When grunge fever swept through Australia in the early '90s, no one could have ever predicted that three school mates from Newcastle would come to be the country's best representatives of the genre.
Released in 1995, Silverchair’s amazing debut Frogstomp is now recognised as one of the most definitive grunge records of its era. With its hard-edged sound and angsty (yet all too relatable) lyricism, it was difficult to believe that such an album could be created by three high schoolers, with Daniel Johns, Chris Joannou and Ben Gilles demonstrating a level of talent that still shocks listeners, even 25 years after its release.
In early 1992, the world witnessed the first incarnation of Silverchair when the band performed ‘Tomorrow’ at a national competition called YouthRock, deservedly taking out first place and creating a minor buzz behind them.
They then sent the track around to a bunch of other competitions across Australia, including one called Pick Me, ran as a joint venture by SBS and Triple J. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Newcastle lads once again took out first place, with the prize being a professional recording and music video.
At this point, Silverchair were still unsigned, sparking a minor label bidding war that was eventually won out by Sony Music’s Murmur imprint. Work on the group’s debut began almost immediately afterwards, with the band bunkering down in Pyrmont’s Festival Studios to record the album in a scant nine day stint.
Throughout the sessions, the trio were supposedly ecstatic that that producer Kevin Shirley let them be themselves; about the session, frontman Daniel Johns said ‘Kevin Shirley was a great producer, he said ‘ I want it to sound like you guys, and I want the guitars really fucking loud.’
The boys, only being 15 at the time, were the first to admit that they didn’t have much songwriting experience under their belts. In an interview around Frogstomp’s release, the band noted that many of the tracks on the record were influenced by things they ‘had seen on TV’.
The first single of the album (after ‘Tomorrow’) was ‘Pure Massacre’, a track inspired by the Bosnian War. According to Johns, he wanted to waiver from the usual content his songs dealt with; girls. This was arguably one of the most popular songs off the album, which is why the group performed it on American TV juggernaut Saturday Night Live.
Next up, fans got ‘Israel’s Son,’ which had a totally different feel altogether; the underpinning bass it begins with matches the darkness of the track’s lyrical content wonderfully. ‘It’s about an execution I saw on TV’ Johns said about the inspiration behind the song.
When listened to closely, ‘Israel’s Son’ has a fair few eyebrow raising lyrics; which was why it was caught up in a US murder trial as supposedly being a factor influencing the crime.
A couple of weeks later, ‘Shade’ was released into the world, which is a bit of a musically lighter song than the previous single. It opens with a clean guitar, creating a much more accessible sonic palate to underscore Johns’ lyrics about abuse. Still serious lyrical content, but a more thoughtful and formal sounding track.
The final single to be released was the track’s closing track ‘Findaway,’ which almost sounds like the sonic love child of Green Day and Nirvana. The song’s the perfect closing point of the album, after so many discussions about pain and suffering, it gives listeners a feeling of hope, to ‘not give in.’
Following the release of ‘Findaway’, Frogstomp was finally released into the world months later on March 27 1995, where it immediately shot up to the top of the ARIA charts.
Singles aside, Frogstomp bore host to a number of red hot album tracks that also captivated the band’s burgeoning fanbase, including the borderline metal track ‘Frontline’, and the Soundgarden-influenced ‘Leave Me Out’, penned about the increasing materialisation of the world, and not wanting to get caught up in its trappings.
The group’s penchant for creating contrast between heavy lyrical content and moody musical soundscapes on the album continues with ‘Suicidal Dream’, a track that talked about mental health struggles, and how those negative thoughts are dealt with.
The hectic ‘Madman’ came next, which could’ve given the thrash bands of the decade prior a run for their money. The track is notably without lyrics, it sounds like the trio are just jamming, but it still makes for an awesome wind down for the album. Due to its unsuspecting popularity, Silverchair would later release a version with lyrics on their greatest hits album The Best Of.
Before the album comes to a close with ‘Findaway’, we get ‘Undecided’ and ‘Cicada’ which both take us back to their classic grunge sound, both of which would become staples of their setlists.
After the album was released, Silverchair quickly made their way onto the world stage, playing shows on all corners of the globe,‘Tomorrow’ was a breakout hit, it led them to tour the States with Red Hot Chilli Peppers the year the album released, which definitely would’ve been an interesting experience for three 15 year olds.
After gaining more traction, the trio got to tour with legendary group The Ramones, and perform at The MTV Music Awards – all while still completing Year 8 at Newcastle High School. Origin stories don’t get much cooler than this one!
Revisit the most seminal Australian grunge acts of the ’90s with our retrospective feature here.