Posted On 03 Jun 2015
Tag: A Night At The Opera, Aerial Love, All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, APRA, APRA Songwriter Of The Year, ARIA, ARIA award, ARIA Awards, Artist, Artist Interview, Aussie, Australia, Australian, Australian musician, Band, Beatles, Black Night, Brett Whiteley, Broods, Chemical Brothers, Cool On Fire, Dali, Damien Hirst, Damn Moroda, Daniel Johns, Deep Purple, Diorama, Dire Straits, Double Fantasy, electronic, electronica, Empire Of The Sun, England, Euro, Euro-pop, Festival, FKA Twigs, French, Frogstomp, Interview, Janet Jackson, Joel Little, John Lennon, Julian Hamilton, London, Lorde, Los Angeles, Louis School, Luke Steele, M-Phazes, Madeon, Malibu, Money For Nothing, MTV, Music, Music Festival, Musician, New Zealand, Oz, Pet Shop Boys, Pop, Pop Music, Presets, Queen, R&B, Salvatore Dali, Silverchair, Soul, Soul of Sydney, Soundcloud, Styalz, Sydney, TALK, Tate Modern, The Beatles, The White Album, Vivid Festival, Vivid Festival 2015, White Album
“Everyone else communicates with words. I can’t. I use music.”
Daniel Johns was ‘silent’ for 8 years. His long awaited album is therefore called “Talk”.
Over those years there’s been no shortage of speculation about what the enigmatic singer/songwriter has been doing. He removed himself from radar. Rumours were rife.
“Some of the rumours were probably true”, Johns chuckles. Which ones? “Well, anyone who wants to listen to the new songs will figure it out pretty quick. It’s been an interesting ride.”
What’s already well known is that he put his band, Silverchair, on “indefinite hiatus”. The childhood friends enjoyed five #1 albums which sold over 6 million copies. They collected more ARIA Awards than any artist in history and Daniel became the only person to be voted APRA’s Songwriter Of The Year three separate times by his peers. However, after struggling to create fresh work together Daniel decided to step out on his own and try a completely fresh approach.
One listen to “Talk” and it’s clear that’s exactly what he’s done. Dollops of lush R’n’B are laced with cruisy electro flavours and some dark glitchy bedroom production touches to create a stylish take on modern soul. Gone are the big guitars and roaring rock vocals; in their place, urban beats and aching falsetto croons.
Asked to explain this Bowie-esque genre hopping and he eventually says, “music’s the best way I know to express how I think and feel but over time you don’t think and feel all the same things in the same ways so the music has to change.”
From teen grunge sensations, through orchestral rock to baroque pop, Daniel Johns has never been scared to completely reinvent himself. Even so, there is a core thread that unites all of his work – a raw and unfiltered emotional honesty. A direct line can be drawn from his best ‘spill-your-guts’ 90’s tunes including “Israel’s Son” and “Ana’s Song” through later Silverchair classics such as “The Greatest View” and “Straight Lines” into new tracks like “Too Many” and “Preach”. All talk of dark days with a distinctly searing quality.
To borrow a line from “Talk’s” lyrical cornerstone, “Preach”, Daniel may “find it hard to breathe the truth” but he’s never been afraid to sing it.
The eclectic mix of sounds and styles on this new album reflect the array of collaborators that he brought on board. Lorde and Broods producer/co-writer Joel Little brings his breezy grooves to key tracks like “Cool On Fire”, “Warm Hands” and the first song to be lifted off the album, “Aerial Love”. Melbourne underground duo Damn Moroda and influential writer/producer Louis School helped create tracks like “Goin’ On 16”, “We Are Golden”, “Too Many” and the epic “New York” while Presets main-man (and co-writer of“Straight Lines”) Julian Hamilton helped pen two of the album’s most immediate moments – “By Your Side” and “Dissolve”.
But it is the songs created with local hip hop icons Styalz and M-Phazes that push the envelope farthest. Deep grooves such as “Imagination”, “Chained” and “Faithless” find Daniel stepping into “futuristic R&B” territory.
Throw in a few quieter moments like “Sleepwalker” and “Good Luck” and you’re left with a sprawling, but still densely packed, body of work. It’s highly musical and often highly confessional as one would expect from Daniel Johns and yet, at the same time, it’s still profoundly shocking; particularly to those accustomed to the instant gratification norms of most 21st century pop.
Aptly enough the first songs to be lifted from “Talk” have already provoked mountains of online chatter. For every music lover excited to hear radically different work by Daniel there are a couple of others ‘trolling’ him for not endlessly churning out the same sounds since his mid-teens.
