No One Defeats Us (D Johns/L Steele) and Silence (D Johns/L Steele) and Love to Live (D Johns/ L Steele) – Dreams 2018
By 2012 Daniel Johns and his live-in partner Louise Van de Vorst had split, he was pursuing a more public bachelor lifestyle, drinking with friends at Star Casino, and hitting the town with his new girlfriend, fashion designer Estelita Huijer (above). Not content with labelling him a boozer, and roisterer, the tabloids also made thinly veiled references about his sexuality, rekindling rumors from years ago about his relationship with Paul Mac, this was pretty standard tabloid muckraking. Daniel was broadening his musical repertoire and had collaborated with film-maker Josh Wakely, with whom he produced the score for the film My Mind’s Own Melody, which was critically praised but never formally released.In October 2014 Johns was booked for a DUI offence at 0.126, more than twice the legal limit, and lost his licence for six months, Ben Gillies would be charged with a similar DUI offence on January 21 2018, at 0.144, almost three times the legal limit, after initially refusing to take a breath test, and in April 2018 he was fined and lost his licence for 12 months.
In May 2015 Johns stumbled and cut his head after falling out of one of his favorite haunts, the Low 302 Bar, in Crown St (Syd), he kept popping up in Sydney restaurants with Huijer, often the worst for wear; at the China Doll eatery he tangled with paparazzi. After ditching Huijer and hooking up with fellow musician Joshua Mullane, he appeared pale, drunk and shirtless, when he fell down in public at ritzy Double Bay – his smudged lipstick and eyeliner gave him the appearance of a disheveled drag queen, wandering the streets, the morning after the Sydney Mardi Gras (above). He took to airing his increasingly bizarre thoughts on Instagram, and by 2017 he was in a relationship with interior decorator/socialite Michelle Leslie (below), better known for a 2005 drug conviction (ecstasy) in Bali that resulted in three months goal time.Musically there were some stirrings and speculation about a project with Empire of the Sun’s Luke Steele (below) that had already been gestating for about fourteen years, the two had met back in 2004 when Steele’s band The Sleepy Jacksons had played support to Silverchair on their Diorama national tour. Johns and Steele hit it off and collaborated on literally hundreds of potential songs that were apparently misplaced and never found, but in 2018 they emerged as the duo Dreams (below), and started to reveal some of their music, which was an enigmatic and theatrical merging of art, pop, electro-punk, and house influences.Dreams debut album, released in 2018 was No One Defeats Us, recorded and produced at Los Angeles Henson Studios by John Hill (Shakira, Santigold) with Johns, who was now known as “Dr. Dreams”, and Steele, now known as “Miracle”, their alter egos were now fully formed identities. The trippy sobriquets were quite consistent with the names of other members of Steele’s family, his wife Jodie was known as Snappy Dolphin and their daughter Sunny Tiger, quite the little menagerie.The first two singles off the album were the title track No One Defeats Us which was a shouty monotone rant, with few redeeming features, the promo video captured the duo wandering through an apocalyptic wasteland in LA, Johns revealing his “Dreams” neck tattoo, and cosplaying his alterna-persona, the baseball bat-wielding Dr Dreams, who appears shirtless underneath a long, animal print fur coat decorated with tongues and eyeballs. To complete the look, Dr Dreams’ eyes had different colored irises, the left eye a glowing, menacing, luminescent blue.
The second single was Silence with Johns on lead vocals, it was inspired by the violence and hatred that he had witnessed at the 2017 Charlottesville (Virginia, USA) white supremacist rally there, which resulted in death and injury after a neo-Nazi drove his car into black protestors. The song and the video were manic, Johns looks unhinged as he exorcises his inner torment and anguish, stripped to the waist and glaring at the camera, harsh lighting and the menacing aura of the film made it hard to watch, it even carried a health warning “This video may potentially contain seizure triggers for those with photosensitive epilepsy.”
The failure of the first two singles prompted the duo to return to the glacially cool pop of Love to Live, which became the third single released from the album, it had the trademark vocal layers of Steele’s child-like tenor doused in reverb, and Johns auto-tuned falsetto, synthesisers and guitars swooped in and out, dipping into pop, dance, hip hop, and rock riffs, but this sonic hybrid would not be to everyone’s taste. Johns seemed to be Steele’s backing vocalist, and Love To Live sounded like an Empire Of The Sun track. Before the release of Love To Live, the duo were booked to play at California’s massive Coachella Festival, the first time an act had been so honored, before having even released a record, they would follow up back home with two gigs at the Opera House to launch the new album.
Lyrically Love To Live was a grab bag of motivational mantras, set to electro-pop melodies, a collection of cliché-ridden, cheesy homilies that could be found in fortune cookies, teen instagram posts and on IKEA wall plaques, for example “ Never let the sun go down on your anger/ Do unto others as you would have them do to you …/ A friend in need is a friend indeed …/ The heavy givers are the light complainers/ Say what you mean and mean what you say …/ A problem shared is a problem halved/ A friend is easier lost than found…” it was indulgent, preachy and naïve. Luke Steele would attempt to define what Dreams was all about on behalf of the two genius-eccentrics when he said ”It really is a documentation of our wild unorthodox journey together over the past 14 years… there’s still a lot of light, but also a lot of dark… it’s been really clear, but also foggy… it’s been sane, but then completely insane” When commenting on the title track, Daniel Johns was at least succinct, in a Newie kind of way, “ We wanted to create a gang and have that song as our mantra.” Following the deflating reception of the Dreams album and singles, Daniel Johns was now forty years old, he had clearly deferred to Luke Steele on their recent recordings, he was not the biggest star in the band, in fact he hadn’t been a commercial force in the US since the days of Frogstomp and Freak Show.A return to his old band was apparently unthinkable. But it was timely to recall that since Silverchair’s debut release Tomorrow in 1994, the band had notched up global record sales of 10 million, taken home a record 21 ARIA awards, the most of any Australian artist in ARIA history, Daniel had also won the APRA Award for Best Songwriter of the Year an impressive three times, and Silverchair were the only band to have all their five studio albums debut at #1 in this country. But Daniel had already irrevocably moved on, he replaced his long-time manager John Watson with his brother Heath, and in an interview with Australian Rolling Stone magazine in 2018 he laid out, albeit rather cryptically, his future plans “I can never imagine playing (Silverchair) songs again. I don’t listen to that kind of music. My sole purpose … is consistently seeking the future.”