ROCKIN' ROMANCE

IT was a humbling moment for an Australian rock'n'roll icon. Walking along the street in his native Melbourne recently, Tim Rogers - he of sideburns, shades, You Am I and enduring rock cred - was confronted by a young woman leaving a pub.

She looked him up and down, then, with a derogatory shake of the head, said: "Sheesh. Are you gonna be my girl..."

The implication was that Rogers, with his studiously unkempt demeanour, was aping Melbourne's present rock'n'roll darlings, Jet, whose song Are You Gonna Be My Girl? is a ubiquitous hit.

" It was like she was saying: 'Who do you think you're trying to look like?"' says an amused Rogers, holding court in a Sydney cafe.
Jet's line-up was still in primary school when Rogers and You Am I burst on to the Australian landscape in 1989. His rock credentials are entirely his own and he looks the same now as he has throughout his career.

As with his wardrobe, both You Am I and Rogers the solo artist have survived the numerous music trends that have come and gone in the meantime.
But while You Am I, with albums such as Hi Fi Way and Hourly, Daily, became one of the most significant Australian rock bands of the 1990s, some critics and fans have written them off in the past few years.

 


Flying solo ... Rogers gets
back to his roots with Spit Polish.
Photo: Erica Harrison

Conflicts with international record companies did not help them develop their career overseas and similar frustrations existed in Australia. They have severed all such ties, opting to go it alone as an independent operation.
They're certainly not dead yet. You Am I are supporting one of their strongest influences, the Who, when the British rock veterans return to Australia in July. Following that they will tour Europe, then begin recording a new album.

Supporting the Who completes a unique double. You Am I opened for the Rolling Stones in Melbourne last year. Now they're looking forward to sharing the stage with the Who's original two-pronged attack of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend.

In what must be a worrying development for those who still see rock'n'roll as an anti-establishment, confrontational art form, Rogers says he will be minding his language when he fronts up for the Who performances.
" We got told after the first Stones gig that we would be thrown off if we didn't watch our language," he recalls. "They got 83 complaints on the first night."

Rogers is not complaining, however, about the prospect of mixing in such illustrious company for the second time.
" It's just one of those things you can enjoy the hell out of," he says. "We're just going to live it up and hopefully we won't get kicked off the tour. On the Stones weekend last year we just had a whale of a time. It was just fantasy stuff. It was one of those times when you look around at each other and say: 'I like this job."'

Or perhaps "I like this f---ing job", as he might have said last week.
One gets the feeling Rogers says that to himself a lot. His genuine passion for music oozes out of him, not just in his playing and writing but in the way he enthuses in interviews about his idols, such as those two headliners and an array of rock, blues and country performers stretching across continents and generations.

His personal life too has been stretched across continents lately. He and his Spanish wife, Rocio, have spent some of the past year living in Madrid with their three-year-old daughter, Ruby.
Right now, however, he's talking 'bout his generation and about his solo career, which kicks up a gear on Monday. He and his touring band, the Temperance Union, are going out on the road to promote Spit Polish, his just released second solo album.

His family plays a part on the album. They are pictured on its cover and it was during a family trip to Kalgoorlie, Rogers's birthplace, that ideas for the album were formulated. Much like its solo predecessor What Rhymes With Cars and Girls, Spit Polish is a step back from the rock bluster of You Am I, with elements of country, blues and folk in its mix.
Central to this is "a diet of gin and tonics" during the recording process, an admission that only helps shine his rock pig halo.

The record admittedly has a swagger that backs up his theory. But songs such as Fiction, Goldfieldsblues and King of the Hill betray a growing stature as a songwriter. Amid the rock star guitar histrionics of You Am I there's a more mellow, thoughtful balladeer trying to get out.

Recent side projects, such as compiling and writing material for the soundtrack to the film Dirty Deeds, have enhanced his reputation as a songwriter outside of the rock framework. What's more, he has become something of a one-man operation.

" I don't have a manager so it's all a bit daunting," he says. Since recording Spit Polish with producer and guitarist Shane O'Mara, Rogers has been doing the hard graft of trying to sell himself overseas.
" I've been drafting off letters to overseas labels. It's all very: 'Hi, my name is Tim and I have a band called You Am I. Will you release my record?"' One such, to famed English independent label Cooking Vinyl, proved successful. "They sent back a letter saying, 'Love to, please send it now,"' Rogers says in surprise.

That's because, he says, during You Am I's heyday "these things took so long to get to that stage. Why? It's that simple."
Such simplicity and the plaudits that have come with the album's release are confirmation, he believes, that he's getting closer to perfecting his art.

" I'm so proud that what I went in to do came out exactly the way I wanted," he says of Spit Polish. "It's like I know how to do it now."

By Iain Shedden