Do Adjust Your Radio

After three albums, multi ARIA awards and sell-out shows, You Am I brought in the big-name producer for an album of short punchy pop tunes. They're even smiling at your grandmother. BERNARD ZUEL asks them, is this the album radio cannot ignore?

Ah yes, rock and roll. It's an ugly world. Just ask Russell Keith Hopkinson of Freemantle. Now Russell, or Rusty to fans of his day/night job of playing the things you hit in You Am I, is a man with a fondness for chutneys. He's even been known to rustle up some of his own tomato chutney when not on the road. Yes, chutneys - you got a problem with that, sunshine? His bandmate, Timothy Adrian Rogers, of Kalgoorlie, is intrigued by this kitchen passion and is worrying it like a dog with a particular juicy bone. (If you've been anywhere near Tim of course the notion of food and thin wafer-thin singer/guitarist in the same sentence is a hoot. Now beer, or maybe some Jim Beam, is another question.) Anyway, food is on his mind as they recall some precious moments with the high-powered end of the record-producing fraternity, George (Black Crowes, Primal Scream) Drakoulias.

Drakoulias could be the man to get You Am I over the hurdle of radio resistance which has blocked their path from supreme pop performers to decadent superstars. He has something of a Midas touch and, certainly, the money end of the American record company, which is paying for his time, is hoping You Am I's #4 Record has all the right sounds for AM, FM and god forbid, MMM, which finds it all too difficult dealing with songs recorded after 1979. Few would argue it's a spot waiting for the band. As they put it themselves on the current single Rumble: "It's the sound without a home address, hydromatic hoplessness, fill it up and start over again / all nite, R.A.D.I.O."

So they spent weeks in Los Angeles with hitmeister Drakoulias, what's the strongest memory?
"George Drakoulias had spanokopita sent by his mother in Long Island, sent in freight," says Tim, not bothering to hide the mix of envy and laughter in his voice. "He got it delivered to Rick Rubin's house, we were doing vocals there, and Rick Rubin has his own personal chef who was put out because Mrs Drakoulias's five trays of spanolopita took precedence over anything she was making."
Was it any good?
"It was incredible, the best thing i've ever eaten. I can still taste it now."

Tim Rogers, Andy Kent and Russell Hopkinson are relaxing around a table in a Glebe pub. Andy and Rusty are in standard casual gear of shirt or T-shirt but Tim (who for a while there was always to be seen in a bright red, near glittery shirt) is wearing a pair of large-frame orange tinted glasses which scream out '70s only marginally more than his floral body shirt.
You half expect him to shuck the pinstripe suit jacket and do his Dirk Diggler impersonation. Your fear esculates as he quotes a line from Boogie Nights. You sneak a look at your reflection in the mirror and surreptitiously check your breath as he explains how he is tempted to return to a shop where he almost bought himself a white suit.

You bring matters back to something safe, like homes, new homes. Tim has just moved to Melbourne, hundreds of kilometres from the city whose bus routes, bridges and takeaway stores he has used as backdrops for his tales of small-time affairs, petty disagreements and big-time love. Is this going to mean some dislocation in the muse, you tentatively push forward.
"I've been writing stacks (in Melbourne). I've written a triple album's worth of half songs," says Tim. "But they're not about Melbourne. I've written so much about Sydney and about ages (there's a song called Fifteen on the album) so I'm aware how that can become something... so it might be a good thing, moving, because it can sound a bit too smart rather than honest."
Except in country music, Australians normally are very uptight with name checking local signposts, something Americans do without thinking and the British have done equally fervently since Ray Davies made Waterloo Station a pop landmark. Tim's songs are unusual in that sense, that and the way they seem to find inspiration from every bargain bin and hidden corner of old record stores.

"People say, 'you must have been listening to The Kinks a lot', well around (the band's second album) Hi Fi Way I definitely was," explains Tim. "I'd never had Village Preservation Society before and I can freely admit (the influence) now because I don't care if people pick where everything is coming from. They (the songs) were so attractive and made me well up. It's ridiculous that I could be so turned on by this record from 20 years ago but you got to get it where you get it.
"In every review and story now people say, 'ah that's where Rogers got it' but I'm thinking, hang on, well this is what the band is doing. We've got our sound, people think they can pick it but I don't know if it's an Australian thing, a personal thing or we're too pretty and people think we're going to take their girlfriends, but it is just ours. It's scary to admit that, maybe I'm a bit too defensive."

Rusty butts in: "After the third album or the fourth album, no album can be directly linked together but they have a sound to them that is ours. When Hi Fi Way was recorded I don't think there were ant records that really sounded like that, that had all those influences in there. There were bands with songwriters trying to be Ray Davies but Tim's cleverer than that, got a wider vision."

