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.”
Work began on the new, self-titled, You Am I album about 18 months ago. Frontman Tim Rogers, who these days is equal parts troubadour, hot mess and national treasure, was attending a gig at the Corner Hotel one night. The show was Jolie Holland. He attended with a friend, who drove him and parked near the venue. As they watched the gig, somebody broke into the vehicle and commandeered the demos Rogers had been working on, also lifting his notebook of lyrics.
“The demos I could remember but the lyrics I couldn’t,” he says, standing in the band’s Sydney rehearsal room this week as bandmates, drummer Russell Hopkinson, bassist Andy Kent and guitarist Davey Lane, stood around smoking, drinking and chatting jovially. “So I had to start again.” Hence, in a creative spurt, the first five tracks that would eventually make up the band’s ninth album were quickly devised. The rest came at a more casual pace.
Rogers doesn’t read reviews. Well, that’s what he claims. But if he did, he would note that publications such as Rolling Stone, The Sydney Morning Herald and, The Age have given the album some of the best raves of the band’s career. Rogers believes the band’s temperament — and therefore creative output — has improved as they have enjoyed more divergent lives outside of the band. Hopkinson is now a drum teacher. Kent helps run the label and merchandising company Love Police, along with managing the band. Lane plays in any number of guitar-rock outfits and Rogers has dabbled in theatre, journalism and, of late, landscape gardening. “I got a job yesterday as a landscape gardener with some friends,” he says. “I am doing some journalism for a couple of magazines. They are very well-known magazines that are not music magazines.” Rogers blanches when told certain writers have described the album as “content”. In truth, it’s anything but. Perhaps it’s the abundance of acoustic guitars? “If I was content I wouldn’t need to write any more,” he says. “Writing is some people’s way of making a sense of bewilderment, which is what this album is about.”
Next week, the band return to Melbourne to launch the new album, which is being released via Sydney indie-label Other Tongues — “We are impatient and EMI were not able to commit to putting out an album for us this year” — and marks a period of informality for the band. “There’s no big dinners, it’s meeting up and being practical and giving ourselves the chance to make good music and present things how we want to,” Rogers says.
On this album, the words and chords are his but, he is quick to acknowledge, there was much collaboration with his bandmates. “They know me a little too well and can often tap into what the song’s about and go for it,” he says. The track ‘The Good Ones’, for instance, which is a classic You Am I-sounding song, began as a ragged track before Kent and producer Greg Wales decided to add acoustics. Rogers recorded the vocals with Wales at Yarraville. His producer had gently suggested a rewrite before Rogers stormed off, rode his bike home to St Kilda and overhauled the lyrics and melody overnight. The next day, he did the vocals in two takes. “We wanted to attack it with some panache,” Rogers says.
The album highlight, however, is a track called ‘Lie and Face the Sun’. The song began as a Rogers demo. The original idea was for the group to perform with another vocalist, with Rogers standing in merely as guitarist. To prepare, he had demoed a few songs with a lower register than normal. The first idea was to get Lemonhead Evan Dando. Wiser heads prevailed; working with Dando would be too much hedonism for these older four men. So the next suggestion internally was: what about a woman’s voice? It would force the group to play and think about themselves differently. Kent sent Rogers the recording that young singer Megan Washington had done with the Melbourne group the Bamboos. The two met and bonded instantly, talking about getting a band together. One of those resulting songs was ‘Lie and Face the Sun’.
“Megan is very young but has an old head,” he says. “We have similar humour and want to pursue more than just the here and now. “The song itself is very pretty sounding but actually very desperate. It’s about wanting to squeeze the juice and poison out of your spine and using a sunny day to dry out, essentially. I like the juxtaposition of a pretty-sounding song about a desperate situation.”
Relaxed, Not Comfortable
WA TODAY, OCTOBER 2010
BY: ANDREW MURFETT
Nine records in and You Am I could be forgiven for kicking back. Fat chance.
WORK began on the new, self-titled, You Am I album about 18 months ago. Frontman Tim Rogers, who these days is equal parts troubadour, hot mess and national treasure, was attending a gig at the Corner Hotel one night.
The show was Jolie Holland. He attended with a friend, who drove him and parked near the venue.
As they watched the gig, somebody broke into the vehicle and commandeered the demos Rogers had been working on, also lifting his notebook of lyrics. Advertisement: Story continues below
“The demos I could remember but the lyrics I couldn’t,” he says, standing in the band’s Sydney rehearsal room this week as bandmates, drummer Russell Hopkinson, bassist Andy Kent and guitarist Davey Lane, stood around smoking, drinking and chatting jovially.
“So I had to start again.”
Hence, in a creative spurt, the first five tracks that would eventually make up the band’s ninth album were quickly devised. The rest came at a more casual pace.
Rogers doesn’t read reviews. Well, that’s what he claims. But if he did, he would note that publications such as Rolling Stone, The Sydney Morning Herald and, ahem, EG have given the album some of the best raves of the band’s career. Rogers believes the band’s temperament — and therefore creative output — has improved as they have enjoyed more divergent lives outside of the band.
