With Fondest Disregards

Oh goody, the gang interview, where you get a whole band throwing in their two bob's worth. And the subject here is You Am I - rock and roll outlaws to a man. When the wives and kids let them be.

And that's You Am I, who now get described in terms like 'elder statesmen' and 'decade-on veterans' of The Rock, Oz variety. Tim Rogers - in suit, tie and vest though it's still fairly early in the morning - is the leader of the band, and gets most of the good quotes in, starting with bemusement at their new, almost respectable standing. "Yeah, when did that happen?," he questions, "In the space of a week, suddenly we weren't the 'new, hot, young, fresh things' anymore."

But as he does often, he switches from the flippant to the thoughtful in a sentence. "But I guess we are down the track a bit. Not many Australian bands even get to make five albums, and we are lucky that people still have an expectation that we're going to make a new album of great songs rather than saying things like 'yeah, well they're not gunna do songs as good as that hit single of four years ago'."

"What it comes down to for us is creating something, something passionate, naive, and just having the experiences of it, good and bad."

This is the position that You Am I find themselves in now, with the release of said fifth album, Dress Me Slowly. There's the classic big national tour to go with it, under the banner of Reverence & Disregard.

Reverence & Disregard for what, gentlemen?
Tim again gets in first: "For rock and roll, of course. I still get caught up in the history, the romance of it. Like when someone says 'come and record in LA, The Stones did some recording at this studio in 1972, and we're like 'HEY! ALRIGHT!', we're there."

"The Disregard I have is for what's purporting to be rock in some places today. Cutting the sleeves off your shirt, putting in some hair dye and going 'RAAAAWWWWWKKKK!!!!' and bleating the angst of how you were mistreated as a child - that's not rock to me. Yes pal, you're a step closer to the edge, but what are you going to do when you get there?".

But for a bunch of blokes, three-quarters of them doing it for a decade, can they still be a boys gang when they go out on the road?
"Totally," is the definitive Rogers response.
Andy Kent is a little more thoughtful: We're all that bit older. There are marriages, children. That puts an emphasis on having to stick together, and be true to what we do."
Tim again: "We know when we get together we can be a gang of 15 year olds. Those closest to us know that, and accept that's what we do. My two month old daughter already knows I'm a complete fucking flake - dancing around the house to old Nazz records - she really likes those incidentally."
Rusty Hopkinson still can't quite believe it all: "We recognise how lucky we are, that we can even say that this is our job is pretty incredible, having played in lots of bands who have never made a dime, never travelled, never did anything. And that's not saying we're going to be millionaires out of it. It's just about doing what we do. And it's ours."

"There's the perception in some places that we are all buying our second beach-front mansions," Rogers muses, "and yes we have sold some records, and have had some acclaim. But we still have troubles paying the bills. Like that Juice list of the 50 most powerful/influential/whatever people in Australian music - I'd say I'd be one of the few on it that has trouble paying the mortgage some months."

"But that's not the only reason you get in the van, it's because there's a gig at the end of it, where you can make a racket for an hour or two."

There is money to be made, particularly if a band is prepared to do it 'the American way'. Having been through some real ups (a well received tour with Soundgarden) and downs (not having a record deal there at the time to capitalise on the good notices) in their dealing with the USA, You Am I at least now know what they are dealing with.

Tim: "It's not a need anymore, the fascination is different - it's great to be in Memphis or New York, but the bullshit of being told to talk with certain record company people, or certain radio people just sucks the life out of the whole band."
"To be stuck on some bad tour, dragging your arse across America for no result - I don't think I could face that again," agrees Rusty.
"It can be a nightmare," according to Andy, "the attitude that they'll only release something if they know it's going to work."

One of the reasons Dress Me Slowly has been so long in coming was a whole season of recording was trashed due to disagreement with the approach of a producer appointed by their American record company. Everything was to be 'loud and proud', all big hooks and no substance. "The songs that are on this record are the ones that were untainted, the ones that the producers didn't try to fuck with - those ones ended up as b-sides."

"Here's a copy of this Dave Matthews Band record, can you make it sound like this?," is how Russell describes the career advice.

"But some younger American bands seem to go along with it, love it even. We met some bands over there, and the first thing they say is 'so, who you signed to? who's you're A&R man?," Tim despairs, "Should we mention that a young guy we met named Marilyn Manson was right up there in that attitude?"

"The strange thing is you get noticed, and get signed because you are different - and as soon as they sign you it's 'ok, change now', and they do."

So, Tim, with all the shit of it, how do you still write happy rock and roll tunes?
"Ahh, that's simple. I'm in one of the handful of great rock and roll bands in the world. I've got a beautiful wife, a beautiful little daughter, a handful of good friends...."
"...a good car..." Rusty interjects.
"...and a wish my footy team was doing better." the North Melbourne AFL tragic adds, before he goes on, showing some of the idealism is still intact: "It's just the nature of it, a bit of bullshit purpose about it, some heart and soul. Just getting up like we did for Studio 22 the other night, and just having a frigging ball with these guys. What more could you want?"

So, you're just a good old-fashioned rock and roll band?
"We're a GREAT, old-fashioned rock and roll band," he corrects, firmly. No argument here.

You Am I's Reverence and Disregard Tour with Eskimo Joe and The Vines is at The Enmore Theatre on Friday. Dress Me Slowly (RCA) is out now.

Ross Clelland