You Am I
You Am I
With three straight album releases debuting at number one on the Australian charts, You Am I could stake a claim as the country’s most popular band of the 1990s. In addition to its commercial success, the group has also picked up several awards from the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA), the country’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards. You Am I also toured extensively in the international arena; although its sales abroad did not come close to matching its success in Australia, the band nevertheless broadened its audience with guest spots for Soundgarden, the Lemonheads, Oasis, and on the Lollapalooza tour.
A guitar player since the age of 14, You Am I’s leader, Tim Rogers, played in a number of bands while studying at the Australian National University (ANU) in the nation’s capital, Canberra. Rogers’s stint at the university was brief, however; after dropping out of ANU around 1989, he enrolled at Sydney’s Macquarie University. Soon, he began to jam informally on the guitar with his brother, Jaimme, playing drums and their longtime friend, Nick Tischler, taking up the bass. The trio adopted the name “You Am I” after a drunken fan at one of their early performances engaged them in a philosophical conversation and invoked the phrase.
As You Am I, the band played its first gig as an opening act in a Sydney rock venue, the Cave, in 1990. After a brief period scouting for more dates, the band started to get regular work around Sydney as an opening act. Before the year was out, however, Jaimme Rogers left the band after a fight with his brother, and Nick Tischler soon followed suit. Andy Kent, a New Zealander who first met the band as a sound mixer for an appearance in Canberra, subsequently joined as You Am I’s new bassist, and Mark Tunaley joined as the new drummer. Later, Tunaley would leave the band after its first album release, and Rusty Hopkinson would take his place. David Lane joined the band as an additional guitarist in 1999, turning the trio into a four-piece outfit.
As a typical bar band on the Australian club circuit, You Am I played straightforward rock ‘n’ roll in the tradition of the Easybeats, a classic Aussie group from the 1960s, and British Invasion acts such as the Beatles and the Who. It was the Rolling Stones, however, that Rogers claimed as his favorite act, with the song “Start Me Up” serving as his inspiration to take up the guitar and form a band. Rogers and his bandmates were also influenced by the more contemporary punk sounds of the Ramones, the Misfits, and the Clash. As Rogers told Guitar Player in 1998, “It would be good to disguise the fact that I’m a bit of a lunkhead player by bathing my guitar in distortion, but I like hearing all the clunking mistakes…. I don’t want to be a Luddite and ignore how to get good sounds, but I’m more into a lot of crappy, garage-y sounds that have beer and tears all over them.”
The band recorded a number of EPs during its first years, including Snake Tide and Goddamn in 1991; You Am I also released the EP Can’t Get Started on independent label Ra, a division of the rooArt label. But You Am I’s real breakthrough came with its performance at the Big Day Out concert in 1993—a sort of Australian Lollapalooza event—which attracted the admiration of Sonic Youth member Lee Renaldo. Renaldo offered to produce the act’s next CD, Coprolalia, and contributed to its first full-length album, Sound As Ever. Emphasizing the guitar-based, pop sound that it had refined during its live dates, You Am I’s debut was hailed as the Best Alternative Release at the ARIA Awards. Although the band was pigeonholed as an alternative act and did not receive significant airplay on commercial radio stations, the fan base from its tour dates made the album a commercial success as well.
The group gained further exposure with another performance at the Big Day Out concert in early 1994, which led to a slot as the opening act for Soundgarden on its American tour. In September of 1994, You Am I traveled to New York to record their second full-length release, again with the help of Lee Renaldo. Conceived as a collection of stripped-down pop songs, Hi Fi Way was an immediate success upon its release; in its first week, it entered the Australian album chart at number one. Eventually, the album earned a gold record in Australia and followed its predecessor with another
For the Record …
Members include Rusty Hopkinson (born Russell Keith Hopkinson in May 1964 in Perth, Australia), drums; Andy Kent (born Andrew Charles Kent in November 1969 in Wellington, New Zealand), bass guitar; David Lane (born David Daniel Lane in Boro-nia, Australia), guitar; Tim Rogers (born Timothy Adrian Rogers on September 20, 1969, in Kalgoorie, Australia), vocals, guitar.
