Silverchair began when three Australian teenagers (guitarist Daniel Johns, bassist Chris Joannou, and drummer Ben Gilles) calling themselves "The Innocent Criminals" submitted a demo tape of a single song for a talent contest hosted by a local FM radio station. Their entry beat out 800 others and before long the band had sparked a major label bidding war.
They eventually signed with Sony Records, and "Tomorrow," the prize-winning tune, shot to the top of the charts, where it remained for a full six weeks. The success of their debut album, Frogstomp (recorded in just nine days), gave a boost to the ailing grunge movement, showing the musicians to be spiritual decedents of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, with lead singer Daniel Johns a stone ringer for Kurt Cobain.
To coincide with the release of their single, the band changed their name to the rather obtuse Silverchair, a tribute to Nirvana's "Sliver," (which had been inexplicitly misspelled "Silver") and You Am I's "Berlin Chair," then set out to conquer America. Frogstomp became the first Australian album since INXS to crack the U.S. Top 10, eventually selling 2.5 million copies worldwide. While still in school, the band recorded Freak,, their follow-up disc, which yielded three top ten singles in Australian, and went gold in the US.
Touring was a bit of a problem. Even though the musicians traveled with a battery of tutors, they were forced to arrange their world tours around their school schedule in order to finish up their final year of high school. After graduation, the band members were able to spend much more time on their music, and it showed in the critically lauded, much more sophisticated Neon Ballroom, produced by Nick Cave's knob-twirler, Nick Launay. Neon took them out of the underage novelty act realm, replacing their former grungey rock with almost prog rock embellishments and a new vulnerability seen most materially on the painfully candid "Ana's Song," about John's eating disorder.
The band followed that disc with an extensive touring schedule which seemed to be their undoing. They took a full twelve months off to recharge, and didn't re-emerge until 2002's Diorama, which featured Johns as co-producer and longtime Beach Boys cohort Van Dyke Parks arranging three tracks. They'd all but turned their back on their grunge past, adding lush strings, some witty psychedelic flourishes and a strong pop sensibility. The disc was a creative apex, but sadly not a commercial one. The band currently seems to be in cold storage, but Johns -- who married Aussie pop star Natalie Imbruglia in December 2003 -- recently formed the Dissociatives with producer Paul Mac, whom he met in 1997 when Mac remixed the Silverchair track "Freak." The Dissociatives released their self-titled debut in 2004, and were nominated for six ARIA awards.