Hopkinson is now a drum teacher. Kent helps run the label and merchandising company Love Police, along with managing the band. Lane plays in any number of guitar-rock outfits and Rogers has dabbled in theatre, journalism and, of late, landscape gardening.
“I got a job yesterday as a landscape gardener with some friends,” he says. “I am doing some journalism for a couple of magazines. They are very well-known magazines that are not music magazines.”
Rogers blanches when told certain writers have described the album as “content”. In truth, it’s anything but. Perhaps it’s the abundance of acoustic guitars?
“If I was content I wouldn’t need to write any more,” he says. “Writing is some people’s way of making a sense of bewilderment, which is what this album is about.”
Next week, the band return to Melbourne to launch the new album, which is being released via Sydney indie-label Other Tongues — “We are impatient and EMI were not able to commit to putting out an album for us this year” — and marks a period of informality for the band.
“There’s no big dinners, it’s meeting up and being practical and giving ourselves the chance to make good music and present things how we want to,” Rogers says.
On this album, the words and chords are his but, he is quick to acknowledge, there was much collaboration with his bandmates. “They know me a little too well and can often tap into what the song’s about and go for it,” he says.
The track The Good Ones, for instance, which is a classic You Am I-sounding song, began as a ragged track before Kent and producer Greg Wales decided to add acoustics.
Rogers recorded the vocals with Wales at Yarraville. His producer had gently suggested a rewrite before Rogers stormed off, rode his bike home to St Kilda and overhauled the lyrics and melody overnight. The next day, he did the vocals in two takes. “We wanted to attack it with some panache,” Rogers says.
The album highlight, however, is a track called Lie and Face the Sun.
The song began as a Rogers demo. The original idea was for the group to perform with another vocalist, with Rogers standing in merely as guitarist.
To prepare, he had demoed a few songs with a lower register than normal. The first idea was to get Lemonhead Evan Dando. Wiser heads prevailed; working with Dando would be too much hedonism for these older four men.
So the next suggestion internally was: what about a woman’s voice?
It would force the group to play and think about themselves differently.
Kent sent Rogers the recording that young singer Megan Washington had done with the Melbourne group the Bamboos. The two met and bonded instantly, talking
about getting a band together. One of those resulting songs was Lie and Face the Sun.
“Megan is very young but has an old head,” he says. “We have similar humour and want to pursue more than just the here and now.
“The song itself is very pretty sounding but actually very desperate.
“It’s about wanting to squeeze the juice and poison out of your spine and using a sunny day to dry out, essentially. I like the juxtaposition of a pretty-sounding song about a desperate situation.”
You Am I’s ninth studio album was plagued by personal and creative insecurities,
frontman Tim Rogers candidly tells A.H CAYLEY.
With the sound of traffic and the occasional ding of a tram in the background, Tim Rogers speaks through a dodgy phone line from Melbourne’s CBD. He’s on his way to the Athenaeum Library, Victoria’s oldest cultural institution, on Collins Street. “I go there to score drugs,” he jokes, completely deadpan. At least, I think it’s a joke. Throughout the interview he’s surprisingly frank about everything from the writing and recording of You Am I’s self-titled ninth studio album, to dealing with anger, insecurities and creative expectations.
Rogers is an odd blend of insecure confidence. His sentences are peppered with pauses, “ums” and “you-knows”, as though unsure what he’s saying is clear while still seeming completely certain of what he means. He’ll reach the midpoint of a sentence, then veer off at the same thought from a slightly different perspective, or a better way of understanding, before placing another “you know” at the end or middle of it. They’re not necessarily questioning “you-knows”, more clarifications. It seems that “Tim Rogers The Man” is painfully aware of “Tim Rogers The Name” and is still cautiously and self-deprecatingly bridging the gap between them.
On record, however, he’s moving on. You Am I is an album that grows on you. On first listen, there’s not much to grab hold of, until – after a few more – you begin to notice little things here and there: an interesting harmony, an illuminating lyric, a delicate crack in Roger’s voice. Eventually, after even more listens, it becomes an album you don’t want to let go of.
Now with independent label Other Tongues, I wonder whether a smaller budget affected how the album was recorded, compared to their albums while signed to rooART, BMG or EMI.
“There were a lot of favours pulled,” Rogers admits. “I mean, we only spent two days in the studio and the rest were in a warehouse, some kitchens. We saved up some money from shows a while ago. I think as far as costs go, it’s definitely more humble than anything we’ve been involved in.
“We didn’t have unlimited time as it was [with EMI],” he continues. “We were working to strict times and strict budgets … so there was no amount of wasting time sitting around in the studio. I don’t think we’ve sat around and wasted time in a studio in about 10 years, or write songs in the studio, because we just can’t do that. We kinda get bored, you know.”
While he still gets “a little thrill” from being in the studio, Rogers isn’t really interested in the intricacies of the recording process.
