How Silverchair soundtracked and influenced some of the biggest moments in my life.
words: Jade Kennedy
BY NOW it’s no secret that I’ve been a music fan from an early age.
My older cousin lived next door with my nan, so when I was still in nappies I was rocking out with him to his favourite band, the Sex Pistols. He collected their vinyls from around the world, plastered his walls with their posters and dedicated himself to presenting a punk rock show on local community radio every week.
He taught me what being a true fan was. Together we would watch music TV shows like Rage and Countdown, and I would play ‘interviews’ with my Barbies, emulating my then-hero Molly Meldrum on the telly.
As I grew into a teen myself, I began my own experience with fandom. Not quite to the extent of my cousin – who had passed away by the time I turned five – but I recorded the interviews of my favourite bands on TV or radio, bought the magazines they featured in, and dreamed of one day seeing them perform live.
We didn’t have the ability to connect directly with artists via social media, so there was still a disconnect between fans and bands; a sense of idolatry, to some degree.
I had an affinity for Australian music, so when a high school band from Newcastle released their debut album not long before I entered high school myself, I immediately felt an affinity for them.
silverchair’s (because back then it was stylised with a lowercase ’s’) sound appealed to that tiny tot who fell in love with the grungy, punk rock energy of the Sex Pistols; Daniel Johns, Ben Gillies and Chris Joannou were just like the older high school boys my friends and I were starting to get crushes on at the time except, you know – more talented.
1997 still sticks out as one of the best years for new music to that Aus-loving teen: Savage Garden debuted their self-titled album, Jebediah released Slightly Odway, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released The Boatman’s Call, Custard came out with We Have The Technology, Grinspoon brought out Guide to Better Living, Regurgitator gave us Unit, Frenzal Rhomb dropped Meet the Family, Something for Kate were Elsewhere for 8 Minutes and silverchair gifted us with Freak Show.
I was in my second year of high school at the time, and at the end of the year I greeted the summer school holidays with my first-ever live concert: silverchair’s Summer Freak Shows tour, supported by Magic Dirt.
My friend and I crept as close to the mosh pit as we dared, while my mother sat at the back of Townsville’s Soundshell and waited for us to come find her. It was every bit as magical as I had imagined.
For a music fan growing up in regional North Queensland, where most shows – when they did come through – were 18+, experiencing my first live show was exhilarating. The fact it was one of my favourite bands at the time was beyond anything I had imagined.
Afterwards, I found myself sitting in my Modern History classroom staring at a silverchair poster tacked on the wall above the whiteboard. I began to daydream about one day photographing bands like Tony Mott, the photographer who had taken that image on the wall.
Fast forward 10 years: I was married, had a Bachelors degree in Journalism, was running a youth magazine and freelancing for a bunch of publications – including jmag, where I’d interviewed Silverchair’s manager John Watson about touring in regional centres.
I’d met ‘Watto’ at a music industry conference when I was 17, where – to an aspiring journalist and law student who was a massive fan of the band he managed – the ex-local was cooler than any rock star.
We had kept in casual contact, and in early 2007 I interviewed Ben about the band’s forthcoming album, Young Modern. I also decided to travel to Brisbane to review the show for the magazine I was running. But, it needed photos to run with it… and we didn’t have a photographer who could travel.
The first Young Modern gig at the Tivoli was my first official photo pass. I borrowed a camera, and taught myself how to use it on the plane.
Once I was in the pit, I felt like I was doing everything wrong: every time I looked up, the other photographers were at the other end of the pit.
The stage was low, my five-foot self was almost eye-level with Daniel’s crotch. I was sprayed with sweat and spit (Daniel’s, according to a girl in the crowd who screamed how “lucky” I was) and beer (including the containers it came in) and all manner of things… and I loved all 11 minutes of it.
When the first three songs were over and it was time to scoot back into the crowd, some lovely girls at the end of the barricade pulled me into their huddle so I could see. They ended up being hardcore fans – the type who waited by the back door of the venue to try to meet the band after the show – and were some of the nicest people I’ve met. One of them even gave me a lift back to my in-laws’ house after the band had left.
When I got the photos back for the designer to lay out for the monthly magazine, he – a professional newspaper sub-editor – asked if I had formal photography qualifications, because, “these are as good as anything our guys take”.
Spurred on by his comments, the experience, and taking huge inspiration from Tony Mott – whose work with Silverchair and other Australian bands was, by then, heavily ingrained into my psyche – I began to photograph more live music.
Little did I know, live music photography would later become a crutch, when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and the associated anxiety was so severe I found I could no longer even attend a show without a camera to “hide” behind, which gave me something to focus on that wasn’t my anxiety.
As 2007 started to wind down, Silverchair and Powderfinger announced a massive tour which would take in multiple dates throughout North Queensland. I arranged with Watto to attend the Across the Great Divide shows in Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville, photographing both Townsville shows.
