DANIEL Johns and Silverchair biographer, Jeff Apter, can’t fathom a day when the legendary Newcastle rock band reforms.
Since the shock dissolution of the band in May 2011 when they announced they were going on “indefinite hibernation” during the making of an unreleased sixth album, talk of a reunion has been non-existent.
Johns has distanced himself from Silverchair’s rock roots with various musical projects, including an R’n’B-flavoured solo album Talk (2015) and this year’s electronic collaboration with Luke Steele, called Dreams.
Ben Gillies has developed various business ventures with his psychic and television star wife, Jackie Gillies, and has been working on a solo album, while Chris Joannou established the popular Newcastle bar and restaurant The Edwards before it was destroyed by fire in June.
Apter wrote Tomorrow Never Knows: The Silverchair Story in 2003, a year after the band’s critically-acclaimed fourth album Diorama, when they were arguably at the height of their artistic powers.
At the time Apter had full access and support of all three members and their management. But when Apter began work on his new biography, The Book Of Daniel, which focuses more heavily on Johns and takes the story beyond Silverchair up to present day Dreams, it was a different scenario.
“It was a flat no,” Apter says of his approach to Silverchair manager John Watson about interviewing the Merewether-bred trio.
“No one wants to talk. The tension and the issues that led to the end of the band are still simmering.
The tension and the issues that led to the end of the band are still simmering.Jeff Apter
“I thought wow, that’s such a contrast to 10 years earlier when everyone was willing and available. Like I’d go up to Daniel’s house to do an interview and Chris’ house too, it wasn’t a problem. But this time it was all doors shut.”
Reasons for Silverchair’s abrupt end have never been made clear publicly. However, Johns has since stated his disinterest in guitar-orientated music or repeating himself.
“I can only speculate on what happened, because only three or four people know what truly happened, but the fall out must have been really bad,” Apter says.
“Here’s a band that’s tracking along, making their sixth record and then suddenly boom. No final swan song. Powderfinger did another lap of the country and probably made a few million dollars, Silverchair didn’t do that. It just ended.”
Silverchair’s financial success and savvy management, says Apter, also means the usual monetary excuse to reform doesn’t exist either.
“The only reason they’d do it if there was musically a reason to,” he says.
“Whereas, I think it would be a safe bet in a couple of years to see a Powderfinger reunion, it’s just inevitable, plus some guys in that band weren’t ready to quit.
“With Silverchair it’s just so not likely. I was going to say I’d like to be proven wrong, but I kind of like that they’re done.”
Apter conducted his last interview with Johns in 2006, but spent many hours with the musical enigma on the road as a Rolling Stone journalist and at his Merewether home, especially during his debilitating battle with reactive arthritis in 2002.
That meant the later part of Silverchair’s career and Johns’ solo years were largely based off resource material. Unfortunately this means the book offers more of a general summation of that period, rather than any definitive insight.
Essential to The Book Of Daniel, was Apter’s desire to avoid writing an updated version of Tomorrow Never Knows. It’s an aim he achieves.
The major difference is Apter places Silverchair’s remarkable rise from three Newcastle High School students banging out riffs in their bedroom to global rock stardom in the context of Australian music history.
Their grungey ARIA No.1 debut single Tomorrow in 1994 came at a time when the power of pub rock had diminished and Australian radio was full of uninspiring and safe artists.
American audiences were also hungry for something new following the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in 1994 and Pearl Jam were bogged down in their dispute with Ticketmaster. The teenage Silverchair provided that novelty as an “angry Hanson.”
However, Apter says Johns was central to Silverchair’s appeal through his immense creativity, his many contrasts, his vulnerability and the intense emotional connection his songs held with fans.
Apter tells of Rolling Stone magazine, who boosted its sales figures by 20 to 25 per cent whenever Silverchair featured on the cover, being inundated with letters when Johns revealed his battles with anorexia and depression in 1999.
But as Apter writes, Johns’ appeal also extended to his rock’n’roll peers. He tells a story of Johns and his ex-wife Natalie Imbruglia being invited to a party in U2 frontman Bono’s Los Angeles hotel room.
Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and Gwen Stefani were among the guests, but what took Bono’s interest was playing on repeat a demo of Luv Your Life.
Apter is also unashamedly a Johns fan, who is believes is the greatest musical star Australia has produced “this side of Michael Hutchence.”
Apter says Johns’ continued re-invention from angry grunge-rocking school boy, to sensitive artist, to androgynous electro-pop star has made him a fascinating figure to dissect.
“With Daniel it struck me there was a quite a contrast between on-stage and the off-stage person, which is great because we all like rock characters,” he says.
“If you look at his more recent solo stuff, it looks like he’s walked off a catwalk in Milan, but he’s offstage behaviour is like he’s a teenager on Schoolies Week. There’s these really interesting contrasts.
“I can pick a dozen songs that he’s produced in the last 15-20 years which I think are unparalleled, in not just local music history, but internationally.”
The Book Of Daniel is out now at all major bookshops.