union band

"It’s a very optimistic time for me right now," TIM ROGERS tells
ERIN FREE on the release of his brilliant new solo record Spit Polish.

Tim Rogers is not your typical rock star. When it comes to loading in, he carries his own guitars, and he hauls gear for the guys in his band too. Arriving at soundcheck for an intimate gig at The Basement - Sydney’s home of jazz, blues and roots music – Tim looks the part in a green velvet suit and white T-shirt, all sideburns and casual swagger, but walks in weighed down with guitar cases and equipment bags. Then just minutes later, as he walks through the club’s Blue Note Bar for our interview, he’s stopped by fans asking for some quick photos. "That’s my new screensaver," says one very happy young woman, as Tim cheerfully obliges for the snap. Maybe this is what has made Rogers such an indelible and beloved part of the Australian music landscape: his ability to keep his feet on the ground no matter what kind of heights he hits in terms of fame and recognition. Later that evening, Tim will even man the merchandise stand before the show, selling T-shirts and signing 7-inch singles while swapping stories and animatedly chatting to the punters.

This down-home quality is all over Tim’s new album, a crunching, country-tinged and deeply felt work recorded with a brand new band, The Temperance Union, made up of drummer Ian Kitney and bassist Stuart Speed (both of whom played on Tim’s debut solo release What Rhymes With Cars & Girls), and Melbourne guitar maestro Shane O’Mara, who also took on producing duties with Tim. But as with the first solo album, Spit Polish is a detour for Tim Rogers, and not a permanent home away from You Am I. He’s already got his first band’s next album written ("I want the next record to really show Russell off"), and is ready to book some studio time for July, with a possible release in October. The Spit Polish album and The Temperance Union just gave Tim a chance to shake it up with some different people.

"They’re fun people to play with," Tim says quietly, nursing a mineral water and the remnants of a shattering hangover. "Yeah, we were supposed to rehearse last night…but the pub got in the way! They’re invigorating people to play with. I really wanted this to be more of a band album than the Twin Set record. I didn’t want to get lazy and just put together a bunch of chords and some wistful lyrics. I really wanted to stretch it a bit, and play some rock’n’roll with some other guys to see how it feels…and it feels great! I really love these guys, and they’re genius musicians."

The roots for the Spit Polish record took hold in Spain, where Tim spends much of the year with his Spanish wife and young daughter. "Before I go on big plane flights, I always try to record something in case I crash," Tim says seriously. "So I did some recording with my brother-in-law over there, and I wrote most of the album there, just on this little hill in the country near where we live. And I had an image of Stuart, Ian and Shane playing them while I was writing the songs. I used to grab a six-pack and sit up there and write. Sometimes my daughter Ruby would come up there with me. I’d just drink and write the afternoon away; I had a real purple patch for writing songs while I was there. I love it in Spain, and it’s a great thing for a husband to see his wife deeply, truly happy. My wife Rocio has a wonderful family, and it’s great to see her with them. It’s great for Ruby too. I really enjoy it over there. They sure know how to cook an octopus over there too."

The track to Spit Polish then curled its way back to Australia, where Tim soon hooked up with Shane O’Mara, and recorded the album in his home studio. "I sought him out after hearing what he did with Lisa Miller’s record, which is just beautiful," Tim says of the chanteuse’s superb Version Originale album, on which he guested. "It was great recording the Spit Polish record. We did short days, and I get on really well with Shane. I don’t really look out for guitarists, you know? With Shane, it was just getting on really well together, and thinking ‘Oh, you can really play too!’ I think I really got it right this time with the recording."

After You Am I parted ways with their long time record label BMG, Tim has made the new solo album a personal concern, only licensing it to record company Festival Mushroom, and retaining all control. "Yeah, it’s my record. I paid for it, and I’m self-managed, which is proving very difficult by the way, but it’s just a lot of fun. My deal with Festival is really good and really relaxed. They help out with the publicity and things like that, and it’s just working out really well. I really know where I’m at with this deal."

Everything revolving around the Spit Polish album comes with the personal touch. Tim has spent hours stamping the labels on the 7" singles on sale at the show, and the intricate artwork is done by Aaron O’Donnell, who has a record label with Temperance Union drummer Ian Kitney. It’s real grass roots stuff, and it’s there in the songs too, many of which are ripped direct from Rogers’ own experiences. The album closeout is the raucous country waltz "Fun Part One", which details Tim’s experience with getting bailed up and criticised on the street and even in Melbourne landmark The Tote. "It’s all true," Tim laughs. "You know, I’m a target. But I’ve got a pretty good life…I just make it tough on myself. But for every guy who calls me an arsehole, there are three who’ll say ‘Hey, Berlin Chair was great!’ I just put myself out there, and that’s what I’ve done for the last fourteen years."

And being out there for fourteen years has put Rogers in touch with some of the biggest names in his musical universe. You Am I already supported The Rolling Stones in Brisbane last year, and have just locked up the opening slot for The Who in July. Tim’s also been invited by Wayne Kramer himself to sling on a guitar and join the revolutionary MC5 on their upcoming tour of Australia, as part of the band’s current practice of picking up guest guitarists around the world. "I really just want to play the guitar," Tim says. "That would be great. It’s kind of supposed to happen around the same time as The Who, so hopefully we can work something out."

But before that, there’s the tour with The Temperance Union, and judging from this show at The Basement – which is only their third in front of a paying audience – it’s going to be a wall-shaker. The songs sound tight, passionate and heartfelt, and two wildly energetic covers – The Stones’ "Live With Me" and Led Zeppelin’s "Houses Of The Holy", prefaced by Tim with "This is what it sounds like when your drunk uncles get up and play" – show a band dosed up with a true sense of fun. With a wry smile, Tim Rogers is ready to hit the road, and he’ll probably be carrying his own guitars too.

"Hey, I still don’t like flying, but I really like getting there."