He may be known as the drummer for one of Australia’s most undeniably famous threesomes, Silverchair, but Ben Gillies is proving himself to be more than just a one-trick pony.
These days, Gillies resides in Victoria with his wife Jackie, star of hit cable TV show Real Housewives of Melbourne. He has also enjoyed a modest amount of success with his solo music project, Bento, and is helping to spearhead a new alcohol brand with Jackie.
“Since Jacks has been doing the TV show life has been very different, I’ve been there supporting her a lot,” Gillies said.
“I’m planning a trip to LA in the next few weeks to do some writing and work with some people over there… I can’t say who just yet, but I’ll let you know when I can.
“I actually recently signed a publishing deal with Kobalt, which is the fastest-growing publishing company in the world, so I’m going to do some networking through them, tap into that and see where that takes me… there’s so much going on.”
It has been almost two years since Bento’s debut album Diamond Days was released. Gillies said he had been working on new material, but was still unsure of the direction he wanted the music to take.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Bento yet, I’ve definitely been writing a few songs, but I’m questioning if it’s even worth doing records any more,” he said.
“The thing is, not many people buy physical CDs any more, so to keep up with music you really have to keep a constant stream going, though having said that I’ve not released anything for 18 months now.
“Diamond Days was a very eclectic record in terms of sound, some songs with more indie rock in style, some had more pop elements and were very commercial and dancey… I’m not sure if I want to get a bunch of ideas and stick them together again, or maybe release a bunch of EPs instead of a whole album.
“I think that would be a good way to write and record and have a pretty much constant flushing out of all of these ideas.
“The first album was kind of like a creative vomit I had held onto for 10 years… it was like having a big 18th birthday party and finally coming of age and being able to project this big, creative vomit onto the grass.”
Gillies said he writes most of his material with either a piano or guitar, although neither are the percussion he is best-known for.
“I think a lot of musicians write on instruments that aren’t their first instrument,” he said.
“It helps in a lot of ways, because you’re not limited by the rules you’ve been conditioned with through formal training.
“In and out of Silverchair, my writing has been very instinct-based, which just works for me – if I like something, I stick with it.
“None of us (in Silverchair) really learned all of the rules and conditioning, and I’ve since worked with fully trained musicians who hear something I’ve written and go, “I never would have done that, but it works.”
“That’s pretty much how I write – just go with what works.”
Having had no formal training, Gillies said he couldn’t sit down and write sheet music, but it was no hindrance.
“When I get on the piano or the guitar I can generally find my way around pretty easily,” he said.
“I use my ears to write – I’ll play certain notes and like the way they go together.
“I can hear chords and know what they are, and can kind of clunk around and bust out songs, but I’ve worked with some musicians who are just phenomenally gifted.”
Daniel Johns aside, Gillies cited Papa Vs Pretty’s Thomas Rawle as one of the most talented musicians he had worked with.
“Tom is amazing, honestly, he’s almost like a little virtuoso,” he said.
“He was only 20 or 21 when he played on the album, and he literally blew me away.
“Tom didn’t have much of a social life in high school, so he would sit in his room and do these Steve Vai exercises on the guitar, but as he got older he started discovering, for lack of a better word, ‘cooler’ music, which is when he learned it’s more about what you don’t play when it comes to good music.”
Bento wasn’t Gillies’ first foray into music outside the Silverchair sphere. There was the relatively short-lived pop-rock band Tambalane, with former Australian Idol winner Wes Carr.
“That project was years ago now, and in hindsight I didn’t really like it,” Gillies said.
“There was always a bit of a power struggle within the group, and I found it really hard to be passionate and excited about something that was really pretty mediocre.
“I had done a lot of writing with Silverchair in the early days, until Dan took most of it over, so I guess Tambalane was a bit of a social experiment for me, to see if I still had it in terms of writing songs people might want to listen to.”
Gillies is partaking in another social experiment of sorts: he appears somewhat regularly alongside wife Jackie in Real Housewives.
“Some Silverchair fans haven’t been very happy with me because of it (appearing on the show) but I’m just by Jacks’ side supporting her,” he said.
“I kind of don’t really give a shit, because I’m just there for my wife… I mean, if that means I’m sitting there helping her get dressed for something and they put that in the show, so be it.
“Jacks was actually really stressing out about how to act in front of the camera and I said to her, just be yourself because people can smell a rat if you’re not being true to who you are, people will like you for being real and they’ll connect with that realness.”
