DANIEL JOHNS/SILVERCHAIR – 1994-2018

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Somewhere Down The Barrel (D Johns/ P Mac) – The Dissociatives 2004

 silver58In late 2002 Natalie Imbruglia accepted Daniel Johns proposal of marriage, thereafter they lived a gypsy lifestyle, alternating between homes in Sydney, Newcastle and London. Imbruglia owned an idylic home on White Lilies Island near Windsor (UK) (below), and while there, Johns enjoyed the anonymity that he often craved. He was simply known as her husband, after all she was a famous pop star, and had been a cast member in Neighbours, an Australian soapie that the Brits loved, and had ignited the singing careers of such stars as Natalie, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Holly Valance, and Craig McLachlan in the UK. silver60Australian pals would visit the couple in the UK, Luke Steele of the Sleepy Jacksons who would re-unite with Johns in a future collaboration known as Dreams. Sydney DJ/keyboardist/producer Paul Mac was also a visitor, Mac was funny, gregarious, openly gay, and 14 years older than Johns, at the 1995 ARIA awards he had publicly thanked the country’s ecstasy dealers for their assistance, while accepting a Best Dance ARIA. He seemed an unlikely offsider for the withdrawn, social isolate, that Johns had become. But he had already worked on the Silverchair albums Neon Ballroom and Diorama, and after spending time with Johns in Imbruglia’s basement studio in Windsor, during a pleasant English summer, the collaboration that would become known as The Dissociatives, was created. The duo were interested in creating pared-down music, restricting  themselves to eight instruments per track, and manipulating the available sounds in a creative, low budget way, it was more than just a vanity project for Johns, he was rewriting the rule book for how he intended  to  express himself creatively, and as such it was also a declaration of independence.silver38Freed from the expectations of creating the obligatory big guitars and emo-drenched lyrics of Silverchair, Johns could be lyrically bright, breezy, playful, and even romantic, Forever and a Day, was a musical valentine to his soulmate Natalie Imbruglia – “A thousand sunshines on rain clouds…/ I don’t see nothing if I don’t see you.”  silver62Johns wrote all the lyrics for the eleven songs except for the instrumental track Lifting the Veil From The Braille in which he tunefully whistled the refrain, they recorded all the music in two weeks and then returned to John’s home studio in Merewether (Newcastle) to record the vocals. The lead single Somewhere Down the Barrel epitomized the cool, clear, digital-age pop of the whole album, a catchy, keyboard-powered song that merged choral inserts, electronic whirrs, clicks, and buzzes, with guitar, handclaps, and Johns double-tracked falsetto vocals, the local critics loved it, Ian Shedden wrote of the album “ It’s a beautiful work … stomping, brooding, anthemic, and incredibly poppy .” Opinion was divided elsewhere with Australian Rolling Stone magazine describing it as “a happy sort of Radiohead,” but Jason Crock’s review in Pitchfork (2005), took to it with a  vengeance, “Maybe he can write a three -chord rock song, but here he under-sings, over-emotes, and writes melodies that spiral off in insane directions before ending up nowhere – all while multi-tracking his vocals to cover his failings. Pro tools and bong hits do not an artist make, nor will electronic sheen save Johns’ turgid performance.”

Silverchair fans were variously confused, bemused, or unamused, the blistering grunge of the band’s early albums had disappeared, the music was not heavy enough to be rock, there was little evidence of R&B, and most of the songs were too slow to be dance tracks, so maybe it was just really good to share a joint over, which Daniel was doing increasingly at the time. The self-titled album was nominated for six ARIA awards in 2004 but missed out on the major music gongs, picking up ARIAs for album artwork and best video for Somewhere Down the Barrel, the single stalled at #19 locally and its follow up, Young Man, Old Man, inspired by the age gap between Johns and Mac, stuttered to #41. The album did a little better climbing to #15, but the Dissociatives stiffed globally, despite the hype surrounding Johns first non-Silverchair outing,  there would be no further releases from this Johns/Mac collaboration, and Daniel would return to his Silverchair band  mates, for one more album in 2007, before the band would go into hiatus.silver59On December 31 2003, Daniel Johns and Natalie Imbruglia were married in a beachfront ceremony at the exclusive Thala Beach Lodge, Port Douglas (Qld), Paul Mac was the wedding DJ, and guests included Silverchair band mates and their Silver- parents, managers John O’Donnell and John Watson, Virgin impresario Richard Branson, David Helfgott, actor Guy Pearce, and pop princess Kylie Minogue, who caught the bridal bouquet.

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