Formed group in Sydney, Australia, 1989; released series of EPs, early 1990s; released first full-length album, Sound As Ever, 1993; second album, Hi Fi Way, debuted at number one on Australian charts, 1996; third album, Hourly Daily, debuted at number one, 1997; fourth album, #4 Record, debuted at number one, 1998.
Awards: Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Award, Best Alternative Release, 1994-95; ARIA Awards, Best Australian Album, Best Group, Best Australian Video, Best Independent Release, Best Australian Producer, 1996; ARIA Awards, Best Album, Best Independent Release, 1997.
ARIA Award as the Best Alternative Release. With two acclaimed albums and a constant schedule of touring, You Am I had emerged as Australia’s leading alternative rock band.
In 1996 You Am I continued its international efforts with a spot on the Lollapalooza tour in America, where Hi Fi Way was finally released, and a series of American dates with Girls Against Boys. The band also returned to the recording studio—but this time in Sydney—for its third full-length album, Hourly Daily, which the band also produced. As a tribute to the classic 1960s pop-rock groups that inspired the band’s members, the group realized that it was taking a chance on alienating its alternative rock fans. “There’s going to be a bunch of people who liked the last record but hate this one,” Rogers told Billboard upon the album’s release. “But you can’t let that affect you, or you betray every childhood fantasy you ever had. It’d be totally dishonest of us to make a heavy guitar rock album because everyone else expects one, when we don’t feel like making one.” Rogers’s fears were unfounded; Hourly Daily was another immediate hit in Australia, debuting as the number one album in July of 1996. At that year’s ARIA Awards, the band picked up a slew of awards for the album and the video for the song “Soldiers,” and was named Best Group as well. Capping a huge year for the band, You Am I played as an opening act for the final concert appearance of Crowded House at the Sydney Opera House.
Inevitably, the critical and commercial success of You Am I led to a backlash against its direction on Hourly Daily. “I guess the common thread brought up is that it’s as if you’re writing covers now, and it does all sound like we’re just nicking from somewhere and it’s not from the heart or whatever…,” Rogers reflected to Beat Magazine in 1998, “but when you get to the point where you know what progressions give you that sound…. I just can’t help but be excited by that, and whether it’s not blisteringly original, I just don’t give a toss.” For the next album, #4 Record, however, the group turned to a heavier, more soulful sound and more introspective lyrics. “We were the ones who wanted the Memphis horns and keyboards,” Rogers told The West Australian, adding, “Some people say it’s the drunkest album we have made. I’d say that’s definitely the case.” Released in June of 1998, the record immediately went to number one on the Australian album chart, giving You Am I the distinction of being the only band to have three consecutive albums debut at the top of the chart.
In 1999 Rogers took a break from You Am I to record a solo album, What Rhymes with Cars and Girls, which featured the more acoustic sound of violins, accordions, banjos, and washboards. Rogers noted the difference of What Rhymes with Cars and Girls from his You Am I work to Time by explaining, “I couldn’t slow down enough to play any kind of softer songs” with the band. Reassembling the You Am I lineup to record the album Dress Me Slowly in 2001, the members welcomed an additional guitarist, Dave Lane, a recent high school graduate who had worked on the band’s website. Jumping into the spirit of You Am I, Lane remarked to Australian Musician, “I never thought that I’d be getting up at 5 a.m. In the morning with a hangover and having to drive five hours in a Tarago to get to the next gig. It’s all good, though.”
Sound As Ever, Warner Bros., 1993.
Hi Fi Way, Warner Bros., 1996.
Hourly, Daily, Warner Bros., 1997.
#4 Record, Warner Bros., 1998.
Dress Me Slowly, BMG, 2001.
Australian Musician, Winter 2001.
Beat Magazine, December 8, 1998.
Billboard, July 20, 1996; April 25, 1998.
Guitar Player, June 1998.
Q, March 1997.
Time Magazine Australia, March 29, 1999.
The West Australian, June 5, 1998.
Australian Recording Industry Association, http://www.aria.com.au (December 11, 2001).
“History,” You Am I Central, http://www.youami.com.au/history/index.html (September 11, 2001).
“You Am I: #4 Record,” PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/y/youamMrecord.html (December 11, 2001).
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