With: Gab Burke, Lindsay McDougall and Jeff Gorra
March 30, 2007: 10 years ago today, Silverchair released their fifth and last (?) studio record, Young Modern. This was the band’s fifth consecutive album to enter the charts at #1, making them the first to accomplish this feat in Australia.
Young Modern is a diverse record that contained one of Silverchair’s best charting singles in “Straight Lines” — the 2007 ARIA award winner for Single of the Year. In total, Young Modern won four ARIA awards including Album of the Year as well.
Additional Young Modern quick facts:
• Produced by Daniel Johns and Nick Launay who also produced Freak Show and Neon Ballroom
• Recorded at Seedy Underbelly Studios in Los Angeles
• Daniel Johns and Composer, Van Dyke Parks traveled to Prague to have the orchestral arrangements recorded
• Contained four singles; “Straight Lines,” “Reflections of a Sound,” “If You Keep Losing Sleep” and “Mind Reader”
• “Straight Lines” spent four weeks at #1 on the ARIA charts
• Additional artists to appear on the album included Paul Mac, Alain Johannes and Luke Steele
• ARIA certification — 3X platinum
• Silverchair toured in support of Young Modern during 2007, 2008 and 2010, including the Across the Great Divide tour with Powderfinger
I recently had a friendly discussion with Gab Burke, J Files producer, Double J, and Lindsay McDougall, radio presenter/Triple J and guitarist of Frenzal Rhomb … reflecting on the sound that is Young Modern, 10 years later.
Overall thoughts of Young Modern:
Gab Burke: Young Modern for me was the perfect album to end the incredible journey that was Silverchair (though as a Silverchair fan I still secretly hope for a reunion!)
It’s an album of immense complexity. It displays the remarkable growth of Daniel, Ben and Chris, as songwriters and as musicians. The lads from Newcastle who taught themselves to play guitar while jamming in their garages all those years ago delivered a send-off that was masterfully crafted and expertly delivered. It takes cues from Daniel’s work with Paul Mac and the Dissociatives, and you can hear the impact of the collaboration with Julian Hamilton from The Presets, but it still has that great, thumping Silverchair heart.
While it’s largely built off the back of the delicious pop single “Straight Lines,” there are some exceptional moments on this album. “Young Modern Station” is a killer album opener, and “If You Keep Losing Sleep” is a chilling blend of carnival and broadway rock. And don’t even get me started on the epic “Those Thieving Birds” trilogy, what a journey.
Lindsay McDougall: It’s rad. It’s a great progressive pop album, free of all the ramblings of a teen Daniel Johns. Gone are the high school grunge riffs that we all wrote when we learned how to down-tune our guitars, and a lot of the experimental vibes of Freak Show (but they had been refined and perfected over Neon Ballroom and Diorama). In their place is accomplished songwriting and sweet pop hooks. There’s still bombast, but the songs have the weight to back them up.
Jeff Gorra: Young Modern demonstrates the musical talents of each member of the band in perhaps the most unique way of all their records. It highlights how exploratory and courageous Daniel Johns is in songwriting, and how well Chris Joannou and Ben Gillies could adapt. It’s such an intriguing record because it has some simpler structures, while at the same time, it takes risks and contains big production tunes, like “If You Keep Losing Sleep.”
I believe Van Dyke Parks used to call Daniel “Young Modern” and that’s where the title came from. I also love how the record starts with just a burst of noise.
Young Modern’s place in Silverchair’s legacy:
LM: I reckon it’s a great turning point for Daniel, “This is how I wanna make music now”. So in a way it’s a perfect way to say goodbye to his high school band and move into grown up solo stuff.
JG: Agreed. It does seem like a bridge — both from the path they were on with Diorama and to Daniel’s solo material. I love how it contained one of most appreciated singles in “Straight Lines,” as opposed to a final record that just saw the band quietly depart. Many old school Silverchair fans grew with the band and Young Modern had the natural ability to bring new people in.
GB: It’s a fitting send-off for a band who could so easily have rested on the laurels of their huge rock success but instead chose to keep pushing, keep learning, keep experimenting and because of that they created a thoroughly musical album. There are elements of crunchy guitars and big heavy rhythms, but the departure from the classic rock song structure is so intriguing and there are some really beautiful and surprising moments.
