Latest release: The Lives of Others (Virgin)Website: www.youami.com.au
One of the most important and influential Australian rock bands of the last thirty years, You Am I have returned to their rightful place in front of national audiences once more. Their eleventh studio album, The Lives of Others, was created with the band’s members in isolation from each other – Tim Rogers and Davey Lane in Melbourne, Andy Kent and Rusty Hopkinson in Sydney (and sometimes Perth) – after a period that had Rogers doubting another You Am I album would ever be made.
The Lives of Others is sure to further cement their reputation as among the finest songsmiths the country has produced and live crowds have already been shown the proof that You Am I have lost nothing as a performance act as their latest tour takes them to halls, pubs and festival stages over the next few months. With the album out on May 14, we caught up to drummer Rusty Hopkinson.
Congratulations on a new You Am I album.
Thanks! We’re really happy with it. We’re chuffed about how it came out, under difficult circumstances, as you can probably imagine, and people seem to dig it, so it’s cool.
Every album has a story, but have you ever recorded an album in any way similar to this before?
Our self-titled album which came out in 2011, a lot of the stuff for that… because we were all really busy… we either wrote at home separately – I have a little mini-drum set up here – or basically on the road at soundchecks, and when it came to track to it, I had to be in New York for an extended period so me and Tim went into a studio in Balmain with a friend of ours, Greg Wales, and just banged out all the songs in two days with him on acoustic guitar and me on drums… That was pretty different. And the last record, Porridge & Hotsauce, was recorded in a tiny little studio in New York, in this house in Bushwick in Brooklyn. We all crammed into this little room. Every record seems to be different.
Two locations, one half on the band in one place, the other half in another. You’re touring now, so when did you get the chance to get together and rehearse?
Our band wasn’t in the same room together for 380 days. We played a gig in March. Two of us are in Sydney and two of us are in Melbourne, and then Melbourne got locked down pretty heavily for that extended period. Then due to some family reasons, me and my wife and our dogs had to move back to Perth for a few months over the summer. There was always this thought in the back of our heads that we’d get together and play some songs off this record, but things just kept on… the goalposts kept on moving. So we just had to move with them, and I found a situation in Perth to do some final drum tracking and it all came together. It was fun. It was good being busy in this difficult time, I think.
One of the things Tim said in the lead up to this is that he wasn’t sure if there would ever be another You Am I record. Was that something you were conscious of?
I just don’t think we think about the band in that way, like, ‘OK, now we need another album cycle.’ We’re not that kind of band. I can quite imagine us just continuing on, playing rock and roll and not making another album. We do enjoy playing live and that’s probably our natural environment. It’s always down to whether Tim’s got a bunch of songs that he feels suits the band, and if he’s not in the mood to write You Am I songs, there’s not going to be You Am I songs. These ones just all popped up out of the blue when we just started talking about whether we should do a little bit of demoing, a bit of mucking around while we’re all locked down, unable to do anything. It all just grew from there.
There’s no question these are You Am I songs. There’s no doubt who we’re listening to when we hear these.
I guess the thing for me is how surprising… bouncing things back and forth, how surprising things would be, and how unexpected things would be, and I know those guys had the same feeling. Some of the tracks, especially something like Rubbish Day… I sent it back with cowbells and bongos and all that sort of stuff all over it. I was listening to a lot of Mexican psychedelic music from the 60s at the time – as you do – and I had a drum kit and recording stuff set up in record room at our place and I just started to think, ‘Cool, let’s muck around with this one’. Nobody was expecting that! So it was fun and it was during a difficult time, and we couldn’t really do anything else. When the lockdown happened, I went to our neighbours and said, ‘Can I set up a little drum kit in the record room, I’ll do an hour or two of drums every other day… It doesn’t have to be every day, I’ve just got to keep working and doing stuff, otherwise I’ll go a bit nuts’ and they were all really nice. I live in the middle of Marrickville in the middle of inner west Sydney, so it’s not like people have a lot of room. We’re all crammed in together, so it was really nice of them to agree to that.
What was it like getting back on stage?
It was the longest… I’m 56 years of age, and it was the longest I’ve not played a gig since I was about 16. So, probably about 40 years. It was very strange. It wasn’t like, ‘I can’t play gigs because these guys are over there.’ It was something that just didn’t exist anymore. Stuff just kept getting put back or postponed… It was what it was. The first gig back was this little town in WA called Bunbury and the foldback guy, monitor guy, didn’t really know what he was doing and nobody at the front had any vocals or a different singer had a different monitor. It was all a bit chaotic, but it was incredible fun. Then the next night we played this lovely pub in Margaret River in front of a big crowd and everything clicked into place, and that was the next level of fun.
