The Aussie rock icons return with their most spirited album in more than a decade.
You Am I have earned a place in the hearts of three generations of contemporary music fans. Formed at the turn of the 1990s by guitarist and lead vocalist Tim Rogers, You Am I have maintained a loyal international following while never straying far from their power pop and alternative rock roots.
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The band’s 11th album, The Lives of Others, is a 12-song LP that positions You Am I not as a legacy act, but as one of the finest rock ’n roll bands working today.
The album was made under unique circumstances, with Rogers and Davey Lane (guitar/vocals) working on demos in Melbourne before sending them to Andy Kent (bass) and Rusty Hopkinson (drums) in Sydney.
Kent and Hopkinson then added their respective instrumental parts – essentially transforming their band mates’ demos into bona fide You Am I songs – before sending them back to Melbourne for Rogers and Lane to complete.
This back-and-forth was happening in the midst of 2020’s COVID lockdowns, which prevented You Am I’s four members from ever being in the same place at once. But despite such fragmented production, The Lives of Others sounds as much like four guys playing in a room as anything You Am I have released this side of Y2K.
“You can be apart and just rely on your instincts and I think we did that,” says Rogers. “I don’t think we did anything manipulative to fudge that. That’s four humans who have played a lot together.”
The Lives of Others’ two immediate precursors are 2015’s Porridge & Hotsauce and 2010’s You Am I, both of which contain a number of stylistic deviations and complementary production embellishment.
When held up against its antecedents, The Lives of Others is the leanest and most spontaneously animated of the band’s recent releases.
“We do individually have interest in making recordings that aren’t just us in a room, but we get together and think, ‘Well that’s probably what our strength is, that we’re a rock n’ roll band and we’re supposed to make trouble,’” Rogers says.
“With the circumstances, we had to think about, ‘Do we want to make something that is very studied and contemplated?’ And we thought, ‘Well, as a group, no.’ We know each other inside and out, we’re very familiar with each other’s playing and so it’s exciting to work that way.”
The bare bones of several The Lives Of Others tracks emerged while Rogers was living in southern New South Wales, around Ulladulla, Mollymook and Rosedale (all places referenced in the album’s first single, ‘The Waterboy’.) Rogers had moved there following a particularly rocky time on tour with You Am I in 2019, which had him questioning whether he’d ever return to music.
This desire to escape reveals Rogers isn’t immune to self-doubt, nor is he cushioned by the numerous accolades he’s received over the years. To recap, You Am I have won multiple ARIA awards, landed several songs in triple j’s Hottest 100 and seen each of their last nine LPs debut in the ARIA top 20.
Rogers is also a well-established solo artist and boasts an impressive CV away from music. He hosts Double J’s Friday arvo program, Liquid Lunch, and previously presented the ABC TV series, Studio at the Memo. In 2017, he published his memoir, Detours, and in 2014, Jason Benjamin’s oil on linen portrait of Rogers competed for the Archibald Prize.
Rogers has also acted in a number of theatre productions and in 2015, the Melbourne Theatre Company produced a stage adaptation of his 1999 solo album, What Rhymes With Cars and Girls.
But despite all this, Rogers was urgently seeking a change of scenery.
“I just became acutely blue, almost to the point of black,” he says. “So, I thought, I should just be honest about it. There’s no use me being miserable around my best friends, and I’m feeling beleaguered by these songs and by being a performer.
“Going out and playing and needing to get so obliteratingly drunk to even get on stage, I just had to walk away and go, ‘Well why is that happening?’ It’s definitely nothing about the trajectory of the band, but I just wasn’t appreciating it.”
Rogers was interested in building a simpler life for himself and so he got a job working behind a bar. But making music has been his primary hobby and vocation for more than 30 years, during which time he’s become something of an automatic songwriter. So, at the same time as he was doubting his future in music, the foundations of The Lives of Others started spilling out.
“[Songwriting] is the only way of making sense of things,” Rogers says. “The chaos of living, even in peaceful moments, write a song about it kids, make sense of it. Speaking with other songwriters who say, ‘Well, it helps me make sense of the world,’ I understand that. Writing songs that will get on the radio, that as a raison d’etre just seems fucking absurd to me.”
Generating radio classics was certainly the furthest thing from Rogers’ mind when the early versions of the band’s newest songs starting taking shape.
“These songs all started as finger picking folk songs,” he says. “And then when I changed them all to band songs, it was all about, ‘Can I hear Russ here? Can I hear Andy? Can I hear David?’ And I just started really enjoying that again.”
A tangible feeling of delight suffuses every track on The Lives of Others, helping to make it the most cohesive You Am I record in more than a decade. Rogers couldn’t be more chuffed with the outcome.
“There were a number of times, and not for the obvious reasons, we didn’t think it’d be completed or come out or there’d be anyone wanting to release it. So it’s a thrill. It’s equal to any other time, even getting first EPs out and things. I’m as excited as I was when I was 20.”
You Am I’s new album The Lives Of Others is out now.