“I’ve always felt like most people hate everything I do but thankfully there’s always been an enthusiastic minority who seem to ‘get’ it. That’s fine with me. Anything that appeals to everyone tends to suck anyway.”
“What’s funny is that when Silverchair released “frogstomp” most people went out of the way to tell me how much it sucked. Then when we made “Diorama” a few years later everyone started telling me how I should go back to making “frogstomp”. I guess now I’ll be told to go back and make “Diorama” again!”
“That was part of why I picked the album title too by the way. I don’t really care what most people think. Let them talk.”
All Access Music writer, Nicole DeRosa had a chance to chat with Daniel in Sydney just before his two sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House.
Read more or LISTEN to their interview below!
Hi Daniel! What’s on the agenda today besides our interview?
I had two interviews today and this is my last. I’m right next door to the rehearsal studio. We have a show tomorrow, so we’re rehearsing today.
You just released your long awaited studio album, TALK on May 22nd. What did you learn between albums, collaborations, and playing live that you felt you wanted to infuse into TALK?
I think the main thing for me after leaving my band was trying to find a suitable pallet. I didn’t want to leave the band and then go into the studio with another drummer and another bass player. To me, it felt like if you’re going to make a career change, I felt like the record needed to make a statement.
So, the first thing was finding that pallet and making sure I was writing something that felt quite romantic and warm with bits of frantic manic-ness which I felt was a pretty good representation of where my head has been for the past four years.
I was kind of obsessing over John Lennon’s Double Fantasy and just trying to take a leap and out of Lennon’s book. I’ve always been a fan of really metaphorical obtuse lyrics. I really wanted to make this solo record really truthful and to the point and literal. So, it took me a while to find out what I wanted to say. Once I started writing, it all just leaked out.
What is your writing process like? Do you have to be in a quiet space or setting or can you write on the road and just about anywhere?
I’m not really that environmental with it..if I’m inspired, I can write just about anywhere. Like if I’m really in a good space artistically, I can almost write in my sleep kinda thing. But, it can be quite a process to get to that stage. Then there are other times when I have a writing session booked for a week and I just sit there and don’t do anything (laughs) and I just wait and wait until the lightning strikes or something..(laughs)
I find that once I get on a roll, I’m good and I can write whatever I want. Once the well runs dry, I struggle for a bit. I generally know that when the well runs dry, it’s time to change direction. Once I’ve exhausted a genre or an idea, generally I’ll try and not flex that muscle for a long time and stay out of the game and wait for a new batch of inspiration to come and start writing something else. I let that idea kinda die and wait for something else. Generally the next phase of inspiration will be a completely different angle.
What was the inspiration for your new single, “Cool On Fire” ? How did that song come about?
“Cool On Fire” was written with Joel Little who is best known for his work with Lorde. We became friends and I asked him to come up to my house from New Zealand and over to Australia. He stayed a couple of days, and in that forty eight hour period we wrote the lyrics for “Aerial Love” and “Cool On Fire”.
“Aerial Love” to us was going to be the single and “Cool On Fire” to us was where we were trying to have fun and get into that pop thing where I was also listening to Janet Jackson and Pet Shop Boys…that really overt pop stuff that I don’t listen to that much of, but at the time, we were three quarters of the way in writing the record and it was already pretty weird..(laughs)
I just thought I needed some really simple pop songs and Joel was up for it and likes pop as well so he came up with that drum beat and we came up with “Cool On Fire” and wrote it in about two hours or something.
You were really able to hone in on all different kinds of genres and directions and both “Aerial Love” and “Cool On Fire” make for a really interesting sound. Both tracks are very eclectic and will stand the test of time because there are so many layers to both of them.
Well thank you. That was the goal. Like I was saying before, I don’t know if it’s overly ambitious or whatever, but I really wanted to make a futuristic R&B version of the White Album, that genre hops and explores a place from electronic Euro-pop to R&B and somehow keep it cohesive.
I had a couple hundred songs and I thought if I could get this down to a double album, that would be really good editing. The record company wanted nothing to do with a double album..(laughs) So I feel like I did a good job in the editing process there (laughs)
Well maybe in the future you can put out a double album, yeah?
Yeah, if I don’t put out a double album in the next ten years, I’m gonna be furious! (laughs)
The video for “Cool On Fire” is incredible! Did you help come up with the treatment for the video? You obviously were game for anything it looks like.