“Those other guys are far more interested than me in the engineering,” he says. “We get it out in the open real quickly. We gave ourselves only a couple of days to finish the whole thing. It wasn’t that vastly different [from the early days]. I mean, we were recording in warehouses and kitchens. That was a little different! I think Greg [Wales] our producer really encouraged that. He loves a good ‘feel’ recording; he likes to feel this stuff: the moss upon my kitchen table.”
Having written such a triumphant record (which follows two other underappreciated albums, 2007’s Convicts and 2008’s Dilettantes), it’s quite a shock to hear that Rogers doubted himself throughout the process.
“Well, you know, I like thinking there’s no encouragement to write ‘hits’ [anymore]. It’d be great to get something on a radio station, but the right thing is to write whatever you want, and I want to impress the other guys … I want to impress them, and that pressure’s been increasing as they grow ever more intelligent,” he laughs. “It’s kinda terrifying. I’m an old guy, a guitar player … [But] during the making of this record I was unsure that I was writing anything good, especially with the other guys’ compliments the whole time. I just had this feeling of vertigo. ‘What am I doing?’ The amount of people out there who just aren’t interested in what we’re doing anymore – after a while it kinda, plays with your confidence. I want to write better for this band, you know – they’re my life.”
“We can go and be ‘That You Am I Band’ anytime we can, you know, we can turn it on and enjoy it and everyone will have a great time, but as far as making records go, we just need to do something different.”
It’s a surprising claim at first, but begins to make sense when you look at the band’s career trajectory. In the early-to-mid ’90s, You Am I was set to take over the world. They won six ARIAs in 1996 alone and were the first Australian band to debut three successive albums at number one on the charts: Hi Fi Way (1995), Hourly, Daily (1996) and #4 Record (1998). But at some point – for most, around 2001’s Dress Me Slowly – interest petered out. Sometimes it seems the phrase, “I like their old stuff better than their new stuff”, was coined solely for You Am I. It’s a reality Rogers tackles with a shrug.
“I think it has more to do with where they were at that stage of their life,” he says. “I’m not too keen on that time [the mid-1990s] because it wasn’t the greatest time of my life. I love that people love those records … but I’ve got to be honest about it, I don’t think they’re [our best albums], you know. But, hey, I understand, they want a band to be new and young, and we probably just annoy them.”
While Rogers admits “he got messy for a while” – a reference to his infamous 2004/05 Falls Festival onstage meltdown, where he took a swing at guitarist Davey Lane and accidentally knocked Missy Higgins to the ground – he says it ironically reignited interested in the band.
“What do you do? I can’t fix it all for other people, you know. I do take notice of it, and it affects me in a little way, absolutely, but I can’t live that way. I live for the people that I love, and for that thrill of creation that I get making this music … You can’t please all people, any of the time,” he says with a chuckle.
“Writing this way [now], with absolutely no formula, is kind of a thrill. That lack of confidence is also kind of a thrill, because it forces you to wonder if you’re just wasting oxygen. You don’t know. Seeing the rest of the band enjoying it, that’s one of the only things that makes me happy. Seeing the boys’ faces, playing the music that I’ve written, thinking, ‘I am good.’” The last sentence is said not in an air of conceit, but one of renewed confidence.
When Dilettantes was released, Rogers was quoted in an interview as saying he remained unsure of the album until he went for a walk with it. He had a similar moment with You Am I in the car, although he connected with an album different to the one he set out to create.
“Probably about a month or two after finishing [the album], I’ll go for a walk or a long drive, and it drops, you know: ‘That’s right, I’m doing this for a reason and it’s better than I thought.’ And it’s very different from what I thought that we were going in to make … So I’ve been acquainting myself with it. Yeah, I like it, but it’s not what I went in there to do.”
Rogers says he initially wanted to write an album of contrasting moods. “I wanted to start off with the softest thing you’ve ever heard in your life, and then end up with these kind of three or four hardcore songs at the end. I felt that that was exactly the right thing to do,” he says, before pondering, “Um … I really don’t know what I was thinking.”
It’s notable that the album is far softer than their previous works, with fewer hard rock tunes. “I think that we’ve got a lot of rock ‘n’ roll songs that we can go and play every night … This is rather dull muso talk, but as players we wanted to challenge ourselves … to sound more like Soft Machine, rather than something more straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just it’s more interesting to us, and to play as softly as we do on this record, is harder than to be the same old rock ‘n’ roll band. And when we get a singer who can sing rock ‘n’ roll really well, we’ll be right back there,” he jokes.
“I’m 41, everyone’s sort of around my age apart from Davey [and] to play this kind of shifting, melodic music on this record is difficult. It takes this concentration to let yourself be emotional and try and not be ashamed of it – it’s more of a challenge … That’s what we want from ourselves now. We can go and be ‘That You Am I Band’ anytime we can, you know. We can turn it on and enjoy it and everyone will have a great time, but as far as making records go, we just need to do something different. A lot of playing on the record is those guys really pushing themselves, and me pushing myself as a writer.”
