Recently, to escape the digital
vulgarity of the '90's, my head has fallen deep into the
'30's. I've got the suits and the hats and a deco office
'downtown' and cornball big band oldies on the radio-gram.
There's a bakelite phone and no TV (the sudden appearance
of a 'gobbledock' commercial could blow the mood completely).
Some nights the war just hasn't happened yet.
My dame won't tolerate this nonsense.
I'm playing dress ups, she says. Being a pretender, she
says. Exposing myself as an immature, stupid wanker, she
says. Well. Perhaps we can still be friends!
Tim Rogers, guitarist, vocalist
and principal songwriter from You Am I, reckons I should
tell her to scram.
"That's so unfair!" he
fumes, genuinely concerned.
"Life is all about dress-ups. What is this obsession
that modern dickheads have where we all have to stop playing
dress-ups? Fucken why? It's just a real fantasy, child-like,
kid thing and long live it. If you're not into that and
you want to be just very contemporary, well that's fin.
But I refuse! The fact that feeling comfortable about the
style of a certain time is fucken great. Y'know, life's
not easy - it's fucken bad som times, man - and if there's
somthing, ANYTHING, that can get you through it, congratulations,
you've found it! That's better than being a sad bastard."
"It's a great mindset to be
in," adds drummer Rusty Hopkinson. "A lot of people
lose it when they realise they've got to grow up and get
serious about their lives, and some people might feel they
have to but y'know, you should never be pressured into that.
Also, when you're in a band, it's incredibly easy to be
young and stay like that. Slightly retarded. If we had to
work in 9 to 5 jobs and be normal we'd be very dull."
"Y'know, long live the genuine
eccentrics of rock and roll," Rogers declares. "I
don't know if they even exist in this era... everything's
so blanded out - all this indie stuff in the States.
"But I wouldn't know that it's Foveaux Street out there,"
he says, pointing out of the window at one of Sydney's more
heartbreakingly no-nonsense streets. "I prefer to believe
it's Carnaby Street in 1966. That's what gets me through
Getting to pop musicians is never an easy
business. The way is an unhappy gaunlet of music industry
personnel, who seem to want to keep the artist in some Hauseresque
dungeon, far from the touch of the plain people of Earth.
It took me weeks to get to You Am I but,
when I finally did - on the very eve of a tour of America
which will include a stint with the notorious Lollapalooza
tour - the industry buffer zone began to make sense for
Tim Rogers, Rusty Hopkinson and Andy Kent are so spiritually
bonded that it seems a shame to expose them to another human
influence at all. Listening to their 'private' conversations,
one feels they have managed to create their own world of
which they are the only inhabitants. You Am I might not
be too fond of the comparison, but the intensity of their
bond reminds me of the ironclad unity that belonged to The
Sharp. It's an Alice In Wonderland ambivalence to cultural
progress and it's honest form is rare in pop music.
"I think when you get a group of
people and they're doing something as a whole, it's much
greater than any individual thing," says bassplayer
Andy Kent. "That's what people want ot look at, I think:
a group of people creating something greater than their
Tragically for lovers of art, record companies
believe that the only way to repeat a certain success is
to duplicate every detail of that success, right down to
the clothes and the haircuts.
You Am I could've been the unhappy heirs to the throne vacated
by Kurt Cobain's shotgun. They were being groomed for it
- Australian ambassadors to the Seattle movement. Happily,
the industry found a more workable representative in a premature
'90s revival band called Silverchair.
The heat removed, You Am I have been free to explore and
far from conforming to any contemporary expectation, have
descended into the vaults of rock and roll, emerging not
as mere educated revivalists, but unmistakably touched by
the spirit of the artform.
"This band is all about us living
out our fantasies in a lot of ways," says drummer Rusty
Hopkinson. "I mean, we are a very generic, classic
rock group really, but that's because we grew up on it and
we love it and we want to emulate all of our heros, y'know?
Hopefully we'll never be found lying face-down in a pool.
We do it with a nod and a wink. We know the inherent ludicrousness
of rock and roll, but that's also the best thing about it.
The '80s chilled that off, tried to make it sensible music
for sensible people. Thank God we've got bands like Oasis
coming back, who are just a bunch of pillock who play half
decent music and like a laugh."
