When I call Tim Rogers at midday on a Friday, he’s still asleep.
“Hello,” he grunts groggily.
“G’day Tim, it’s Nathan from Music Feeds. How’s it going?”
“I’m alright, how are you?”
“I’m good thanks. Are you all good for our interview?”
“I guess so.”
It’s kind of what you’d expect from the Australian rock icon, who’s spent the last two decades earning a reputation as a wild man on stage as the leader of stalwarts You Am I.
But despite his sleep deprivation, he punches through yawns to deliver a typically engaged and splendid interview. It’s almost metaphorical for the longtime endurance of his band. For more than 20 years the four piece have never stopped treading the boards, climbing up on stage night after night, blasting our eardrums and leaving nothing to be desired. It’s been a long, hard slog, but they’ve never taken a break, earning themselves a solid reputation as one of our hardest working bands, as well as one of our best.
And it’s that relentlessness that fines them on the edge of their latest milestone, the 10th record of their career, Porridge & Hotsauce, and along with it yet another massive Australian tour.
Tim and I spoke about why the band decided to make the expensive move of recording Porridge & Hotsauce in New York; how the formula for making You Am I records has never changed; why after 10 albums they’re just happy to be alive; and the most burningly obvious query, why the name Porridge & Hotsauce?
Listen: You Am I – Good Advices
MF: You recorded Porridge & Hot Sauce in New York. That can’t have been a cheap experience, seeing as you’re on your own label now and have to pay for it yourselves. But did it feel like a necessary move to make this record?
TR: It wasn’t necessary for us to go over and make it, no, but because Rusty, our drummer, works for Daptone and he saw a little gap in the calendar in the studio, he suggested that we do it there. And the band have got a long association and history with New York and recorded a lot there and played a lot there and lived there and my daughter lives there – there’s always reasons.
So we got a bank loan and jumped over. Geography and circumstance can throw you a curve but essentially it’s four guys, a case of beer and whatever instruments they’ve got. It could be here or wherever and the logistics of the studio has a significant influence over the way it sounds, but it’s still four guys and a case of beer.
MF: It does sound though like you made the most of the opportunity by getting some of the Dap Kings to play on the record. And judging by the first single ‘Good Advice’, the album is sounding pretty massive. Is that first single emblematic of the record as a whole?
TR: Well, my kind of dictum with any songs that I had that I wanted to bring to band were that it showed off Andy and Russell’s rhythm section. I think if people want to get into groups and into bands – rock and roll or death metal or extreme metal dance trios – if you get in think that your songs are like a blue print. You want everyone to follow your blue print because you want to interact with people and to have that experience of sharing ideas.
So I wanted this record to show off Andy and Russell and whatever followed from there and if the takes were good, then I thought, well, I better rework lyrics and melody to compliment what they were doing.
MF: Although you’ve never stopped touring, it does seem like there’s been somewhat of a rejuvenation or reinvigoration in the attention to You Am I after the HI Fi Daily Double tour and the reissue of those first two records a little while back. Is that a correct observation in how you feel people are approaching the band and maybe how the band are feeling themselves?
TR: I don’t know what I think we’re feeling ourselves. I mean even when we did that tour a couple of years ago with those old records there was a lot of talk about nostalgia but I can tell you that after every show when we’d inevitably end up huddled around a table in a hotel room and we didn’t talk about the past. It was always about, “Come on, what’s next? What are we going to do?”
We’ve got some great stories from the past but there’s no nostalgia for that because they weren’t the best of times at all. We were aware that some records in the past are what brought us so much and brought us an audience but playing and existing now is so much more fun and interesting and invigorating than it ever was.
Watch: You Am I – Super Rich Kids (Frank Ocean cover)
MF: Ten records – it’s a milestone moment in a career full of milestones. Does it feel like an important moment in the overall history and context of the band?
TR: Well, that we’re still alive is the big one. We’ve had friends pass away and I think we’ve lucked out as far as the way we live and the way we travel and to be still here. But really when you lug your amp or your kit into the room to play, you’re just back at the beginning every time. I think one of the virtues or one of the benefits of not having enormous success is that you still just bring gear in, plunk it down, plug it in, hope it works, and no amount of time or experience can temper or fire imagination.
I feel, just personally, that my own imagination is probably very similar to how it was when I was 16 and just dreaming of being in a rock band and thousands of shows experiences hasn’t dimmed that. I still listen to a lot of music and go and see things, whether inadvertently or on purpose and there’s still that feeling of, “I wanna do that.”
