Have you listened to You Am I’s latest album? If so, you’re one step ahead of You Am I frontman Tim Rogers. The ARIA-monopolising singer-songwriter says he wasn’t even aware he was being recorded when he played the set that was to become the live album All Onboard.
“I had nothing to do with it, apart from being asked if it was okay to release it,” says Rogers. “I pretty much just look after trying to write the songs. The actual recording and compiling and releasing – I’ve taken myself out of that equation. With an ensemble, there are times you’ve just got to say, ‘This isn’t my forté, this isn’t my strength,’ so I trust my brothers to make those decisions.”
Rogers, who is as nimble and articulate a conversationalist as he is a songwriter, recognises that mixing and mic placement lie outside his domain. By the same token, he doesn’t gladly tolerate executive intrusions into his creative process. American execs and producers tend to be more obtrusive than Australian ones, says Rogers, although he fondly recalls spending nights out with prominent LA-based A&R consultant Joe McEwen during the ‘90s.
“I tend to live in the clouds a little bit,” says Rogers. “While I’ve got some good ideas and have written some okay songs, if an engineer says to me, ‘Tim, that’s kind of naff,’ I’ll definitely listen to it. I won’t disregard what they say – unless the person is a fucking idiot. You should listen to everything, but then have a martini and think about what’s been said to you: Does this make me feel uncomfortable in an exciting way or uncomfortable in a depressing way?”
You Am I will be hopscotching across Australia with the Under The Southern Stars festival alongside six other artists, including British India and mid-noughties alt darlings Eskimo Joe. Rogers, however, is most pleased to share the bill with Sydney new wave icons Hoodoo Gurus. Rogers admires the Gurus’ extensive back catalogue of hits, but mostly, he admires the things they can do that he cannot. To hear it from Rogers, the Hoodoo Gurus are something like the yang to You Am I’s yin.
“They’re not slick, but they’re very professional in their delivery,” he says. “I respect that enormously, but there’s something about their professionality that makes me want to go the other way, to be a little more like NRBQ. Maybe it’s just being a little contrarian, but there’s a part of me that wants to get looser and say, ‘Let’s just have a couple more cocktails and try out some things, play some songs we haven’t played in 30 years.’ They’re reliable, and I love their reliability. But I don’t know if I can be that reliable.”
After the festival wraps, Rogers will be accompanying prolific Texan alt-country artist Alejandro Escovedo on his first Australian tour, followed by some theatre work, recording new singles with You Am I and writing a suite of songs for other artists.
“Next year is looking full-up,” says Rogers. “I don’t know if I like that. But thankfully, now that I’m being asked to write songs for some other people, that means that, when I’m travelling around, I can concentrate on doing something creative. That’s great, rather than just reading books and drinking. Well, actually, no; nothing’s better than reading books and drinking.”
Most musicians in the process of loading the trucks for a national tour wish, first and foremost, for things to go smoothly. Rogers, however, says that a smoothly-run Under The Southern Stars festival is the last thing he’s interested in. The best rock, he claims, is practiced at the very precipice of total breakdown.
“I always get excited by loose, powerful rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not all I listen to, but I do love seeing a powerful performance that could fall down at any minute – because it can. We’re just four humans, 16 limbs, and a lot can go wrong, and I like that that can happen. And I think that’s all I can offer, apart from some occasionally mind-bendingly brilliant songwriting, of course.”
You Am I will tour Australia throughout January 2019.