A bit on the sideburns

Sydney's You Am I might be Australia's most influential rock band of the past 15 years, and we're not just talking facial hair.
Bernard Zuel reports.

You can mount a pretty good case for You Am I being the most influential, Australian band of the '90s. Since 1990, when Tim Rogers pretty much took over his brother's band (it's OK, he wrote a song about his brother to make up for it), they've made six studio albums. At least two of those - Hi Fi Way (1996) and Hourly, Daily (1997) - will probably be regarded as defining albums of the '90s. They were also the first two of four consecutive albums to get to No. 1.

  Kids in a candy store: (from left) Davey Lane, Andy Kent, Russell Hopkinson and Tim Rogers in Jacksons Rare Guitars & Amps shop in Annandale. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Pretty much by universal acclaim, You Am I are the best live band of their generation, putting on shows that are part revival meeting, part sweaty, noisy mass hugs. Along the way, they've given a leg up to bands such as Powderfinger, Silverchair, the Strokes, the Vines and Jet by taking them on tour, sharing their wardrobe and showing them how to drink. (The Silverchair boys were drinking hot Milo, of course.)
As a visit to a rock'n'roll pub in any town or city would confirm, they've inspired countless others to take up a guitar and do the windmill-arm thing, pick up a bass and look effortlessly cool or hit a set of drums with little care for self-preservation.

Sociologically speaking, their significance could lie in the fact that they may be single-handedly responsible for the continued existence of the sideburn in rock.
Now, with the release of a best-of collection, The Cream & The Crock, You Am I face the real music. On the couch are lead singer, songwriter and Kangaroos fan Tim Rogers; bass player and new manager Andy Kent; drummer and record company mogul Russell "Rusty" Hopkinson; and guitarist and fashion dandy Davey Lane.

First gig?
"The Cave in Surry Hills in 1990," says Rogers. "Sartorially challenged but enthusiastic."

Best gig?
"Cleveland, Ohio, 2002, to 20 people," says Rogers. "Or Greenwich Tavern, Perth, 2001, to a few more - both because of the right mix of great sound, cheerful folk and a bar tab."

Worst gig?
"Conveniently forgotten," says Kent.
Hopkinson: "That Crowded House farewell thing. Rock'n'roll just doesn't work at 4pm in front of 100,000 people and a camera crew of a hundred. It sounded lousy onstage and we'd just come off of a massive tour that nearly drove us all insane. We needed a rest."
Lane: "My first with the band: Powerstation, Auckland, May 1999. By the end of the show I was so ashamed of my guitar playing, the amp volume had crept down to nothing."

Favourite You Am I song?
"Drumming-wise, Rumble, because I nicked the drum beat from Kraftwerk's Showroom Dummies," says Hopkinson. "Or Minor Byrd, because it's the sound of a very white-bread punk drummer trying to be funky like a James Brown record and ending up sounding like something else entirely."
Rogers prefers Deliverance, Kent, Damage, and Lane, Guys, Girls, Guitars.

Favourite You Am I album?
"The next one's going to be wonderful," says Rogers, "but till now I really love Deliverance [2002], with Hourly, Daily still sounding great - great engineering on that record."
Kent's fave is Dress Me Slowly (2001), while Hopkinson and Lane like #4 Record (1998) - described by the drummer as "a rugged little rock'n'roll nugget released at a time when grand sweeping gestures and lush Pro Tooled symphonic post-rock were all the rage".

Complete the following sentences:
You Am I could never have been a boy band because ...
"I have a pathological aversion to hair products and, let's face it, I can't sing for quids and had a pizza face," says Rogers.
"We're a man band."
Kent: "The You Am I man is the natural enemy of the metrosexual man and, as we know, all metrosexual men secretly want to be in a boy band. It wouldn't work."
Lane: "We're a bit too scruffy, really."
Hopkinson: "And I dance like a drunken marionette."

Oasis were not complete nongs because ...
"they loved us," says Kent.
Hopkinson: "Well, apart from the obvious reasons that they like drinking, fighting and swearing, they're nice chaps, huge music fans, a brilliant band and exceptional huggers."
Rogers: "They were actually some of the most charming, hilarious and subversive young men I've ever met."

Davey Lane is ... "a wonderful room-mate," says Rogers. "Always has a can of tuna nearby and once I saw him doing sit-ups with a bottle of Stoli vodka in his hand."

Tim Rogers is ... "a true champion," says Hopkinson. "This kid's got a knack for pulling things deep from within his soul that other songwriters can only pay lip service to. A devoted father and kicker of a frighteningly good torpedo punt."

Rusty Hopkinson is ... "an enigma, a renaissance man and the best drummer in the world," according to Rogers.

Andy Kent is ... "my beloved room-mate on tour, bearer of the brunt of my daily badgering and a sweetheart who's as funky as all get-out to go with it," says Hopkinson.

Big sideburns are a perfectly good fashion statement because ... "they hide ears," says Kent. "Ugly filthy things."
Hopkinson: "Dennis Lillee had them, so did Slade, so do Jet. 'Nuff said."