Vines drummer Hamish Rosser on the infamous Letterman moment

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Vines drummer Hamish Rosser on the infamous Letterman moment

Words By Alasdair Belling

Plus talking drums, how he got his start and more!

In 2002 The Vines were Australia’s rock idols, taking their debut album Highly Evolved to the biggest stages around the world. It was at the peak of their powers that they arrived on the set of The Late Show with David Letterman as musical guests – a holy grail slot for American talk-show TV.

The band proceeded to deliver one of the most controversial, polarizing and legendary performances in television history, with their electric execution of ‘Get Free’ upended by frontman Craig Nicholls’ wild antics.

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The start of the performance has classic rock style behaviour and it appears to be like many  other TV appearances. It’s not until halfway through that Nicholls is missing chords, floating on and off the mic and you get the sense something is brewing. An enduring image from the performance comes at the end of the song, as Nicholls hurls his guitar towards the back of the stage, missing drummer Hamish Rosser’s head by inches, before his kit is subsequently trashed.

It’s a moment that Nicholls is happy to laugh about in retrospect, despite the optics for the band at the time.

“We spent all day in that studio and the producers wouldn’t let us leave – it was like a 10 hour day just to play a two minute song”, he tells us.

“We were flying straight from New York to the UK where we were gonna be playing at Leeds and Reading Festival … we got to the airport and were telling staff there that we had just been on Letterman.”

“Then we saw the performance and it looked like such a disaster! Unfortunately it’s been remembered for the wrong reasons now!”

Rosser’s tenure with the band kick-started a dream career in rock ‘n’ roll, with the drummer subsequently having the opportunity to session for the likes of Art Vs. Science, The Holidays and The Potbelleez. After this he scored a gig with Wolfmother, and you can spot him on tour with them, if you can see behind the ever expanding afro of Andrew Stockdale.

It’s an incredible resume, and one which has been earnt through years on the grind.

“I started playing in punk bands in high school- my first gig was at a school talent show with my first band The Warthogs – we covered ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ by The Ramones,Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by The Clash and ‘God Save The Queen’ by the Sex Pistols” he recalls.

“We didn’t win … Eventually I got to a point with the original band thing where I thought ‘look, I think I’m good enough to get paid for this’, and that was when I decided that I wanted to start looking at the covers thing.”

“I fell in with this showband called Sixties Mania, which was a 60’s show complete with dancing girls and costume changes … They were Australian, but they mainly worked in casinos in the US and Asia, so I started gigging with them six nights a week.”

Like many great session musicians, years of constant work and learning large swathes of songs on short notice were instrumental in setting Rosser up for an acclaimed career in the originals’ world.

“That definitely geared me up for working with The Vines, because my playing improved so much, given how much I was working at the time,” he says.

“The Vines gig came because I used to read classified ads in music magazines … I saw an ad posted by the bands’ management, and straight away I was like ‘wow, management, that sounds serious’”

“I was in Sydney for a few days off. From touring with the 60’s show, and I ended up auditioning for the band on Christmas Eve.”

“When the offer came through to join there was some buzz about the band already – but I literally played four shows with them in Australia at venues like The Annandale Hotel … and then we jetted off to the US.”

“Then that first record came out, and things just completely lifted off.”

While drumming on multi-platinum records, and past memories of playing to tens of thousands of people every night is enough to satisfy most musicians, Hamish has notably kept himself active since his live shows have cooled off.

“I think it’s always important to be trying to push yourself to new areas and taking yourself out of your comfort zone as a musician,” he says.

“It does reach a point though where you want to do what you’re doing really well … I had an offer come through to audition for the Hoodoo Gurus a while ago, and I decided to knock that back because I had enough going on.”

“If I was single and didn’t have a family maybe it would be different – but also, I love the music I get to play at the moment, and feel really lucky to be able to still do it at this level.”

Now living in the Byron Bay hinterland, Hamish offers his collection of vintage Ludwig and Gretsch Kits out for hire – drums that also regularly feature in his live dates.

“I’ve always loved the sound of those old drums – especially that nice rounded warm tone from some of those old Gretch and Ludwig drums,” he notes, before adding “the only thing that sometimes lets you down is the hardware!”

Leaving a large imprint on the alt-rock scene coming out of Australia in the early 2000s, The Vines’ legacy wouldn’t be where it is today without their drummer Hamish Rosser.

Hamish’s typical Drum Kit:

  • Ludwig Classic Maple 22×14” kick
  • 12×8”, 13×9”, 16×16” toms
  • Black Beauty 14×6.5” snare

Zildjian K Cymbals

  • 15” hats
  • 19” K Dark Thin Crash
  • 20” K Dark Thin Crash
  • 22” Ride

Hamish Rosser plays Ludwig and Zildjian, which are distributed by Dynamic Music and you can catch up with what Hamish is up to currently here.