WHO AM I

Can you even imagine what You Am I’s young lead guitarist Davey Lane is feeling right now? A little while ago, he got to share a stage with the Rolling Stones. That was something. But this is another thing; Lane and his beloved You Am I cohorts will soon be introducing The Who to Australian audiences for the first and only time since 1968. For You Am I, this must be about as close as it gets to opening for God.

And it’s one thing for the now seasoned pros who make up the long-term You Am I team – Tim Rogers, Russell Hopkinson and Andy Kent – to not only finally get to see their musical heroes here in the flesh but to actually get to play alongside them, maybe even share a few beers and stories. They’ve all met rock stars before, though no-one quite as imposing as Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. But, well hell, it wasn’t that long ago that Davey Lane was spending his school holidays writing up guitar tabs for the You Am I website. You can bet he’s done the same thing for most of The Who’s recorded catalogue too. His nervous energy is palpable just talking to him about it, Lord knows how he’s going to cope when the time actually arrives later this month!

It seems Lane is coping by remaining industrious. He was recently involved in recording the soundtrack for the new AC/DC themed film Thunderstruck and when I call him, he’s in a studio recording some tracks for a new release by his band The Pictures. In Lane’s words, “it’s good to keep busy” – there seems to be little alternative!

Well The Who - who’d have thought?”
“ I know, bloody ‘ell!”

Are you the biggest Who fan in the band?
“ Uhhh, well I’m the most nerdy of them anyway. Yeah I learned to play all the songs and, well, I’m pretty bloody nervous about it to tell you the truth.”

Have you been rehearsing the first thing you’re going to say to Pete Towsnhend?
“ Nah, nah, I haven’t been rehearsing anything to say to him, I just hope that if I get to meet him I catch him on a good day. Yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to meeting Roger, I reckon he’d be alright. He’d seem to be more personable of the two I’d say.”

I was reading your You Am I UK tour diary the other day and it reveals that you’re all still very enthusiastic rock and roll fans, you’re all incredibly interested with the history of rock. That story about you meeting the best mate of the Small Faces singer, for example.
“ Oh yeah. Look to go to England was just quite incredible because as much as I love Australia and I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world, there’s just such a rich history there that is just, it never fails to astound me when I go there. Just to get to go to those places and you know ‘that’s where my Dad used to play with Steve [Marriott] back in the day…’ it’s pretty exciting.”

Because you kind of got into this as a fan… weren’t you originally a contribute to the You Am I website?

“ Well a friend of mine from Sydney was running the website and I was just helping out with little guitar bits and pieces. I’d have nothing to do on my school holidays so I’d sit around and work out how to play the songs and then kind of show him and he’d put them on the internet.”

You would have a better idea than anyone of what it’s like to transcend that famous barrier between stage and fan, you’ve done it more successfully than just about anyone, except maybe Henry Rollins.
“ Well it still kind of astounds me to this day. I went to see Tim [Rogers] play at the Corner the other night and every time I see him sing those songs it makes me realize how fucking proud I am to be in the band. It’s something that I never ever forget and I’ll never take for granted.”

Now you’re getting to tread the stages with some of your greatest musical heroes, does that change your perspective on life? Does it make it seem like almost anything is possible, that dreams can come true?
“ Well , er, it’s, a, mm, a, a, ‘cause Tim and I often talk about that like when we did those shows with the Stones and it was like it was some kind of meter of surreal kind of thing that I don’t know, it’s something that we can’t really put into words too well. Well not me anyway.
“ Like I say, I kind of realise how kind of lucky I am when I get to experience those kind of things and something that I’ll never ever take for granted. And something deep down that maybe I know I don’t really kind of deserve it, but if the opportunity’s there, I’ll grab it. It’s just like I say, something that’s a little bit difficult to explain.”

But you’ve hit on something there; it’s your very willingness to grab these opportunities when they arise and prove that you do deserve them that is helping to make your dreams come true.
“ Yeah it’s kind of the thing that you don’t really think twice about. But at the same time, with the prospect of playing with The Who now, I’m a pretty nervous guy and I don’t know, I’m just trying to battle the nerves myself in my head at the moment with that prospect in mind.”

