You Am I Stand & Deliver

You Am I didn't labour too much to bring forth their new album, but frontman Tim Rogers is quietly proud of it nonetheless, writes Michael Dwyer.

It's Sunday afternoon in Prahran and the neighbours are complaining. For the few hundred fans cramming the car park behind Greville Records, such an intimate encounter with You Am I is an event they'll one day tell their children about. Well, actually, some have brought their children along.

But half a dozen tunes into a raucous electric set, bass player Andy Kent interrupts one of Tim Rogers' evangelical song introductions to share some bad news. "The police are here," Kent reveals. The show will be ending slightly earlier than expected.

Rogers blinks wide blue eyes in mock disbelief. "Surely the Man is not untouchable by rock'n'roll?"

"OK, let's give him something to change his mind," Kent replies.

"I accept your challenge, brother," Rogers thunders from the pulpit of the stage, "and I raise you with a classic - a future classic."

Six albums into a 12-year career, there's a dozen bona fide radio hits the band could haul out of mothballs to soften the resolve of the Melbourne constabulary. There's even a fistful of harmonious acoustic gems to soothe the indignation of the crankiest Greville Street shop proprietor.

Instead, what follows is an impassioned trifecta of bottom-kicking rockers from the new album, Deliverance. Then the cops pull the pin. Game over. At least You Am I go down in flames. Let's face it, they've had plenty of practice.

Rewind a few days. Tim Rogers is in a Port Melbourne pub in a pensive and sober frame of mind, several milligrams of adrenaline short of his mouthy stage persona.

He's eating asparagus and sipping light beer. The latter he does reluctantly, the price of a wager with six friends who will each buy a North Melbourne Kangaroos membership if he drinks nothing stronger for six weeks. He has two-and-a-half weeks to go.

You still get the hangover, he says, but that's not the worst of it. "At night, when you're going to sleep, normally you're in some kind of beautiful, rust-coloured dream. Now I've just got this clear head at night,
and it's horrible!

"Too much time to think," he says with a shake of his head. "And you dream really vividly. It's interesting to see life's other side, I s'pose. You can only imagine what it must be like for a really chronic drinker, giving up. You could have a heart attack, you know?"

It's hard to believe this is the pub where we met 18 months ago, downing pints of Guinness and talking about the trials and triumphs of You Am I's fifth record, Dress Me Slowly. The renovation faeries have transformed the establishment beyond recognition, the 'Roos have given away another two premierships, and the Vines are officially the future of rock'n'roll.

The latter development is particularly interesting. The young, very inexperienced Sydney band embarked on their first Australian tour last year, opening for You Am I. Shortly afterwards, they signed a contract with
Capitol EMI in America, through You Am I manager Todd Wagstaff's production company, Engine Room.

Now Tim Rogers has just discovered that his band's former manager, Kate Stewart, is employed as road manager to the Vines on their global victory lap.

"It's like everyone learns from us and then applies it to making it big," he says with a laugh. "Sometimes its seems like we're the whipping boys - everyone learns from our mistakes, and then ..."

Not that he's bitter. The Vines' Craig Nicholls is "a stupendously talented, really sweet guy", Rogers says. "I hope they make a killer next record and it all goes great."

A small compensation is that You Am I drummer Russell Hopkinson released an early seven-inch Vines single, Hot Leather/Sun Child, on his own Illustrious Artists label.

"He's been offered stupendous amounts of money for it," Rogers says with a smirk. "He's in Mexico at the moment, you know. Surely he didn't do that on a You Am I wage."

The veteran of the Aussie garage-rock scene is naturally a little cynical about the "Rock Is Back" hyperbole now working the world's music media into a dither. But he appears almost grateful that the bandwagon has passed his band by in favour of whippersnappers such as the Vines, the Strokes, the
Hives, the D4, the Datsuns and the White Stripes.

"I mean, we missed opportunities, and if we'd had more aggressive management, the whole thing, we could have been a lot bigger a while ago," he says. "But we wouldn't have got where we are and making the records we are. We would have been forced to think differently, coerced into making really bad records."

Not as bad as Creed, surely?

"Could have. Who knows? I've read things I said a couple of years ago, and I was becoming a real whinger. I was probably not a strong enough person to handle any more (success) than we got. We had a little bit of hype and a lot of travel behind us, and I was turning into a bit of a c--- as it was. So imagine if we'd had more of that.

"Dress Me Slowly didn't set the world on fire," Rogers says, putting the whole strange trip into perspective, "but as far as big success goes, it's like concentric wheels turning. If your band's circle is going at the same
speed and time as the larger machine, it's all luck and timing. We're famously bad at both.

"If we don't reach the lofty heights again, genuinely, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I'm absolutely fine with that. It happened at such a modest level a couple of years ago anyway. It wasn't a Silverchair kinda thing."

Never mind its modest retail success. Dress Me Slowly was a watershed for You Am I. Their label, BMG, spent several years and a small fortune on the album, arranging songwriting and production marriages on several continents, with an eye to expanding the band's domestic success into the world market.
Ultimately, Rogers opted not to compromise - and he's rested easy in his rust-coloured dreams ever since.

