Episode 15: Tim Rogers

Tim Rogers is a songwriter and musician.

Penmanship podcast episode 15: Tim Rogers, interviewed by Andrew McMillen, 2015As frontman of Australian rock band You Am I, his writing and performance has been a huge part of my musical education from a young age, when I first heard the band’s 1996 album Hourly, Daily blasting through the wall of my older brother’s bedroom. Over the years, I have seen You Am I play more often than just about any other band, and I’ve been consistently impressed, as their professionalism and enthusiasm for the task at hand is peerless. Away from the band he has fronted for more than 25 years, Tim is an accomplished solo writer, musician and collaborator, most recently with The Bamboos and their 2015 album The Rules Of Attraction. In recent years, he has written a few non-fiction pieces for the likes of The Monthly and The Age, which is something he’s planning to do more often.

This conversation was recorded on a Saturday in late November, the morning after You Am I’s performance at The Triffid in Brisbane. The band’s tenth album, Porridge & Hotsauce, had been released a couple of weeks earlier. I love this album, and said as much in my review for The Australian, where I awarded it four-and-a-half stars out of five. Outside Tim’s hotel room in inner-city Brisbane, it was approaching 35 degrees; he had closed the curtains, and it was so dark inside that I could barely see my notes on the table in front of me. After making me an instant coffee, Tim cracked open a Crown Lager, and we perched at a small table nearby a noisy fridge.

Our conversation touches on how he and the band construct setlists ahead of long national tours; the different attitudes that Australian and overseas audiences bring to his work; how his on-stage persona has changed over the years; how he approaches writing songs about personal matters, and what he has learned about keeping some private material out-of-bounds in his public work; the different emotions that he experiences when starting and finishing songs, and why he sometimes messes with some of his most popular songs when performing them live.

With a career now motoring along in its third unique decade, the remarkable résumé of Tim Rogers encompasses music, film, television, stage and the page. As the frontman of one of the essential Australian rock ‘n’ roll bands, You Am I – alongside bandmates Russell Hopkinson on drums, Andy Kent on bass, and Davey Lane on guitar – have released ten studio albums to date.  Three of these releases have debuted at number one on the ARIA charts in consecutive order – 1995’s Hi Fi Way, 1996’s Hourly, Daily and 1998’s #4 Record – with the albums also receiving multiple platinum and gold status for commercial sales. Tim is a published writer in the likes of The Age and The Monthly, and has encapsulated the passion of every AFL football fan as the face of the AFL final series on TV screens across the country. He has stood in front of 50,000 screaming rock fans, but is just as at home playing an acoustic guitar and joking with the locals in a community-run country town venue. In 2015, he released an album with The Bamboos, The Rules Of Attraction, and was named Double J’s Australian artist of the year.

Tim Rogers on Twitter: @TimRogersMusic

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6.30 Tim says the previous night’s You Am I show at The Triffid was “really hard work”, as he noticed a few people in the crowd who were seemingly unmoved by the band’s performance

8.30 How Tim and the band navigates the decision of playing new material alongside “the hits” live

10.00 How the band assembles the setlist ahead of a tour. “There’s a conceit that it does change from night-to-night, but that’s going to be very easily disproved by… facts”

12.30 How Tim grapples with the idea of repetition, and how performing live sometimes means playing the same songs hundreds of times

13.30 “I don’t have to grapple with it at all; I like playing those songs that people recognise. I didn’t always, but now, I like seeing people enjoy themselves”

14.30 Why Tim has decided to change the cadence of ‘Heavy Heart’ when he sings it live on this tour, accompanied by Stevie Hesketh on keyboard

15.30 “When singing a song like that, I don’t need to do it, but I really want to muck with it, because I need to make it personal for myself”

17.00 ‘Heavy Heart’ [from 1998’s #4 Record] was recorded with a producer, George Drakoulias, “who really put us through the ringer”

19.30 The contrast between Tim’s on-stage persona and how he lives the rest of his life; in recent years he’s tried to “take the nastiness out” of his stage manner

21.30 “I think that’s what I’m trying to do now: to put on that flamboyancy, but make it inclusive”

22.30 Tim wonders about why Australian audiences tend to go to shows – particularly solo, quiet shows – and not listen, which is vastly different to the reception he receives in Europe

24.00 “Occasionally I write things that I’m actually quite proud of; there’s a part of me that, I’m sure, actually does want to be heard, and regarded”

25.00 Recording Porridge & Hotsauce at Daptone Records in New York was “actually really difficult, and we haven’t talked about it a lot since”

27.30 “It reminded me of when we were doing Hi Fi Way [1995]. When we finished that, I thought, ‘Well, that’s the end of the band. It’s a horrible sounding record.’