The next gig we played was on City Beach in Perth, this festival with Icehouse and other people playing, so it was 4.30 in the afternoon, sun right in your face, all these people in chairs waiting for Icehouse to come on… So sometimes it can kind of suck a little bit! Ha ha! It was fun, but it was also, ‘Ok, sometimes this can be a lot of work.’ You’ve got to work sometimes or you lose the people. It was the whole gamut of emotions.
Then we rocked back to Sydney and played the Enmore Theatre and that was, honestly, one of my favourite gigs that I think I’ve played ever. People were so up for it and so excited to be out and about, hearing loud music, everyone got up and danced and it was an incredibly cathartic experience, really.
Our photographer Rod got some amazing shots from that show. It’s not too difficult to get great shots of You Am I live because you’re always so dynamic. I spoke to [Hoodoo Gurus’] Brad Shepherd a while ago and he told me that he knew he had to be on top of his game to go on stage after You Am I.
Oh really? That was a nice thing for him to say!
We like to consider ourselves in the tradition of the high-energy rock and roll bands like… from Chuck Berry onwards, really. Specifically things like the Pretty Things and the MC5, and lots of other stuff, as well, but on stage we have that same kinetic energy thing going on. That’s what we do and that’s what we like. That’s just how the band’s developed. We’re not really technical or we don’t think about it too much – we just do it. That’s the way it comes out, because we don’t like to disappoint each other. You’ve gotta try!
Well, you can’t have been around for 30 years and not have tried!
It’s really just that we’re not really ever satisfied. You just want to be as good as your last show, or your last record, or whatever it is you do. I think that’s what keeps the band going, and I think if the band ever lost that impetus or we just started doing it by the numbers, we just wouldn’t want to do it. Especially Tim wouldn’t do it, because he’s just not that kind of person. I think we’ve all been in other bands where that was the thing, so You Am I’s a special place for us. It’s this thing we’ve created over the years and we push each other to make it still fun and do the hard work to make it this thing you want to come and see.
You must really have a special chemistry because the four of you have been together for a very long time now. That’s a pretty special thing to have.
It really is. They’re like my second set of brothers, really. I think that’s what made this record come together – our ability to second guess a little bit. I was thinking about and trying to write out my thoughts and I remember I was in Perth playing on a couple of tracks, and I was listening to the click track and the way everybody was hitting around it, so it was like, lose the click track and play with people and try to anticipate what they’re doing. One this I realised is that when you play in You Am I, it’s also about vision and watching and feeling. It’s not just playing to something in a grid. Tim moves in a way that you’ve got to play to as well. So it was kind of imagining that group dynamic that we have. That was probably the most challenging thing, but also the most enjoyable thing when it all locks in together and you think, ‘Yes, that sounds like our band’.
Well it definitely sounds like You Am I, and it’s not only great to have a new You Am I record but to have You Am I touring again, because it means we get to see live music again, and we’ve all been waiting such a long time for that.
It’s great. We’ve got Spring Loaded coming up with a whole bunch of mates and we’ve got a whole bunch of shows around that. We’ve got a bunch of album shows in more of an intimate setting in places like the Factory and the good old Zoo in Brisbane… We’re just going to keep playing rock and roll around the place until we can’t do it anymore. Not being able to do it for a year has made us realise what we’ve been missing out on.
Catch You Am I on tour:
16/5: The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
19/5: Factory Theatre, Marrickville NSW (SOLD OUT)
20/5: The Night Cat, Melbourne VIC (early and late shows)
28/5: The Cambridge, Newcastle NSW
29/5: Concourse, Chatswood NSW
19/6: Sandstone Hotel, Bribie Island QLD – Spring Loaded Festival
26/6: Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide SA – Spring Loaded Festival
16/10: Gosford Entertainment Grounds, Godford NSW – Spring Loaded Festival
23/10: Stuart Park, Wollongong NSW – Spring Loaded Festival
30/10: Red Hill Auditorium, Perth WA – Spring Loaded Festival
27/11: Hastings Foreshore Reserve, Mornington VIC – Spring Loaded Festival