The couple ended up on the show thanks to fortuitous timing and an old friend of Jackie’s.
“We were living in Newcastle and you know, having one of those moments we all have, thinking we need a change, we need to stir things up a bit,” Gillies said.
“We were talking about moving down anyway, but one of Jacks’ good friends (clothing designer) Henry Roth knew the producers of the show through his work on Project Runway, and put Jackie’s name forward to join the cast, completely unbeknownst to us.
“When she got the call, Jacks asked if she thought we should do it and I told her if it was what she wanted to go for it, so here we are.”
Gillies is often referred to by Jackie as her husband, “international rock star Ben Gillies from Silverchair” on the show.
“I’ll take that title,” he laughed.
“There was a little article about it in the paper this morning, actually, but you know it’s just one of those things, it’s all how it’s edited.
“Even I said, “Geez, Jacks, you really do say that a lot,” when I saw the show but you know, if she says it two or three times in a week, maybe the producers see my existing profile as a drawcard or something, and they have a little whiteboard in the editing room that says, “Every time Jackie says this, keep it in,” I don’t know.
“The thing is she’s proud of me, and she’s really supportive of me, and she isn’t afraid to say it.”
Gillies said the show’s portrayal of the couple wasn’t far off reality, including their fridge full of French champagne.
“It’s pretty damn close to reality,” he said.
“Admittedly our champagne consumption has reduced a little, but we do like our bubbles… I hope we don’t look like alcoholics with the bubbles and the booze line, though.”
Another project the couple is working on is the launch of their own alcohol brand, La Mascara Beverage Co.
“Around six months before Jackie was asked to do the show, I had started asking around about starting my own tequila brand, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Gillies said.
“It has kind of become part of Jackie’s story on the show now, so it’s kind of become her thing… it’s a range of RTS (Ready To Serve) cocktails, and we’ve just been picked up by Dan Murphy’s nationally, actually, which is really exciting.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a really good team to work with, we’ve done everything down to the artwork for the labels ourselves, but we’ve had an amazing branding company in Melbourne helping us along the way.”
Being involved in every step of the process is now something Gillies is accustomed to, after launching the Bento project.
“It’s been very different, very scary and very confronting,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of things to learn, I’ve had to do a lot of the things a record company would usually do for an artist by myself.
“I think at the end of the day it all comes down to volume – it might be possible to do everything, but in the end you’d have a mental breakdown, so when you get to a certain point you have to find that balance between the creative side and the business side.
“With Silverchair, there was always that option to tap into management and say, “We’d like to do this tour,” and they will make it happen while we concentrate on the creative stuff… that luxury definitely isn’t there for an independent musician.”
It was 20 years in March since Silverchair’s first release. The band has been on an indefinite break since 2011, and Gillies confirms it is still an indefinite break, not the end.
“Technically we’re in hibernation, even if it lasts a couple more years yet,” he said.
“A lot of bands put things on hold and work on other things for a while before picking things up again.
“As far as I know, and this might be worth a Google, The Rolling Stones never actually broke up, but they split and did their own thing for like eight years or something (it was 1983- 1988).
“That’s pretty much where we’re at, we have always been able to recognise when we need distance from each other, and for now we’re all happily doing our own thing, but when the time is right we’ll come back together for sure.”
Gillies said there was no definitive answer as to why the band decided to take a break when they did, having just toured Groovin The Moo and performed new material right before the unexpected announcement.
“We were having a lot of fun in the studio, we were writing and recording a bit and, you know, it was just one of those things.
“We’re still good friends, we keep in touch by text and stuff but I haven’t seen Dan really at all, and I’ve only caught up with Chris a couple of times.
“At the end of the day we were 14 when Tomorrow came out, we’re all in our mid-3os now – that’s a long time to be in this industry considering most people don’t even get into the scene until they hit 20 or so.”
In the meantime, Gillies is happy pursuing his own interests.
“For now I’m helping Jackie, we’ve got the booze line happening, I’ll be writing in LA and Jacks has a few opportunities over there as well,” he said.
“The final goal for me is to get these 3-4 track EPs happening, a lot more frequent things for Bento, and who knows? If the right project comes along I might even consider doing some producing.
“I just hope that when I’m 70 years old and going a bit senile I’ll be able to knock out some little ditties and still be having fun with music.”
Check out Bento’s debut single Diamond Days here: