He’s been a part of one of Australia’s biggest bands for the past twenty years, has helped start a musical phenomenon from the confines of high school, toured the world, and given birth to some of the country’s most beloved and iconic albums of all time.
Now Ben Gillies of Silverchair is back to give us a taste of his latest endeavour, Bento, and their debut album, Diamond Days.
Things have been quiet on the Silverchair front since announcing an indefinite hibernation last year, but that doesn’t mean the members have not been busy. Gillies being a prime example, having stepped out to front his very own new band.
“I actually started working on Bento during some breaks between Silverchair recordings,” begins Gillies, “and when we decided to go on the indefinite break, or hiatus, or hibernation or whatever you want to call it, that’s when I decided to keep writing and do my own thing.”
“Bento has just taken up my entire being musically and artistically but I love it. I’ve been able to really immerse myself in the process and have had an eye opener on every single facet and I love it, it’s just been a really fun time,” he says enthusiastically.
Bento is quite a big leap for Gillies for a number of reasons, not least of which is seeing him come out from behind the drum kit – where he spent all those years for Silverchair – to front the stage, and as you could imagine that’s a little daunting.
“I’m completely shitting myself! Singing on record for the first time was challenging and confronting, I remember going to dinner with Eric [J. Debowski] the co-producer and I took him aside and said ‘I don’t think I can sing’, I mean I can write all the melodies but being in a vocal booth on my own and having to deliver is not something I’ve really done before.”
“Anyway he made me feel good about it and after the first song I said ‘fuck, I’m all over it’. It’s the same deal with the live thing, I’m really nervous about it, not having the security blanket of my drum kit but by the same token, I’m really excited to confront the fear and embrace it”.“I’m completely shitting myself! Singing on record for the first time was challenging and confronting.”
Even for someone like Gillies who has toured extensively for the past twenty years, making the move was still pretty nerve racking. Describing their album launch in October, Gillies noted that, as the first performance of Bento in front of a live audience, it was “fucking scary.”
As scary as it might be, it will not stop him from touring… eventually. “In terms of a tour there’s no plan yet. We’re really concentrating on building the Bento name and awareness and getting the album and single out there because I envisage this as a real long term career thing, but there will probably be a tour in the New Year maybe starting with the capital cities and then moving out.”
Bento is by no means a solo project for Gillies, as he has a number of musicians working with him to create the full rocking sounds that he has come up with, but he’s quick to clarify that nothing has been too concrete.
“There is no real Bento band, the whole record is really reactive and think on your feet, ‘what do we need and when do we need it?’ When we were working on a particular song and decided that we needed a specific guitar part done for example we’d call up, say Tom Rawle from Papa Vs Pretty. Sometimes guys could be there in an hour ready to play and sometimes not, so all in the moment has really been the premise of the whole record.”
From the new band to the old band, Gillies talks openly and honestly about Silverchair. “We started working on a record and it definitely felt like we hit a bit of a brick wall and it was kind of like we just need a bit of distance from it to move forward.”
Gillies notes that Silverchair have been known to take some significant time off between albums in their time. “Over the years we’ve taken a lot of big breaks between records in order to keep our inspiration and freshness in the band. You go out and get re-inspired and come back refreshed,” says Gillies.
“I think a lot of bands bust their guts working record to record and I don’t think that works so well,” he continues. “It’s like a relationship, a marriage between a lot of people, personalities and opinions and we just needed to take a step back away from the band and do something else for the time being.”
While Bento is gaining momentum and finding its feet within the industry, other members of Silverchair are also embarking on new musical endeavours with lead singer Daniel Johns having recently announced that he’s working on a new solo record. Gillies notes that the boys like to keep their side projects separate.
“Yeah Dan has been working on his commercials but I haven’t really spoken to the guys cause we’ve all got our separate lives and been really busy. The funny thing is when we do see each other it’ll be like nothing has changed. Chris [Joannou, bassist] has got like a boutique beer company with a friend, but yeah I’m like everyone else… out of the loop”.
With beer mentioned, of course we had to find out more. “It took a few batches through a few different breweries and I’m not saying anything bad but you have your good days, and your okay days. Lately they’ve had some really good consistency across the board so it’s pretty well all been good all of the time.”
As much as he’s looking forward to venturing out on his own and seeing how his solo music goes in finding an audience, Gillies is quick to make mention of the importance of his roots.
“I love Silverchair, I love playing music with Dan and Chris, and it’s always been great. You’ve got that safety net of management, formulas and infrastructure, so to step away from that and say ‘fuck it, I’ll do it my own way’, is liberating and exciting but also very scary. You never never know if you never never go.”
Diamond Days is out now, read the Tone Deaf review here.