You Am I
- Time Is On Our Side
else, Tim Rogers is conspicuous by virtue of his frame.
Tall and thin, a little awkward, it's hard to miss him as
he strolls into a quiet cafe in the inner Sydney suburb
of Glebe sporting a brand new pair of purple sneakers. Adidas
Gazelles. His bandmates - "Rusty" Russell Hopkinson
and Andy Kent - are suitably impressed and not a little
amused, and the sneakers quickly become the centre of attention.
A passing motorist has already yelled a short, "At
least you wear 'em!" Everyone is smiling. It's a beautiful
June morning, and after six months of waiting around, things
are starting to happen fot You Am I.
A week before the Australian release of
their third lauded album, Hourly, Daily, You Am I embarked
on their fourth tour of America, centred around a string
of appearances on the Lollapalooza festival's second stage.
Hourly, Daily debuted at number one on the national ARIA
charts - the second consecutive You Am I album to do so
(their second album, Hi Fi Way, was the first). Hi Fi Way,
which went on to become You Am I's first gold record here,
has finally been released by the band's American label,
For a band that loves to play as much
as You Am I does, the inactivity of the past six months
- especially the delays caused by negotiations between Warner
and the band's Australian label, rooArt - has been a constant
source of frustration. The prospect of actually doing anything,
let alone playing Lollapalooza, is enough to set their energies
in motion, and the band is already warming to its task.
"We have this alter-ego thing at
the moment with here and overseas," says Hopkinson.
"We have a bit of a profile here, but we haven't broken
through in America yet. That's kind of good since we can
go there and just be another band playing some shows. I
hate the thought that we'd go over there and climb into
a big tour bus and act like a big band when we're not, just
because we've had success here. You gotta earn your stripes
wherever you go."
"Yeah, if you don't luck out with
a big hit," adds Rogers. "And we're not going
to. So it's, uh, good."
Like the Soundgarden tour before it, Lollapalooza provides
another great opportunity for You Am I. But Rogers, Hopkinson
and Kent are determined not to get carried away. "If
we seem a little lackadaisical about it," says Rogers,
"it's just that we've seen that kind of thing before
- 'Oh, everything's gonna go great'. And it just hasn't
happened to us."
"It's good to be a little bit pessimistic
about your opportunities," says Hopkinson. "Because
chances are, you're not going to make it. So you might as
well think like that. We can go over there and at least
have a laugh and we might make it, but it doesn't matter."
Round-table converations with You Am I
can be a daunting proposition. Rogers and Hopkinson tend
to dominate; Kent - who freely admits that interviews make
him nervous - is more cautious. Once Rogers and Hopkinson
are into their stride, the conversation is liable to lapse
into increasingly obscure tangents, usually concerning their
twin passions - music and Australian Rules football. "They're
both hyperactive, especially Russell," says Kent the
following day at his home in Annandale. "They have
incredible memories, it's uncanny at times. I've never met
anyone like those two. But I know when they're bullshitting.
One of them will go, 'What about this?' And the other will
nod and say, 'Yeah, yeah.' But I know that they don't know.
It's pretty funny, the battles that go on. It's fun, though,
I learn a lot from them."
Joining the trio on the road are long-time
sound mixer Cameron McCauley and second guitarist/keyboardist,
Greg Hitchcock, formerly of Sydney band the Verys and a
host of WA outfits. Hitchcock used to crew for You Am I,
and his appearance as the "fourth member" of the
band, at least as far as live shows are concerned, has led
curious fans to wonder, where does he fit in? "He fits
in right on the bar stool next to our three," says
Rogers. "There doesn't need to be a reason for any
kind of formal thing about it. Greg's been part of us for
a long while anyway, through just being a mate and helping
us out and living with Rus. So I don't think we need to
make a big deal about it. He just plays with us.
"For five years, six years, we've
been this three-piece thing. We wanted to play different
songs and we seemed to be hanging out with Greg a lot. I
wanted someone to muck around with guitar stuff. I wanted
to concentrate on some different things. It's not to say
that we won't be a three-piece next month. It's just that
we're enjoying it at the moment. I want the band to keep
doing different things. I mean, everything could be different
next month. Who knows?"
Now that Hitchcock has settled in, certainly
You Am I appear happier onstage. The long months of frustration
took their toll on Rogers, who began to develop a reputation
amongst audiences as a "difficult" performer.
For the first time in the band's career, You Am I cancelled
shows. At one particular showcase gig in Sydney, a noticeably
humourless and generally unpleasant Rogers welcomed the
assembled "freeloading fuckwits" and dedicated
a song to "all the other three-pieces from Perth and
Newcastle who are doing better than us in America".
Reminded of the incident, Rogers replies,
"I'll say anything after a couple of drinks,"
before continuing. "Sometimes when you're feeling a
bit shitty... The first five months of this year haven't
been really great. There's been all these hold-ups with
the record and people trying to ruin our chances of records
out in America. And you get a bit frustrated then and you
blow up. It's just because you've got a fucking microphone
in front of your mouth that a big deal gets made about it.
