First published in Time Out Sydney, April 2013
It seems astonishing, but this year Sydney’s You Am I are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut album, Sound as Ever. Hence three quarters of the band – frontman Tim Rogers, drummer Russell Hopkinson and guitarist Davey Lane (absent is bassist Andy Kent) – are sitting in a café discussing their exciting new project.
It’s not the deluxe reissues of their first three discs. It’s not their nearly sold-out tour performing albums two and three (the beloved Hi Fi Way and Hourly, Daily). It’s the release of their first ever beer, naturally called Brew Am I, which is the obvious next step for a band who legendarily know their way around a tipple.
“Oh yeah,” Hopkinson laughs. “We’re beer barons now, man.”
“It’s to make up for our losses on the terrible ticket sales so far,” deadpans Rogers.
“Yeah, it’s awful,” Lane chuckles.
“Actually, the response [to the tour] has really taken us by surprise,” Rogers says, with surprising sincerity. “It’s just the right time to do it. It wasn’t someone asking us to do it – it came from the four of us.”
Each of the albums is being re-released with a bonus disc of rarities from each period, which has involved a lot of going through the archives for material from the band’s formation in 1989 through to 1996.
“Not that I was there,” Lane, who joined in 1999, points out.
“You were spiritually there, though,” Hopkinson retorts.
Well, the story goes that Lane was busily writing up You Am I guitar chords for the internet and obsessing over the band, wasn’t he?
Lane looks affronted. “No!”
Well, that’s what Wikipedia reckons.
Hopkinson laughs. “That’s because he wrote it.”
“I was just doing the guitar tabs for something to do in the school holidays because I had no friends,” Lane counters. “I was just uploading them for my friend who ran the website…”
“Hey, you just said you had no friends!” Rogers interjects.
There’s some work to be done ahead of the tour. Despite the first three albums’ position as bona-die Australian classics, Rogers may be the only person unfamiliar with them. “I was listening to those records on the drive up to Sydney and I was alarmed at how much I had forgotten. I’d forgotten how great my guitar skills were back then.”
“There are all these parts and harmonies that we do differently these days,” Hopkinson nods.
It’s luckily all the tabs have gotten online somehow, then.
“Exactly!” Lane says, laughing.
The band are now completely independent: no record company, no external management, nothing beyond the members themselves. “We felt that with Andy’s experience with management, Russ’s experience releasing records, and my and Davey’s experience with Class As, we could handle everything ourselves,” Rogers smirks. “Everything that we do now, it’s just asking: will this be fun for us? There’s no talk about ‘trajectory’ or ‘momentum’…”
“It’s not like we’re going ‘OK, let’s crack this market or that market’,” Hopkinson nods.
“We’re cracking the beer market instead!” Rogers says. “It’s the natural progression from our music.”
Talk turns to the tour, and what they plan to get up to. “I think it’s Andy’s turn for a-prankin’,” says Rogers, to wide approval. Although it sounds like the laconic bassist is a hard man to unsettle.
“We were on tour in Wolverhampton [England] in this quaint little hotel, all in beds next to each other, and the fire alarm goes off,” Rogers recalls. “So Russ and I jump up and go, ‘Struth! Andy, get up!’ And he rolls over, puts his hand on the floor, goes ‘it’s not hot’, and goes back to sleep.”
Could the fire have not been in the ceiling, though?
They all stare for a second, before Hopkinson breaks the moment. “We’re not physicists, right?”