By TINA PEEL
SYDNEY band You Am I are on a roll. Their Goddamn record is finally on the shelves, after much pfaffing around, they’re getting grand reviews when they play the gigs that matter (and generating no less excitement when they fuck it up), drawing ever-larger crowds – and they’ve got more than one label sniffing their butts. All up, not bad for three self-described ‘white and skinny’ suburban boys.
Last time You Am I got their mugs in these esteemed pages was to coincide with the release of Snake Tide, their debut EP from 1991. That little effort, jam-packed with ideas and cool as it may have been, was marred by patchy production. “Yeah, when we finished Snake Tide we decided we wanted to concentrate less on sounds and to try to write some better songs. We’ve been able to do that now, and hopefully the songs are getting stronger all the time.” says singer, guitarist and showpony Tim Rogers.
Writing better songs certainly is something the band is doing now, and even if Goddamn doesn’t yet approximate their live power, it’s well on the way. In any event, their live crowds were building steadily even before the record came out ‘We’ve always had a live reputation that says that even when we’re not that good at least we’re sort of … interesting,says Tim. “That’s meant a steady increase in crowds, especially since we were given some big chances (Big Day Out and a Sydney Nirvana support) which went well.”
That reference to ‘interesting’ live shows refers, as much as anything else, to You Am l’s determination to entertain rather than just play. Unfortunately, some of our less astute rock scribblers have pronounced these activities to be unforgivable forays into, ahem … ‘posing” and “rock wanking”.
“Too any bands just do their thing,” explains drummer Mark Tunaley. “They play and go home, with no interaction with the crowd. I like to see me personality from a band, provided it’s genuine. The whole thing is to enjoy it, and to get involved. It’s not that easy to get a gig when you’re starting up so if you’re not going to try and muster as much emotion as you ca muster, why bother in the first place?
Some of the band’s more lively displays of late have led me to wonder whether the band members really hate each other. “Yes,. definitely,” laughs bass player Andy Kent. “From now on its purely business.”
“No we don’t hate each other but we are pretty volatile!” adds Tim. ‘We always want things to be right at our shows and when the amplifier breaks down that tension can come through.”
This tension has led to ever more diverse crowds cottoning onto the gact that You Am I are one of Sydney’s toughest, most explosive five acts. “I think that there are a lot of bands around that play heavy, and kids who would have once stuck strictly to metal will now come and see these bands.We’re probably in that category,” says Andy. “It’s just rock,” adds Tim, before realising the absurdity of that particular statement. Trying to explain himself, he adds, “There’s gotta be a song in there somewhere — it’s just rock!”
The fact that You Am I just happen to play their songs hard is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. The songs themselves can stand alone — simple, direct, intelligent and melodic, owing as much to the Replacements and Soul Asylum, than the oft-cited but slightly dubious SubPop leanings. Maybe this underlying songwriting strength is one of the reasons that so many ‘top record execs’ are lurking in the dark at some of Sydney’s salubrious establishments whenever the lads shake their tushes. Whatever the reason, the band is aware of the interest.
“Obviously there’s pressure there — pressure to make the right decision,” says Andy. “On the other hand, though, you feel sort of justified in what you’re doing. You think, ‘Well, we may be alright after all.’ It’s not just a couple of friends saying ‘you’re cool, mate’ any more.” (continued below)
The band’s biggest priority now is to do some more recording, because even though Goddamn will have barely hit the shops by the time you read this, it’ll be close to a 12 months old. There are some demos floating around that were done recently for a Sydney label and they show a real progression in the studio — a far better, far tougher approximation of the live pyrotechnics. Could these tapes, I wonder out loud, be an accurate indicator of the next release?
“The next one’ll be really interesting — much more of a three-pronged beast,” says Tim. But enough of this serious corporate rock stuff. It’s time to delve the big issues, like the band’s favourite Beverly Hills 90210 characters. “Brenda, definitely,” says Tim confidently. “I used to hate Brenda early on, but I think she’s got a bit of sparkle in her eye.”
“Do you write for Hot Metal or Girlfriend?” enquires Andy politely. “What about Tori Spelling?” continues Tim. “She’s got this incredible body but this really odd face — she’s pretty hot. The Chemical People went to Beverly Hills High, but none of them made it into the series.
“You know that [California punks] Pavement appeared on it?” enquires Tim excitedly. “They got drunk and beat up Jason Priestley. Now they’re my favourite 90210 characters.”
Things get a little less coherent after this, with dubious theories on Rob Halford’s hair and Lita Ford generally being given an airing — surely not the stuff for a serious rock mag such as this. But You Am I are deadly serious, as you should endeavour to find out for yourself.
Just bear in mind that you shouldn’t stand too close to the stage if their gear’s not working!