You Am I – Interview
September 28, 2008 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, September 11, 2008.
Eighth album Dilettantes is a very different You Am I record. An ode to the great barroom philosophers, it is filled with unusual hooks, textures and stories. We spoke to ever-charming front man Tim Rogers.
What’s shaking Tim?
Oh you know, funerals and throwing myself around like a chip at a six-year-old birthday party.
The new record’s a real surprise after Convicts. I thought that it had a really interesting, kind of experimental production aesthetic. Was there a real idea about the sonic direction of this record, or did it just kind of come about?
Well, I made a couple of tapes at home to send to the guys with little loops and blips and blobs. I think it just seemed to suit the subject matter a little better. Initially, when I started writing for the record, it was very upbeat and it almost kind of had a dance element, which was just because I just felt like playing guitar that way and wanted to hear what Russ would do with these things.
Then a lot of these songs got thrown away and I started playing around with some other songs that had a bit more substance to them – those initial tunes were probably a bit lightweight – so at the end it kind of just ended up like it did. It was this kind of mix of tracks that have a bit of levity to them and others have a lot more weight to them. So it’s a bit of a mix up. What I feel about the record is that it feels very driven by a quest for understanding emotion, rather than just the vitriol with which we’ve attacked some things of late.
I remember reading in an interview that since you’ve got a little closer to middle age you’ve started to fear dropping off the map, that you’ve got a new appreciation of everyone who listens to your records and comes to see you play…
I don’t fear it – it’s just always there. I guess touring around a bit, it becomes a bit obvious that, particularly in Australia, if you haven’t made it big overseas, there’s a sort unwillingness to give someone who has made a bunch of records a go. When people aren’t really living off it and we’ve all got other jobs and things like that, and just wanting to be able to keep doing it. At times I wish it would just fuck off and dig itself under the ground, but that will only last a half hour.
Is there an inevitability that creeps into what you do after all these years?
I don’t really feel it at the moment. I mean, I’m delightfully sliding into almost middle age. At the moment I don’t feel like making another You Am I record. I want to go on tour with the band and to make sure that happens, and I’m thinking about other things I’ve got coming up.
But then in three months or something, some songs that I want to do with the band will pop up and we’ll start talking about it again.
It doesn’t feel like there’s any real inevitability about it at all. I mean, we can’t tour in a way that assures our income – we definitely don’t tour for that reason and of course we don’t make records for that reason – it’s kind of indulgent rather than this assurance that it’s there. So it feels like a risky kind of thing in a way. And to throw yourself emotionally into this thing at times just goes too far and you sort of make a mess of yourself.
Is it that risk that keeps You Am I, or writing songs, vital from your perspective?
There’s a bit of that, but it all just feels that way. I mean, starting to write a song, or make a record or start a tour, I have no idea how it’s going to go. So I think just the flux of things is great. You know, we’ve always played in front of a lot of people one night and virtually nobody the next and you just don’t ever really know what’s around the corner.
When we’ve toured with bigger bands and they just know that they’re going to get a lot of people every night and just know which songs are going to get the biggest reaction, you can just see that inevitability creep into everything that they do. But nothing’s ever really set in stone with usand there’s a vitality that comes from that, I guess. And also, just the want to create better things. You read something everyday or listen to something or have an experience and you think you have to chronicle that or make sense of it. Art and music feeds into that and gives your life a vitality.
Tell me about your experience of America. While the overwhelming majority know of you here, do you still find that you have lots of people coming to your shows for the first time in America?
Yeah, yeah, there is that. It’s exciting in some ways and the shows are a lot looser overseas. Like, I remember one in Kansas City last year where I went on stage rolling my pants up to shorts and shirtless and wearing a headband and sort of barely got out with my pants on, and just really not caring about anything much. It was just as loose as hell. That element of the brat is still brought up with us there.
I mean, there’s a part of me anyway that wants to stick it up your butt, but I’ve got a kind of ethical thing to look at where this might be someone’s first show and you kind of don’t want to fuck up completely. I’ve done enough bad shows to know that people can kind of feel like they’re getting taken advantage of, and I don’t want to do that, but that kind of conflicts with the idea that with a rock ‘n’ roll band every night shouldn’t be the same.
I think we feel like we’ve been doing a similar thing for a couple of years now and we’ve got a bit of hunger to move on from that. Ranting for two hours can actually be pretty boring, so I can’t wait to play these new songs because it feels like we’re performing without a net now.
Who are some of these dilettantes who you speak of on the record? Who are some of these people who have inspired you?
Well unfortunately, most of them are dead. There’s a big difference between a barroom philosopher and a barroom bullshitter and I guess I’m someone who does have a thirst for knowledge, but doesn’t really have the patience for it and thinking at times that all I do is throw my arms around and shout a bit. But in doing that I’ve been afforded the chance and the opportunity to meet people who have a real vitality and intelligence and a real ability to conjure magic like that, just with words and the twinkle of an eye. When those people pass, it feels as though I’ve been infused with all this beauty and knowledge and humour and what am I to do with that?
I think with my access and friendship with people who have given so much, all I can do with that is try and pass on that same enthusiasm. I’ll never have that same verbosity or elucidation of the people I’m singing about, but for me to give up and get fat would be an insult to their memory, and I feel very much that the propulsion behind what I do comes from the words and the wishes of people that I’ve loved in the past and are no longer with us.
Being lucky enough to make the music that we’ve been involved with, we’ve had certain opportunities to brush shoulders with very wealthy people and very famous people, and that’s sort of not enough for me. I want to be able to use that experience to stir things up a little and makes things interesting. Like kids shouldn’t be allowed to by cynical until they’re 80, and I’m a cynical person myself a lot of the time and there’s a thick level of misanthropy that I often feel afflicted by, but I don’t want to become a victim to that. I want to pass things on. I’ve got some darker impulses in me, but if I can keep that one at the front then maybe I can do some good in the world.”
Dilettantes is out this Saturday through EMI