You Am I - Don't Look Back
Rolling Stone, Issue 708, November 2010 | By: Danny Murphy
On the night of the final day of mastering, the four members of You Am I – Russell Hopkinson, Andy Kent, David Lane and Tim Rogers – are standing around chatting, smoking, drinking, smiling. Over a few glasses of wine, I mention something about the band being together for 20 years and use the words, perhaps due to the wine, “national treasure”. Rogers’ eyes twinkle, Lane’s head drops in a wry smile, Hopkinson beams and Kent – the business head in this confederacy – scoffs: “We don’t need to say that now, do we?”
You Am I don’t want to look back – no band does; to look back is to admit the creative process has reached a full stop – but there’s a feeling that their ninth album, You Am I, does the impossible trick of sounding both fresh and part of the band’s classic catalogue. It probably helps when you consistently aim for timeless rather than fashionable, even when the inspiration comes from the black maw of the unknown.
“When you come to terms with the fact that you’ve got no idea, there’s a certain relief in that,” quips Rogers from his home in St Kilda a couple of weeks later. “The album’s about vertigo and the vertiginousness-ness-ness-ness of knowing that you don’t know what you’re going to be dealt every day. You can only be the master of your own destiny to a certain point. This can either be terrifying or exciting. I just find it bewildering. That’s kind of what the whole thing’s about. And also about having your lyric book stolen out of your car a couple of months previously, along with a diary containing some very personal growth charts.”
While the band remains focused on the future, there’s no denying their place in the anatomy of Australian rock and roll. They are Australia’s Replacements, our Kinks – the modest pioneers who embody the spirit, humour and heart of a local scene. They are the kind of band the Velvet Undergound were, in that they inspire others to pick up guitars and cut their fringes a certain way. Ask any local artist under 30 and odds are You Am I will be an inspiration. On Triple J’s Like A Version Volume 5 (2009) compilation they were the only artist covered twice.
Much of the romance around You Am I hinges on Rogers – a troubadour from the tip of his felt-brimmed hat to the idiosyncratic chop of his right hand. At his best there is no better frontman on Earth: a gangling, whirling mop of piss and vinegar. Rock in excelsis. But a bad night can be woeful, as Rogers drinks away his considerable charm. Like the night at Falls Festival in 2004 when he and guitarist Lane came to blows on stage. At the time, with his marriage breaking down, Rogers was loose. Today, he is careful about that period, but not overly so. The past is the past.
“I look at photos from a bunch of years ago and [realise] I was very, very, very worried with what was going on with my family. It was kind of too much to handle. I wasn’t happy with making music either. I don’t know why I didn’t just stop. Then I did and got a gardening job and like doing something else for a living. Yeah, I wasn’t well, but it was no big deal.”
You Am I have persevered, however, with guts and heart and an expressive, experimental self-titled album. How they continue to survive when seemingly more stable entities such as Powderfinger are pulling up stumps should elicit a wry, respectful grin from any fan. That Rogers is outrageously jealous of them should make you laugh as he does.
“Completely. Bernie [Fanning]’s kind of like the successful Tim Rogers. He’s got the voice and he’s a really, really good guy and he’s solid and consistent. I’m incredibly jealous about a lot of thing about Powderfinger. But I talk to Bernie about it. It’s no secret. I’d adore to sell records and have that many shows, but I know, absolutely, that I’d find some way of mucking it up. I know that we would. At the band’s most successful we were never further apart. Our lack of big success if our greatest fortune. There’s a million people I have little jealousies about, but it definitely doesn’t keep me awake at night. I would very happily be Bernie’s gardener for the rest of our lives.”
So, there’s no chance of You Am I going anywhere soon? “Oh, God no. I think about it after every bad show. [But] we’re just kind of family... great relationships but they’ve changed – for the better – so to stop making music together would be scuppering the opportunity to have relationships with each other. There’s no finality there.”