Straight Lines (D.Johns/J.Hamilton) – Silverchair 2007
In 2002 Johns had taken himself off anti-depressant medication and his moods and behaviour were swinging in a manic-depressive cycle, the band had just completed their three-album deal with Murmur and were now signed to their manager John Watson’s Eleven label and internationally with Atlantic.
After hearing the first cut of the band’s fourth album Diorama, Atlantic could not hear a hit single on the album, Johns had taken off in new musical directions, dropped Nick Launay who had produced their previous two albums and brought in Canadian David Bottrill (Tool, Toni Childs, King Crimson), he was writing lush, extended orchestral pieces, power ballads, and experimenting with strings, brass, keyboards, and alternative song structures.
Daniel was also composing on a grand piano, not a guitar, for the first time, he discovered the different resonances he could achieve with his voice and how piano-based songwriting techniques had re-kindled his passion for music.
He had recruited guru collaborator Van Dyke Parks (Beach Boys) to the recording sessions too, Johns described their collaboration as “mind-blowing”, and Parks orchestral swells as “tidal waves” and his violins as a “flock of birds”, it sounded like a love-in, Atlantic Records were having conniptions.
The old heads at Atlantic knew that Silverchair’s new pocket symphonies were far removed from the blistering grunge of Tomorrow and Freak and would struggle to outsell the heavy guitar rock of Korn and Limp Bizkit who were dominating the charts at the time.
The band would have to tour intensively, particularly in the US to retain their fanbase and promote the album, but this strategy was thrown into disarray, when Johns revealed that he had been diagnosed with reactive arthritis in 2001, and all the US tour dates had to be cancelled.
The band would not record together for about five years, in the interim Daniel Johns had married pop princess Natalie Imbruglia in 2003 and they were heading for divorce in 2007.
Johns had also undertaken a side project with the Dissociatives which included Peter Mac (DJ, keyboardist, producer) along with Julian Hamilton (keyboards/vocals) and Kim Moyes (drums, vibraphone, programming) of the Sydney electropop/dance-punk group The Presets.
The Dissociatives records enjoyed only modest chart success but the collaboration did enable Johns to continue the musical journey of exploration of electronic sounds, new musical structures, and genres, he had commenced with Van Dyke Parks during the production of Diorama.
The new album Young Modern (Van Dyke Parks nickname for Daniel Johns), was much-anticipated, Silverchair’s former producer Nick Launay was back on board with Johns co-producing, and he was also sharing song-writing duties with Julian Hamilton on four of the eleven tracks. The band had grown up, they were now 28 years old, and it had been thirteen years since their first international hit, the grunge-drenched Tomorrow.
The album was recorded over eight months in Los Angeles and Mississauga (Canada) in 2006, no longer did the boys dash off albums in a month as they had done with their first two, now they travelled to Prague to record orchestral arrangements with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, self-funded the whole recording so as to avoid undue pressure from a record label, and indulged themselves in an elaborate creative process. Van Dyke Parks was back on board as orchestral consultant, and he contributed arrangements to three tracks.
The first single released from the album was Straight Lines which had been pre-released in March 2007, it debuted at #1 in Australia to claim iconic rock status, stayed at #1 for four weeks, and occupied the charts for 76 weeks, it was also the recipient of the ARIA Award for Song of the Year in 2007.
It was the only Silverchair single to equal the domestic sales of Tomorrow at 140,000 copies, and it would be the longest-charting Australian single ever, until Daniel John’s mates from the Presets, came along later in that same year and equaled the record, with their pounding, protest anthem / dance track, My People.
The alterna-art rock of Young Modern finds its clearest expression in Straight Lines which blends catchy hooks, artful keyboard arrangements with gutsy guitar rock, and autobiographical lyrical themes which reflect the challenges faced by John’s on his road to recovery from reactive arthritis, clinical depression, and anorexia- these were the straight lines that Daniel Johns had to follow.
Those lines also defined his path to self-awareness and creative flowering, a journey on which Daniel Johns made great strides with this song and the album, which not only became the band’s fifth consecutive #1 locally, a feat never achieved before by a local band, but it also charted #11 in NZ and #27 in the US.