I'm not in it to fucking make friends with everybody. I'm
sick of that. We just look after each other."
"The thing is, up to now we've never
had a big machine behind us, pushing us like some other
bands," says Hopkinson, jumping in. "We've always
had to do our bit of hard work there."
Which is not to say that You Am I wouldn't like the benefits
such a machine can offer. "Having free drinks here
and there is always great," says Rogers. "But
look, people take shit like that too seriously. I don't
wish anybody ill will at all and good fuckin' luck to them,
but you know, we're allowed to get fuckin' caustic and shitty."
"We spent our last American tour
having virtually every American journalist asking if we
knew who silverchair was," says Hopkinson. "I
mean, of course I fucking know who silverchair are. Love
'em dearly, but I'm gonna start hating them dearly if you
don't shut up. The thing with silverchair is, it was the
perfect song for that time. You'd be in Ohio and walk into
a record store and there'd be the representatives of Generation
X looking through the racks with their pierced eyebrows
and 'Tomorrow' would be playing and it looked like a scene
out of Clerks or something. It made perfect sense."
"There's been this theory that we're
in competition with silverchair, Ammonia, bands like Regurgitator,"
says Rogers. "But they're doing their thing, as far
I'm concerned, it's fucking Carnaby Street out there, you
know? I'm not in the same mind set at all. So there's no
competiton. You're just all trying to get into the right
pair of trousers."
Later, as he sits over a bowl of baked
beans in the Annandale home that he's about to vacate, Rogers
offers a more simple explanation of the band's slide into
bitterness. At times like these, it's hard to reoncile Tim
Rogers, Angry Young Man, with the gentle, impossibly charming
person before you. "We were unhappy people then,"
he says. "And now because there's something happening...
Rus, he needs to keep moving. He's like a shark - if he
stops moving he'll die. And Andy has this plateau of contendedness
wherever he goes, he's so calm. But I've gotta keep moving
as well. It's confusing when everything stops. You just
don't think rationally. It's like a car brakes too suddenly
and there's no airbag. You smash straight into the railway
lines. I find that sort of depression after a tour really
hard to cope with. It really does fuck up your relationships
with everybody because they don't know how to handle it."
He pauses. "It's pretty hard to explain, it just sounds
like you're being a prima donna."
Hourly, Daily was the first You Am I album
to be recorded in Australia. Recording at Sydney's Q Studios
gave the band time to relax. It also let them go home at
the end of a day's work. Despite the easier schedule, the
band deliberately kept rehearsals to a minimum, keeping
their ideas fresh and their performances spontaneous. Jackie
Orszaczky gathered a string quartet and a small horn section,
scoring the melody the band hummed at him. Producer Paul
McKercher added the cello. "We're not going to labour
over songs till we kill them," says Rogers. "Two
of the songs ("Good Mornin" and "If We Can't
Get It Together") were actually written four days before
Hi Fi Way, written on the road and recorded
during, a hectic week in New York, benefits from a unique
sense of urgency. In retrospect, Rogers and the band are
happy - not to mention pleasantly surprised - with the results.
Still, says Rogers, "There was no clarity to it all,
It was just a bunch of songs."
Hourly, Daily, on the other hand, had
a deliberate sense of purpose. "I wanted to make a
record that could make you feel like you were 16 again for
an hour or so, or at least make you feel something,"
says Rogers. "It's a mixture of trying to emulate things
and also making something of your own. There's obviously
a deliberate thing coming through, but it's not like we're
going to be sloganeering or flag-waving. There's a bit too
much fucking flag-waving. It'd be nice if it just spoke
Asked to nominate just what records he
was trying to emulate, Rogers simply smiles and says, "That'd
be giving it all away now, wouldn't it?" Still, the
influence of the British beat sound of the '60s is undeniable
(and most often seized upon), and Rogers later name-checks
the Pretty Things pre-Tommy rock opera, SF Sorrow, as a
favourite of the time.
Given the overwhelming critical reaction
to Hi Fi Way, You Am I were entitled to approach Hourly,
Daily with a measure of caution. They didn't. "The
good thing about that," says Rogers, "is that
we garnered a bit of trust from people. So with this one,
we made the record ourselves - we got the people we wanted,
the studio we wanted, and no-one second-guessed it. The
good thing about doing well is that you can then do things
on your terms. It can be totally your record, and it's fucking
Instead of being a reaction to the pressure
to produce, Rogers ays Hourly, Daily "was more a reaction
to the fact that there were so many shit records last year
that people thought were so great, and a lot of records
were sounding exactly the same. It wasn't deliberately a
reaction against anything, but it was that mix of things.
In the end, it really didn't matter. It was just what we
were listening to at the time, the kind of music we were
It's the kind of music Rogers has been
listening to all of his life. "The biggest things to
ever happen to me," he says, "were Keith (Richards),
then it was Pete (Townshend), and then Paul Westerberg in
about '84. They're the big three, they always pop up. When
you go off on these little diversions, you come back again."
