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Tim Rogers returns to Fort Wayne
Acclaimed Australian singer/songwriter in rare solo show
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Every era has its seminal album that served as an inspiration for a whole generation of rock fans and fledgling musicians, something that came along and said “hey kids, this is how it’s done.”
If you came of age in the 90s and you were from the U.S., that album might be Nirvana’s Nevermind or maybe (for the little more adventurous) Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted. If you were from Great Britain, that album might have been Definitely Maybe or The Bends…
But if you were from Australia, that honor belongs to a 1995 album called Hi-Fi Way, the second proper full-length by the band You Am I.
Lead by singer/songwriter/guitarist Tim Rogers, You Am I back then seemed to combine the swagger and muscle of 70s Stones and Faces with a bit of the lyrical sensibility (and attitude) of late-period Replacements. They’ve garnered a hefty helping of A.R.I.A. nominations, Australia’s equivalent of the Grammys, including a win for their third album, 1996’s Hourly, Daily. They’ve also earned a reputation as a hellacious live act, and have continued to release great albums that show a band constantly searching for ways to sound just a little bit different than the last time.
Rogers’ songwriting is a big part of what makes You Am I such a unique animal. He can at turns be sardonic, confessional, observational, and cutting. Among other songwriting gifts, he’s able to evoke the varied emotions, feelings, and perceptions of childhood with songs that can be sad without being maudlin, sweet without being sappy, and knowing and funny without being marred by an ironic smirk.
Rogers is not only a fantastic songwriter, he’s a pretty prolific one, too. In addition to nine studio albums with You Am I — plus b-sides, soundtrack work, and other assorted odds and ends — Rogers also has about half-a-dozen solo projects to his credit.
Rogers’ work on his own and with You Am I has evolved over the years, incorporating different styles and playing with arrangements of traditional song structures. He’s currently appearing in a play in Sidney — The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself — that he helped create and wrote the music for… but more on that below.
In a few weeks, Rogers heads to US for a short solo acoustic tour, which includes a stop in Fort Wayne at the Lotus Gallery at 1301 Lafayette Street on Wednesday May 30, courtesy of You Am I super-fan Matt Kelley and One Lucky Guitar. Anyone who caught Rogers appearance in Fort Wayne back in 2006 with fellow Aussie rocker Tex Perkins knows that great songs are just the beginning — Rogers is a master at stage banter, a funny guy who seems to really enjoy being on stage.
FWR had the opportunity to talk to Rogers while he was in Sidney appearing in The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself.
Fort Wayne Reader: Any idea of what you are going to be playing when you come to the US in a few weeks?
Tim Rogers: I haven’t thought about it. I finish the theater the day before I fly to Los Angeles. I think I’ve got half-a-day off there, so I’m going to go to my favorite bar across the road from where I’m staying, and I’m going to watch baseball, and drink beer, and I’m going to write a set (laughs). I’ll happily play anything anyone wants to hear. The show is taking on the quality of a stand-up comedy show, but I’ll do You Am I songs, my songs, covers, whatever. I’m aware of how dull one middle-aged man, one guitar, and a few songs can be, so I’ll try to switch it up a little bit. Maybe I’ll write a song on the spot. Or I’ll make myself some sort of masochistic body artwork. This is entertainment, man!
But I’ve been thinking about the Tincaps! Me and my friends are planning on traveling and catching as many games as we can. With my daughter in New York, I think a lot about American things more than ever, so why I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Phillies fan, I don’t know, but man, the Fort Wayne Tincaps are my team, and I can not #&*#$% wait to go to some games with my friends in Fort Wayne! I’m really looking forward to it.
FWR: When you’re touring and performing by yourself, do you ever re-discover songs from your catalog? Maybe stuff you had overlooked or stopped playing?
TR: Oh yeah, absolutely. It just happened the other night at a show. Someone called out for a song I hadn’t played in… eleven years, I think, and together we managed to get through it. A song called “The Loneliest Folk in the World,” a You Am I b-side.
But I’m not terrifically affectionate about a lot of stuff we’ve done in the past. I don’t really listen to our old records and my old records. I kind of just want to move on to the next thing, because if I inadvertently hear it, I’ll pick holes in it, wonder why we made those choices. Generally, the band performances are great, but I’ll be self-critical. So I go to the next thing, that way I don’t go pouring over old songs. But I’ll be surprised… I’ll meet someone and they’ll say “hey, I dig this song,” I’ll say “okay, if you want to hear it, absolutely…” I’ll play it, I’m sure without the same intent that I did at 26 or 27 or 34, whenever I wrote it, but trying to find something new in it.
Sometimes I’ll hear “I really like this thing you did in the mid-90s. Why can’t you keep doing that?” I used to resent that, but now I think… well, there’s a charm to those old records, and when I play something from them and find something new, it’s very satisfying.