MF: How do you judge yourself as a songwriter at this stage of your career? Is song writing easier now than it’s ever been, or is it harder?
TR: No, no, it’s not easier. I’ve never taken a course in song writing or – I’ve read one book on song writing that was by Jimmy Webb. And that was mostly just prosaic kind of stories. But I still don’t know how to approach it. I go walking or feel kind of ill and a tune comes to my head or a riff or a beat.
I think that I’m less willing to just write down, as far as lyrically goes, a string of words together, because I realise that you’ve got to go and sing them. If you mean them and your happy with them – the way they are lyrically and musically – you’re enthused to play them, rather than begrudgingly do it.
MF: Do you guys feel like you have more control over your own career at this point than ever before? I mean, you have your own label, Andy’s the manager, you figured out the recording yourself. Do you feel unbeholden to anyone else and that you can just proceed with however you feel creatively and as a business?
TR: Yeah, that’s a good point. I guess so, yeah. When it’s just Andy that we answer to and he’s been my friend for 25 years – we’ve been in ridiculous situations together, so I’m sure when he asks me or says, “Tim, you may not want to do this, but…” and then I’ll remember some ridiculous night that we had in the middle of France years ago, it becomes easier to say, “Yes” [laughs].
When your only rationale is to do things if they’re fun or invigorating, I mean that’s fun. But as far as thinking that we’re on some kind of career trajectory, once you let go of that it’s a wonderful relief and you can really do things just based on – almost on your own ethics. If they’re just music ethics or personal ethics. As far as the way your “career” is going, well fuck that. We’re just lucky to be playing.
Watch: You Am I – Berlin Chair
MF: Does that same sentiment go for the rest of the band?
TR: I don’t know. I can’t speak for them. I think we’ve got a shared reason for doing things but we’re very different people, the four of us. That it works most of the time is a wonderful testament to human relations and the way that it doesn’t is a testament to individuality. And we’re quite aware of that.
I think that we all bring something to the band and what we bring individually – 60% of it gets thrown away for the sake of compromise and for us being together. But we’re pretty ferocious in our compromises. We know what we’re good at.
MF: And you’re all set to embark on a big tour in a couple of weeks – are you excited to be bringing these new songs to a live setting?
TR: Yeah I guess so. Touring is ostensibly fun and it’s not a grind. Waking up’s a grind. But I’ve had a lot worse jobs. So yeah, of course, we are looking forward to it.
Typically in You Am I we won’t have a chance to rehearse and we’ll work it out on stage and I think that I’ve always found it quite thrilling to see performers on stage who are kind of winging it [chuckles] because you can only rehearse so much and typically we don’t rehearse much [laughs].
MF: And just finally, and I’m sure it’s a question you’re going to get bugged about a lot, but where does the name Porridge & Hotsauce come from?
TR: Well [porridge] it’s a utilitarian fuel. I think when you tour around a lot you can either become very pedantic about what you want or just know what it takes to get you through and porridge is almost a little mantra or metaphor to myself that I don’t need much.
The hot sauce is – you need a little bit of spice. But when everybody else is ordering exotic, alfresco, smashed avocado breakfasts, I always travel with my favourite hot sauce and just give me a slab of porridge and let me get on with working and writing and creating. Please don’t invite me out for fucking brunch.
Grab all the dates and deets for You Am I’s upcoming tour below!
Watch: You Am I – Cathy’s Clown
You Am I National Tour 2015
Thursday, 29th October
Barwon Club, Geelong
Friday, 30th October
Hallam Hotel, Hallam
Saturday, 31st October
Village Green, Mulgrave
Sunday, 1st November
Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo
Tickets: The Capital
Friday, 6th November
The Gov, Adelaide
Saturday, 7th November
Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Thursday, 12th November
Friday, 13th November
BeachComber Hotel, Toukley
Tickets: Big Tix
Saturday, 14th November
Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
Tickets: Big Tix
Thursday, 19th November
Villa Noosa Hotel, Noosaville
Friday, 20th November
Saturday, 21st November
Parkwood Tavern, Gold Coast
Sunday, 22nd November
Spotted Cow, Toowoomba
Wednesday, 25th November
Magnums, Airlie Beach
Thursday, 26th November
Dalrymple Hotel, Townsville
Friday, 27th November
Saturday, 28th November
Gapview Hotel, Alice Springs
Wednesday, 2nd December
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: Metro Theatre
Friday, 4th December
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: 170 Russell