“G’day, Blackie! How are ya?”
When Tim Rogers and Peter Black (the aforementioned “Blackie”) are connected together in a Zoom meeting late Thursday afternoon, they launch straight into a catch-up. They’re immediately talking about the usual stuff blokes in their early ’50s natter about – their kids, housing and the finer points of specific suburbia.
It’s so natural hearing these two go back and forth that you’d be forgiven in forgetting for a moment they’re two of Gen X’s most prominent and prolific figures of Australian rock music – and now, as it turns out, they’re bandmates.
In August, You Am I frontman Rogers was announced as the new lead vocalist of the Hard-Ons, the band that Black founded in Punchbowl back in the mid-80s. Not only had Rogers joined the band he’s frequently called one of his all-time favourites, he’d also cut a new LP with them. I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Taken is the Hard-Ons’ 13th studio album. With Rogers fronting the punk outfit, however, it felt like a proper fresh start.
This ain’t no Judas Priest and Tim “Ripper” Owens operation, where Blackie and co. have simply picked out a fan to front this heritage outfit – rest assured, this is the real deal. All it takes is 32 minutes listening to I’m Sorry Sir to confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Ahead of the album’s release, Rogers and Black spoke candidly about their history, their present and what this fresh coat of paint means for one of Australia’s hardest-working bands.
Music Feeds: Tim, you’ve spoken very openly about the influence that the Hard-Ons had early on in your career – You Am I started out playing Hard-Ons covers when they first got together. Blackie, what do you remember about coming across Tim and You Am I for the first time?
Peter Black: I think the first time was actually when they played with us, now I think about it. It was in the weirdest fuckin’ venue ever, out in Crow’s Nest. My memory isn’t awesome, but besides them rocking out what I really remember was that it was a fucking weird crowd. It was like a suburban crowd who didn’t want two fuckin’ hairy-bum bands spoiling whatever their night normally is and. Luckily, You Am I got to play first and cop most of the shit. Someone was yelling at Tim, “Faster! Faster!” I remember Tim stops what he’s doing and goes, “What, mate? You gotta be more specific! Linguine? Tagliatelle? Fucking shells?” I’m thinking to myself, “That’s either the worst or the most awesome way to take the piss out of a heckler I’ve ever witnessed.” [laughs]
MF: Do you remember this show at all, Tim?
Tim Rogers: Oh, I can remember so much about it. It was such a big deal to us, playing with our heroes, but we also got billed that night as You And I. We must’ve sounded like Jackson Browne or an America-type acoustic duo to them [laughs]. We were so nervous. We got to Crow’s Nest five hours before soundcheck and thought about what shirts we were gonna wear! What I mostly remember is that the Dons [Rogers’ nickname for the Hard-Ons] were just so cool to us, and so friendly. When I first saw them way back when, my brother and my best mate took me to the show and they were talking to Ray [Ahn, bassist] and Pete after the gig. On the whole drive home, I was just awestruck. “What did you talk about? Why were they talking to you?” They both just shrugged at me. “They’re cool!” they said to me. “They’re just really good people.” I was just flabbergasted that they’d speak to people like us, these fucking Baulkham Hills idiots. [laughs]
PB: You Am I started not too long after we did really, but we didn’t get to play together all that often. You guys skyrocketed pretty quickly. I do remember a few gigs at the Lansdowne, and playing around the city a lot. The Lansdowne probably didn’t smell as bad back then as it does now. [laughs] But yeah, we definitely go back. There’s a lot of history between our two bands, so when people were like “What do you mean, Tim Rogers is joining the band?” I was like, “What do you mean ‘what do you mean?’”
MF: When Keish De Silva left the band the first time back in 2001, Blackie took over on vocals. You’ve spent the last five years as a four-piece with Keish up front again, but when he left a second time, people seemed to think you were going to revert to being a trio again. What was the process behind deciding to bring in someone new entirely for the first time in a decade?
PB: I don’t really know, except it didn’t feel right to go back as a three-piece. I just didn’t feel like doing it. I mean, I do lead vocals in Nunchukka [Superfly, Black’s other band with Ahn], and I obviously sing in my solo project as well. That said, I love just playing guitar by itself – not being the lead singer as well. It’s sort of too grubby to get into, but we were thinking about getting rid of Keish even a little bit earlier than when he left.
Ray and I were kind of excited by opening up the options – we were like, “we could do that, or we could do this.” In my mind, I don’t think it was ever gonna go back to a three-piece because I think we’d had enough of it. To me, it just felt like this was our chance to just do something else.
MF: Tim, this was also a unique prospect for yourself as well – being brought in as solely a lead singer, not as a vocalist/guitarist. Is this the first band you’ve strictly done vocals for?
