Meanwhile, vocalist Daniel Johns recently announced his new solo album FutureNever, out April 1!
Following the Neon Ballroom tour promoting their 1999 album of the same name, Silverchair announced they would take a year’s hiatus from performing live. Daniel Johns had been prescribed antidepressants for years but, when he went off his meds and started feeling the full range of his emotions once more, Diorama – his self-described “detox album” – poured out in vivid technicolour: a fantasy place to escape to. During the excellent doco Across the Night: The Creation Of Diorama, Daniel reveals making their fourth record made Silverchair feel “young and enthusiastic” again.
At this stage of their career, The Chair had signed with U.S. label giants Atlantic Records and were working with their biggest budget to date. But Atlantic initially shelved the album, with Daniel detailing during an interview: “The American record company wanted to pull so much stuff out of the arrangement and, you know, ‘American radio doesn’t play horns, can we get rid of that?’ and then, ‘Can we get Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit to produce it?’ And I was like, ‘Can everyone get f-cked?’”
And aren’t we all super-stoked that he stood his ground!?
The deleted Silverchair album
Once the Neon Ballroom tour wrapped, Daniel demoed-up a bunch of new songs he’d written, inspired by Californian desert-rockers Kyuss. Then after deciding these songs sounded too much like Silverchair’s previous output – and also fearing the band would back themselves into a corner if they continued down this heavy road – Daniel permanently erased these demos of material he’d been working on for about 18 months and started over.
Painting with piano
Even though he couldn’t actually play the instrument at the time, Daniel committed to writing Diorama on piano. While teaching himself how to play, Daniel placed prints by artists including Salvador Dali and Brett Whiteley – which inspired Across The Night and Tuna in the Brine respectively – on top of his piano, detailing during an interview: “I was trying to score their work.” Paul Mac – who was later brought in to help translate Daniel’s vision – has admitted that, at the time, he thought releasing Diorama could spell “commercial suicide” for Silverchair.
When Daniel met Paul
When Paul Mac’s Itch-E & Scratch-E project won the 1995 Best Dance Release ARIA for their track Sweetness and Light, Paul thanked ecstasy dealers during his acceptance speech (which resulted in a five-second delay being introduced for the televised ARIA Awards ceremony the following year). Watching from home, Daniel found Paul’s speech hilarious, and later told John Watson (Silverchair’s manager), “I wanna work with the ecstasy guy!”
Diorama features not one but two orchestral arrangers
Diorama utilises two orchestral arrangers: Van Dyke Parks (Beach Boys, U2, Ry Cooder) and Larry Muhoberac (Ray Charles, Dean Martin, Elvis), who had previously worked with Silverchair on Neon Ballroom’s Emotion Sickness. Daniel describes VDP’s contributions as “outrageous and big and bold”; by contrast, Larry Muhoberac was called in when “soundscapes and sonics and strange, discordant little things” were required.
VDP – who remains one of Daniel’s best friends to this day – also worked with The Chair on their chart-topping follow-up album, 2007’s Young Modern (so-named after a nickname VDP created for Daniel) and has said of accepting the Diorama challenge: “It was my real desire to reward Daniel’s courage, ‘cause I hadn’t seen anything like it since I worked for Brian Wilson.”
Making Diorama took a toll on Daniel’s health
When Silverchair’s U.S. label reps heard Diorama, they didn’t get it. “I remember the record company locking me up in the hotel room saying, ‘We need a rock single’,” Daniel recalled, “and it was just, like, I felt the album was finished.” In the startlingly good Who Is Daniel Johns? podcast, he reveals, “It really made me angry and it really upset me to the point where my body started eating itself – that’s how upset I was.”
During Diorama’s mixing process, Daniel started experiencing joint pain and swelling, which was later diagnosed as reactive arthritis.
The ARIA performance that changed it all
Because Silverchair’s management had the foresight to preserve the rights for Australia, Diorama was released in this territory in March, 2002 (even though Atlantic initially refused to put it out in the States). The album debuted at #1 on the ARIA Albums Chart and was on its way out of the charts seven months later when the band was invited to perform at the 2002 ARIA Awards (where The Chair collected five awards).
Daniel has since revealed that he was only able to play guitar for about three minutes per day around this time, so had to gradually build up his strength to manage The Greatest View’s 3.40-minute duration.
Following Silverchair’s performance of The Greatest View – resplendent with brass section plus Paul Mac on keys – Diorama rocketed back up the charts, which encouraged the band’s American label to finally release the masterwork.
And those who had been snoozing on Silverchair’s musical evolution were suitably wowed.
Diorama In Numbers*
1 electric piano
1 grand piano
1 handcrafted Italian made drum kit
2 acoustic guitars
3 French horns
3 kettle drums
4 double basses
6 bass guitars
9 weeks recording
10 electric guitars
[*transcribed from Across the Night: The Creation Of Diorama]