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Acclaimed Australian rocker shows off his singer/songwriter skills in rare Fort Wayne show
An exclusive interview with You Am I’s Tim Rogers
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
On Wednesday, August 23rd, Fort Wayne music fans are in for a rare treat when two of Australia’s most acclaimed modern singer-songwriters — Tex Perkins and Tim Rogers — drop by Columbia Street West for an acoustic show.
Tex Perkins is a veteran of the bands Cruel Sea and Beasts of Bourbon, while Tim Rogers’ day job is the singer/songwriter of rockers You Am I. Since the early 90s, You Am I have clocked up seven albums (not including soundtracks, live releases, and sorted odds and ends) of soulful, raucous rock n’ roll. They’ve toured America several times, been handpicked to open for huge names like The Rolling Stones, Soundgarden, The Who, Oasis, The Strokes, and The Goo Goo Dolls, and been name checked by practically every Australian band with a guitar to come out over the last decade —The Vines and Jet used to open for them. They’ve also picked up a few ARIA awards (Australia’s equivalent of the Grammy), though unfortunately, all this acclaim and peer respect hasn’t translated into stratospheric record sales.
I’ve heard You Am I compared to The Kinks, to early Wilco, and even to Springsteen, though perhaps the best touchstone for American audiences is The Replacements after the Minnesota quartet stopped being drunken punks and started getting serious. Because along with the hellacious guitar crunch in some of You Am I’s music is a real attention to song craft and melody, with lyrics that can be heartbreaking, observational, sardonic, or insightful by turn. Whatever Rogers is singing about, there’s hardly a throw away line.
If Rogers were just a rocker, he’d still be one of the best out there, but the guy is a songwriter, meaning that when the drums and bass are having a break and the acoustic guitar is brought out, the songs are just as compelling. And it’s Tim Rogers the songwriter that Fort Wayne will hear when he stops by with Tex Perkins. The two are on tour behind an off-the-cuff, largely acoustic album they made together as TnT called My Better Half. Perkins and Rogers are old friends, and the album has the feel of two musicians just hanging out, though the material itself ranges from emotional songs like “Dinosaurs” to good-time strummers like “Everybody Hates You When You’re Popular,” and takes in some ribald humor and acoustic renditions of tunes from Rod Stewart, Kiss, and (gulp) Loverboy. Rogers says the album came together very quickly. “It started off kind of jokey, but as it went on, I find a lot of the songs very emotional, Tex’s songs in particular,” said Rogers, reached by phone in Melbourne on the eve of the tour. “He’s got the voice, and I can tell he’s lived the songs.” Early reports indicate the set list for the shows has the same range and feel as the record, with tunes off the album played alongside a sampling of each artist’s back catalog, though Rogers says by the time they reach Fort Wayne, “it could really be anything.”
Fort Wayne Reader: What lead to the tour and album with Tex Perkins?
Tim Rogers: Tex and I have known each other for 13 years, and he’s been playing and singing for a little longer than that. He’s been a real hero of mine since I was a teenager. The bands he was in were extraordinarily influential with anything I was hoping to do. We struck up a pretty strong friendship over the past couple of years, and he asked me “what do you do in your spare time?” And I said “well, I get in my car and go to country towns and play and, you know, make a couple hundred bucks and drink my fill.” He said “can I come with you and we can get double the drinks and double the bucks and have fun?” So it started off very lighthearted, almost like a joke. Then my manager — who I only employed to get me out of debt — said “you should do an album, you should do a tour.” I was going “hey hey hey, hold back. This was only supposed to be a Weekend At Bernie’s.” But God bless ‘em, because we’ve done more than I could have ever hoped. (Perkins is) the only guy I’ve ever collaborated with songwriting, and I really enjoy it.
FWR: You’re a pretty prolific songwriter (Rogers has released four solo albums in addition to his work with You Am I). Are you writing all the time?
TR: Not at all. If I haven’t got anything particular to say, I just don’t write. But at certain times I just need to do it. I find it’s the only thing that sort of calms the buzzing in my head. If I’ve got nothing to write about, I go hammer two bits of wood together or go make a piece of toast. I don’t think I’m sort of a born artist at all. It just brings order to the world to be able to do it (write). It’s a pathetic kind of therapy.