So you have to ask, if this sound was so clearly theirs, why go mix it with a man whose reputation is not one of self-effacing studio boffin.
"We've never had anyone crack the whip before and we've so little patience for really nutting things through," says Tim. "Fifteen times through we go, 'yeah, let's record this' but the way they do things for that production quality, they wanted this clarity... really dissected arrangements.
"When bands say, 'we're not going to be fucked around (by a producer)', I can appreciate that if they really know what they want. But I don't think we know what we want, we're not afraid to listen to someone else... and then slag them off in interviews for years."
Adds Rusty: "George likes to try to get a combinaton of the spirit you are after and then refine it, more rounded." To which Tim says: "We're all for spirit, but you know we signed a bloody big record deal and we aren't going to sit around whingeing that they want something better in production qualities."
The vocals certainly hav a definite roundness, more smoothness, I venture, prompting Tim to preen archly in his favourite Noel Coward voice: "I am more rounded, smoother."

The thing is, of course, that the pristine sound of What I Don't Know About You, the first single, is not necessarily typical of the album, with rocking transistor radio sounds on The Cream & The Crock and Rumble, rich soul tones reminiscent of Rolling Stones albums from the early '70s on songs such as Come Home Wit' Me and a garage punk vocal on Billy. The album isn't all sweet in other words.
"No, it's very cross," says Tim. "The album's just trodden on a tack," parries Rusty. "It's is a lion with a thorn in its paw," offers Tim, to which Rusty adds "and the listener is a small mouse."

The day after the interview the band heads Stateside for a week of pressing the corporate and media flesh before the worldwide release of You Am I's #4 Record. It's a pretty happy or at least relaxed, trio sitting here.
"With the knocks we've had this year and the business sort of things, everyone's just looking forward to getting together," says Tim. "Sort of Famous Five, very Enid Blyton."
A snort from Andy: "What's the dog called (in the Famous Five)?"
A giggling Tim replies: "Timmy," before going on to elaborate on this sang froid. "We're just doing what turns us on now because we keep being shown postcards of the mountain but never see the top: 'This is the year boys, this is the year', and it inevitably falls away."
Says Rusty, "It's like in England, you read about these bands so desperate for it, whatever it is. We don't really care what it is."
The problem with IT is that in five minutes it's THAT.
"We've had seven minutes of that now," Tim laughs behind his orange shades.

Programmed by Timothy Adrian Rogers:

I'm A Confused Man - The Headcoats
Howard Johnson's Got His Hojo Workin' - NRBQ
Fat Man In The Bathtub - Little Feat
Embarrassment Head - Ice Cream Hands
It Don't Bother Me - Bert Janseh
I.O.U. - The Replacements
Some light witty banter musing on the chutneys of Russell Hopkinson
Non-alignment Pact - Pere Ubu
I Looked Away - Derek and the Dominoes
Don't This Road Look Rough And Rocky - Flatt and Scruggs
Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage Mrs Worthington - Noel Coward
Future/Now - MC5
The Jet Song - the cast of West Side Story
Tom Courtenay - Yo La Tengo
Nowadays A Woman's Gotta Hit Her Man - Captain Beefheart

Programmed by Russell Keith Hopkinson:

96 Tears - ? and the Mysterians
Stronger Than Dirt - The Mummies
So Sharp - Dyke & The Blazers
Steppin' Dub - King Tubby
Last Of The Big Time Spenders Pts 1 & 2 - Winehead Willie and Sweet Lucy Brown
I'm A Hog For You - The Groupies
Kissin' Cuzzins - The Von Zippers
Rocking Chair - The Band
Who Do Ya Love - Bo Diddley
Fat Gold Chain - Schoolly D
Liquorice Twist - The Kaisers
Free Arthur Lee - The Make Up
B.A.B.Y - Carla Thomas
Prince Of The Rodeo - Turbo Negro

Programmed by Andrew Charles Kent:

I Never Loved A Man and Drown In My Tears - Aretha Franklin
I'm Glad You're Mine - Al Green
Move On Up - Curtis Mayfield
All In Love Is Fair - Stevie Wonder
II BS - Charles Mingus
Care Of Cell 44 - The Zombies
Cool It Down - Velvet Underground
Voodoo Chile and 1983 - Jimi Hendrix
Kick Out The Jams - MC5
When My Baby's Beside Me - Big Star
Marquee Moon - Television
I'm Straight - Modern Lovers
Carnaby Street - The Jam
Strutter - Kiss
No Action - Elvis Costello