On To His Pet Project
is a dog's life for hard-working You Am I frontman Tim Rogers,
Peter Holmes writes.
A few years ago You Am I's Tim Rogers
was asked if he'd like to dance with the devil. His mission,
if he wanted the cash, was to create a dog food jingle for
an advertising campaign.
"I was full of myself," Rogers
recalled. "All I cared about was having enough for
a six pack at the end of the day, so I said, 'Nah, fuck
ya, I'm an artist'."
Spool forward to 2001. Money in the Rogers
household in suburban Melbourne is tight. The lean, hirsute
songwriter has a family to feed and is feeling the frustration
of recurring delays in finishing the next You Am I album,
Dress Me Slowly. The phone rings, and it's the dog food
"When the bills start coming in and
[daughter] Ruby needs a bunch of nappies, it's not a very
hard decision to make," Rogers said. "So I really
worked at it. Anyway, they ended up wanting to license the
instrumental track from one of the Twin Set [a Rogers side
"I did think about it and realised
I couldn't afford not to. You Am I spends a lot of money
making records and doesn't get a lot back. We haven't always
been smart, and these opportunities don't come along very
That one of our finest songwriters and
idiosyncratic vocalists should be reduced to writing pet
food ditties is a slight not only on commercial radio but
the taste of the Australian public, who would rather spend
$30 on a Bon Jovi CD than anything from You Am I.
The band's press releases may trumpet,
truthfully, that You Am I have achieved the rare feat of
four consecutive No1 albums, but closer inspection reveals
the albums tend to slip quickly from the charts.
Or, as Rogers put it: "They sink
like a stone. Even though we won the ARIA for Best Album
in 1996 and won six that year, we sold a 10th of what Powderfinger
"I've thought about why. There's
the fact I sing like I do, or maybe we're a little too retro.
A tiny bit eccentric perhaps? But in a lot of ways we are
a very generic rock band.
"I've had a lot of people telling
me why they think You Am I aren't more successful and it's
hard to give a rat's because we can go around Australia
and play every town and play to a couple of hundred people
and have a ball."
Among those who knew what was best for
You Am I were RCA-BMG staff in the United States, who felt
Rogers was in need of remedial songwriting classes before
any rock-solid commitment was made concerning an American
release for Dress Me Slowly.
"I had conversations with A&R
[artist and repertoire] guys who sat me down and told me
what it takes to write a hit song today," Rogers said.
"They said to take every second word out of my lyrics
and to write big, brainless choruses. All said with a completely
straight face, which is pretty dire.
"We're not getting any younger and
I feel whatever kind of momentum You Am I had in terms of
becoming a large act in Australia has slipped away completely.
"So you think, 'OK, we missed that
but we've got 15,000 people who'll go out and buy this record'.
"To me that is a remarkable success,
and to be able to finally look at it that way and not think,
'God, we've got to sell more records than Powderfinger',
is a tremendous relief."
While the sleeve notes will credit Cliff
Norell (Brian Setzer, Echo and the Bunnymen) and Paul McKercher
(Clouds, Magic Dirt) with producing Dress Me Slowly, original
sessions were conducted with American Ed Buller, who had
overseen albums for Ben Lee and Alex Lloyd.
Buller's brief from You Am I's American
label was to mould the band into a contemporary rock act
who could offload 1 million albums. The band jacked up and
sacked Buller, a decision that will probably cost them any
chance Dress Me Slowly had of being released in the US.
"RCA told him that some people dig
us but that we were never going to sell a million records,"
Rogers said. "They asked Ed to change us and it was
about choice of songs and the structure of the songs, 'Get
a damn chorus in there, make it loud, make it proud!'
"We were up for it at the start but
soon railed against it completely when we thought about
"We were going to have to play these
songs for the next couple of years and we didn't feel as
if they'd come from our gut. We've got to listen back to
this stuff in the future and I didn't want to be a part
of it, so we stopped our relationship with Ed Buller right
there. We shan't meet again."