Who knows, Pete might walk up and say “Davey, love your guitar playing, how about you join up and come and tour with me?” Things like that aren’t out of the question.
“ Ha, ha, ha. No I think Tim and I have made a pact to go up to him and hit Pete up for all the f**king stuff he’s ripped off us. He’s got something coming if he’s going to try to be nice to us! “

I thought you did a fantastic job as part of Evan Dando’s band recently, especially in difficult circumstances. Your guitar playing really added something great to that band and those songs.
“ Oh, that’s another thing that I was so excited about doing. I guess I was too young when the Lemonheads were at their peak to really appreciate it but now a few years after the fact I’ve listened to those records and really enjoyed them so that was another thing I was just really excited to do. And I think it all turned out well in the end and everybody tried their hardest on that tour. It was just circumstances, that, you know..

And you also got to contribute to the Thunderstruck soundtrack, I bet The Casanovas’ Tommy Boyce would have been a bit jealous of that!
“ Oh I think he would have done a far better job than I, he certainly would have nailed those solos a lot better. But that was just at a time, I mean looking back on it now, I did it at a time when somebody said ‘you’ll get to spend a couple of days in the studio with Jamo [Phil Jameson, Grinspoon] and Trav [Travis Demsey, ex-Living End] and Janet [English, Spiderbait] and I thought that would be a bit of fun. But I don’t know I think to cover such a classic song as that, ahhh, it’s a little bit, ahhh, sacrilegious, but you know, like you said, it’s another opportunity, so I just took it.”

You didn’t get to meet Malcom or Angus Young during the project?
“ No, no. Yeah I’ll be hiding from their lawyers after they hear the guitar playing on that! (laughs)”

AC/DC and The Who especially were so much about excess and danger and rebellion, do think some of that has gone out of rock and roll these days?
“ Um, yeah I guess a lot of the biggest bands in the world now are a lot more nice than they used to be and like your Chris Martins and whoever. But I think you get the odd glimmer of hope in there in the odd band that comes out. But I hope that never dies off but it’s just one of those things…”

Well the other thing is if a band acted like The Who these days, they’d be written off as a rock cliché, it must be difficult to do something original and exciting with such precedents set.
“ Well that’s the thing. It’s always been a constant thing, even I find with my band [The Pictures] playing around it’s like ‘but it’s so clichéd and it’s so derivative’ but if those reviewers and the like knew how much fun that was, then it probably wouldn’t be such a big issue I tend to think. That’s just my opinion anyway.”

You Am I is a band that definitely pours its soul into every performance and promotes that element of danger.
“ Well I kind of think that level of danger and spontaneity is what keeps everything exciting for me playing on a long tour. You take a band like Oasis for example, who I love, but every show, the set list is the same and there’s not that level of spontaneity where something might go wrong because everything is always going to work like clockwork, so when things stuff up and things don’t always work, that’s kind of what keeps it exciting for me.”

Does playing with bands like the Stones, The Strokes, Jet and now The Who, give you a better perspective on what You Am I is; what its strengths are, its approach to things?
“ Yeah, definitely. For me I can kind of see You Am I from an outsider’s perspective as well because I did love the band for so many years before I joined them, so when I’m at the pub with Nic Cester [Jet’s singer], we’d talk about how good songs off Number Four Record or something were, I can look at it and go, ‘yeah, f**king oath they’re great!’ I can look it from that perspective as well. So I guess I have the best of both worlds.”

You Am I are in a pretty unique position - there aren’t too many Australian bands with the experience and output of You Am I who are still progressing and vital and aren’t living on past glories.
“ I think especially for those guys, I feel quite proud of them as well, the way that they’ve kind of dealt with being pushed in at the deep end I suppose, it’s quite admirable I think. They’ve dealt with it quite well.”

Well speaking of performing with danger and spontaneity, it will be very interesting to see how The Who approach performing these days. Obviously that inter-member intensity not going to be the same.
“ Yeah I guess Pete and Roger wouldn’t be as much at each other’s throats as they once would have been so I’ll just be happy if they don’t play all the hits and play a couple of the more obscure things as well.”

Have you heard anything about their more recent shows?

“ I’ve only kind of seen a couple of things on TV and heard a couple of things, but I think it’s just great that they’ve got Zak [Starkey] in the band because he kind of gives the other guys a bit of impetus to push it forward a little.”

Which very important because that manic nature of The Who so often came from Keith Moon’s drums.

“ Oh of course but as good as Kenny Jones was, the band never really kind of recovered from the loss of Keith and having Zak there, he tends to play with that same kind of energy, so I’m looking forward to seeing that.”

Martin Jones
Big Pond Music