You Am I interview
“Hey it’s You Am I on the TV! They’re playing at the finals!” my mum calls out excitedly to me from the living room.
Tim Rogers’ perpetually scruffy, lanky frame bounces briefly across our TV screen to the roar of 83,000 punters packed into Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. (He’s next to Dan Sultan and Phil Jamieson, but they’re not on Mum’s radar.)
It’s not so much the content of my mother’s exclamation, as her surprise. She’d never heard of You Am I before I told her about a week ago, even though they rank alongside Powderfinger as Australian pub rock royalty. But seeing them play the NRL Grand Final, well that’s done it then. They must be famous.
It’s a curious distinction. You Am I is a band that’s both achieved great success and yet still remained in the fringe of Australian pop culture; the scrappy underdog. Their new long player, out this week, is their 16th release and already the buzzing has started. Reviews are coming out, calling it weak, calling it the best since Hourly Daily, calling it the second coming of Jesus Rock’n’Roll Christ, or saying they’ve lost it. (Collapse Board’s own Alex Gillies has at it here.)
There’s further rumbling because they jumped ship from major label EMI to indie unknowns Other Tongues, though drummer Rusty Hopkinson is quick to assure us it was a case of “it’s not you it’s me” with EMI:
“It was working fine. EMI remain a great label and the people are good friends of ours. It was more just down to timing more than anything, we just wanted to get a record out and start playing, without having to fit into a schedule, so we just thought we’d find someone else to put it out. Other Tongues are great, it wasn’t a hard choice.”
With the move comes a shift to direct distribution from their website. It’s a blatant acknowledgement that You Am I’s live show is their number one product, with the album already available to stream (here, in case you’re wondering) and digital downloads of the whole thing packaged with tickets to the shows.
There’s also an almost quaint addition to the usual T-shirts and CDs: a special offer for fans to buy a pre-show drink with the boys along with a whole range of other swag for $150. “I think a lot of people do that, I mean there are people out there who will pay a certain amount of money and they’ll turn up at your house and put on a gig,” Rusty explains. “We didn’t want to go that far, but we thought what can we do to do something special for our fans? I hope not too many people buy them because it might end up a pre-show party, rather than pre-show drinks!” It seems typically like You Am I to completely ignore their own success and sell a chance to have a beer with them, without thinking it might get a bit out of hand. When I suggest they might have underestimated themselves, Rusty chuckles. “Oh well, that’s part of our charm!”
These sorts of offers are usually the realm of up-and-coming bands trying to promote themselves, or bands who worry about selling tickets. But in this instance, nobody can say that You Am I need to do this; people are going to buy the album, they’re going to go to the shows. It might be a turning point for music distribution in Australia, but then again, it might not.
The whole thing sounds like a barely controlled mess freight-training towards disaster: each band-member recorded their parts separately in the middle of other work, they don’t believe in rehearsal (“Oh we rarely do more than an hour of rehearsal before any tour these days,” says Rusty), Tim Rogers has declared he wants to “get fruity” with this new tour and lawd knows what that means, plus 16 shows where fans can buy “pre-drinks with the band” on the back of an unknown indie label. However, You Am I have traditionally traded in disaster (think of that infamous incident with Missy Higgins) and they don’t seem any worse the wear for it.
If anyone is going to get away with this, they will.