He sighs. “I mean, look, I only get it because people seem to get quite a bit of enjoyment from shouting at me at shows, you know, they either want ‘more rock ‘n’ roll’ or…”
Play ‘Berlin Chair’?
“Yeah, or ‘less rock ‘n’ roll’,” he says incredulously. “We’ve got to please ourselves. A lot of years have been wasted on trying to please other people. We never were as far apart as when we tried to please other people. When we try and please ourselves we’re right in each other’s pockets, and that’s where we should be. We’re family; we’re brothers, and that’s seen us through a lot – a hell of a lot – of personal stuff; we’ve saved each other, and infuriated each other. Of course we like what we do, but we’ve released enough records to know that [the old sound’s] just not going to happen.”
You Am I comes from a place of emotional resignation, which the band has been moving towards since Convicts at least. That was an album of ball-busting, swaggering, sneering rock tunes (though with its lighter moments), before Dilettantes, a more considered and very beautiful album, still dealing with regret and loss, but in a more mature and thoughtful way. Tellingly, the phrase “you ain’t easy”, originally on Dilettantes’ ‘Beau Geste’, makes a return on You Am I, sung by guest vocalist Lanie Lane on ‘Trigger Finger’. This time it’s sung from a woman’s perspective. Is Rogers turning on himself, more so than ever before?
“You know, I guess it’s a way for me of getting through, and to enjoy as much as I can out of life, and to hopefully have my bandmates feel that same feeling,” he explains.”
“I think You Am I do make very hopeful music. I mean, even in a song like ‘Thank God I Hit The Bottom’ (the first track on Convicts), the tagline is, “Cause who knows if I would have seen you from up there?” I needed to hit the bottom, and to see things clearly. That record wasn’t negative for me at all. It was very, very positive. I don’t think it’s as angry as it sounded. My music is hopeful music. Even something that sounds a bit sad like ‘How Much Is Enough?’ [the final track on Hi Fi Way], to me it sounded [like] smiling after you’ve cried. You know, we’re Australia’s first emos, man. Emotional music.”
Emotional as it is, You Am I doesn’t seem to be as angry as previous albums. Rogers now speaks particularly slowly, pausing between almost each word. I can’t tell whether he’s deciding just what he wants to say, or whether he wants to say it at all. He pauses to think before beginning. “Um, well, you know, I’m a pretty angry person. But I just get bored hearing myself being angry in songs. I think that it’s more progressive to try and make yourself joyously bewildered through song. I don’t want to be an angry person, and so I’m writing music to get that out. I’m a very, very lucky person; the anger is something I don’t understand. But I’ll work on that in private.”
“A night off’s not what I’m in for – I don’t take holidays. I’m a goddamn working musician.”
He also gets sick of the sound of his own voice. In an interview with Melbourne’s Herald Sun last year, Rogers intimated that the band was “getting a singer in”. It caused a stir on the youami.com.au forums, fuelling speculation as to who it was, and causing some to question whether it was the beginning of the end. Rogers says he was being self-deprecating, but the thought has crossed his mind.
“It’s just about wanting to get as much enjoyment out of music as you can, and sometimes I really, really enjoy singing and other times I don’t. I should really just shut up,” he jokes. “The times that we do [play with another singer], whether it’s the band with Tex [Perkins] or Evan [Dando], I think that’s when we’re at our best. The guys don’t agree with me, and so that’s the reason why we’ve continued with me singing it.”
The future, he concedes, may be different. “We want to be playing music, but if we can’t be You Am I, if it’s not viable for us to be You Am I, if we’re not making each other happy, then – look, I wish it was. But at the moment – I dunno, I still think we’ve got something, with me singing. So we’ll go for a little while longer, and then we’ll do something else together. … I like playing in this band – I love it, y’know. I’m not gonna fuck that up again.”
Perhaps the album’s guest vocalists, including the aforementioned Lanie Lane and also Megan Washington, who duets with Rogers on ‘Lie and Face the Sun’ and adds some gorgeous harmonies to the end of ‘Shuck’, are a step in that direction?
“Maybe. It’s more just ’cause they’re friends,” he says. “It was a lot of fun. I like someone like Meg … [She] just seemed right for that song. I mean, it sounds very pretty, but it’s not a pretty song.”
While ex-Jet member Stevie Hesketh, who also played on the album, will be touring with the band – “he’s family,” says Rogers, “he’s part of the band” – it’s likely Lane and Washington won’t be. “We’re a shoestring band at the moment – Davey’s gonna put on the glasses and push his hair forward. We’re not going to try and replicate the record – it’ll just be logistically impossible to get Meg or Lanie every time.”
With the band about to embark on their first national tour in a year, it’s still unseen how the new album will translate live. “There’s some pretty loose structuring going on with this record – I’m really looking forward to playing around with it,” he says, excitedly. “I actually just can’t wait to get on stage every night and see if we can pull it off. It’s actually a very challenging record to play, and it’s just us…
“We seem to be the cover band for hire,” he laughs in reference to his participation in last year’s White Album concert series and the band’s recent performance of Stones songs at the NRL grand final. “They’re job things, you know. I have to make money, to look after the people I love and get through it … A night off’s not what I’m in for – I don’t take holidays. I’m a goddamn working musician.”
