ATN's Music News of the World: Silverchair's Rite of Passage

Silverchair's Rite Of PassageDaniel Johns calls band's critics 'dumb, old fucks who can't remember what it's like to be young.'Addicted To Noise correspondent Andrew Tanner reports : MELBOURNE, Australia -- Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns waited backstage listening to the gravelly strains of AC/DC singer Bon Scott blasting through the Festival Hall."Dirty Deeds!" Scott screamed in his desperate, angry tones. While all of Johns' prepubescent fans may not have been familiar with the classic heavy-metal tune that inspired a generation, Johns certainly was. This is his kind of music. It's where he is coming from, he said."I think music's only good if it's threatening," the singer said.With their most recent album, 1997's Freakshow, the group certainly incorporated some of the raw sounds they've grown up on. Raw rock was also in evidence at the Dec. 13 gig. But so was another side of the group. "Cemetery," for instance, was performed by Johns alone, his thin, backlit profile and bleached-out face adding to the lonesome poignancy of lines such as "I may be late, always seem to get the wrong date."But mostly, the group rocked. Their current Australian single, "The Door" (RealAudio excerpt), was a highlight, its sitar-like riff almost overwhelmed by drummer Ben Gillies' bludgeoning backbeat. Next in line, "Learn To Hate" turned into a ferocious, metal rave-up courtesy of Johns' psychotic mantra, "Take the time to learn to hate/ Come and join the mass debate."To see the Silverchair singer onstage these days is to get a glimpse of the public rites of passage the 18-year-old is undergoing. One moment he's mumbling a monologue relating to his born-loser status ("I was only a seconder at scouts. I mean, imagine that, I was even coming second in scouts, for Christ's sake!"). Then, before you know it, he's flipping plectrums into the crowd, or stopping to strap on a bra thrown from the mosh pit ("How do you put these things on? Don't know much about them -- I know they're supposed to hold your boobs up!").There was a time, back in 1994, just as the band emerged as highly touted winners of a music show's talent quest, when it seemed they were in danger of polarizing nearly everyone in their future demographic.How would pre-teen girls attracted by singer Johns' blue-eyed, blond good- looks deal with the bone-crushing riffery of their songs? How seriously would Gen Xers take a band who was likely to fill a hall with at least as many of the aforementioned girls as alienated grunge-puppies? And what were hard-rock aficionados to make of three, scrawny school kids who professed a deep appreciation of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in their stumbling, monosyllabic interviews?Those questions are now consigned to the cut-price bins of music history. The band's recent performance at Festival Hall -- two-thirds of the way through the Newcastle trio's first full-fledged national tour -- was a tour de force of hard and heavy rock songs, delivered with enough panache to keep everyone happy. It was a clear statement by a group of young men who have decided to take their music to the next level.Recent high school graduates, Johns, Gillies (sporting an impressive three-inch mohawk) and bassist Chris Joannou display a friendly, somewhat guarded attitude. "We were the first to admit to being derivative," Johns said before the show. "I mean, we did sound like all that Seattle stuff at the time. It was what we were listening to, what we liked -- and we didn't give a fuck. I think we've found our own sound now -- people can hear it and know it's us!"Even older material such as "Israel's Son" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Pure Massacre" (from the band's 1994 debut album, Frogstomp) seem fresher and more urgent when performed live these days, propelled along by Joannou's edgy, growling bass lines. Johns, who only a year ago was the most diffident of frontmen, now prowls the stage with growing confidence, his long blond hair fashioned into a mane of spiky dreadlocks, looking sort of like a younger, leaner Johnny Lydon. The resemblance was even more marked when the singer spat out a few Lydon-esque snarls during "No Association."Johns confided his frustration at those critics who refuse to accept that such dark emotions could ring true for one so young: "The people who say stuff like that are just dumb, old fucks who can't remember what it's like to be young," said Johns. "Just because you're a teenager doesn't mean you don't have those emotions. Those people are just jaded, silly old cocks!"It would be wrong to glibly dismiss Freakshow -- both the album and the tour -- as a band of talented teens playing with academic notions of alienation or disenfranchisement. To whatever extent they're able, Silverchair are writing from their own lives -- and the band, especially Johns, is well aware of the subversive power of rock 'n' roll. "Music's fucked if it's about things that are easy to listen to and easy to contemplate," he said. "I like writing about things that are socially incorrect, that people don't want to hear about, that you might get in trouble for."And apparently so does his audience.For a show-closer at Silverchair's recent gig, a thumping version of "Freak" (RealAudio excerpt) saw virtually the entire hall erupt into a singalong. If the song lyric expresses a personal angst, the sight and sound of 3,500 yelling "body and soul, I'm a freak" transformed it into something perversely communal.Something not unlike AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds."***Indigo Girls Plan Political Songs For Next AlbumSinger Emily Saliers wants to 'rock out.'Addicted To Noise correspondent Lisa Arthur reports : The Indigo Girls will spend much of the next six months on the road -- touring the U.S. and Australia -- but they're already writing songs for the follow-up to 1997's Shaming of the Sun.If the early compositions are any indication, the new album will sound much different than Shaming, perhaps the most musically adventurous of the Atlanta folk-rock duo's six studio efforts."I've been hearing [Indigo Girl] Amy [Ray] work on her songs, and she's leaning more toward really stripped-down, acoustic folk music," said Ray's professional partner, the usually folkier Emily Saliers.As usual, Saliers, 34, and Ray, 33, find themselves on opposite ends of the musical spectrum. "I want to play electric guitar more than ever," said Saliers. "I want to rock out. We're always polar opposites."Ray's solution: "Well, we'll do two records."She says it with a laugh, but a double disc hasn't been ruled out.The pair plan to hit the studio in the fall, after wrapping up their current tour and playing a three-week stint on the 1998 Lilith Fair summer tour. They're aiming for a spring of 1999 release for their next album.Ray -- the grittier, edgier of the duo with the alto voice -- said the latest musical-polarization won't be a problem. "I'm looking at something really stripped-down, but if Emily wants to rock out, she can, and I'll be there for her," Ray said. "And if I want to do folk she'll be there for me. We're very lucky to have that with each other. And it works, too.""Stripped-down" would be a departure from Shaming of the Sun -- which debuted at #7 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart last April, marking the Girls' highest entry ever. It featured an eclectic mix of instruments -- stinging Stratocasters, banjos, bazooki -- and riffs reminiscent of everyone from the Beatles to Midnight Oil, from Nirvana to Gladys Knight.In fact, a folkier set of tunes would be a throwback to the Girls' earliest efforts, Strange Fire and Indigo Girls, which were almost solely acoustic collections.Shaming was the first album the Girls self-produced, and Ray thinks they'll do the same next time. "It's hard to know for sure at this point, but I think that's where we're heading."One thing that is certain: The new songs will continue to be increasingly political. Both lesbians, Ray and Saliers have long supported gay rights, and Shaming featured more openly gay lyrics. The album also featured "Leeds" (RealAudio excerpt), about the burning of black churches, along with songs about discrimination against immigrants and colonization -- a shift from earlier albums that tended to focus on the personal politics of relationships.They've embraced environmental and Native American issues, committing one month of their last two tours to the Honor the Earth Campaign, which they co-founded. They've raised about $500,000 for the effort. "We've gotten more political and more blunt, certainly," Ray said. "And I think it will continue. I think the older we get, the more outspoken we get."She doesn't worry about getting burned out from taking on the ills of the world. "I can't think about that," said Ray. "Maybe our audience will burn out on it, but I can't think about that either. Our audience is very open to that stuff and to learning different things and to supporting us."But the hopeless romantics among their fans shouldn't fret. At a recent concert stop at the House of Blues in Orlando, Fla., Ray played one of her new songs, a very quiet, almost-country ballad about an old Indigo Girls staple: longing for a lost love. It left the up-until-then-rowdy crowd hushed.Saliers predicts that she still has a few ballads left in her, too. "The political vein will continue because it becomes impossible to separate that part of your life from the work," she said and then paused. "But I'll probably always be thinking and singing about love."Prodigy Fans Cool With 'Bitch''Well, Mom it doesn't really mean [to hit your girlfriend],' said Francis Villanueva, 15.Addicted To Noise Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports : The first time 15-year-old Francis Villanueva heard the Prodigy song "Smack My Bitch Up" he was preparing for a family road trip. It was last summer and knowing that he had some long hours of travel ahead, Villanueva bought the band's The Fat Of The Land album to keep himself busy en route. Not long after, the Shallimar, Fla. teen found himself singing the song's brief lyrics: "Change my pitch up / Smack my bitch up," he chanted."My