obvious answer is the varying degrees of mainstream
radio support. Simply put, a few years ago, Austereo
decided Powderfinger were the new Cold Chisel, while
continuing to ignore You Am I, an outfit many consider
to be the country's best rock band.
Rogers is more self-deprecating, putting it down to
a matter of voice.
"Bernard (Fanning, the Powderfinger singer) has
got an amazing voice and I haven't. Every time I've
been interviewed in the last couple of months, I've
been asked how I feel about not being as successful
as these other bands. It's obvious - the guy can't
sing. But it physically feels good, and we like to
give it a bash. Bernard and Nick Cester (Jet) can
sing a phone book. They're freaks. But our heroes
are the guys who didn't get hits and sell a million
records - apart from those damn Rolling Stones, of
Which leads us to the Stones, who You Am I supported
in Brisbane after the main support, Jet, had to return
to the US to continue recording. And like Jet, You
Am I were a little taken aback by the conservatism
of the Stones' baby-boomer crowd.
"We were threatened to be kicked off the second
show because we swore too much the first night. There
were 57 complaints, including the Queensland Premier,
Peter Beattie, who I think was sitting in the front
row, because I said, 'You stole my seat, c---'."
Meantime, although Rogers doesn't think his band are
in Powderfinger's league, he does believe You Am I
still deserve to be on a major label, and has few
kind words for the industry bigwigs at BMG and rooArt,
the independent label to which You Am I were signed
before it was sold to the international giant.
It's bad timing, to say the least, to have so much
bad feeling when the release of a best-of album should
be a crowning moment for the band and label. It's
quite surreal to hear Rogers slag BMG as the record
company representative buys us another round of beers,
which only adds fuel to Rogers' fire.
Rogers is on a bit of a bender. Spotted at the Black
Keys show at the Prince the night before, when a You
Am I CD was played between acts, rather than be embarrassed
or try and act cool, Rogers was happily singing away.
This says a lot about the man.
Rogers says the best-of compilation, The Cream &
the Crock, was the band's idea, and they chose the
"I said to the band, 'We're going to be asked
to do a compilation at some stage, so let's do it
now rather than wait for BMG to say, 'You're losing
us too much money - let's put out a greatest-hits',"
says Rogers, adding that the band weren't told until
after they started planning the compilation that they
would be dropped.
It looks a little bit like a rushed job. Encased in
a large, old-style double-CD case that doesn't fit
in many CD racks, it has no liner notes save for some
personal descriptions of each member by a man in his
60s called Captain Ted, whom Rogers describes as "the
band's benefactor who cooks things like pumpkin cake
for us sometimes". (Ted describes Rogers thus:
"Decent chap, the little gin blossom; glad he's
forsaken the modesty and self-flaggelation (sic) for
some good old-fashioned cockiness and bravado. Dances
like a chicken and still can't get a decent haircut
Rogers puts the situation in perspective.
"You Am I started in the north-west suburbs of
Sydney, pretty f---in' dreadful, and the only thing
we had going for us was that we swung our arms around,
had a great drummer, and then we got a chance to see
the world. We did get those chances and had a wonderful
time, and we still do - we're going to go overseas
again soon. People seem to put this unlucky tag on
us, but we're the luckiest c---s in the world (with)
the stories we've got. Because, essentially, when
you're on your deathbed, what have you got? You've
"We did this great interview the other day on
Triple J with Robbie Buck, but he essentially cut
everything out apart from the questions like 'What
do you think of Jet?' and 'Why aren't you more popular
than the Vines?'. We're being set up as the band who
could have but didn't and we're failures. But when
we get into a room together, we're the masters of
our domain. It's not our time, it's not our year,
but there's 200 people in every town that dig us."
Longevity is more important to Rogers than hype these
days, and he feels a bit for Jet as he flicks through
the newspaper and notices they're having a war of
words with singer-songwriter and part-time actor Ben
"If we were quoted about everything we said when
we put out Sound As Ever (the band's 1993 full-length
debut), we would have been lynched. It's a pity that
everyone is waiting for them to slip up in pissed
talk and slag someone off, like that Ben Lee thing.
But they'll be fine, they'll live through it. Lyrically,
I don't get a lot from them, but the record's great,
"I mean, Nick Cester, that's an incredible voice,
man. He's a lovely chap, but he doesn't drink before
a show. Don't drink before a show? Get the nerves
out, go on a bender."
For the record, BMG is simply saying that You Am I's
sales have been slowly declining since the band scored
three consecutive No.1 albums in the late 1990s (with
17,000 sales, their last album, Deliverance, obviously
didn't deliver for BMG), and that it would let the
band go and would write off old debts.
In a statement released this week - and seemingly
contrary to Rogers' opinion - BMG managing director
Ed St John claims there's no ill feeling over the
split: "In my humble opinion, You Am I are one
of the 10 greatest rock'n'roll bands this country
has ever produced ... But regrettably, You Am I and
BMG can do nothing more for each other and we have
arrived at a mutual - and completely amicable - decision
to part company. We all wish Tim, Andy, Rusty and
Davey the very best of luck in the future. God bless
the lot of us."