He later alludes to being “not well”, and I ask if he could explain what he means. “It’s not important,” he says, softly. Then immediately, as though to cover his tracks: “It’s not making sense.”
Rogers has never shied away from discussing the effect of mental illness on his life; the adolescent episodes that informed so many of his earlier songs. Speaking frankly on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope in 2008, Rogers revealed that he’d been living with depression, an anxiety disorder and schizophrenic episodes as a teenager and young man.
Now able – and willing – to speak about it, he’s become the ambassador of Metta Generation, an organisation set up by a family in Wagga to raise much-needed funds for their son, who suffers from high-risk bipolar. “You know, they’re just hard-working people trying to look after their kid, who is the most beautiful, enigmatic young man. Going out to Wagga, and meeting them was just one of the greatest nights of my life.
“I speak about mental health stuff only because I don’t want some 16-year-old kid thinking there’s no future. I survived something that I feel infinitely thankful for, when at the time I thought that my life was over. I got through it, and that’s the only reason I talk about it. I don’t feel deserving of any sympathy or whatever, it’s just that I got through something and it’s possible … that other kids will as well … That’s why I talked about it on Andrew Denton, and also to my mum and dad, who didn’t understand what was going on at the time.”
Rogers has also recently worked with Rebetika Mortika for The Key Of Sea, an album of collaborations between popular Australian artists and refugee and migrant musicians. Working in a new genre called rebetiko – often transliterated as rembetiko – Rogers seems at home. An urban Greek folk music that saw a great revival in the 1960s, it’s been described by Grinderman’s James Sclavunos as a “sort of outlaw blues” dealing with themes of “exile, loss of family, wandering the streets after dark, taking drugs and drinking to excess, unrequited love, imprisonment and death”. With the word itself being a derivation of the Turkish morpheme “rebet”, meaning rebellious, it’s little surprise Rogers would take to the genre so quickly.
“I love what the record’s about, but they don’t want it to be a political statement. It’s more of a social statement, for multicultural listeners. That’s what makes this country what it is,” he says. “I get to write a song and record with some other rebetiko musicians; music I love, music from a culture that I love, and with people that I love, on a song about lost love – what’s more perfect?
“It’s the music of the misplaced,” he continues. “Writing in that style, [it’s] very straight writing – there’s no grey areas, it’s black and white, you know. And I think that might be a better way to go,” he laughs. “I’ve run out of shonky metaphors.”
You Am I – Feature
BEAT, OCTOBER 2010
BY: GAV ROSS
“I can’t speak for the other lads, but I think it’s the best one I’ve been involved with.” You could be forgiven for thinking that this bold statement from guitarist Davey Daniel Lane is merely typical publicity hype for his band’s new album. But many longtime You Am I followers (and critics, it seems) are in agreeance. Their self-titled ninth studio album in a career that now spans 20 years is their strongest, most cohesive effort in over 10 years and it very much deserves a spot alongside Hi-Fi Way and Hourly Daily as an album that defines You Am I’s legacy.
The biggest difference between this and earlier You Am I albums is that the band were under no pressure or obligations to deliver a set of recordings. Joining up with independent Sydney label Other Tongues, the four-piece were free to concoct and put their 11 new songs to tape whenever they chose fit. With each member of the group involved in various projects on the side, this creative freedom was a perfect fit.
“It definitely was an advantage to be able to work on our own bits and pieces at home in our own time,” Lane agrees. “In this day and age it’s obviously a lot easier to have a set up at home to track guitars and so forth. Being able to take stuff away and have some time to reflect and think about our parts really helped.”
Whilst at times sounding like it is covering new and unexplored aural territory for the band, You Am I still has the feel of being a natural progression from 2008’s Dilettantes. It’s surprising to discover that not all of the new tracks were written in the last few years.
“There’s a song on the record called Trigger Finger that started off as a guitar riff that was kind of in ‘Stones territory,” Lane explains. “We were mucking around with it during various soundchecks as far back as six or seven years I go, I think. We originally tracked guitars on it but ended up taking most of them off. Here’s hoping it’s a song that people will be pleasantly surprised by.”
An interesting aspect of You Am I is that it’s perhaps the most non-immediate of all their releases. The first listen through may be impressive, but it really begins to shine on the third or fourth spin.
“A lot of friends I’ve played the record to agree with that,” Davey adds. “It probably would take a few listens for it start sinking in.”
Lane promptly agrees that the self-titled is “a real record to be listened to from start to finish.” The four previous albums he’s been involved in since he joined ranks in 1999 – Dress Me Slowly, Deliverance, Convicts and Dilettantes – have all been excellent long-players in their own right, but a few of them had an average song or two added that tripped them up, or they didn’t really feel consistent from beginning to end.
