Who Fell To Earth
No. 1 albums, big things were expected of You Am I.
When international fame did not follow, frontman Tim Rogers
took to the airwaves to explain. He talks to ADAM ZWAR about
public pressures and that elusive breakthrough hit.
“This is the year boys. This is
your year." Australia's favourite pub-rock band, You
Am I, has heard this chant 50 times a year, every year,
since releasing its first album in 1993.
Ever since, back-slapping, grinning record company executives
have promised them international success.
An every year, despite strong inroads, You Am I has failed
to crack the world market.
Sure, the band, which is led by the charismatic Tim Rogers,
plays to packed houses in New York and Los Angeles.
And in London, audiences know all the words to Purple Sneakers,
the hit from the band's Hi Fi Way album.
But You Am I is yet to write a song that will help it crack
the music industry's holy grail - the xenophobic US market.
A song that will do for You Am I what Need You Tonight did
As one reviewer put it: "A dozen or so of their tracks
land a millimetre from the bullseye, but none connects cleanly
At home, however, the members of You Am I are gods.
It is the first Australian band to have three consecutive
albums debut at No. 1 in the national charts: Hi Fi Way,
Hourly Daily and #4 Record.
Last year it won eight ARIA Awards. And the explosive single
Berlin Chair, off debut album Sound As Ever, has made a
list of the top 100 Australian songs of all time.
All of this success - but no Everest - leads the media man
to ask: "When will the rest of the world catch the
fever that is You Am I?"
And the Rogers man retorts: "Is it a fever You Am I
wants the rest of the world to catch?"
Who is this Rogers man? This tall, skinny
fella with the styled haircut that has grown out of style.
The bleary-eyed rock star in the dark suit and ruffled shirt
who speaks in whispers but sings in arm-twirling screams.
Timothy Adrian Rogers was born into a middle-class Australian
family 28 years ago.
"Well, we started off as middle-class," says Rogers,
dipping a corner of his raisin toast into a bowl of butter
in a Melbourne cafe. "But my dad was a business man
who got more successful as we got older. So towards the
end I found I was eating a lot more ice-cream."
At the age of 10, a star struck Rogers asked his parents
if he could join the Kiss Army. They said no. Not because
thay thought rock music was bad - they just didn't want
young Tim giving his pocket money to "corporate guys
with big moustaches and cigars".
"That was my parents' impression of the people who
ran the music industry."
Four years later, after being busted for possession of marijuana,
Rogers decided he would become a rock star.
"I remeber having my teeth drilled when I was 14 at
the mobile dentist, then Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones
came on and I instantly knew what I wanted to be,"
he recalls. "That afternoon I bought the single and
the following week I got the string acoustic."
Rogers' decision to become a rock musician
was no surprise to his theatre-usher mother who had always
encouraged him to perform.
"I was always pretty big on singing. I used to go and
see musicals with mum. She was always pushing me to perform.
Sorry, not pushing me. She would encourage me. She was a
potential stage mum - in a very good way.
"I remember she sold programs at the Princess Theatre
in Melbourne when Chuck Berry was performing there. And
we would tell the kids at school that mum actually worked
with Chuck Berry. 'Our muum works with Chuck Berry!' we'd
say. We ran off that for ages."
In his late teens, Rogers knuckled down
to his studies. As a result, he became captain of his school
in the Sydney suburb of Castle Hill than went on to study
arts/law at the Australian National Univerity in Canberra.
Two years into the degree he quit and went home to join
his brother Jaimme in the band that would become You Am
In six boozy weeks, Rogers wrote 15 songs, and You Am I
made its debut at The Cave in Sydney.
Several fist-fights later, Jaimme felt compelled to leave
"Jaimme and I punched the hell out of each other,"
Tim recalls. "We were brothers and we were living in
the same house, and he is a prodigious drinker and I'd just
"He now lives in England. Last I heard he wanted to
be a cop. I keep expecting to see him at the soccer - you
know, one of those beer-swilling hooligans. Jaimme loves
In 1993, after several comings and goings,
the core You Am I line-up of Rogers, bassist Andy Kent and
drummer Russell Hopkinson was cemented. Since then the three
have flicked their fringes swivelled their wrists for 200
gigs a year.
Despite the display of constant togetherness, Rogers believes
he has neglected his bandmates. In a recent interview, he
said he had behaved like a ponce and not given Kent and
Hopkinson the respect they deserved.
"I often treat them like, 'Just do your job, c'mon.
Make me look good'.
"I've been waiting for Andy to turn around and say,
'Why are you so nasty to me?' But he doesn't. I'm so amazed."
His bandmates aren't the only people Rogers admits neglecting.
He and his girlfriend of seven years, Tracy Forrester (subject
of Mr Milk and Cathy's Clown), broke up recently on account
of Rogers being away "for 16 months in 22". It
is something he desperately sad about but does not regret.
"I realise being on tour is where I'm most at home.
I feel comfortable driving from Vegas to Minneapolis - these
ridiculous long drives, sitting around then playing a show.
It feels so natural."
Rogers says life in a band is loveless, sexless, transient
and immature. "Your responsibilities are nil. You're
encouraged to be a drunk."
When Rogers' relationship broke down,
he moved away from his Sydney house, with its cement patio
and ARIA award hanging from the walls, and headed for Melbourne.
But he doesn't want to make "a deal" about the
"You know, I'd been thinking of moving to Melbourne
for a while. The Sydney suburb I lived in has been overrun
by Olympic vigor. The city itself is going out of control.
It no longer has a sense of community. Well, there are pockets
of communities, but I couldn't be bothered looking for them.
"Listen, I don't want to be on of those Sydney people
who moves to Melbourne and says, 'Oh! It's so good here.
Oh! It's so cool.' I try not to make a big deal out of it
because it sounds condescending."
Rogers' geographical transition might
be the tonic he needs to write You Am I's breakthrough album.
The product that will push Rogers from independent credibility
to decadent supestar of the world.
Either way, he is hanging in. And just to prove it, he went
on Triple J recently to clear up a few misunderstandings.
"I'd just like to out my own personal protest about
being regarded a has-been," he told listeners. "I've
still got a couple of good songs left in me, kids. Don't
give up on me yet."
Indeed, it would be ludicrous for anyone to write off Tim
Rogers. Behind those soulful eyes he would dearly like to
sell a million albums. He's just pacing himself. His best
is yet to come.
"This is your year boys. This is your year."