Dressed For Success

You am I treasures sartorial elegance as much as the music, so they must be able to shop, right? Bernard Zuel carries the bags.

Maybe it's lucky Tim Rogers didn't hear it. As he and Dave Lane, who joined Rogers's band You Am I two years ago when he was just 19, were being photographed inside Crown Street's retro-cool Route 66 clothing store, a woman smiled benignly and said, "It looks like a father and son photo".
And, you know, she might have had something there, even if Rogers is only 32. After all, the Melbourne-based pair were both dressed in blue jeans, check shirts, chocolate brown 1970s jackets and outrageous sideburns.
Under his "all-day morning hairdo", the stringbean Rogers is also wearing the biggest pair of reflector sunglasses seen since the heyday of '70s motorcycle cop show CHiPS. The sunnies on the equally shaggy and slightly built Lane aren't exactly small either. Lane pleads innocence: "We just turned up at the airport dressed the same."

Rogers, however, can be the nattiest dresser in rock when he's in the mood. Which is why we suggested trawling through the shops on Crown Street while the pair were in town. You half suspect he made it a condition of Lane joining the band that he be able to carry off the rock 'n' roll panache in everything from big arm flourishes to retro suits and facial hair.
As a teenager, Rogers became as obsessed with trumpeter Horace Silver's outfits as his playing: "Typical Rogers," he laughs. "Hear the music and get obsessed with the clothes."
As we thumb through some shirts in the Zoo Emporium, Lane bemoans the return of retro and its consequent price rises. "The kind of shirts I want to buy you can't get now or they're $150," he says in his soft, small voice. "I don't have that kind of money to spend on a shirt. We get money for food [on tour]; there should be some kind of clothing allowance."
He smiles as he says this, but Lane (who took a fabulous white three-piece suit pulled together from a few op shops on tour last year) does confess that style doesn't hurt when you're thinking of joining a band. He also scrapes together enough money to buy a smart '70s business shirt while we're here.
"Apart from the music, that's one of the things that drew me to You Am I in the first place: a band that can play and doesn't mind taking care of its appearance." Rogers later offers that beyond the songs there's always been "a certain level of showmanship that attracted people" to the group.

The band has been around for 13 years, has released six albums (three debuting at No 1) including the new album, Deliverance and won a swag of ARIA awards. It boasts three long-standing members (bassplayer Andy Kent joined in 1992, drummer Rusty Hopkinson in '93 later).
But there's something both intriguing and endearing about the way You Am I, and Rogers in particular, have been reinvigorated by the arrival of Lane.
Eighteen months ago, Rogers told me that after two traumatic albums, fraught with overseas record company bastardry and bad luck that saw the band off the road for an uncharacteristic long break, the existing trio found itself drawn closer together rather than torn apart as outsiders expected.

What partly explained the cohesion was seeing things through the eyes of a new band member for whom the studio, the road stories, the dead-end small towns in midwest America were all fresh and exciting. "We weren't looking for anybody, but when we met it started making sense," Rogers says now. "And when Dave and I played together we fell in and out of rhythm and lead guitar naturally. We don't talk through everything in this band; a lot it is left unsaid."
It also helped that when Lane met the band over a drink he was the kind of fan who knew all the You Am I guitar parts and had a friend who ran a You Am I fan site. By the time Rogers invited him to join the line-up, Lane was two days into a university social science course, but needed little convincing.
"What was there to think about?" he asks. "It shouldn't have been as easy as it was [fitting into the band] but I'm still blown away thinking that I earn enough money to pay my rent and buy drinks at the weekend just by playing guitar."
"If you're going to be in a band you might as well do it because you like that atmosphere, that combination," Rogers adds quietly.
"Otherwise, you may as well go out solo and hire a band. For the past couple of years I've been saying, 'Look at the four people we've got in this band, a lot of my character, a lot of what comes out of my mouth is driven by them."'
That renewed enthusiasm for the band life comes at a perfect juncture, now that music magazines around the world are declaring that "rock is back" via bands such as the Vines, the Strokes and the Hives. You Am I, who can channel the Rolling Stones, the Who and a host of little-known garage rock outfits without even trying, are almost the quintessential rock experience, particularly live.
"If we wanted to change we would, but honestly, when we get together we get too much enjoyment out of it," Rogers says. "We know how good it can get and we just want to get back there repeatedly. We can't deny ourselves that.
"The only times when the band felt like it would implode were the times when we were most successful. The way we are at the moment, it's really easy to drink together, have fun together, there's no pressure to pull that apart."

One of the oddities of the group's long career is that not only has it inspired scores of imitative local acts, but it has regularly given a leg-up to bands that have gone on to attain the kind of massive success that has eluded You Am I.
Silverchair (the name of which is an amalgam of a Nirvana song, Sliver, and Rogers's Berlin Chair) were championed by the band from the beginning. Two years ago You Am I took a then-unknown band called the Vines on the road.
Last year, You Am I invited New York's the Strokes to open on an Australian tour. But something odd happened. The Strokes arrived just as they became that week's coolest band in the world.

In my review of the Sydney show, which was at the end of the tour, I suggested You Am I were straining too hard, trying to show they could out-rock the junior partners, when at their best they had it all over the impressive, but more limited visitors.
That sense of insecurity is something Rogers now concedes. "It's one of the unfortunate parts of my personality that I'm quite ambitious. [On that tour] we knew we had put together a great bill and we were trying figuratively to rip the roof off each night and I don't think we're that kind of band."
Did he feel he was having to work harder to win over the audience because so many of the industry types were there just to see and fawn over the Strokes?
"I only became aware of that in Sydney," he says. "And that's a little frustrating because in a blink of an eye suddenly you're on the other side. And it reminded me of an early tour we did with the [Hoodoo] Gurus where we could feel it.
"They were playing to most of the people, bringing in the crowd, but we were in some ways 'hot' and I'm sure that that bugged the hell out of [Hoodo Gurus'] Dave Faulkner. "I've got that in my nature, but I walk away [now]. It's a bad part of my character that can be entertaining to watch, but as a person and as a friend, as a dad, as a husband, it's a pain in the arse and I've got to work it out."
In the meantime, at least he'll be dressed nicely.