Real Adult Craziness

Sitting in a noisy Surry Hills cafe, Andy Kent shrugs and tells me he supects things are going to get a bit crazy this year. His eyes are glued to the copy of You Am I's new album, Hi Fi Way, lying on the table between us.
Things are already a bit crazy. Only minutes previously I had knocked a full glass of latte over. The album is sticky and stained. In years to come, it will fetch a record price at a rock auction, I'm sure. Andy is philosophical about the accident. As a waitress mops everything up, he notices that the only part of the cover not stained is the lyric section for the track, Handwasher. 'Wash my hands in shame... 4000 times a day / for while I service your greed / I'm still dying to be clean'. Perhaps a tenuous symbolic link, but enough for Andy and I to exchange knowing glances.

"This year it will be real adult craziness," he says. "Anything that has happened for the band until now has only been teenage craziness. As long as it happens the way we want it to happen it should be okay. Good rock, good people and it should all work. I suppose the record company will want their money back."

Already both major monthly music mags have declared Hi Fi Way the most important Australian rock 'n' roll album to be released in recent years. It's very hard to disagree with that notion. You'd be hard pressed to fin a dud track on the album. The support, the sound, the quality of the rock, the packaging, the production; it all points to the album that will break this band. Produced in New York last year by Lee Ranaldo, Hi Fi Way has caught the band in full stride. However, Andy doesn't feel altogether comfortable with the glowing press notices and attention.

"It's a bit weird," says Andy. "I just look at it as another recording that I'm happy with. Five stars and raving reviews... I don't know. It's like we're not being given any room to further develop. Does this give them the right to kick us in the future? I guess we're lucky and we should make hay while the sun shines. This album is a healthy gut reaction. When we made it, we were all match-fit; we'd been touring so much and our creative juices were flowing."

Prior to recording the album, You Am I had been traversing North America as Soundgarden's special guests, seeing the band play in front of some fairly large audiences. But it was a tour of contrasts. On the one hand, You Am I were on the same bill as one of America's biggest bands, but on the other they were largely unknown.

"One night we played at the Memorial Stadium in Seattle and the next night we played in a divey little nightclub and by far the best gig ws the club. The venues we played during the tour were mainly sporting facilities and the capacities varied from 5000 to 26,000. The first few times we played those stadiums was weird, but you get used to it." It was a weirdness that perhaps caused Tim to have a bit of an 'episode'. He felt pressured to come up with new songs for the album, he felt homesick and, he says, he was drinking too much. "I was worried that we were all going to end up thinking we were a little better than we are because we were touring with Soundgarden," says Tim. "There was no need to worry in the end. The Soundgarden blokes are more centred and down to earth as anyone."

Whether he is performing in front of 20 people or 20,000, Tim Rogers is a visually captivating rock 'n' roller. His performances are almost tales of legend now. While Hi Fi Way might be the disc to cement the band's future, Tim has attracted so much attention from the press in this country by virtue of his unique grasp of performance, that You Am I has been regarded as Australia's new rock beacon for these last couple of years. When he's about the only performer to look into the audience among a sea of sneaker-scrutinising bands, it's hardly surprising. "We've been the next big thing for years now," Tim says.

The reality of it si that Tim is hesitant to accept notoriety, success and the trimmings that com with all of that. He's almost embarrassed about the number of 'famous friends' the band has and he's always appeared uneasy about other people's reactions to the band. "Last night I didn't get any sleep because I felt uncomfortable about reading that Rolling Stone review (of Hi Fi Way). It shouldn't make me feel uncomfortable. It's very basic - it's just three blokes in a band. I know it's a fashionable thing to be racked with doubt about fame, but I think this band should really be known for being a good rock band, at times."

A year ago Tim told me his initital reaction was to recoil from people when they wanted to talk to him. Now he realises that he's always done that, even as a kid. He does seem a lot more at ease about the You Am I phenomenon now.
"Nowadays we tend to giggle about the peripherals that come with being a band. As a band we giggled about the ARIA award, (Most popular Independent Band). We're serious about what we do. It's a craft and like any craft, we just want to get better at it. I've been asked what it's like to be famous even when I wasn't - not that I am now - so it really doesn't figure."

Do you ever get sick of any aspect of playing in a band?
"I sometimes get a bit sick of being in this particular band because it does appear at times that the band has become an entity unto itself at the sacrifice of the personalities. When you feel yourself losing perspective that you are just a guitarist singing in a rock band, you can feel yourself getting het up about it all, and that's when you've just got to concentrate on getting better at what you do."

Variation could well be a saving grace, which is where some of those famous friends might come in handy, Like Ward Dotson of the Liquor Giants. One idea is for You Am I to act as a backing band for somebody else, like Dotson... Or Tex Perkins? He seemed to fit in rather well when he joined the band for a couple of songs at the Metro recently.

"I lost my voice that day and when Tex came on and started singing I thought, 'Oh, so that's what you're supposed to sound like.' I don't know whether Tex would want to work with us on a larger scale. I can imagine he'd end up punching me out because I'd whinge or something."

In March You Am I will jet off to the United States, their third journey there. This time they'll be busy promoting their debut album, Sound As Ever which has just been released there on the Restless label. The result, according to Andy, is that the band have been rehearsing two sets: A set that covers their older Sound As Ever period songs and another that will satisfy local audiences. "It sounds crazy," says Andy, "but I guess that's rock 'n' roll".

John Tingwell