TR: Technically, no. I was with The Bamboos for an album [2015’s The Rules of Attraction] and two tours. The arrangement between The Bamboos and myself is that whenever Lance [Ferguson, The Bamboos’ bandleader] calls, I just drop everything and go, because I love those people. I really enjoyed that, because band dynamics are fascinating to me. Being in The Bamboos and being in the Hard-Ons is actually very similar, in an odd way. The Bamboos are such good, solid people, and they really like each other. All through van rides and rehearsals, it’s all just talking, telling jokes, telling stories. I’ve been privy to bands that just don’t get on, and there’s nothing more depressing.
With regards to You Am I, we’re better friends now than we ever were. People liken it to a family, and I guess it is in the way that you can really get under each other’s skin. At the same time, you’ve experienced something together that no other group of people have, and that’s a very precious thing. At my first rehearsal in with the Dons, I walked in and was extremely nervous. When I first met Murray [Ruse, drums] and we just gave each other a big hug, and then we just started playing and telling stories… it was thrillingly familiar.
PB: It was it was seamless, wasn’t it! It was actually outrageously seamless, and I think we knew it was gonna be. We didn’t really discuss it in any sort of hardcore way, all we knew is that we didn’t want to be a three-piece. Ray has this lightbulb moment and he goes, “you know what? I’m gonna fucking ring up Tim Rogers.” Me and Murray looked at each other, and we’re like, “that’s a fucking awesome idea.” You could tell that this was gonna be really cool. I know I’ve got hindsight now, but we were all very up for it. Thankfully, so was Tim. By the first or second track in that rehearsal, everyone looked at each other like, “this is fucking cookin’!”
MF: What songs were you playing that first rehearsal? Tim, did you have a list of old Hard-Ons songs you wanted to sing with the band?
TR: That rehearsal was all the songs that ended up on the album, actually. Blackie had written me almost a whole album! There were two songs that just had some sketch lyrics – one with melody, one without – but everything else was pretty much ready to go. I drove up to Sydney from Melbourne listening to the demos over and over – I love driving the Hume, and I love learning things while I’m driving. I fell in love with the demos, and I asked Blackie to send me lyrics. I felt like I was betraying my lover a little bit. [laughs]
Within five minutes of stepping in the room, we’d said g’day, talked about Deep Purple and then went straight into ‘Hold Tight’. It was just joy, straight away. We went off and made the record, and then we were planning a show at Frankie’s Pizza that was going to be my first one with the band. The guys said to me, “Why don’t you write a setlist?” I called my best mate in a panic – I was like, “fuck, I can’t whittle it down from the 83 songs I’ve picked.” [laughs]
PB: That was going to be such an exciting gig. [sighs]
TR: I didn’t tell you about this actually, Blackie… my girlfriend and I went to Frankie’s Pizza because I just wanted to sit in the room that we were gonna play, and she said it was fucking hilarious. I was there like a little schoolkid, being like, “We’re gonna play over there, and I’m gonna be here and that’s where Blackie’s amp is gonna be. [laughs]
PB: It would have been the best fucken debut, I swear! The thing about the last couple of Hard-Ons records is that I feel like we got really unlucky. We’d release a record, and then there’d be the 30th anniversary of another one of our records, and everyone would be like, “oh, are you gonna do something for this?” We’re there like, “…but we just did this!” All the new stuff just kept getting pushed aside, and then of course the pandemic hit. We felt like we couldn’t catch a break. When Tim came back with his setlist of songs he wanted to play, and most of them were from our last six records, I was like, “Fuck, I want to kiss this guy!” [laugh] A lot of them were songs we’d maybe played once before, if at all. It would have been the best way to announce this lineup, as well. No hoo-ha – just rock up to Frankie’s, plug-in, curtains pop, and there’s us. The fact that didn’t get to happen had me pitching a fit.
TR: I was gonna set myself on fire at the end of the gig, as well.
PB: No way!
MF: Tim, you obviously knew Blackie and Ray well from back in the day, but you mentioned that you hadn’t really met Murray prior to joining the band. How did your relationship develop as you were making the album?
TR: After recording one time, Murray and I went to the pub like two naughty little boys. Ray and Blackie had asked me to write this setlist, and he kept suggesting songs. He thought it’d sound better coming from me than coming from him. “Tim, I wanna play ‘I’m A Frozen Boy’! I wanna play ‘Cigarettes’! Put ’em in there!” We were like two little kids who’d won Golden Tickets to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Murray’s incredibly musical. He has this massive, musical mind. Like I said, he was the only guy I didn’t know, and he can either look really intimidating or he can look like a teddy bear. There’s absolutely no in-between with Murray – axe murderer or teddy bear. [laughs] I remember just listening to him talk through the songs with Ray and with Blackie, and it reminded me so much of being in the room with Rusty [Hopkinson, You Am I drummer]. He’s another guy that’s big and intimidating, but also has a great mind for music. That was a really beautiful surprise.
MF: Blackie, when it came to writing the songs for this album, were they penned with Tim in mind once the deal was done that he’d join the band?
PB: Yes and no. I mean, I just write continuously anyway, but then you do sort of know instinctively after a while who will suit what. You’re writing away, thinking, “Murray would kill this song,” or “this song is perfect for Ray.” We love albums, too – great start-to-finish albums. When I was a taxi driver, I’d go on these long drives listening to Frank Zappa albums. He was always so great at making these cohesive works from beginning to end.