Young Modern transition from Diorama — a tough act to follow:
LM: Yeah, Diorama showed Daniel’s skills at combining theatrics with emotions, but still had a bit of childhood in it. The good songs on Diorama are AMAZING, and you can see that soon Daniel (who was only 23 then!) would be able to trim the nonsense and get even better. Also Diorama had Daniel writing on piano, and experimenting with song structures that are way outside traditional pop. With Young Modern he kept the experimenting up, but also fell back in love with the verse, chorus, verse payoff.
JG: Diorama was/is a masterpiece. That’s not a term I through around loosely. I don’t think anyone would have wanted a Diorama part-two as the follow-up though. With Young Modern, you have more straight ahead songwriting, where most could probably be stripped down and played solo on an acoustic or piano, but then they intertwined the production, strings and various layers that make it its own.
GB: Completely agree, Diorama was such an amazing album and would have been so daunting to follow, but in saying that, every Silverchair album would have been hard to follow. Young Modern shows that they embraced what they learnt from Diorama and wanted to see where they could take it. Sometimes they stripped things back (“The Man That Knew Too Much”), and other times they pushed it further (“English Garden” featuring The Seekers’ Judith Durham!)
They continued to develop their musical arrangements and while this may not be as obvious on Young Modern, it’s hidden in the subtle details (“Reflections of a Sound”).
Did you see the band live during the Young Modern tours? If so, where and what are your favorite memories?
LM: I only saw Silverchair once after Young Modern was released, at the triple j One Night Stand, a yearly free and all-ages concert put on in a regional town every year, this time in Cowra, NSW. I remember it being great, with the added strength of Paul Mac and some other guy on keys. I think Daniel had a bit of trouble with his voice, but it was still such a powerhouse of a performance, in front of about 15,000 people (Cowra only has a population of about 8,000, so a lot of people traveled to see one of Silverchair’s first Young Modern shows).
The main things I remember are watching the smile on Paul Mac’s face, like he always had playing with Silverchair, smashing out those rad keyboard lines. And then back in Daniel’s hotel room after the show (which was strangely next to the Federal Police who were in town for the night), us all dancing stupidly to techno while Daniel and Paul showed us how to put a shower cap over the smoke alarms to keep them from going off.
JG: I saw Silverchair twice on the Young Modern tour. Both were in New York City. The first show was right before the record came out and only a few new songs were played. I noticed right away how well they translated live. “Straight Lines” had just been released as the first single. Even after a few weeks, it was a crowd favorite. I was blown away how people sang along to every word even though the song was just introduced. It was very moving to see and be a part of. It had been four years since the band had played New York. It really emphasized how impactful they were. I also remember hearing “If You Keep Losing Sleep” at that first show. I could not wait for the record to come out after seeing that song live. It just rocked.
The second show I saw was at Roseland Ballroom, my favorite venue of all time (which no longer exists). I remember Daniel coming out with an eye patch on and what looked like a white t-shirt wrapped around his head like a bandana. I thought it was a funny shtick that would get tossed off after the first song or two. It all remained perfectly intact for the entire show. Daniel still didn’t miss a beat, even with one eye.
GB: Big Day Out 2008 on the Gold Coast. It was a stinking hot day, but when the sun went down things got real. I was standing in the centre mid-section with a clear view of the band and I remember just being blown away. They were well over a decade into their career by this point and it really showed. It was such a tight set. Daniel’s energy was electric and he held nothing back. I think it was pretty soon after he and Natalie Imbruglia had announced their split so there was a lot of emotion on the stage that night and you could certainly feel it in amongst the throng of adoring fans.
Thoughts on “Straight Lines” being one of Silverchair’s most successful songs:
LM: It’s a great song! And one that I have in my head quite a lot. It was the perfect return for Silverchair after about five years. It showed Daniel’s maturity as a songwriter (and Julian from the Presets pop nous too). The chord structure is really smart in the chorus, changing at weird times and moving to strange places, while the melody soars above it in the opposite direction. I’ve definitely embarrassed myself trying to sing it occasionally.