It was a little bit collaborative, but I can’t take much credit for it. My good friend Luke Steele from the band, Empire of The Sun had done a couple of videos with the director. Luke mentioned that he had a really amazing video director. He had done some really incredible visuals for this awards show in Australia and I really liked what he had done. We started talking and he came up with this Damien Hirst museum style piece.
The only rule for the video was that I didn’t want it to be some MTV video piece of shit that had an edit every five seconds (laughs) with girls with their ass out. If you ever see me in one of those videos, just fucking shoot me. (laughs)
I love the video, because from the get-go, you sort of don’t know where it’s going to go. I love it in that respect. It opens up like first it’s some kind of D’Angelo video with you shirtless and then it’s like, “what the hell is happening?!” (laughs)
Ha, yeah (laughs) I was really excited with the concept. I’m a huge fan of Damien Hirst and the video’s reference to his work. I remember going to the Tate Modern in London a couple times and I used to live over there, so I was always fascinated by this Damien Hirst guy. He went on to do some artwork for Blur and Gorillaz.
I guess the big thing was to put a unique slant on that concept of putting a person in this box of sand and naked where they suffocate to death.
Yes, I lived in London as well around that time where I was also introduced to Damien’s work. The sharks stuck in these formaldehyde tanks or boxes were pretty intense and trippy and stood out to me as well.
Yeah! That was the one that stuck out to me too!
It’s pretty wild to go from the shark and seeing that to seeing it through a person experiencing something similar as well.
What was the first song you fell in love with?
Ever? Hmm…well there are three songs that I recall…I don’t remember which came first because they came in quick succession but there was a Deep Purple track called, “Black Night” I think it’s called and I remember hearing the guitar riff in my Dad’s car and I thought that was the future. (laughs) And then I heard “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits and I thought that was the future. (laughs) and then there was “A Night At The Opera” by Queen.
I can’t remember the track, but my Dad would play it on long drives when I was really young and I remember hearing all the complexities and arrangements..this was before I even knew how to play an instrument. I remember analyzing it and thinking it was classical music and thinking it was kind of super human.
Everything is so instant nowadays, just press a button and you can buy music online. Do you remember the first single or album you bought yourself?
Yeah…I remember…it was Deep Purple.
My Dad had it on vinyl when I was really young and that was the first album that I put on, that struck a chord. I think I was around 11 years old and I remember putting it on and going, “Holy Fuck!” It was amazing and dangerous. (laughs) I didn’t know how to play an instrument yet and I was like, “What is that sound?!?” Turns out it was an electric guitar. (laughs)
I remember washing the dishes or something for a few months and getting like two dollars every time I washed the dishes until I had enough to buy a record or cd.
Who is in your current playlist? Do you make playlists for yourself?
I don’t really make playlists to be honest. I don’t listen to that much music for pleasure actually. Like, I listen to stuff if a producer comes to my house and is like, “Have you heard of this or that band or artist..” and I will almost inevitably say, “No, I have not” and they will play stuff to me.
The last few things that I listened to and really like is, FKA twigs. I like her stuff. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m really excited to hear the new Chemical Brothers. I like that French guy Madeon. I like what I’ve heard from him.
I like really old stuff…like if I just want to have music on in the car or something, I kind of just go back to classic electronic music otherwise I can’t be bothered. (laughs)
A lot of artists that I’ve chatted with say that don’t listen to a lot of music when they are writing and creating an album. That sounds like you as well.
Yeah, I didn’t realize I was different than everyone I worked with on TALK. Literally every producer that I worked with on TALK would constantly get on Soundcloud or doing stuff and referencing material. But, if I’m writing by myself, I will put on a weird art film on mute or something and watch the images or go and stare at a bunch of Salvatore Dali prints that I have. There’s this Australian artist, Brett Whiteley and I have prints of his all around my house. When I need inspiration, I need to see something rather than hear it…so I’ll go and stare at a painting and that tends to trigger more musical ideas for me than music. It sort of feels like when you look at a painting you can take it upon yourself to score it or something. (laughs)
What’s on tap next for you, Daniel? What are you most excited about for this year?
There’s an art festival called Soul of Sydney, Vivid Festival here in Sydney. It’s a curated arts festival with visuals and music and creative arts. We’ve got two sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House tomorrow night and the night after so that’s all that is on the schedule for now. If we don’t end up playing more dates, I just want to get back in the studio and write another album.
Well, we are very excited about the new album and you need to come out to Malibu and to Los Angeles soon!
Yeah, I would love to get over there. I have a couple of friends over there that I haven’t seen in a couple of years, so that would be amazing to get back there!
To learn more about DANIEL JOHNS , visit him HERE