But with such a loyal fan base, consolidated through
years of touring, does a band such as You Am I need
a major label in these technologically fluid times?
Rogers says You Am I were perfectly happy on rooArt,
with distribution through Shock, when Chris Murphy
sold his label to BMG in 1996 after You Am I scooped
the ARIAs with awards including best album, best independent
release and best group, for Hourly Daily. They've
received plenty of nominations since, but haven't
won another award.
I suggest to Rogers that theirs is a similar scenario
to Weddings, Parties, Anything, who were dropped by
rooArt after 1993's King Tide, also when their live
fan base was at its peak.
"Put on (WPA's) River'esque. Have they got River'esque
here?" he demands. Fortunately, the barman manages
to find WPA's best-of compilation, and plays it.
"River'esque, lyrically and musically, blows
my mind. It came out when I first moved to Melbourne
in '98. Mick Thomas is a total genius - I inherited
some testicular forte from Mick Thomas, more so than
anyone. I'll never tell him, because he's had enough
smoke blown, but people talk about Paul Kelly as being
'the Australian songwriter'. And Paul, obviously,
like Other People's Houses, it's beautiful, but Mick
Thomas did me a spin, and gave me a lot of confidence."
And back to the label question?
"If I had to sit down with another guy deconstructing
my writing style one more time ..." he says with
"I remember when we were mixing Hourly Daily
in LA, and Snoop Dogg was recording next door - we
had some interesting exchanges - and our A&R guy
for Warners at the time would say, 'Tim, are you sure
you want the first song on your first release in America
to be a five-minute ballad about the National Front?'.
They were trying to subtly make us get rid of that
song, and I was like, 'F--- you, dude'."
So, no, You Am I don't need a major label, and won't
be signing with one - not in Australia, anyway. They're
planning to start their own label to release their
At least they're staying together. With Rogers pursuing
a solo career with his new band, the Temperance Union,
and guitarist Davey Lane being given a second chance
to make it overseas under the nu-rock banner with
his other band, the Pictures, rumours have been circulating
that You Am I are about to call it a day.
Not so, Rogers says. The band will record an album
of his uptempo songs in January, and the Temperance
Union will be the outlet for his ballads and acoustic
"My mind's pretty bent at the moment. I'm floating
off somewhere in the ether at the moment, and I want
to articulate that.
"You Am I should make a belter. When you're in
the best rock'n'roll band I've ever seen - not the
tightest, but personality-wise - you want to exploit
that. Just make a fruitier record."
Will it be a relief to be free of a label's shackles?
"No, there were no shackles. BMG were really
good to us. We never had meetings with them about
songs. We just lost them too much money. There's no
mystery - You Am I just don't sell enough records
for that kind of outlay. So we're just going to make
records and set ourselves a budget a tenth of that
What did they spend the money on?
"We f---ed around a lot with recording, too much
time in expensive studios, and if there was a good
pub around the corner, got a little distracted. And
I think they were waiting to see if my voice would
get a little better, and it just never did. We took
chances, going overseas. As f---ed as some of the
decisions were that were made, we were lucky to get
It seems that once they realised they wouldn't make
it in the US, You Am I focused on giving opportunities
to the other bands, whether it was a leg up to local
acts such as Silverchair, the Vines and Jet, name-checking
Dallas Crane in a song, or touring with talented but
obscure (at the time) US bands such as the Strokes
and the Dirtbombs.
And plenty of these bands seem embarrassed that they've
been given a chance at international success while
You Am I are considered by some to be over the hill.
Rogers says those bands could do more to help out
than just talk You Am I up in interviews.
"They should give us a tour. I'd do anything
to play a tour with Jet. I'd love it - if you feel
pity on us, give us a support. I'll show you pity,
mate," he continues. "I'll drink you under
the table and then I'll blow you off the stage,"
he says half-jokingly.
It's good to hear some of the old Rogers bravado again
- the fact the usually cocky singer with the Pete
Townshend moves only once in the interview referred
to his band as "the greatest rock band in the
world" suggested his confidence had taken a hit.
It seems fame and fortune aren't particularly high
on Rogers' list of priorities, though. Besides, he'd
get himself into too much trouble if he was the best-known
songwriter in the country, slagging off other bands
to 12,000 kids at Rod Laver Arena.
He's seen what becoming the biggest band in the country
is like and how it can change people.
"Bernard's a champion, We've been mates for 12
years, and he stayed with us last year when my wife
put on this show at the Woomera Action Committee.
I said I'd take him to the greatest record store in
the world, Greville Records, and as we were walking
down the street, every five steps people were freaking
out at Bernard, saying, 'I love your band'. I love
the guy. When we used to bang around, he'd talk to
a chair if he thought it had some kind of reflective
quality, but he's become a bit hardened with people."
Let's hope Rogers keeps on bangin' and doesn't ever
By Patrick Donovan
September 26, 2003