You Am I

Fronting a band like You Am I was all Tim Rogers had ever dreamt about as a 14-year-old. In the past eighteen months, the Sydney trio have proved to be one of the country's biggest acts.
The Hourly, Daily CD came in at No. 1 and showed honesty and passion of Hi Fi Way was no flash in the pan. Their hard touring has ensured that their success is deeply rooted in the music, not based on hairstyles or image.

You Am I are firm believers that constant live work provides a new band with an identity and with some money. So when a record company offers a deal, they're in a position to demand artistic control. As Tim points out, with few opportunities for a new band to play live, there's always a sad tendency to "manufacture an image, or sell their souls to the record company." The guitarist and singer would be the first to admit that being in a band is a strange lifestyle.

"I only seem to know where I am if I'm on the move," he says. "I haven't even got my own house, I'm staying with a friend of mine at the moment. Playing 200 shows a year is a hell of a way for someone in his 20s to spend his life, but then again, that's all I ever wanted to do."

You Am I are, after all, one of the major names in the "new guard" that has taken over Australian pop in the last 18 months. Their nine nominations and big win at the ARIA music awards in September was a testament, not just to the growing power of the trio but to the new movement.

Interestingly, on the day of the awards the multinational BMG bought out Sydney record company rooArt whom You Am I are signed to. Rumours were that BMG primarily bought the label to get You Am I. The rooArt people had passion and vision for their acts. But they didn't have the resources to break them overseas.

The day after the ARIAs, which You Am I closed with a rocking version of The Easybeats' '60s hit I'll Make You Happy, Rogers, Andy Kent, Russell Hopkinson (and live member Greg Hitchcock) took off to Europe to tour with The Lemonheads.
They're also starting to build up in the United States. They still have not cracked radio airplay, but are signed (for America) with the massive Warner Music. They also toured on Lollapalooza, and their profile also went up when the influential trade magazine Billboard featured them on their front cover.

Is Australian music on the verge of a big impact overseas?
"Historically that answer would have to be no. It's pretty obvious not many Australian bands have done well in big markets overseas. It doesn't really bother us much. It would be nice if it happened, but we're not going to let it get us down. It took us four years here to get people to actually come to see out shows. We're kinda used to being unsuccessful.
"As for other bands, it looks like Regurgitator are going to do really well in the States this year. Spiderbait are going over. Obviously Silverchair will do well.
"It seems to me if bands do well, they can put out records and be consistent. But when the overseas (factor) comes into it, you've got to spend so much of your time travelling that there isn't the time to re-evaluate what you've done. We've been finding it hard to get back to writing new songs at the moment because we haven't been off the road."
You Am I's '97 touring schedule kicks off with Oz dates with good buddies Soundgarden. Both acts toured the US in 1994, and again on Lollapalooza '96.

All indications are that the next album will be tougher, Hourly, Daily was a beautifully made record. Half the songs were written on acoustic guitar, and the demo's were made in Tim's bedroom in Sydney. While the first two albums were made in New York, Hourly, Daily was recorded in Sydney with local producers Wayne Connolly and Phil McKercher and featured strings and horns.

But Tim is adamant it's time to make something a lot more "scummier", as he laughingly puts it.
"It's a bit of a temptation at the moment, with the profile of the band and me as a songwriter, to get all Costello-ish, and write smarter chords. But really, this is the time to think less and act on impulses and sounds of chords, rather that make everything sound smart. So that's on thing that isn't going to happen with this band. We are going to become increasingly dumb and keep a little of that moving forward."

It took five years of playing in You Am I for Tim to get the sound he wanted. "We had kind of a shitty grunty sound early on. Then we were doing Hi Fi Way and working with Lee Ranaldo (the Sonic Youth member who produced their first two records), he brought in the Tonemaster. He had a couple of Rickenbackers. I realised that's how I could get the sound I always wanted. You know, I could sound like (The Who's) Pete Townshend in '65, '66. Suddenly it was all there. It's just (been a case) of refining it since. The clang and attack are all there, not just the distortion pedal."
His sounds come from Tonemaster and Telecasters, "and a little home-made Rickenbacker copy. Very little pedals and stuff like that. Very straight. Just guitars and amps, and a whole lotta look."

Rogers has strong ideas on which records influenced his work.
"The first Who record, The Who sing My Generation, kills me in more ways than one. The first Move album. The Rolling Stones records from '68 to '72 are perfect... Exile on Main Street, Get Yer Yas Yas Out which was the first Stones record I got. Today it is (New Orleans piano player) Dr John's Gris Gris and Revival by newcomer Gillian Welch, "a beautiful beautiful record."

What advice would he give young players and writers?
"Just not get swayed by what would be popular at the time. If it moves you, then go for it. Playing with people you bounce off well is thing, if you're in it to further your career, it seems a bit silly. There's too much fun to be had."

By Greg Segal and Mark Cromelin