When I knew Tim was gonna join, it came down to the simple question: what would make a good record? Just because these songs are good, it doesn’t mean all these songs will be good together, y’know? Knowing Tim was definitely on board made the process a bit easier, for sure. You’d listen back to songs thinking, “he’s going to make this sound sick,” or “fuck, he’s gonna nail this one.” There were even some where I was like, “I don’t know what he’s gonna do here, I can’t wait to hear what he tries.” Having four of us to bounce off gave it a real sense of excitement.
MF: Tim, whereabouts were you creatively when the Hard-Ons ball started rolling? The latest You Am I record The Lives of Others was obviously in the can – were you ready to throw yourself into a new album so soon after?
TR: Before getting back together with You Am I, I hadn’t exactly left music, but I also wasn’t wanting to really tour or even play live. I was working at a bar, painting a few pubs. I was really enjoying just having a day-job, writing for my own pleasure and sending songs to my daughter for us to work on together.
MF: So, what changed?
TR: Well, I’ve often said there’s nothing like cleaning up a toilet at the end of an eight-hour bar shift to make you want to be in a rock band again. I got together with You Am I again, and I loved that. Between playing with them again and being with my friends, and then getting the Hard-Ons demos, I thought to myself, “I actually want to live for a lot longer.” When given an opportunity to play on songs that someone else has written, you just receive them like gifts. You don’t feel precious about them, because they’re not your creations. These songs are Blackie’s songs, and so it was just all joy and fun. There was no angst involved – the only angst was wondering if physically I could get through a couple of shows in a row. [laughs] My daughter’s even said it – she said to me, “Every time you talk about the Hard-Ons, you’re so happy!” It was surprising to her! “You’re not that guy! You’re the pretentious guy, and now this makes you walk around like a little kid!” [laughs] All I can hope, truly, is that I can emanate that feeling or give that off to other people.
PB: I think you’ve definitely done that, mate.
MF: What do you both remember about the day of the announcement that Tim was joining the band?
TR: I’ll say this: I don’t involve myself much in social media, but when I knew the news was going to drop I said to my missus, “Yeah, I’m gonna stay away from social media for awhile.” [laughs] Some people are really passionate about the band, and it’s understandable that me being here puts some people’s noses out of joint because of their allegiance to the classic line-up. The Hard-Ons are a band that deservedly has a lot of fans that are very passionate.
PB: There’s another way you can look at that, though, which is how fans can be very backhanded. You’ll play a gig, and someone who’s been coming to see you for 20 years will say something like, “When are you gonna go back to the classics? Y’know, shit like Surfin’ on My Face! This new stuff… I dunno…” You’ve just put out a new record you’re fucking stoked with, and you’re excited to play it for people. You might even think it’s the best thing you’ve ever done, and then you get hit with something like that.
It’s awesome that the band means something to them, but also I think it comes back to all of us being music nerds. If I like an artist, I want to listen to everything that they’ve done. I want to explore. For some people, music is just about what they liked as teenagers when they were going to gigs. You can’t really do much about those sort of people. We could have brought in Mother Theresa to sing for us, and it still would have pissed people off. Regurgitator even wrote a song about it, y’know? ‘I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff’. If you’ve been around this long, it’s unavoidable. That’s just the way it goes.
MF: One interesting aspect about I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Taken is the fact that there may well be people who know Tim and music but not necessarily know the Hard-Ons. Tim, is there anything in particular that you hope newcomers to the band get out of listening to this album? Do you feel a sense of responsibility, in any way?
TR: I care about making a good impression on my friends Ray, Pete and Murray. That’s what I really care about, when it all comes down to it. I would love it if people who didn’t and haven’t heard the last six or seven Hard-Ons LPs go out and get them once they’re done with this new album. They’re just essential to me – that diversity, the attack, the constant quality of the band. I think it really gets overlooked, and I’ve spoken to a number of people whose last Hard-Ons record may have been Too Far Gone or Yummy, and it’s like… yeah, I get it. But! You’ve got to hear these fucking records. [Previous album, 2019’s] So That I Could Have Them Destroyed is a fucking masterpiece. Peel Me Like a Egg, Alfalfa Males… there’s so many great songs on those records. The only responsibility I feel is that anyone I’m speaking to – whether they’re coming to see me play or I’m delivering their mail – is telling them they’ve got to get those records if they’re a fan of melodic, powerful rock & roll music.
PB: I feel the same way, mate. Our only real responsibility is to the band. Music is just a joyful thing, full stop. All we wanna do is rock out. You either rock out with us or you don’t. We don’t care. We love what we do, so we just want to get out there and keep having a shit-hot time.
‘I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Taken’ is out now via Cheersquad Records. The Hard-Ons are playing the 2022 Uncaged festival in January and February, before playing their own headlining dates across March and April.