Elec­tric dream

Daniel Johns re­fuses to look back at his rock legacy and is rel­ish­ing the new voice he’s found with an old mate … but don’t hold your breath for a tour, writes Cameron Adams

Herald Sun - Hit - - COVER STORY -

DANIEL Johns knows how lucky he was that his first band Silverchair ex­isted in that dis­tant era when peo­ple still paid for mu­sic. Ten mil­lion al­bum sales and canny in­vest­ments has meant Johns, who turns 40 next April, is fairly com­fort­able fi­nan­cially, for life.

“It is very for­tu­nate and I’m su­per grate­ful be­cause I do not know how to do any­thing else,” he says.

Mod­ern mu­si­cians now rely on tour­ing for their main in­come. Which is a prob­lem for Daniel Johns, who has also stated he wouldn’t even re­form Silverchair at gun­point.

“The feel­ing of be­ing an artist out­grew the feel­ing of be­ing a rock star quite early for me when we got a taste of suc­cess at age 14 (with Silverchair),” Johns says. “By the time I was 20 I was re­ally over that and just wanted to be an artist more than a per­form­ing mon­key. Ob­vi­ously the tim­ing wasn’t great to make that de­ci­sion. That screwed me up, be­cause tour­ing’s not my thing.

“I had a plan that for the rest of my ca­reer I could be like The Bea­tles and just stay in my stu­dio and cre­ate mu­sic. I don’t even know how the record in­dus­try works any more. I don’t even care.”

Johns played pre­cisely two live shows to pro­mote his 2015 solo al­bum Talk, this year ad­mit­ting he suf­fers from crip­pling anx­i­ety which can be trig­gered by live per­for­mances.

He’s played twice that many shows for new project, Dreams, with Em­pire Of the Sun’s Luke Steele.

Dreams played two shows at Coachella in April, then two at Vivid in Sydney in May.

The first Coachella gig, also the first time the two friends of nearly 20 years had ever per­formed on stage to­gether, was streamed live to the world.

“We ac­tu­ally just put an iPhone on the mix­ing desk, and it fell off for the last few songs,” Johns laughs. “It didn’t sound great.”

All four shows hap­pened months be­fore Dreams’ de­but al­bum, No One De­feats Us, was to be re­leased, boldly play­ing a full set of songs peo­ple had never heard.

“No one left,” Johns says. “It’s a big ask, we were quite proud and ap­pre­cia­tive of the au­di­ence bear­ing with us through our sonic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

“But the al­bum was never de­signed to be played live. So when the of­fers came in for live shows we were think­ing ‘Holy sh--, how do we ac­tu­ally do this live?’ Once we fig­ured out all the tech­ni­cal­i­ties, Coachella was re­ally good and by the sec­ond Vivid show we were so con­fi­dent. It was one of those clas­sic things, you’re ner­vous and anx­ious un­til the first show and after the fourth you want to go on tour.”

Spoiler: there are still no tour plans.

“The whole thing with Dreams is to wait and see where it flows. We’re re­ally, re­ally happy with the record, that was the thing we were ob­ses­sively con­trol­ling about.

“When it comes to any­thing post the al­bum we’re happy to let it take us down what­ever rapids come up.”

Johns says his bliss­ful ig­no­rance about the mod­ern mu­sic in­dus­try works for him.

“Part of the rea­son Dreams is so lib­er­at­ing is the bit we wanted to get right, the al­bum, is right. From now on we leave it in the hands of the gods. We’ll do some press, we’ll see if there’s more shows, but the main fo­cus was to make sure the record was un­com­pro­mis­ing.

“We’ve both got very poppy mind­sets, there are pop mo­ments on the record but also some wild mo­ments I’m sure the record com­pany would pre­fer to be gone. We don’t care about ra­dio play or how many records we sell. Dreams is what it is, it’s a thing unto it­self. It’s not re­ally com­pa­ra­ble to other projects I’ve done.”

Which is why Johns is also shut­ting down the most ob­vi­ous way to mar­ket it.

“That’s the fight we’ve been wag­ing. We’ve al­ways tried to avoid the ‘su­per­group’ tag, the Amer­i­can record la­bel wanted a sticker say­ing ‘Daniel Johns from Silverchair, Luke Steele from Em­pire Of the Sun’ on the al­bum. Why? Why Why? It’s ob­vi­ous that would be a more com­mer­cial way to do things, but we don’t feel like those peo­ple when we’re to­gether in Dreams. That’s not who we are. It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal.”

Hear­ing the use of vocoder on Dreams has al­ready an­gered some who’d pre­fer to freeze­frame Johns in the Silverchair era. “Vocoder is an es­sen­tial part of the Dreams sound,” he says. “It’d be like get­ting up­set with Kraftwerk. There’s a lot of nat­u­ral vo­cals on the record, but also a lot of heav­ily pro­cessed vo­cals. We don’t re­ally do things by halves, if we’re go­ing to go there we’re go­ing to make it wild.

“I don’t pay heavy at­ten­tion to it, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to not be aware of peo­ples’ re­ac­tions, they can’t help but tell you. A lot of peo­ple say ‘You’ve lost the plot, go back to (Silverchair’s) Frogstomp’, but there’s a lot of peo­ple who’ve been on my en­tire jour­ney and are still there and love the tran­si­tions and the changes. It’s just art. I don’t un­der­stand why peo­ple get of­fended. No one’s forc­ing any­one to lis­ten to it. If you don’t like it I’m not go­ing to cry.”

“WE DON’T CARE ABOUT RA­DIO PLAY OR HOW MANY RECORDS WE SELL. DREAMS IS WHAT IT IS, IT’S A THING UNTO IT­SELF”

HEAR NO ONE DE­FEATS US (EMI) out Fri­day

DANIEL JOHNS AND LUKE STEELE, THE CRE­ATIVE MINDS BE­HINDS DREAMS

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