With the exception of Hi Fi Way, Rogers still won't listen
to You Am I's earlier material, which he describes as "a
lot of noise, making up for what you can't play.
"I always wanted to make a sound
like the Stones ot the Who, but we sounded nothing like
it. I can't hear it in those songs I was writing - at all.
I didn't know how to make those sounds - like the first
Who record - the sound of that record makes my whole world
swing, but I just didn't know how to make it happen. And
suddenly I've figured out how to make those sounds, and
I'm having the time of my life."
All that's missing is the one song at the right time. "We've
had a little bit of that with songs like 'Berlin Chair',"
says Rogers. "I mean, they never sold, it was just
pretty much that they're just familiar or something. But
it is time we had a big shitty hit, I reckon."
It's ironic that while You Am I have consistantly
moved towards a more "British" sound, they've
largely focused their international push on America. Todd
Wagstaff, formerly the band's A&R representative, left
rooArt to establish himself in Los Angeles as You Am I's
American management contact (Wagstaff co-manages the band
with long-term manager, Sydney-based Kate Stewart). Andy
Kent insists that the focus has not been deliberate - it's
merely that opportunities to tour and release in America
have presented themselves to the band; opportunities in
the UK haven't.
Still, the suspicion remains: You Am I
are making records that the American market just doesn't
want to hear. "We got a letter from Lee Ranaldo a couple
of months ago and it said exactly that," says Rogers.
"This is a record that Americans aren't going to get,
but I don't give a fuck if you don't give a fuck.' But who
knows? Maybe Americans aren't going to listen to the same
kind of bland, FM fodder for the rest of their lives. And
why try to make records like that? I want to make records
that are completely different from what's going on. And
that seems to correlate with the music that I, we, enjoy.
It's just knowing what you like and playing what you like."
Hopkinson's bag is overflowing with copies
of English music weeklies, Melody Maker and the NME ("He
just gets them for the pictures," jokes Rogers). "I
love the dynamic of the English music scene," he says.
"You've got these guys and they can make a band really
exciting. They're really governed by the now, not like here
or in America where most of the press is a month behind.
A band's career might only last a year, but it'll probably
be the most exciting year of their lives. And if a band's
good enough, it will survive."
But the English music press operates as
a two-way sword. "Australian bands have, historically,
just been mercilessly hammered over there," says Rogers.
"The thing about England now, and all these Australian
bands who are cutting their hair, everyone's saying 'Yeah,
I'm fuckin' into the Small Faces!' Personally, I couldn't
be bothered competing with little saps like that."
"Going there would be fantastic,"
says Kent, "but it'd be terrifying just to be trod
on and sent home."
"We've done that in America," says Rogers. "We've
been, not trod on, but just ignored and sent home. We can
With three more dates remaining on the
Lollapalooza tour, the mood within the You Am I camp is
less than buoyant. It's mid-July, and Hopkinson, on the
phone in New York, sounds tired and weary. The driving has
been arduous. "It's not been the most pleasant of experiences,"
he says. "I think a few people have taken a bath on
this. It hasn't been as big as they thought it would be."
This year's Lollapalooza, with Metallica
headlining the bill, has seen the second stage - traditionally
well attended - largely ignored. "It's basically Metallica
with 18 support bands," says Hopkinson. "That's
what the crowds have been like, anyway. It's interesting,
but I wouldn't want to do it again at this point.
"The thing is, when you play at 1:40
everyday, it's really bright and really hot. The second
stage finishes at 8:00 so the main bands can get under way.
It just hasn't been as good for the band as we thought it
would be in terms of playing to a lot of people. All the
bands would say that, be it us, or someone like Girls Against
Boys who are a bigger drawcard on the bill. They've certainly
had some decent crowds, but it's not been like it has in
other years. We've probably had a thousand people at most
and when you look at the whole scale of the thing, it does
kind of freak you out a bit because you go down to the main
stage abd there's 40,000 standing in the field waiting for
Metallica to play, throwing stuff at Rancid."
Still, wherever they go - be it Quebec
or Rockford, Illinois - there's always someone who knows
and loves the band. And the other second stage acts - Girls
Against Boys, Ben Folds Five, Cornershop - are aware of
the difficulties each band is facing. You Am I, Sherrin
football in hand, are making friends.
"The one thing about Lollapalooza
is, it's very culturally-defined," says Hopkinson.
"It's really directed towards body-piercing nation.
It's really alt-rock. And I think the thing about us, especially
on the second stage, we don't really have a spin. We're
just a bunch of guys who play rock & roll. I think that
gets lost in the translation because we don't really have
a schtick, we're just a rock & roll band. But that's
cool. We're the type of band that thrives under adversity.
For every 10 people in the crowd who don't get it, there's
always going to be three of four that do.