Hourly, Daily, You Am I's third long-player,
is not a retro album, but it glows with the romanticism
of a time when rock and roll seemede propelled by something
other than good business. Leaving the lazy trappings of
'90s grunge far behind, You Am I sonically align themselves
with '60s groups like The Creation, The Move, MC5, The Remains...
bands who were almost too reckless to be heard in their
But the references to such groups on Hourly, Daily is mostly
vague and never direct. Most of the time, Hourly, Daily
is more reminiscent of XTC, who, by singer/songwriter Andy
Partridge's own admission, were a monument to "the
history of rock and roll... all its wonderfullness and terribleness"
and built from "...all the little pieces of other people's
stuff that has entered my ears..."
It's the perfect record for one who's
empathy with rock and roll is in its twilight.
"I think when you try to keep up with everything that's
current," says Tim, "it all becomes too intellectual
or something. Like, all these indie-rock Nazis saying that
you've got to know what's happening everywhere at once.
I think it's good to just obsess on something if it really
"Go and buy some Mummies records,"
Rusty insists, like a coach revving me up for the game.
"Go backwards. There's this great band called Jackie
and the Cedrics, and they do old covers and they write Apaches-style
surf songs. Y'know, just listen to them do Scalping Party
once and you'll believe there is a reason for all of this.
"The bands that didn't make it are
always infinitely more interesting than the bands that did.
Everybody knows what The Beatles sound like, but nobody
knows what Fleur-de-Lyse sound like, or Fire, I think everybody
should be forced to listen to those things if they don't
like rock and roll. It's awesome."
To see You Am I live is like witnessing
The Who in their heyday. Loud and theatrical, it's stadium
stuff and it makes one wonder what the whole anti-performance
cool of the '80s was about. Naturally, Tim Rogers finds
himself being called a tosser for daring to put on a performance.
"Anyone who criticises anyone for
bashing up drumkits or swinging their arms around when they
play the guitar obviously doesn't know how much fun it is
to do that stuff," he laughs."It's more for the
person that's playing the instrument. I couldn't give a
bollocks about the people at the back row. It's too much
fun on stage to worry about the people at the back.
"We've never been in this position
before, with people saying 'Oh, it used to so much fun seeing
you guys play in little pubs, and now you're really arrogant
and everything.' Well we're still get used to it ourselves,
and as soon as we do, we'll be back playing in tiny places
in front of two people 'cause our whole thing will have
taken a tremendous nose-dive. And I guess that's something
to look forward to."
Anybody who's seen the original 1956 version
of The Fly will understand how thin the line is between
pathos and bathos. The subject of the film is ludicross
and thuss makes for some unintentionally comical moments
but, at the same time, who hasn't felt sympathy for the
man, sympathy for his desparate, suffering wife - and hell,
I even manage a tear for the fly.
On Hourly, Daily, Rogers deals with some
laughable mundane and sometimes ridiculous issues but in
ruthlessly scrutinising the absurdities of unremarkable
life, hauls the listener into his own web of concern.
The title track is told from the eyes of a skinhead's mother.
Tempted to burst out laughing at the thought of a suburban
mum polishing the boots of a racist goon, I am abruptly
moved to ponder her plight with Rogers as he sings: "Bring
me one good face into this house today..."
"I honestly feel I've got nothing
at all to say to anybody," he says, "apart from...
y'know, 'Do you want a drink?' I don't have an agenda. But
I've become sick of writing songs about nothing, I wanted
to write about. Sometimes just sitting around doing nothing
made me think of the smaller things. Like, one thing I hate
is people who make grandiose statements about world events
or certain issues, and yet reat their sister like shit.
I'm really concious of the fact that the only way anyone
is going to make things better is by concentrating on the
small situation, like treating people around you OK. You've
got to put a lot of time into your own personal relationships."
It was early in 1993 when I last interviewed
Tim Rogers. He was talking to me from a public phone at
a shopping mall about his quest for the true spirit of rock
"I feel like there's some spirit or substance in music
that's not obvious at first," he said. "Like,
there's a message in rock and roll about a really good way
to live, or a good way to be. I'm looking forward to finding
it. Or just searching for it..."
Today, as I stand to leave, Tim Rogers
shakes my hand.
"Oh, and Jack," he adds, as though the coming
words are of critical importance. "I like your hat."