FWR: I have to ask about that cover of Loverboy’s “Turn Me Loose”
TR: Yes, well, Loverboy… they hold an indelible place in our hearts. That was Tex’s idea. He was strolling around the streets of Barcelona while on tour with the Beasts of Bourbon and the idea came to him, and I’m not really one to say no… Um, yeah. You know, “Working For the Weekend” was being covered by someone else, so we took the other one. It’s opened the door to a lot of ridiculous thoughts. I think by the time we reach Fort Wayne, there will be many a Canadian tribute song.
FWR: And I wanted to ask about another story I heard about you clocking one of the judges for Australian Idol (the Australian equivalent of you-know-what) in an airport.
TR: I didn’t clock him, I confronted him. I was a bit addled (from a long night before), but also quite lucid, so I approached a judge from Australian Idol and said “we’ve just been refused a tour in the states because we asked our company for support and they said no because they were pouring so much money into Australian Idol. Do you realize that for every minute your shitty show is on TV my band could have toured for weeks?” And he was rude so I had a go at him. But I didn’t clock him. It was just drunken kind of revelry. He has kids and I didn’t want to splay him across the pavement. Also, his bodyguards were with him.
FWR: You Am I’s first four albums were released in the US on Warner Brothers. I heard you had a fractious relationship with the company.
TR: Well, yeah, in the way that as often happens, one very intelligent, erudite, charming gentleman by the name of Jeffery worked very hard to get us signed to the label, and we are eternally grateful for that experience. But I think You Am I is a very, very idiosyncratic band. We get asked about it often. “Why didn’t thing go a little more harmoniously over there?” I was asked to change my writing style by people further down the food chain in Warner Bros, to write a song more palatable to US radio. My own pride, I couldn’t do that. I mean, if something like that happens and you do write a song or album that connects with a large group of people, if that happens naturally then that’s wonderful and I’d be the first to be dancing on the rooftops. But very early on I think we realized ‘look, we’ve got to make a lot of compromises to the way we wanted to be as a band if we were going to succeed on any level.’ Jeffery, our A & R guy, realized that as well, and much to his credit, he supported us until the end. I don’t think we actually signed to Warner Brothers. We sort of got thrown around a lot, so we didn’t receive a lot of the benefits you would think would come from signing with a major label, just a lot of the headaches. But look, it was a great experience. We toured the states a lot and had experiences we’ll still bring up much to the chagrin of people who weren’t there.
FWR: You’ve been handpicked to open shows by bands you must have grown up idolizing, like The Rolling Stones and The Who. You don’t seem like a guy who is easily intimidated, but were you a little intimidated?
TR: A long time ago it would have been. There’s a bit of intimidation, but it’s more that you just want to do a great job. I think, because we’re not the most ambitious types… I mean, it’s great when things happen that are successful, but it doesn’t seem to be our objective to get further up the ladder, so those times when we played with those bands, it was more that I held the guitar that Keith (Richards) played at Altamont that he lost to Ron (Wood) in a card game, and Pete Townsend cornering me and Davey (Lane, YAI guitarist) backstage and saying “oh, you’re the You Am I blokes! My son really f**** loves your band!” We just enjoyed it for what it was, which was just an extraordinary experience that we could never have imagined happening.
FWR: A few years ago, there was a rumor that You Am I were going to support Paul Westerberg, open for him and be his backing band on tour…
TR: Yeah, there was. We got approached by… definitely not by Paul. I met Paul one time in particular, we were both in the studio together, and he’s obviously the big one for me. I don’t know how serious it got, but we were obviously right up for it. You know, if he’s ever interested, we’re there.
FWR: Take your average American rock fan who might like You Am I but hasn’t been exposed to them yet. Where should they start?
TR: I think that they should approach me with a beer in hand, sit me down, and get me to play the complete catalog to them. That’s one drink for every song. No, I think like any egotistical guy in a rock band, I always think the best one is the last one. You Am I just released a record a couple of months ago called Convicts, and that’s… I think that’s the best we can do until the next one. Unfortunately, I’m a bit loathe to go pick through our back catalog. There are a lot of albums there… it’s difficult to say. I still think that the buying a drink per song idea would work. No one would leave unsatisfied.
One Lucky Guitar presents:
T'N'T – TIM ROGERS (You Am I) & TEX PERKINS (Cruel Sea, Beasts of Bourbon)
Join us on Wednesday, August 23rd, 9 pm
Columbia Street West
$5 at the door
Support: Legendary Trainhoppers acoustic