Deliverance was made "for a 10th of the cost" and roughly a 20th of the pain. Rogers, Kent, Hopkinson and guitarist Davey Lane knocked it over in three weeks, with help from local keyboard maestro Bruce Haymes, upright bassist Shannon Birchall and long-term sound-desk associate Paul McKercher.

It was finished just 10 months after the release of Dress Me Slowly, a highly unusual stunt in an era when record companies routinely keep their artists on the road for years on end to squeeze every penny from every album.

"Well, those things happen when you have a hit single," Rogers says. "We're not hit makers. We've made this conscious (decision about) what kind of band we want to be, and part of that involves making records quickly. We make 'em, we're proud of 'em, we go out there and tour 'em. Certain songs stick in the set, others don't. Why labour over it?"

Rogers took BMG managing director Ed St John out for a drink late last year and argued his case. He had the songs. He didn't need bags of money for plane tickets, demo sessions and hot-shot overseas producers. "I figured either he'd drop us (from the label) or let us give it a shot. He said, 'Go for it'."

"To call a record Deliverance, you've got to be pretty cocky, I guess. We were feeling that way when we were making it, for sure. We had Motor Ace next door (at Melbourne's Sing Sing Studios), labouring away on this beautiful, well-crafted record," he says in a tone suggesting mistrust of studio polish, "and typical of us, when we find out that somebody is striving for greatness, possibly achieving it, we think, 'Right, let's f---
up as much as possible, make it all ragged; the first take is a good take', that kind of thinking."

The title of the record was born when Rogers noticed a subtle thematic thread running through the 12 songs, the notion of "some kind of release, or the epiphanies that can come with being surrounded by loud rock'n'roll music".

"Deliverance seems to sum that up - a release from the constraints of the music that's thrown down your throat through mainstream media; deliverance through playing a great show or playing together as a band. It's almost a religious ritual, a speaking in tongues."

It's the kind of talk that would move Keith Richards to tears. But, as he eases into his 34th year, you get the sense rock'n'roll is an increasingly desperate pursuit for You Am I's songwriter and torch-bearer.

The emotional centrepiece of Deliverance is 'Til the Clouds Roll Away, a potent song about riding out mood swings, plainly addressed to Mrs Rogers, Rocio, and the pair's one-year-old daughter, Ruby. The swirling, nebulous riff fades in and out of the album twice, like a recurring dizzy spell.

"Yeah, that piece of music ?" Rogers begins thoughtfully. "Because I feel a lot of love and a lot of anxiety and a lot of desperation, those chords kinda sum it all up. Yeah, that's the way I feel. It's beautiful and then it gets kinda kaleidoscopic, beautiful colours bleeding in with darker colours, and you just have to wait until your cloud rolls in again.

"I mention Ruby by name," he says, "but it starts off to Rocio, trying to explain my darkness or sadness or irritability and saying, 'Look, this is pretty bad, just hold on, stick with me, please'.

"I remember even when we were in Bath in England before #4 Record (1998), I was thinking I just wanna make a record about desperate feelings; about love, hate, but to make it real, not make it a mini half-concept record about suburban Sydney (a reference to 1996's Hourly Daily) - 'What do you feel? What do you know? What do you wanna know?'."

The real substance of Deliverance arrives in the final track, a soft, solo acoustic guitar number titled When You Know What You Want. It comes across like a whispered manifesto for the darkest of days - songwriting at its most vulnerable and inspirational.

"Man, I didn't think people ever got to the last songs on our records," Rogers responds, apparently in all seriousness. "I love that song. It's definitely something I try to repeat to myself when I wake up.

"I've found the woman I love, but that's the only kind of definite I've got. The rest of it just hasn't got any f---in' easier. Now I've got to start writing things that are saying, 'Tim, it's OK, work at it, you're doing
something good', or else I'm gonna do something stupid. I'm having to remind myself of that more and more, so why not write songs about it?"

Happily, they're coming thicker than ever. Deliverance has been in the can since February, bumped from its original release date by Rogers' soundtrack to the David Caesar-directed film, Dirty Deeds, for which he wrote five new songs. He already has a stockpile for a second solo record, to be made this year, possibly with roots aficionado Joe Camilleri.

"I just do a lot of walking and try not to go searching for something," he says of the writing process. "If a song's good and it's in there, then suddenly something will happen.

"I find putting lyrics to music extremely difficult. Folk sort of songs, that's kind of easy, but rock songs? Putting lyrics to that?" He shakes his head at his asparagus. "F--- me. I find it really difficult, 'cos you don't
want 'em to be about nothing. I'm sick of hearing songs about nothing. What's Amazing about? 'We were amazing, you were amazing.'

"What I'm aiming for is the mixture between a great rock band and just some lyrics that are good. The whole mix. I mean, how good a lyricist was Mick Jagger? Jumping Jack Flash is just unbelievable! Can you imagine lying there and going, 'I was born in cross-fire hurricane?'."

Rogers rolls his eyes towards the rust-coloured clouds in his mind. "I mean, that's like fuckin' Hemingway, you know? So thank Christ it's possible."