The Tenants
The Tenants | Image: Supplied

The Tenants on ‘You Shit Me To Tears’: “You Can’t Write the Same Song Over and Over Again”

There are plenty of familiar names in triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown of 1999 – Powderfinger at the top, Killing Heidi next, and the likes of Rage Against The Machine, the Bloodhound Gang and Placebo as high as you’d expect. But in the bronze medal position you’ll find The Tenants with their little song that could, ‘You Shit Me To Tears’.

For a home-grown act who came in third in the annual countdown that soundtracks 50,000 barbecues, you’d be forgiven for wondering what happened to The Tenants.

The Tenants – ‘You Shit Me To Tears’

The Tenants might now seem like a one-hit wonder of the Aussie indie music scene, but that shouldn’t overshadow the wild popularity of ‘You Shit Me To Tears’, with its ska guitar chords and memorable, cuss-filled chorus.

The Bathurst outfit’s debut single scored massive airplay after winning triple j’s Unearthed competition in 1998. A few singles and an EP followed, as well as the band’s lone full-length, Everything You Know Is Wrong, in 2006. In the subsequent 15 years, however, The Tenants’ have only been active for a few sporadic reunion shows.

And while The Tenants were never able to recapture the highs of their debut single, they did hold a 22-year record as the Aussie band with the best batting average in the Hottest 100 countdown – with their only charting song landing at number three spot, ‘You Shit Me to Tears’ is on par with Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’(#3 in 1995) and Chumbawamba’s ‘Tubthumping’ (#3 in 1997).

The Wiggles and The Kid LAROI broke The Tenants’ record in the 2022 countdownAnd maybe that was enough to rouse them from their dormancy. The band recently made their Spotify debut, and they’re promising new music and live shows in the near future.

The Tenants’ guitarist and vocalist Jason Rooke spoke to Music Feeds about the history of their record-making track and what’s coming next for band.

Music Feeds: What’s the story behind ‘You Shit Me To Tears’?

Jason Rooke: I was challenging myself at the time because I bought all this simple recording gear and wanted to make a record at home on the farm. I was just writing anything, playing solo. I was doing this kind of morose, sort of mellow country stuff, and then I’d go and fill in for a band doing rock’n’roll stuff. 

The lyrical side of things was the culmination of nearly five years spent in Sydney and being really frustrated with not being able to get anywhere. I couldn’t do any of the good things in Sydney because I just didn’t have the money to do it anymore. Everywhere used to be free, but then you had to pay to get in, the pokies were coming on, and it was all becoming a nightmare. It was just frustration and getting it all out on the page.

MF: When did you realise the track was starting to take off?

Jason: It was pretty quick, it didn’t take very long. After the first day that triple j announced the song, the phone was just crazy, running off the hook. And it was pretty scary because I had no one; I had no managers, no people in my life like that. So it was me trying to be polite and going, “Can you just hang on a minute? I’m gonna go and ask somebody some questions before I can go and sign anything.”

I think there were plenty of record companies, but I don’t think they really got the gist of what we were about. Everyone, typically, was just like, “So where’s your new ‘You Shit Me To Tears’ song?”, and I’d say, “Yeah, don’t have one, but I’ve got these other ones.”

You can’t write the same song over and over again because it sounds stupid. We ran into that quickly, but mostly we were on the road pretty much within two weeks of getting announced – we were the road, like, just going crazy. We didn’t stop for months.

The Tenants – ‘Boredom’

MF: How did it feel to make it into the Hottest 100? I’m assuming that you probably didn’t think you’d make the countdown, let alone feature that highly.

Jason: No, we were all having bets. We were home at the time. We’d been away for so long – we’d been going to Cairns and back, touring up and down the coast, and then back down in Melbourne for ages.

I was at home in Bathurst and the funny thing was that the farm I was living on didn’t even get radio or TV reception. So in order to actually listen to the countdown, I had to come into the town to go to the pub, and I was trying to explain to the publican that there’s this radio station called triple j, “blah, blah, blah.”