28.00 “If the band was mine, and I was the lead guy, I would’ve scrapped it all. I listen to it now, and I think it’s wonderful. I adore it. So I was wrong”

28.30 For the first time in You Am I’s history, guitarist Davey Lane sings lead vocals on two songs from Porridge & Hotsauce, ‘Out To The Never, Now’ and ‘Buzz The Boss’

31.30 Tim began getting anxiety attacks again at the start of 2015, while working on a theatre show at the start of the year

33.30 Tim has a “loose contract” to finish a bunch of stories for early next year, and he tries to always be writing. “I’m getting a firmer feeling about the way I want to write”

35.00 “Reading writers and journalists that I enjoy, on tour, that’s more what I’m trying to do more now: to learn. Because I never studied it, and now I kind of want to study it”

37.00 Tim is looking to do more non-fiction writing, so long as it’s not music criticism. “I read music critics, but I don’t know how to explain music”

37.30 Tim recently went out to his place of birth – Kalgoorlie, Western Australia – with his father, an experience which he’s attempting to write about

39.30 As a songwriter, Tim is unused to having an editor, as he’s accustomed to making the final decision about what goes where

40.00 Ahead of the release of #4 Record, You Am I’s record company offered to fly Tim to London to write songs with Ray Davies of The Kinks

42.00 Tim thinks that the “water-logged football” line in ‘Heavy Heart’ made sure that it would never be covered by anyone – except by Courtney Barnett

43.30 What Tim has observed about record companies attempting to reshape musicians to become more successful, and what it does to people as a result

44.30 “Ambition can be wonderful, but it can really make you a real fuckin’ dick”

45.00 Tim recently wrote a letter to himself about what he wished he knew 20 years ago, published on The Huffington Post, about how he wanted to be “regarded as a great songwriter”

46.00 About 20 years ago, Tim became friends with Paul Kelly, when they’d meet up to talk about footy; they now see each other a couple of times per week at footy practice

47.00 Warren Ellis, Nick Cave and Paul Westerberg are three other musicians and songwriters who Tim regards highly

48.30 “Paul [Kelly] and I are mates, and I don’t think we’ve ever talked about songwriting”

51.00 “One of the most uncomfortable dinners I ever had was with Patti Smith in about ’97 or ’98 … I had nothing to say to her”

53.00 Tim never runs drafts of his songs by anyone, except occasionally his partner Rosie

54.30 Having seen her process up close, Tim doesn’t understand why Megan Washington was asked by her record company to co-write with people: “She’s a wonderful, wonderful, very talented songwriter”

55.30 Working with Lance Ferguson and The Bamboos “cracked my head open; this can actually be really good fun”

56.30 When touring with The Bamboos in mid-2015, Tim was “the real nanna”, after deciding he’d have a drug-free tour out of a desire not wanting to disappoint his friends

57.30 Where Tim’s love for words came from, and the physical satisfaction that he feels after completing a song

58.30 Two of Tim’s favourite short story writers include Barry Hannah and George Saunders; he’s a member of a book club which includes Brian Nankervis “and a bunch of other reprobates”

59.30 As a boy, Tim was mostly interested in sport. “I think the only book I read until I was about 15 was Ian Chappell’s book of short stories”

62.00 “My life is pretty easy, but jeez, I’d give it all away in a fuckin’ heartbeat if I could live with my daughter again”

64.00 “Starting songs is really great and fun; finishing them sucks

65.00 When Porridge & Hotsauce was released, Davey, Rusty and their partners each sent Tim letters about the song ‘Daemons’, because nobody heard him record it in Melbourne

66.30 The focus of ‘Daemons’ is partially about what goes on inside Tim’s head, and wondering how much mental illness powers his artistic process

69.00 In terms of songwriting material, Tim has decided that some aspects of his personal life – such as his daughter – are out-of-bounds

70.30 He also tries to avoid “using past relationships for songs, because my relationship with my wife I covet completely, and I want to be careful about that”

71.30 When The Bamboos record The Rules Of Attraction came out in 2015, his wife listened to it and said she thought there’d be “more joyous love songs in there”

73.00 On the road, besides clothes, Tim carries “Tabasco [sauce], my medication, and a flippin’ laptop computer to try and write”

74.30 Tim recently caught himself watching the Netflix series Bloodline in a hotel room, with his reading glasses on, drinking gin and tonic: “Aren’t I supposed to be out, drinking champagne from a shoe?”

75.30 “If you think the object of touring is to make it as close to home life as possible, it’s a fruitless pursuit”

77.00 Writing on a laptop means there’s a delete key within easy reach, which bothers Tim, as he’s used to finding gold under the crossed-out bits in his notebooks

78.00 Tim loves buying For Dummies books from bookshops, and if he was to write his own, it’d be titled Ascending To Middle Age Disgracefully For Dummies



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