Thursday, 18 September 2014

Silverchair and the tall poppy syndrome

20 years ago Silverchair released "Tomorrow", their debut EP. Faster Louder were reporting that no major label would go near the band based on their demo, before winning a competition jointly run by Triple J and the SBS TV program Nomad in 1994.

A bit of disclosure here. I received a diploma in Sound Engineering from Platinum Studios in Newcastle, as they were known then. As I finished my degree, I remember hearing a demo that had recently been recorded in the studio during what was to be my last visit there. It was the Innocent Criminals, and the guys in the studio were saying how they predicted them to be huge. I was impressed at the time that the band were only 14 - he sounded much older than his years. And so the buzz had started.

They thought the name "Innocent Criminals" sounded a bit childish so they changed it to Silverchair (they should have kept the original one, I reckon). The EP was issued, it hit number one, largely because "Rage played the shit out of it. As did every radio station.". As the writer of the companion piece to the Faster Louder piece above, writes: "...And no one ever got sick of it.". Maybe from her little patch of life on the northern beaches of Sydney, but not in their hometown....

I was 18 and a private guitar tutor in and around Newcastle at the time. At the time, the music was impressive for the fact that the band were all in Year 9 at school, but musically it sounded like every other grunge band to me. I thought "Tomorrow" had a high burn rate, as I was sick of it by about the third or fourth listen. Upon closer inspection, I didn't even think it was that great a tune. I felt it was a pretty budget effort, even for a 13 year old, with lyrics that made no sense and a garden variety riff. And the fact that "Pure Massacre" was a direct lift from a Pearl Jam riff slowed down (it's "Glorified G" for the trainspotters) didn't endear me to them either.

It turns out I was not alone. If Newcastle people are good at anything - besides working hard and drinking hard - is cutting down people who get too successful. Stories became rife among my students that the band would become smug little brats at school, not handing out autographs unless the requestor went to the tuckshop for them a minimum of 10 times, along with a number of just general displays of teenage arrogance. There was even a rumour that their guitar tech had to play the guitar solo on the recording because Daniel couldn't play lead guitar at all. It was all petty, and the validity of these stories cannot be authenticated, but it all fueled the growing hatred of the band.

The backlash was further heightened by the (legitimate) fact that they were booed off stage during a poorly planned opening slot for Pantera at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on 11 November 1994. Again, not necessarily their fault (I mean seriously, in what lifetime is adding Powderfinger and Daniel John's boys on a Pantera tour ever a good idea?) but it all adds up. The experience so wounded Daniel John's ego that he used to rant about Newy audiences on stage, and at one point I vaguely remember him pledging never to play in town ever again. None of this did anything to endear him to the townspeople.

During this time Newcastle people didn't buy the records in droves. Silverchair fans were laughed at at school. Second hand stores were flooded with copies of "Tomorrow" once this shit hit the fan. In retrospect it was ugly. Very, very ugly.

I was actually shocked at just how profound the influence of "Tomorrow" was. None moreso than when the recent Hottest 100 of the last 20 years on Triple J happened. But then it occurred to me - the young bands of today all were kids when this record first hit the stores. They'd saved up their pocket money to buy the EP, fell in love with music and went out and bought guitars and started their own bands.

Those same kids also gave me heaps of work as a guitar tutor. So while having to teach "Tomorrow" drove me nuts, at least it kept me employed...

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