“I haven’t sat down and listened to (each album) in chronological order or anything, but I’m sure that on each record there’re one or two songs that hint at what the next record might sound like,” he reasons. “I think this one was a logical step forward from Dilettantes. I’m really proud of that record as well.”
In the lead-up to their national tour during October, You Am I have appeared during the NRL final’s half-time show and as part of a special Sydney gig playing songs from The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main St.
“It was just a really fun gig and it’s a record we all love,” Davey beams. “It’s kinda cool because we hadn’t played together that much as a band over the last year, so it was nice to get back together and play a bunch of ‘Stones song before we start figuring out how the fuck we’re going to play our own stuff!” he laughs.
Although he’s tight-lipped about what exact tunes from the new record we can expect to hear live, Lane does confirm that a special guest will be joining them for these shows. “We’ve got a good mate of ours, Stevie Hesketh (part of Jet’s live band), with us and it’s a real shot in the arm to have someone like him around. Arrangement-wise there’s a bit more going on with this record and he’s covering all the keyboard parts.”
Attendees of some of You Am I’s shows during 2008/9 may remember Davey himself taking command of the keys. Will this still be part of his live responsibilities? “Probably not much, which is cool,” he answers. “Last time around it was getting pretty hard to do both because there were some songs on Dilettantes that had guitar and keyboard parts that overlapped.” One of the most exciting parts of any You Am I tour is what will be thrown into the setlist. Although there are always stalwart tracks such as Junk or How Much Is Enough?, each new tour is littered with surprising additions, whether they be tunes from the first two albums that haven’t been heard in years or the odd cover, such as Teenage Fanclub’s The Concept. “I don’t think it’s ever a conscious decision to keep chopping and changing the setlist,” Davey says. “I suppose because Tim (Rogers) has been so prolific over the years, there’s no shortage of great songs to choose from. It’s not a calculated thing; we just play whatever we think would be most fun. On one tour in the last few years we ended up playing a bunch of B-sides like Midget In A Nightclub and Useless Information again. It’s fortuitous to have songs like that we can pull out as well.
“For me, as a music nerd,” he chuckles, “it’s nice to be able to wheel out B-sides that are worthy of being played. Also, sometimes I might be sitting at home getting drunk and listening to my music player when something like Plans from #4 Record comes on and I start thinking about it again.”
The band’s last national tour during the start of 2010 saw them playing a few tracks from Deliverance – some of which hadn’t been part of their live repertoire since the album launched in 2002. “Because nobody likes that record,” Lane jokes heartily.
Recorded around the time Tim was newly-married and had just become a father for the first time, Deliverance is an album full of positivity and exuberance, yet it’s difficult to pinpoint why it is something many fans neglect to go back to. Perhaps it was due to negative aura that surrounded the disc’s poor sales performance – which led to the four-piece being dropped from Sony BMG and an infamous altercation between Rogers and Mark Holden at an Adelaide airport. Whatever the reason, Lane admits the album still holds a special place in his heart.
“Tim and I fuckin’ love that record,” he says. “I don’t know if people think it was a misstep or what. I got no fuckin’ idea, but I still love it.”
You Am I’s growth in the last decade has also run alongside the emergence of Lane as one of Australia’s most versatile and respected guitarists. He’s gone on to play with his own outfit The Pictures as well as become a guitar gun-for-hire alongside performers like Jimmy Barnes. In the late ‘90s he emerged from Boronia as a shy kid just out of high school with a love for The Who. You Am I’s #4 Record, released in 1998, became an obsession of sorts for him and he began penning tablature for all the guitar parts, submitting them to Danny Yau, a friend who ran the earliest You Am I fan-site.
After a few meetings with the band when they were on tour, Lane was one day called by Tim and asked to join him for some gigs. It wasn’t long after that shows took place at a secretive location in Melbourne for the recording of their 1999 live opus Saturday Night ‘Round Ten “I’d actually like us to go back and do another live record,” Davey says. “I mean, I’ve done a few hundred You Am I gigs since then and although I like that live record, I think we could do a better job of it now.”
It was during the shows played in the latter half of 1999 that Lane truly found his calling and became not just an extra guitarist that Rogers and co. could take with them on tour to help out, but an integral part of the band.
“I was finding my feet that tour,” he recalls. “I had zero social skills and it was quite the learning curve in terms of playing the guitar parts properly.”
In regards to what shows have stood out to him over the years as being the most memorable, Lane admits it isn’t just the ones they’ve played in front of the most people.
“There are the obvious ones like getting to support The ‘Stones or The Who – but that’s just because it was shit I’d dreamt about since I was 8 years old,” he figures.
“For me, it’s shows we might have played in Milwaukee or somewhere like that – shows we might have played to a room of 15 people. We end up in places overseas where people don’t really know the band and little shows like that always stick out to me.”
Artist Feature: You Am I
THE MUSIC NETWORK, OCTOBER 2010
BY: NATHAN JOLLY
Andy Kent bassist, and manager of You Am I is milling about in Surry Hills, looking for a car-park as he reminisces over the phone. It could be the lyrical theme of a You Am I track (granted, a B-side); the Sydney based band who, over nine albums and a handful of EPs have swaggered and charmed their way into the hearts of countless fans worldwide. The band have long been an Australian music staple, routinely appearing at the top of Best Australian Albums Ever lists; breathless adjectives attached to everything they do.
