequila drinks and “High Tea” flavoured cocktails, and takes aim at building his own premium bottled tequila brand.
But the dream that began in his Merewether neighbourhood with a drum kit in Year 3 and musical partner Daniel Johns, and then Chris Joannou as well, and blossomed into a world-famous band that toured the world and sold more than 9 million albums, still lingers.
“It’s not about how big Silverchair has gone or what we achieved,” Gillies says. “If you love music, and writing music, and playing music, it’s part of who you are.
“That’s what I’ve said to others. It’s one of the key pieces of advice I give to anyone in the music industry: you have to love it with your heart and soul, and not care if you are making money. It’s not about the money, the fame or any of the other bullshit.
It’s not about how big Silverchair has gone or what we achieved. If you love music, and writing music, and playing music, it’s part of who you are.Ben Gillies
“When you are in the studio, and hear a track. The high you get from that is the best feeling in the world.
“On tour with ultimately a bunch of mates, that’s the dream. Doing something you love with mates it’s so cool, it’s a killer.”
Although Silverchair has been in “indefinite hibernation”, as they announced, since May 25, 2011, Gillies has continued to write and perform music.
Gillies, who shares songwriting credits for early Silverchair hits Tomorrow and Pure Massacre, put out an album under the band name Tambalane in 2005 with Wes Carr during a Silverchair hiatus and another album, Diamond Days, under the band name Bento with a handful of collaborating musicians, in 2012.
Now, he is nearing completion of a new album, to be released under his own name, in 2017.
While he and his wife Jackie have called Melbourne home for the last four years, he has been making the album in Byron Bay, working with hot young producer Jordan Power, originally from Maitland. Power has played a role in works by the likes of Angus and Julia Stone, Xavier Rudd, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Lady Gaga.
“It’s been just him and me in the studio,” Gillies says of working with Power. “In the studio is like being on tour. You develop your own language.
“It’s cool, we hang out. I really enjoy working with him.
“He knows, he understands the ebbs and flows in the studio. He knows when to leave me alone when I’m playing. He’ll jump in and say, ‘that was cool, work on that’. He knows when I’m in a low. I don’t want to stay low, if nothing feels like it’s rolling, he will push me to get through it. All of sudden, something clicks. He’ll send me on a two-hour productive spike.
“My point: we understand each other’s process.”
He’s got one more recording session booked in with Power at Byron in January and expects to have the last of 10 songs wrapped up early in 2017, with the album dropping by mid-year, through Golden Robot Records.
Making music is an essential part of Gillies’ life – as it has been since he was an adolescent jamming with his mates in the tiny bedroom of his family home on Smith Street, Merewether. It was in that creative environment Tomorrow was born. “I remember it so clearly,” Gillies says of the session where Johns tumbled out the chorus to the song that catapulted them to fame.
He called Johns later from his dad’s study and said come around in the next couple of days and we’ll finish that song.
“We just sat there and busted it out,” Gillies recalls of the next time they met up.
Creating songs is challenging, and ultimately satisfying for him.
“i don’t like any rules,” he says of the process. “Whatever feels good.
“It could be on guitars, sometimes piano, could be a block of words.
“I find lyrics challenging. But I have a system. A thought, or something I want to say, and sentences start to pop out.
“My lyric sheets look like the scribbling of a mad man. Certain works, certain phrases will paint a picture in my mind.. Then I throw my ideas down on paper, it starts moulding itself. I don’t know how to explain it.
“Like a soup, it sits on the oven. It’s a reduction, kind of makes itself once I get all the ideas down.”
This time Gillies has been playing most of the instruments on the recording - drums, guitar, piano. “It’s mostly real instruments,” he says. “There are some electronic bits, but they are not the driving force.”
What is the sound?
Gillies’ immediate response: “Let’s just say, it’s rock.”
Gillies has not made a decision about supporting the album release with a tour, but he sounds like is was leaning towards doing it.
“I need to get a little more match fit, in terms of singing on stage,” he says. “I haven’t had the experience. Wish I did more singing earlier. I wish I sang more in Silverchair, to be honest. Even if it was bv [backing vocals], but I didn’t.
“It’s confronting, it’s scary. But f – – – it, you only live once. No use sitting around, twiddling your thumbs being scared . . .
“I would be happy to get up and play in front of 10 people and have the best time in life. That’s where my head is at.”
Gillies stopped drinking alcohol three years ago. He estimates he’s consumed had a total of a litre of alcohol - tequila to be exact - in the last four years, and all of that while testing product for his 100percent brand. The 100percent range is two ready-to-drink products, at 6.6% alcohol - one with blood orange and bitters, the other with lime and agave nectar.
“It’s an interesting position to be in; I own a booze company. But I don’t judge anyone. For me, running the business, writing music, helping Jackie with her stuff [she is, of course, a star on the reality TV series, Real Housewives of Melbourne], I’ve got so much going on. Not being a drinker, it’s kind of changed my life.”
While he and Jackie enjoy Melbourne, Gillies doesn’t spend much time chasing live music. But then again, he says he never did, even in the Silverchair days. “I want to know if I’m going to see a band, that I can dig it. It’s all about relatability.”
The heady days with Silverchair will be part of who Ben Gillies is forever. But, despite the global success, he says it was never about the fame.
“It always comes back to the music,” he says in a stream-of-consciousness thought bubble. “All the other stuff melts away.
“For me, if Silverchair did nothing and never went anywhere, the way I feel about music would still be the same. I would still have to satisfy those musical urges.
“Silverchair is a very large part of what I’ve done with my time on the big rolling ball, but, I guess, music becomes you. The magic of a band is the collective of the people in that band. Outside of that band, be it Silverchair or whoever, you have your own personal relationship with music. However you satisfy it, you find your own way.
“To me, it’s the same stuff - writing recording and playing. It’s pretty simple really.”
Would he get a new buzz out of a Silverchair reunion?
“If Silverchair is doing something again, that would be great, but…. if or when that happens, I don’t know . . .
“To me where the band was left, it was like there was no bookend. Kind of like, I felt were were midway through chapter 8 of a 12-chapter book and then we stopped writing.
“It was a hard one for me. When we went into indefinite hiatus, it was a fancy way of saying, ‘we’ll play some more music if we like it.’ ”
Post-Silverchair, Gillies has grown as a businessman and a husband. He’s found another life besides rock’n’roll drummer in one of the greatest bands in the world.
“I love Silverchair. I love Dan and Chris.
“We’ve had an extraordinary experience. The only people who could possibly know are the three of us.
“When we play together, there is an undeniable magic.
“I do miss it, of course I do. It’s like a drug that has no side effect.”