And he’s just looking at me with the blankest stare. “Is there any chance you could just do me a favour and put the radio on?” He wouldn’t have a bar of it. Then one bartender came over and said, “Oh, you’re talking about the Hottest 100?” So he put it on the speakers and it was the only way I could actually hear the announcement.

I thought I’d missed everything because they were down to 20 or something like that. And I was trying to call people and go, “Did we make it anywhere?” Everyone’s going, “No, haven’t heard a thing.” I went, “Oh, it’s all over. Doesn’t matter.”

MF: Were you aware that you’d held this record for being the Aussie artist with the highest average in the Hottest 100 for so long?

Jason: Absolutely zero awareness. I’ve kind of been in a cocoon for the last few years, especially since Covid anyway, sort of just trying to worry about making a living and paying a mortgage rather than doing anything. So we’ve only just awoken from the cocoon.

MF: This year The Wiggles and The Kid LAROI overtook that record, but there’s a strong chance they might appear again soon, meaning there’s a good opportunity for you guys to reclaim that record once again.

Jason: It’s great. Well, it’s kind of strange the way life… I mean, I teach music to people with disabilities – songwriting and all that sort of stuff – and it’s just so far removed from back then.

I actually teach with the guitar player of – well, he just left Rose Tattoo, but he’d been with Rose Tattoo for 15 years. And we quite often just see the kids and we’re writing songs and recording things, and then somebody mentions something like that and you go, “Wow, that was about a thousand years ago.”

It’s really hard to bring yourself back and remember all these things that happened around that time. But it’s a really nice feeling. I mean, it’s great that it’s there in music history.

The Tenants – ’39 Steps’

MF: What was the plan for you after the Hottest 100?

Jason: We’d already been in the studios and we were about halfway through an album, but then we got the news that we weren’t getting any income from the single because the company we were with had been liquidated. So our whole way of paying for the rest of the album was like, ”Righto, let’s go to plan B”, which was to wrap it up, call it an EP, get it out as soon as possible and head on the road.

MF: You released a full length album in 2006. How long had that been in the works?

Jason: It was about 2001 we started. We had a fellow called Mark Thomas, who was a legendary sound engineer at Festival Studios. We got maybe four or five songs in and then unfortunately Mark committed suicide. I think it made us all stop for a little while and just go, “Is this driving around, running circles all over the place, is it really worth it?” It did bring up a lot of questions and we slowed down a fair bit.

Then we changed drummers because he was a bit sick of touring. We went down to a three piece, but in the middle of that we won Aus Music Week. So we went to South By Southwest in 2003. When we got back from there, we were all a bit more invigorated and back on the trail, but it just took forever to finish because we were just doing it in tiny bits and pieces.

The Tenants – ‘Ready To Rumble’

MF: You have continued to play occasionally. There was a show in 2018 that was advertised as a reunion gig.

Jason: We do catch up, but our bass player lives in Mullumbimby. So we usually go up there and hang out at his place for a couple of days, practice up and whatnot. We recorded another ten tracks that we did the other year, but Covid sort of put a pin through that.

But I think we’ll finish that. We’re almost done, we’ve just gotta pay for the mixing. So we’ll release it, but no one’s really looking for stardom. We’re just doing it because we like it. It’s a sense of accomplishment to be able to write and put things out. It’s not because we’re gonna get anything from it; it’s just purely because we wanted to do it. 

MF: Once it’s released, are you planning on doing any shows?

Jason: I think we will. Everyone’s sort of keen to, it’s just the distance. Having a bass player up there and he’s got a business and he’s got kids and all that sort of stuff, and I’m teaching music now. I used to be a carpenter, so I had like ten years of pretty hard yakka, so there wasn’t much left at the end of the week. But now I’m back to teaching music, I have a bit more head space and I’m in the same world when I come home.

So yeah, we definitely will be, it’s just a matter of when. I’m not quite sure at the moment. Whenever [the record] gets finished – as soon as it comes out we’ll follow that up with some shows.

Find The Tenants on streaming services, and follow them band on Facebook.

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