Nine albums into their career and the band have shaken things up somewhat. After a few records that dared to stray from the formula (as if there ever was one), like the gentle Dilettantes, the country tinged Deliverance and the half hour blast of Convicts, there were whispers that the band’s best days were past. Their latest, self-titled record, released last Friday, indicates otherwise. The band are clearly not resting or their laurels, nor are they accepting any suggestion that they are a heritage act (The only directive Kent gave John O’Donnell when writing the bio for the record was that he not use terms like ‘legacy’ or ‘most loved’).
When this interview briefly swerves off course to the back catalogue, Kent would only say that he is ‘pleasantly surprised’ when he happens upon a past track at a party or a jukebox.
After a brief stop at EMI, the band are releasing You Am I through independent label Other Tongues; their first album not to be released through a major. As Kent explains, this matters little.
“We’ve been on a million labels, RCA, Warner Brothers, Yep Roc, Sire… and this is only in the US. We’ve been on WEA, BMG, Warner Australia, RooArt, RA [precedes to list every label ever]. The indie vs. major argument is not as conclusive as it seems.
“When you’re not tied to a certain deal you can pick and choose who you work with and that appeals to us. Nick Pontikos (Other Tongues’ founder) was a big fan and he was prepared to put a big foot forward; to put Other Tongues resources and money behind it, and if the right people and the right resources are behind us then that’s what counts.”
Creatively, the band have also made a shift, leaving the sterile environment of a studio in favour of a series of warehouse spaces, home studios and various other setups where they recorded and played sporadically, when the mood struck them. According to Kent, it made for a much more honest record.
“The idea is that creativity and ideas happen naturally,” Kent explains. “I mean people will write things down in the middle of the night on a pad next to their bed- it strikes when it strikes and there is no rhyme or reason to it a lot of the time, and you take that and apply it to a very structured environment which has a timetable, and sometime you’re left a little bit disappointed.
“Bands always love their demos more than they love their records, so we wanted to take it out of that environment, ten ‘til midnight five days a week, drums on this day, bass on this day and keep it open and alive and capture the real creative process for a change.”
As for whether this natural, albeit still experimental, approach was successful remains unclear – to Kent at least.
“You can always tell the week after an album is finished what the consensus is, people are ringing each other up and saying they wanna do some remixes or wanna do some overdubs, and arguing about track order and what should be the single.
“Those conversations are always handy,” he continues. “But this time there seems to be a kind of calm with this record, a content-ness about it all. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing I don’t know…we’ll see.”
Sound As Ever
THE BRAG, OCTOBER 2010
BY: CAITLIN WELSH
When I was fourteen, my brother handed down to me a shoebox of CDs. Among all the Black Flag and Dead Kennedys that served me so well in subsequent years, there was his ex’s copy of You Am I’s 1992 EP Goddamn, inscribed in Sharpie on the front as follows: “Dear Sammy: May your buns always be BUTT-ered, Love Timmy.” Much tickled, I decided to investigate this droll character and his works. One very educational decade later, Tim Rogers calls me to chat about the band’s self-titled ninth studio album, and laughs ruefully as I read his own words back to him. “Oh God. I really am quite the idiot.” No, I insist, I liked it, and still do – it made me want to know who the hilarious Timmy was. “If ever you find out you can let me know,” says hilarious Timmy with a groan. “He’s a mystery to me.”
Timmy sounds very, very tired. Two nights ago he, the YAI boys – guitarist Davey Lane, drummer Russell Hopkinson and bassist Andy Kent – and half a dozen more illustrious names performed the Rolling Stones’ classic album Exile On Main Street in its entirety at the Oxford Art Factory. As it was a Jack Daniels’ event, one can imagine the libations flowed freely. Guest vocalist and sometime YAI collaborator Nick Barker put it plainly on the night: “How good is this, eh? Free booze and playing Rolling fucking Stones songs with your mates.” When your mates include Magic Dirt’s Adalita Srsen, Tex Perkins, The Mess Hall boys and all of You Am I, carnage inevitably ensues. “Strangely exhausting night,” Rogers says now, his battered voice only slightly above a whisper. “We decided to keep the socialising going, and just stopped a couple of hours ago.” It has just passed 11am.
Rogers’ fabulously louche stage persona often channels the combined spirit, if not the antics, of the Glimmer Twins. Earlier in the year he was performing the famous Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out concert in small venues around the country. Some people were beginning to wonder if YAI were in danger of becoming a really fun Stones tribute band – Tim himself included. “Yeah, at times we were taking on the visage of a covers band, but I don’t care,” he says, with an audible smile. “I just love playing guitar… It was one of those times when you’re really like, ‘Hey man, I’m a working musician.’ It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, so that’s good.”