mom was like, 'Francis, what are you doing -- don't sing that!'" Villanueva recalled recently. "I was like, 'Well, Mom it doesn't really mean [to hit your girlfriend].' And she said, 'You don't know that.' "Villanueva, who runs the "Back Underground" Prodigy website, chalked up the difference between his and mother's viewpoints on the song to that familiar phenomenon known as the generation gap. "Grownups, even though you tell them it doesn't mean what they think it does, to them it still sounds wrong," he said.But the teenager said that eventually he and his mother came to a mutual understanding. "Now it doesn't really bother her," he said. "She's just like, 'Don't sing it around me or in front of other people.' She doesn't mind what I listen to, as long as I don't go around hitting other people. As long as it doesn't influence me to do bad stuff, she's fine with it."Disputes like the one in the Villanueva household undoubtedly have become more common since the Prodigy recently released "Smack My Bitch Up" as the third single from their 1.6-million selling The Fat Of The Land album. A denunciation of the song by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Woman led to a decision by both Wal-Mart and Kmart stores to pull the disc from their shelves. Target stores soon followed with a pledge to affix the albums with parental warning stickers.Last week, activist Gloria Steinem led a band of protesters in a demonstration at the New York offices of Time Warner Inc., the company that owns Maverick Records, which released the album. The demonstrators censured the company for issuing music they called harmful to women and girls.One day after the demonstration, MTV announced that earlier in the week it had decided to no longer air the "Smack My Bitch Up" video. For one week, the music channel had presented the clip, which depicts a hooligan (who viewers later learn is a woman) fighting, using drugs and having sex with a female stripper. The song was relegated to the wee hours of the morning and was prefaced with a news segment explaining the controversy stirred up by the song.Bridget Breslin, manager of the Tower Records on Philadelphia's South Street, said Monday that she is looking forward to seeing the video for its O. Henry-esque turn of perspective. She said that sales of The Fat Of The Land have dropped off considerably since late June, when the album opened at #1 on Billboard's Top-200 chart. Breslin, 24, added that she was not upset by the lyrics to "Smack My Bitch Up," which were sampled from a 1988 song by the Ultramagnetic MCs called "Give the Drummer Some.""Words, schmords," Breslin said. "I don't buy into people being offended by words. I wasn't offended by it. And I've heard worse."People who did not see the video for "Smack My Bitch Up" on MTV can now download the clip from the "Psychosomatic Addict" fan-run Prodigy web site. Webmaster Corey Backlund said he was not surprised that MTV chose to no longer show the video. "But I'm not really for it," said the 18-year-old student who attends Moorhead State University in Moorhead, Minn. "I'm one who does not support censorship in any way."Backlund said he thought the explanatory segment that preceded the video served as a useful warning for those who might be offended. "I think people should have the right to listen and watch what they want, and if they don't like it, then just shut it off," he said.Backlund's seems to be a common stance among Prodigy fans. John Dewey, Arlington, Va. maintainer of the "Come Play My Game" Prodigy site said he believes that the words to "Smack My Bitch Up" are inconsequential. "I think lyrics are just something to help the music along," said Dewey, 15. "I don't think lyrics are a big part of music. I guess in some cases they are -- Marilyn Manson, that's a big thing for them."Although Backlund doesn't necessarily agree with Dewey's point about the significance of lyrics, he said he doesn't think "Smack My Bitch Up" should be interpreted as encouraging violence toward women. "I really don't think it's at all about beating women. When you look at it, it's only got two sentences in the entire song: 'Change my pitch up / Smack my bitch up.' Those two sentences have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I once heard an interview with [Prodigy leader] Liam Howlett, and a lot of times when they write their songs, they just try to put in lyrics that sound good. They don't necessarily put in stuff to make a story out of a song like conventional music."The recent swirl of controversy may serve to influence the buying habits of some Prodigy fans this holiday season. Villanueva said the recent removal of The Fat Of The Land by K-Mart and Wal-Mart has caused him to reconsider where he spends his money."One time, one of my friends bought an album at Kmart, and it had lyrics taken out," he said. "It was a different version. That makes me not want to buy stuff from there. But yet, they have cheaper prices than specialty stores at the mall. But I would rather go buy the real thing, even if it's more expensive."

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