Daniel Johns

He’s the mu­si­cal enigma who re­turned from the shad­ows with this year’s bril­liant de­but solo al­bum. Just don’t call him a rock star.


Daniel Johns does what he likes, when he likes, and if peo­ple don’t think he should be writ­ing air­line jin­gles be­tween churn­ing out ear-pleas­ing tunes that defy his past, he doesn’t give a shit. “I don’t know if it sounds ar­ro­gant, but I look at my ca­reer more like a painter than a mu­si­cian. And if some­one com­mis­sions me to write a piece, I’m like, ‘OK, sure, why not?’” says the sliver of a man who was once a Sil­ver­chair rock-boy, his voice high and husky. “Ev­ery time you get an op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing you wouldn’t nor­mally do, just do it. Pretty much any­thing some­one asks me to do that I haven’t tried be­fore, I’m go­ing to say yes. So if Qan­tas [Johns wrote and ar­ranged the mu­sic for the air­line’s 2012 brand ad­ver­tise­ment] wants to give me money to pen a song, why wouldn’t I do it? I don’t re­ally give a fuck what peo­ple are go­ing to say about it.” Such an at­ti­tude fur­thers why his widely-ac­claimed frst solo al­bum, Talk, was eight years in the mak­ing. “Ac­tu­ally the whole du­ra­tion of writ­ing Talk and the idea of be­ing a solo artist [ Johns called time on Sil­ver­chair in 2011] is a protest against be­ing a rock star. I mean, I love rock stars – I just don’t want to be one.” Fame, he un­sur­pris­ingly of­fers, is a con­cept sim­ply la­belled “bull­shit”. “I’m far more happy with the idea of be­ing a suc­cess­ful artist, do­ing work with artis­tic merit, than I am be­ing a celebrity. The fame thing gets in the way of what I’m try­ing to do, in the way of life.” Avoid­ing the paps and gen­eral palaver that comes with recog­ni­tion is one of the rea­sons the 36-year-old still lives in New­cas­tle. Johns bought his coastal house north of Syd­ney aged 20, with Sil­ver­chair money, and it re­mains the place he’s drawn to. “It’s a shame I love Aus­tralia so much,” he chuck­les. “I’ve en­ter­tained the idea of liv­ing over­seas be­fore, and tried it, but what hap­pens is I get there, I last three weeks and I miss the Aus­tralian air, the beach, the sky. And then I’m on a plane back home again.” It’s at home that he’s in­spired to write, “con­stantly”, and “noo­dle around” on syn­the­sis­ers. While early ca­reer tracks were dirty-dis­tor­tion an­thems crafted on gui­tar (“be­cause it was the only in­stru­ment I even vaguely knew how to play”), Johns has be­come a pi­ano con­vert in later life, thanks to what he calls a se­vere case of mu­si­cal ADD. It’s a shift ob­vi­ous on Talk, the al­bum de­void of crunch­ing chords in favour of ‘Pur­ple Rain’-prince ef­forts, along­side pared-back col­lab­o­ra­tions with The Pre­sets’ Ju­lian Hamil­ton, a man whom Johns penned Sil­ver­chair’s 2007 hit ‘Straight Lines’. “That’s one of the only tracks in my ca­reer when I can say we got to the end of it, looked at each other, did a high fve, and said, ‘Well, if that’s not a hit then I don’t know how to write one.’ It sounded like a clas­sic song, straight away, and it wasn’t by de­sign, it just hap­pened. I was just so happy and so priv­i­leged to be in the room. And for some rea­son I was re­ally proud of the lyric, too. I nor­mally hate writ­ing lyrics.” While the or­ches­tral swoon­ing of ‘Straight Lines’ was a mild de­par­ture for Sil­ver­chair, this solo ef­fort is an even greater leap for Johns – genre lines blurred with rock re­placed by R&B and be­yond. So, did he strug­gle with man­age­ment types stat­ing con­cern that such sounds strayed too far from his brand? “I don’t know or care what my brand is. To me it’s all mu­sic, it’s a bunch of notes stuck to­gether,” he says. “It would be a pity to be in­ter­ested in dif­fer­ent things and not ex­plore them all.” While he openly outs his dis­dain for tour­ing, stage ap­pear­ances will in­form fu­ture plans, be­cause, in the age of Spo­tify, sell­ing al­bums, or even tracks, sim­ply won’t pay the bills. “I just want to be a record­ing artist, but it’s hard to make a liv­ing do­ing that, just record­ing and mak­ing mu­sic. Of all the ca­reers you could have as a writer, writ­ing mu­sic is not the best choice. Not any more, any­way,” he be­moans. “I’ll al­ways make al­bums, I’m a purist like that, but it’s ob­vi­ous that peo­ple’s at­ten­tion spans have got­ten shorter. That makes for a nice chal­lenge, ar­tis­ti­cally, though, be­cause you have to make sure that if some­one comes in part way through a track and only lis­tens to 15 sec­onds, then ev­ery 15 sec­onds has to be fuck­ing ge­nius.” Fuck­ing ge­nius – yeah, that’s our Mr Johns. n

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