Rogers is a very busy working musician, involved in not only his various musical projects but also dipping his toes in waters cinematic and theatrical – he made his stage debut at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre last year. He considers his and his bandmates’ packed schedules both a compliment and a privilege. “I think the band has approached things in a way that makes us quite fun to work with,” he tells me. “People know that it’s not going to be an awful experience – I think we’re pretty nice people. And I’m interested in things, I’m attracted to people who are interesting and interested, and I’ll hear something or read something and I’ll want to participate in it rather than just appreciate. I’m just a person like that, whether it’s football or free jazz. I want to get involved, and test myself, put myself in uncomfortable situations, see if I can do something good with it.”
It’s deeply reassuring that a band who are such an institution rest so uneasily on their laurels. Famously having albums #2, #3 and #4 debut at the top of the ARIA charts, they’ve tweaked and pushed their laconic, heartfelt rock sound at each turn. This decade, highlights have included the unadulterated thrashing glee of 2006’s Convicts and Davey Lane’s studio debut on 2001’s Dress Me Slowly. But while the glory days of chart domination seem to be largely in the past, there is no energy wasted trying to perfectly recreate “those nice records that people seemed to like”, as Rogers refers to Hi Fi Way, Hourly Daily and #4 Record. “I definitely don’t want to be the same person I was when I was 24,” he says, adding haltingly, “I’m enjoying getting older and still having no clue how to get through it without some damage. I hope that we continue to do that – it’s sort of uncharted territory, as we’re going on.”
“Exploratory” is the word Rogers uses repeatedly to describe the recording process and sound on the latest You Am I. There’s a reflective, subdued tone to much of it, especially the wistful closer ‘Let’s Not Get Famous’. (“It’s definitely not advice to other acts or young bands,” Tim says. “I’ve got nothing to say to them other than, ‘Would you like a drink?’”) Longtime producer Greg Wales, who Rogers says “knows us better than ourselves,” found himself drawn to the quieter tracks. “It can often happen that the most aggressive tunes aren’t the most powerful. We were trying to find some tunes that were…. A little more delicate, a little more exploratory,” explains Rogers. “[W]e know that we can be a scrappy little rock’n’roll band, or an early-90s soft-verse heavy-chorus band, and we’ve kinda done that, and we can do that any night of the week – to do something a little more exploratory was far more intriguing to us. It wasn’t what we were listening to, it was more about a relationship with each other, and the way that we want to be as musicians, and how we want to challenge ourselves… We kind of just wanted to fuck ourselves up a bit.”
Around the time the eighth LP Dilettantes dropped, Rogers told one journalist that if Convicts was a slab of meat, the airier newie was “a bowl of fruit with a cherry on top”. I invite him to torture the analogy further: “This [latest album] is an afternoon’s tapas,” he deadpans, without missing a beat. “There are many bowls, with many piquante little treats.” But he also assures me we ought not read anything into the decision to self-title a record for the first time in their career, and release an album independently for the first time in ten years, making an amiable break from EMI. “I’m surprised how much energy there is still between us, and I think we might be getting an idea of the band that we wanna be… It’s no big thumping of the chest, and ‘WE ARE WHO WE ARE’. Something about it just felt right.”
Rogers is nothing if not deferential to inspiration – and he says it’s not something he can always control. “[T]here are times I think, I really don’t think I can write anymore, and I can’t help but compare myself to peers of mine, writers and singers, and I think they’re so good that I just get intimidated out of wanting to write.” He compares inspiration to a romantic swell or rush. “It’s the only thing I can compare it to – the giddiness of falling in love with somebody. It’s always come like that, it’s a mystery, I almost don’t wanna know. When I see therapists and psychiatrists, that’s something that always comes up, those bursts of the act of creation and what it does to you. I know what it does to me – it gives me a lust for life and it makes me very, very happy and I’m a good person to be around – a better dad, a better friend. So I’m quite pleased to be bewildered by it, to just not get too down that it doesn’t happen every day or every hour. The next is just around the corner.”
You Am I – The Age Review
THE AGE, OCTOBER 2010
BY: CRAIG MATHIESON
TIM Rogers was ahead of the truth all along. Just when You Am I threatened to make do as a live attraction trading on their reputation, the band followed up 2006’s blazing, one-dimensional Convicts with 2008’s Dilettantes, a nourishing, mature song selection. With their new self-titled set, their ninth studio long player, they further that transformation: You Am I is the sound of a band enjoying a mid-career renaissance, matching vigour to experience. With its baleful arrangements and warmly sculpted sound, this is You Am I’s most overtly produced record but the effect is not to cool the songwriting ardour of Rogers. On tracks such as the White Album behemoth Kicking the Balustrade and the layered, narcotic Crime he gets close to emotional truths, measuring up the situation like a jury deliberating a verdict. On a record that has more in common with Wilco than AC/DC, acoustic guitars and keyboards supply the textures and when guitarist Davey Lane cuts loose on The Good Ones it’s both exhilarating and in service of the song. Few acts have started their third decade so impressively.