All for the love of You

By Simon Collins

I REMEMBER pretty clearly the first time I saw You Am I. It was at Fremantle Metropolis in 1992, I think, and they were supporting the almighty Beasts of Bourbon.

Three blokes with hair down to the seats of the jeans ambled on stage and started kicking out fuzzed-out rock tunes, augmented with moves straight out of The Who encyclopaedia of stage moves.

I clearly remember thinking: "Is this Tumbleweed?"

More than a decade later and there's no mistaking You Am I, nor their rock'n'roll legacy; six studio albums (three of which debuted on top of the Australian album charts), ripsnorting tour after ripsnorting tour and nearly enough ARIA awards to open a bowling alley using the trophies as pins.

The Cream & the Crock, a two-disc Best Of released next Monday, attests to the almost-legendary status of You Am I - almost-legendary because it ain't over yet, according to affable frontman Tim Rogers.

Despite the fact that Rogers lives in Madrid with his wife Rocio and young daughter Ruby, and the "end of an era" signified by a Best Of, he insists that You Am I are a busy little band.

They've just played the length and breadth of the UK, touring on a superb all-Australian bill with The Vines and Rocket Science.

"That last English tour," Rogers says from Sydney, "was probably the best one we've ever done. It was great fun.

"I loved meeting people on this tour. The young kids going to shows - especially The Vines shows - were really passionate about their music, very obsessive, which I enjoyed."

You Am I - Rogers, bassist Andy Kent, drummer Rusty Hopkinson and guitarist Davey Lane - have watched with fascination from the sidelines as the British media and punters fell all over The Vines. They've also witnessed the recent infatuation with their good mates, Perth's The Sleepy Jackson.

Meanwhile, the Sydneysiders - among this country's finest guitar bands ever - couldn't get arrested.

"We got told, 'We would write about your band if you weren't making your seventh record'," Rogers explains. "I appreciate that we got told that to our faces.

"That's just the way it goes. We're building up something really good in England at the moment, on a small scale. We're doing it by people coming and seeing our shows, then coming back and bringing their friends."

Rogers is deeply cynical about the whole "rock is back" hype, championed by Rolling Stone and UK magazines NME and Q. What's next, "jazz is back" or "polka is back"?

"It's ridiculous," he snaps. "I guess in popular culture there's a bit of a resurgence but there's always been great rock bands and there always will be."

But he does concede that a front cover or strong review in those publications can "save you a couple of years ploughing around".

"We like the ploughing around," he continues, "and doing the actual work. It's not a means to an end, as far as we're concerned, it's an end in itself. We really enjoy doing that night after night . . . with the occasional night off."

While the British slowly catch on to You Am I, helped by the May release of taster compilation No, After You Sir . . . An Introduction to You Am I, there are also moves afoot in the US. Smallish label spinART is poised to release last year's Deliverance album and the band toured there not so long ago with another buzz band, The Strokes.

Rogers, again, has nothing but good things to say about that US tour.

"I'm enjoying touring more than I ever have, which is ironic because it means I'm away from my family. But I guess because I'm away from them I want to put more attention into playing.

"Each night we're out, we feel like we have something to prove and want to put on the best show we can. It's fun, dude," he says. "It's totally fun and emotional and dangerous - all beautiful."

This is not the talk of a seasoned campaigner but more a hungry youngster. Rogers is writing songs for the next You Am I album, and even penned two new ones for The Cream & the Crock - Mr Kermode and the Million Matches, and What They do at Night.

He says the latter song came from "watching a rockabilly band at a pub in Melbourne and wondering whether these guys worked in offices the next day or cleaned your toilet".

Both tracks were recorded in a North London studio during the recent UK tour, and Rogers loved recording it with his bandmates and "eccentric" producer Mike Pelanconi. They appear on the ill-named Crock disc, which features personal favourites Cool Hand Luke (off 1993's Coprolalia EP), Sound as Ever, Applecross Wing Commander and Minor Byrd.

Rogers agrees that there's plenty of cream on the Crock disc: "I'm glad it's a two-disc thing so it's not just the singles, because I don't think the singles tell the whole story."

However, he is not a fan of You Am I's early work. He describes the Coprolalia EP as horribly dated, and is also somewhat dismissive of their excellent debut album Sound as Ever. "I wrote and played that record when I was 22," Rogers explains. "I'm not the same person I was then. It's odd listening back to it and what my obsessions were."

The forthright frontman is even guarded about Hi Fi Way, their first No. 1 album and the release that earned them a legion of fans in 1995.

"People who are really into the band love that record," Rogers begins. "I feel very affectionately about that record, it was a really exciting time for the band . . ."

But? "I think, just personally, that the lyrics weren't that good," he continues. "There's a lot of songs where the lyrics just didn't mean anything. Like Cathy's Clown. What it's about is the performance of the band, it highlights that and the words were just something to blah blah blah along and add a bit of melody to it.

"I just didn't have the ability to put my thoughts into words as much as I do now. I think I'm better at it now. I prefer anything that we do now a million times more."

Nonetheless, Rogers is still glad that You Am I have issued the Best Of, mainly because of the opportunity to come back to Australia and tour with his chums.

"Any excuse to get together with those guys and have a drink is a good thing," he chuckles.