GB: This really doesn’t surprise me at all — it’s a cracking tune! This is the beauty of Daniel’s songwriting though, to have such a huge legacy as a band, but to still be bringing in new fans 12 years into the piece? That’s pretty legendary. Not many bands these days can say the same.
It’s also just clever. For many, “Straight Lines” was the gateway song to Silverchair, and heaps of other Aussie rock bands of the same ilk. It allowed new fans to go back and discover their early catalogue, and it allowed fans of old to see just how much they had matured and honed their craft over the years.
JG: “Straight Lines” contains perhaps my favorite Silverchair verses of all. You know a song is amazing when the verses rival the chorus as the best part of the song. It’s so melodic and the delivery is absolutely stunning.
It’s interesting, in the U.S., “Straight Lines” opened the door for Silverchair to get back on rock radio. In fact, stations went back an album and starting playing a revised version of “The Greatest View” from Diorama due to the success of “Straight Lines.” Did the same type of thing happen in Australia?
LM: I know we at triple j played the shit out of it, like we did with “The Greatest View” back when it came out. I remember Daniel being really sick when Diorama got released, so that would have ruined their U.S. touring plans. So I’m glad that Diorama got a bit of a rebirthing over there. I know commercial radio in Australia played “The Greatest View” when it came out as well, so I don’t think we needed a redo over here.
JG: It’s the only time I recall that happening in rock radio, with any band. I was thrilled because I knew songs like “The Greatest View” and “Without You” belonged on the airwaves. It was great to see them be resilient, throw elbows and claim their space.
GB: Diorama was huge here. “The Greatest View,” “Without You,” “Luv Your Life,” “Across The Night” and “World Upon Your Shoulders” all clocked a place in the 2002 triple j Hottest 100 album poll. That speaks for itself really! And three Young Modern tracks were voted into the 2007 Hottest 100, with “Straight Lines” coming in at number two, the highest position for the band, ever.
What Young Modern means to Silverchair?
LM: I know Daniel loves it, and for him it signifies his return to the pop format of songwriting, but also showed the world how great he was at it. A way to prove that after all the tabloid rubbish that the world indulged in about Silverchair, at the end of the day the songwriting is what’s important.
For the other guys I dunno, I think Daniel said once they weren’t entirely into it, but trusted him.
JG: When I interviewed Daniel in 2015, he told me all songs from Diorama on have a special place in his heart. In some ways, I even see a little Young Modern influence in his recent work with the incredible Beat Bugs. There’s something touching about Young Modern ending on the lyric, “I’m on my way home.”
Favorite Young Modern song:
GB: Super clichéd, but “Straight Lines” is still the standout for me on this album, there’s a lot to love but if I had to pick one song to really sum up where Silverchair left us after an incredible run, it’s “Straight Lines.” Ten years on it’s as fresh as the day I first heard it.
LM: It changes depending on what I’m listening for. I love “Young Modern Station” for the chord changes, but in terms of theatricality up there with Diorama, “If You Keep Losing Sleep” makes me play imaginary tubas. Also I think we’ve established that “Straight Lines” is a pretty darn amazing song.
JG: “Reflections of a Sound.” The melodies and chord progressions spin me on my head at each listen. The pre-chorus buildup of, “I’ve been waiting for far too long…” is just stellar. This tune encapsulates all of Silverchair to me. A pop flavor song that goes back and grabs a little bit of Frogstomp growl, as well as something from each record in between along the way.
LM: I would like to add that if Daniel Johns needs a guitarist for any of his upcoming projects, he knows how to contact me!
GB: There has always been a very great love for Silverchair in Australia. I really can’t emphasize that enough. It’s particularly strong among Aussies who grew up in regional towns and cities. Because they were so young when Silverchair took off, a lot of fans grew up alongside Daniel, Chris and Ben so their music tastes evolved and matured at the same time as the band. I just don’t think that love ever faded over the years, no matter what artistic direction Silverchair embarked on.
JG: Their legacy lives on forever. Regardless of what happens in the future, I hope they know just how much of a positive impact they had and continue to have on people. Their passion as individuals and as a collective group was undeniable and enthralling; ultimately enabling their music to add genuine beauty to so many people’s lives.
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~Feature produced by: Jeff Gorra