By the time the shows rolled around, my marriage was breaking down. Songs like Silverchair’s ‘Emotion Sickness’ and ‘Without You’ (which already contained my favourite lyric: “You brighten my life like a polystyrene hat/But it melts in the sun like a life without love”) and Powderfinger’s ‘Nobody Sees’ took on a new meaning that week. I came home from Rockhampton a day earlier than expected and threw my cheating husband out.
Having put my dreams of working full-time in music and media on hold to pursue things like a mortgage and marriage, when that all fell apart I decided to pursue my dream career.
So, in 2010 I used the Young Modern content from 2007 as a writing sample to apply for a Groovin The Moo competition with the local paper, which included a two-week cadetship.
I won the competition; so the final time I saw Silverchair perform was at Groovin The Moo, where I photographed their first three songs, then ran up to the side of the stage where I sat with Watto’s mum to watch the rest of their set.
That cadetship led to my first “proper job” in entertainment media.
Silverchair’s music carried me through those angsty teen years into adulthood, and even through my marriage breakdown.
As a Class of 2000 graduate, ‘Anthem for the Year 2000’ felt like it was written for those of us on the precipice of the great unknown that lay beyond the school gate:
“We are the youth, we’ll take your fascism away / We are the youth, apologize for another day / We are the youth and politicians are so sure / We are the youth and we are knocking on death’s door…”
Whilst their sound initially appealed to me because of the raw, gritty angst of Frogstomp, the fact that their music matured and explored new territory as I myself was maturing and exploring new territory made it easy to grow with.
I think the reason Silverchair still resonates with a lot of fans to this day is not only the fact they’ve soundtracked so much of our lives, but because we could relate to them.
As people, Daniel, Chris and Ben have never appeared too far out of reach or too affected by fame. They were about our age; we grew up together.
They had similar problems to us; when Daniel was writing lyrics about eating disorders, girls in my class were literally passing out from starving themselves. When he was talking about mental health in interviews, I was helping a friend clean up after self-harming in Maths class.
One of the things I have always loved about music is its ability to speak when you can’t find the words; to connect on an emotional level. That emotional connection may not be reading the message exactly the songwriter was trying to convey when they wrote it – they may have been writing about missing their grandmother, while you relate it to losing your guinea pig – but that’s the beautiful thing about art.
It has been 10 years now since Silverchair’s “hiatus” and we know by now we can’t expect them to return. Ben has released solo music through the Tambalane and Bento projects, and now as just Ben Gillies; Daniel has since released music through the Dreams project with Luke Steele, with one solo album and another on the way in a matter of weeks. Chris appears to have left the industry entirely.
The announcement of Daniel’s new solo record FutureNever (to be released on April 1st) with its accompanying (incredible) artwork by Matt Ryan, referencing Silverchair art of yore, has made this old fan nostalgic.
That fan who once pored over their interviews is now writing them (I interviewed Ben for probably the fifth time just a few months ago).
The girl who had no idea what she was doing in the pit at the Tivoli has now photographed hundreds of bands and festivals – and had some big chats with Tony Mott.
The influence Silverchair has had on my life has been a profound one.
I can even watch the Across the Great Divide tour DVD now and recognise and respect the resilience of that 23-year old who cried at all of the North Queensland shows.
Here I am now – running my own business working with incredible musicians and comedians and freelancing for some of the top media outlets in the country. I’m no longer just a fan of music – I live and breathe it, from the other side of the barricade.
My passion for mental health and discussing it openly probably wouldn’t have happened had Daniel not discussed his own mental health when I was a teen. It’s now a core foundation of my business practices; I’m an accredited Mental Health First Aider and an ambassador for Entertainment Assist.
There are many bands I initially connected with as a teenage fan that I now call friends and colleagues. I have hung out with them, had drinks with them, worked with them, stayed with them, shared meals with them.
Our dynamic may have changed; my respect for them hasn’t.
But I will always keep that teen fan girl in my back pocket, so I still feel that initial jolt of excitement when I see someone walk on stage.
In that moment, they’re X person from Y band… then they just go back to being whomever I know them as off stage.
Daniel Johns has reportedly said he won’t perform live again – so will I ever see him through the eyes of that teen fan at the Summer Freak Shows again?
We’ve both grown so much it’s strange to even think that far back now.
But I am keen to see what the Future(Never) brings…
Watch – Silverchair ‘Without You’ live at Across the Great Divide:
PSA: As an aspiring music biographer and Silverchair fan, I was excited to see ‘The Book of Daniel: From Silverchair to DREAMS’ come out in 2018, but I reached out to John Watson at the time and confirmed the book was completely unauthorised, and that Daniel himself and his management had nothing to do with it. So if you’ve listened to the podcast or seen the album coming out and want to buy the book for nostalgia’s sake? Don’t. Wait until Daniel (or Ben, or Chris, of course) releases something directly.