FWR: Speaking of old songs… what’s an “Applecross Wing Commander”? (a song from You Am I’s album Hi-Fi Way)
TR: When I was in primary school, our favorite TV show was this one called Baa Baa Blacksheep about the American air force in the Pacific in WWII. We were obsessed with the Corsairs, and we’d pretend to be Corsair fighter pilots and strafe the hell out of each other. The town I lived in was called Applecross. One of the guys I used to play with and fight with, his sister was beautiful, and I had to decide whether I wanted to be punching out other fighter pilots and think that would impress her, or should I try some more challenging route to win her nine-year-old heart.
I think I was listening too many Kinks records when I wrote that song. The riff is such a rip-off of a couple of things off the first two Pretenders records. Those records were the ones that taught me how to play guitar, so in between listening to Kinks records and Pretenders records — which is interesting considering the lead singers’ history together — that’s where that record came from.
FWR: How has songwriting changed for you over the years?
TR: I’m much less likely now to follow traditional song structures and melodies and chord changes. I’ve kind of lost interest in writing traditionally, and when I say traditionally I mean typical rock/pop way. I mean, if I’ve had a couple beers and the band’s around, I’ll be happy to play some Credence songs and Misfits songs…
But right now, I’m just enjoying writing some tango music at the moment, just for my own enjoyment. I’m studying how some composers will take a music with a big history and orchestrate it in a way that takes it somewhere else. For the next You Am I record, I want to feel the power of the band again, but somehow… adorn it in a way…
It feels nice at 42 to not have to go searching for ways to make my music more idiosyncratic. Just the way my life has sort of panned out, a mix of incredible good fortune and just some quirky little mishaps that somehow get translated into music. That mystery and that alchemy… I haven’t quite worked that out and after years of incredible pretension I feel I’ve reached a point where that pretension has taken on a solid character.
FWR: Tell me about the music for this play you’re involved in now.
TR: (The play) is a monologue with music in it. I don’t think it’s got a particular genre, unfortunately. I wrote a lot of music for it, some songs pre-jazz American music with spares arrangements, and other parts that are more classically-based, I guess, more orchestrated, even though it’s violin, double-bass and guitar, because the character Mary listened to opera and classical music and we wanted that represented, so sort of fudged my personal skills into that.
It’s interesting. The temptation is to listen to music of that era, and the opera and classical music (Mary Maclane) was listening to. I just had to surround myself in that music and surround myself in her writing and talk a lot with the writer and director, and then just kind of leave it alone, see if your imagination kind of creeps into that era and allows you to write. As with everything else, I was fortunate that that kind of happened, I was able to build something around very, very simple ideas.
There’s a very small ensemble playing. Necessity being the mother of invention, we’re trying to work with the text, harmonize it in a way that is high on whimsy or pathos depending upon what part of the development we’re at in the narrative arc, if you’ll excuse the terminology. It’s an interesting experience. Working with someone else’s script and someone else’s idea is an opportunity to give myself and anyone else a break from my god damn self, you know.
But the play… we’ve been performing it for a couple months and it’s been very successful. As much as I love it, I want to get back together with my rock band.
FWR: For a long time, you didn’t collaborate on songwriting. I remember talking to you in 2006, when you came through Fort Wayne with Tex Perkins, and you said he was the only person you had written songs with up to that point.
TR: I’m quite interested in co-writing now. I wasn’t for the first 20 years, and then I’ve done quite a bit of it recently — I’ve done the play, collaborated on some soundtrack work and some other things… I’ll be getting started on the next You Am I record soon, and I want to write it with (the band) writing most of the music.
But I really enjoy (collaborating) a lot more now than I would have 10 years ago. I’ve always known my ideas weren’t necessarily the best, but I guess I was just embarrassed about presenting songs to people one-on-one. But at some point you’ve just kind of have to… man up. There’s that excruciating feeling of handing something over to someone, but it keeps my cheekbones prominent.
FWR: I’ve always wondered this about songwriters who have a body of solo work outside their band: do any of the other guys in You Am I ever point to a song and say “why didn’t you give that one to us?”
TR: No, they’ve never said that actually. I think the way You Am I is… we’re very affectionate. Andy (Kent), our bass player, sort of looks after me now… possibly my manager, if you make it official. Russell (Hopkinson, drummer) and I go out whenever we’re in town together, and Davey (Lane, guitarist) and I pretty much lived together. We often come to blows, but I think we’re very careful not to inject any little resentment into our relationship. So if I do my record, or the other guys do their thing, then it’s pretty much just “hey, that’s my friend doing something.”
I think with my job in You Am I, I’m bringing enough edge… I think I’m doing enough in that regard to keep us all happy. So the short answer to your question would be ‘no.’
One Lucky Guitar presents Tim Rogers
Wednesday, May 30th at 8 PM
1301 Lafayette Street
Tickets: $7 at brownpapertickets.com
ALL AGES SHOW (though there could be a little mature language)