Keiraville author Jeff Apter has just released a biography of musician Daniel Johns. He tells GLEN HUMPHRIES that he admires the musician despite being less than thrilled with his recent work.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a Silverchair reunion. Daniel Johns just isn’t interested.
That’s the message from writer Jeff Apter, who has just published a biography of Johns called The Book of Daniel having previously written a 2006 book on Silverchair.
Apter reckons Johns, the man who created the bulk of Silverchair’s music, just wouldn’t have any interest in returning to the fold with drummer Ben Gillies and bassplayer Chris Joannou.
“It’s dead,” Apter says bluntly.
“Daniel’s worth probably $20 million, why would you go through that whole process of awkwardness?
“They’re all well off. Because of their smart management and their close family when they were kids, they’ve all been very well looked-after financially.
“They all made a lot of money and they’ve managed to hang onto it.
“So there wouldn’t be that financial necessity unless something really bad happened to one of them.
“And I don’t think Daniel, being the creative voice, could see anything in Silverchair that would meet his creative urges any more.”
The Book of Daniel does call on the work Apter did for that 2006 Silverchair book A New Tomorrow but it’s not simply an updating of the story.
That earlier book was about the band; for this one the focus is on Johns, so Apter filtered everything down to his perspective.
“After that book I really came to understand it really was his band and his vision,” Apter says.
“While Ben and Chris are certainly key figures in that story to a certain extent, it’s really about Daniel.”
Apter was also fortunately a bit of a pack rat; a former writer for Rolling Stone, he’d interviewed the band and those around them a number of times in the early 2000s and had kept all the interview notes.
That came in handy given Johns – and the other band members – weren’t keen to chat for Apter’s new book.
“My first step was to write to his manager and say I’d really like to dust off this story, bring it up to date and re-examine him,” Apter said.
“The manager said, ‘that’s great but he’s not going to talk’.”
While Apter said he would have enjoyed sitting down with Johns for a chat the knockback didn’t signal the end of the project.
He figured he had plenty of material from other sources to write the book. On top of that, an admiration for Johns – especially for what he did on the Silverchair albums Neon Ballroom and Diorama – that sparked the desire to write The Book of Daniel.
“This side of Michael Hutchence he’s the most interesting character to come out of Australian music in the last 20-odd years,” Apter says.
“I’m always interested in what he does next but I’m not just going to say, ‘hey, it’s a new Daniel Johns record, I’m going to love it’. It’s more a case of ‘I wonder what the hell he’s going to do this time’.
“And you can say that about so few of his peers and contemporaries.”
Part of what makes him interesting for Apter is Johns’ habit of following his muse no matter where it takes him, no matter how strange people may find it.
So far that’s been a trip from Silverchair, to forming The Dissociatives with dance music producer Paul Mac, a solo album called Talk and his latest project DREAMS sees him taking a back seat to Luke Steele – the duo’s songs sound very, very much like a continuation of Steele’s old band Empire of the Sun.
“Everything is different,” Apter says of Johns’ output.
“It’s not all great [but] he’s willing to potentially alienate people who loved the last record just because he feels a creative impulse to make the next record.
“Look at the difference between his first solo record and the last Silverchair record – it’s hard to imagine it’s the same guy.”
Apter says he admires Johns – but it doesn’t mean he's going to be like those hardcore fans and simply like an album for no other reason than it was created by Daniel Johns.
He’ll openly admit the man has come up with a few less-than-stellar releases in his career.
“His solo record Talk is way too long,” Apter says.
“It runs about four or five tracks too long. Someone should have said ‘10 tracks of this is perfect, you don’t have to go on for a hour’.
“I think the DREAMS record he’s done with Luke Steele is pretty awful but at least it’s different to what came before – and that’s good. I respect that.”
A lot the early media attention for the book has focused on Johns’ battle with anorexia – though that’s hardly news. The guy even wrote a song about it more than a decade ago
There’s a far more shocking Apter uncovered for the book – Johns’ admission that he and brother Heath had a suicide pact. Johns was struggling with the pain of reactive arthritis while his brother was in his own world of turmoil.
So the brothers set a date – if things hadn’t improved by then, they’d both take their own lives. Despite Johns talking about it in a UK newspaper, the staggering admission never seemed to get wider coverage.
“That was something I didn’t know about when I wrote the first biography,” Apter says.
“I found that story and thought, ‘why has no one really gone to town on this?’. I was shocked when I read it; I’d seen him at that time and knew how bad his health was.
“But I had no idea it had gotten to that extent where he said ‘I’m done, I cant take this any more’.”
The news itself was surprising to Apter but the fact Johns told a journalist about it wasn’t.
“Whenever I or any other journalist spoke to him he was always very honest but he wouldn’t volunteer information if you didn’t ask,” he says.
“You had to be very astute in what questions you asked him. That suicide pact’s a good example of that. I don't know how the journalist got to that point but he volunteered the information.”