In the year of 1992 a band were born called Innocent Criminals. You and I came to know of them under a different name when they released their debut studio album called Frogstomp back in 1995. That band made headlines and consisted of three members who were the major ingredients of Silverchair. The Australian post-grunge band went from strength to strength as their debut single Tomorrow broke them into the mainstream. Then in 1997 their second studio album Freak Show went to number one in their native country and carried the commercial momentum around the globe. Neon Ballroom, Diorama and Young Modern were the next series of albums being unleashed from 1999 to 2007 respectively and maintained their profile until last year, when Silverchair announced they were taking an indefinite hiatus.
Does this mean that Silverchair are in trouble and close to completely splitting up? Not according to Ben Gillies, drummer of the band. “We were working on a Silverchair record and, we were in the studio and we were trying, we tried a different approach where we almost wrote in the studio, we didn’t go in with finished songs, and, I dunno, it just felt like the three of us hit a bit of a brick wall and we weren’t as excited about it as we felt we should be or that we had in the past.” Recognizing that the creative flow wasn’t as evident as it had been on previous recording sessions Gillies continues, “We just got to a point where we felt we needed to take a step back from Silverchair to be able to firstly not, you know, not hate it and just simply break up, and be refreshed. And so when we felt the time was right, you know, if that’s in two months or two years, or five years or whatever, just so we felt refreshed and excited again.” At this point of his explanation he then identifies Silverchair’s ability to avoid possible internal fractures amongst themselves. “I think that’s something that Silverchair’s always done is being able to recognize, y’know, if any of us are getting the shits then we have to take a really good break, because we do love playing in the band but we’ve never wanted to break it up, we’ve just, we’ve just have recognized when we all need a bit of a, time to do other things or just a break.”
Gillies then moves the conversation onto how his new band Bento came to be. “I’d always, actually always been working on my own songs and writing songs and, so, because I did write for Silverchair in the early days. And then again I took a step back when Daniel [Johns] kind of decided to change his style of writing approach after Neon Ballroom. So I had from that point, I kept, I kept writing and had all these ideas logged in ProTool sessions and, y’know, dictaphone recordings and just, I had so much material and just felt like I needed to kinda consolidate it.” The momentum of his passion for this new musical outlet propels him to explain further. “So I went into the studio with a friend of mine and went through it all and started making sense of some of the ideas, and a lot of the old ones kinda fell away and I wrote a lot of new stuff, and y’know, at first I wasn’t doing a record, purely just going through stuff and making sense of it so I didn’t feel like I was going crazy.”
Sanity restored, Diamond Days, Bento’s debut album, represents this labor intensive process of evaluation over the mountains of musical ideas that had been stored up over the many preceding years. An album that encompasses many a varied style whether it be hints of disco, (West Side Story, How Many Times) funk (Wheels Turn) or straight ahead attitude (Poison Ivy). Despite these different elements creeping into each individual song and many other styles too, there is credit to be shared with Gillies for maintaining a cohesive identity and consistent flow throughout this personal musical journey. Eclectic, yet accessible is another way to describe Diamond Days. The adventurous nature of songwriting exhibited on the latter two Silverchair albums may prepare fans of that band for something far removed from the band’s earlier output when they give Diamond Days a spin. The drummer in most bands isn’t the first member to spring to mind when contemplating the songwriting prowess in a line-up, but Gillies has really reiterated how accomplished his skills are with this debut solo album.
“It’s like I’m a blind guy with one of those sticks, just kinda feeling around for the best way to go,” replies Gillies when asked about where the musical ideas originate from. “For me, I haven’t got any formal training in playing melodic instruments like piano or guitar. I mean I’ve had a lot of training in drums, so I haven’t had training in singing either, so I, it’s all very instinctual.” Just to clarify he adds, “I’ll sit down at a piano and I could be on there like for two hours, and I’ll just like be, y’know, I mean I can play them all, kinda like self-taught.”
The debut album was named Diamond Days because as Gillies puts it, “For me it was a celebration of my music and a celebration of doing something on my own and finally having that creative outlet and my own baby.” Lyrically the album was fueled by three emotional moments in his life. “When I was single before I met my wife, you know, I was kinda running around and acting like a fool but, realistically deep inside I wanted something that was a bit more meaningful, I don’t know, it just felt like it was something that wasn’t very achievable at the time.” The second portion of inspiration for the lyrics on this album Gillies shares, “The moment or the kind of feeling I was having during the realization that I’m making a record and how exciting it was and how scary it was and stepping out on my own.” Gillies then reveals the third source for the lyrical outpouring on Diamond Days. “Obviously like, wanting to find that special person like I think a lot of human beings, or most human beings deep down inside, you know they want to share their life with someone special and someone they can love, and yeah, you know, finding that person and falling in love and having a meaningful relationship with substance.”
It isn’t merely the music that contains the artistic expression. The cover artwork has also been scrutinized. Knowing the band was to be called Bento and the album incorporated many different musical flavors, the idea was to approach the artwork with the Bento box in mind. A Bento box is mostly associated with Japanese cuisine and contains different tastes packaged in a box-shaped container. This concept seemed fittingly appropriate for both the name of the band and the styles of music that were on show. The artwork finally settled on a collage idea with Gillies located in the center, surrounded by images that were provocative of the Diamond Days ingredients, but all sectioned off in squares. A companion that is both abstract as well as suitable whilst running parallel with what the listener encountered when hearing the album.
In the future, Gillies hopes that Bento will tour a lot more as a proper band and even recording as a band for the next album is something he is open to. But right now, he is content in getting the name out there and letting people know that he’s busy being creative and has assembled some strong material for this debut album. “At the moment I’m just concentrating on really getting the awareness out there, y’know, obviously through social media, doing some Press, anything that I can do to get people aware of the band and try to get them on the Bento bandwagon.”
This is more than a gathering of creative ideas by a drummer from a successful Australian rock band. As Gillies said himself, “It’s what I’ve always wanted y’know, it’s like I’ve always wanted my own baby outside of Silverchair that I’ve got all the creative control and I’ve got my own creative outlet, ultimately that’s, most artists or musicians, that’s what everybody wants, some way to express their art. Ultimately that’s kinda what I was yearning for, so it’s nice to finally be able to have my own baby and have that outlet.” Whether you wish to argue that this is a self-indulgent foray, or something with more substance remains for each individual to ascertain. It may not rock like Silverchair: it may well challenge those who are used to their rock a little more conventional: but one thing is for sure that when you listen to Diamond Days you won’t feel like it is lacking in quality or sincerity. Gillies himself, makes the distinction that Bento is a band, not a project. That intent alone clearly states how he feels about Bento.