DILETTANTES - You Am I
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Rest? Stop? What? Pfffft. As we speak they are laying it down as only they can, yes friends, aside from various projects from TR solo (nice record Tim), to drums for Radio Birdman, to guitar for Crowded House, to digging, the guys are right now putting the finishing touches on the next You Am I album. Yep, they've been virtually living in the studio, surviving on a steady diet of cigarettes, whiskey, good rockin' times, sheer deliriousnessnessness, and of course, cheese, ham and tomato baguettes (please do not try this at home)....Australia's most respected, feared and revered rock'n'roll larrikins and lovers are working balls to the wall to bring to you what just may be their most heartfelt and rocking album yet, jam packed and full to the hat brim of sweat-soaked raw, raucous, tasty tunes. So start savin' up your pocket money, get yerselves all spruced up and lace up those faithful ole' swanky toe tappers in preparation for the imminent delivery of the next epic release from the unswayable and undiluted genius that is You Am I.
"DILETTANTES" by J Arthur Oswald
In observation of You Am I and their recording of this album, I spent a lot of time trying to gain some kind of grudging respect. You must understand that you are an interloper in this rarified world and as such respect is earned not given. Thankfully my knowledge of parlour games and tales of absinthe soaked excess had me tagged as a kindred spirit and I was able to observe up close the group’s processes and to try and divine the central meaning of these processes. The mood can be sombre as the group and their trusted audio-visualist, Gregory Wales, who controls the actual capturing of this collective spirit on magnetic tape, judge a "take" or consider an arrangement but you can rest assured that badinage and the ensuing laughter that results is never far away. The talk is heavily codified with the language of close personal friendship and the work ethic is respected as is the wine and song that may appear towards the end of the evening. I've written down the impressions that I managed to jot down in my diary as the work evolved around me, I also managed to occasionally sequester Mr. Timothy Rogers and in so doing probed what these songs meant to him... I trust you'll find it illuminating.
DILETTANTES opens the album with sombre optimism, the barest acoustic guitar and Roger's intimate vocal pressed up against your ear. Oscillations, cymbal swells and electric bass doff their caps respectfully at the central core of the song, a man alone with his rumination on things greater than mere mortality. Slowly the cinematic nature of the ensemble widens to take in swelling strings and stern floor drums, a lone dancer taps out a brisk rhythm in amongst the swirling miasma. Then as suddenly as the storm clouds appear they clear to reveal our hero alone with his thoughts in a state of measured acceptance of life's mysteries. It's a brave way to start an album and when I asked Tim of this song’s meaning both within and outside of the central theme of the album he responded thus: "I first loved the word after hearing Duke Ellington use it to describe the members of his consistently brilliant bands. The meaning of the term has a duality - either referring to folks who dabble in appreciation of arts or culture, or those who have a deep love for works, or performers. On returning from a funeral of a recent acquaintance who was as charming as he was caustic, I was left, again, musing on the deep joy and befuddlement I’ve experienced in the company of a friends legacy. More often than not the people who have left the deepest impressions on me have been those who have delicately bashed my ears with their love of music, art, literature, and with no airs and graces, more peanuts and beer. And somewhere up there is a BBQ I wanna be part of, even serving the drinks. some day."
DISAPPEARING reminds one of the epic nature of economy. The electric bass pulse is underpinned by girl group drumset and sleigh bells, the guitars glide by like albatross on the breeze, gracefully powerful but with an ungainly beauty, you can rest assured, however, that they know what they're doing as they ascend to the stratosphere like Icarus with wings of steel. Atop it all is a vocal that manages to invoke grandeur and humility, alone but never sounding lonely or bereft of spirit. The heart beats, the sky thunders and the eagles soar above you. As I pressed him on life's greater meanings, Rogers looked over his glass of challenging vin blanc and noted "this song mutated like your mind in the the throes of dehydration. Some of the lyric came from a particularly bleak tune I hope I never revisit, and it folded right into one about a desire to go wandering, and go missin'. Lawrence Of Arabia left a big impression on me. Recording this was possibly the best experience of my time in the band."
As Rogers and I walked to the local tap house we discussed BEAU GESTE a song that had gone down in a flurry earlier that day "I kept this from the band for a while, superstitious that the way it popped into my head fully formed, give or take, was. like vertigo. The lyric concerns my oft-lapsed need to associate myself with a mentor. That those folks are usually grizzled ex-alcoholics or ex-junkies doesn't keep me from any sleep. The foreign legion looms oddly large in a few tracks. Maybe it's just the uniform. This was the first of two or three that we learnt as a band 15 minutes before recording it." And so it was that morning, hangovers strewn about the room like soiled drink-coasters after a particularly marvelous party, they faced off in a circle and bought Beau Geste alive as an ensemble piece. A subtle power that emanates through this album is especially noteworthy here, how can something be nonchalantly majestic? Tim's bittersweet vocal is the key, casual yet resolute and ultimately optimistic, especially when a French Agent-Revolutionaire appears over the crackling two way radio, her voice steady as she calmly offers encouragement to the story's protagonist.
FRIGHTFULLY MODERNE is up-tempo and loving it, the jerky chicken scratch guitar is like a sweet toothe ache and the powerful pre-chorus is deceptively threatening like a clenched fist in a velvet glove before the song explodes into the vibrant, defiant positivity of a chorus that offers hope of more. It grabs you by the scruff of the neck and demands your attention. This is a sharp-suited spiv of a song, the "cock of the walk", chest puffed out as it struts it's thing down the promenade. Timothy Adrian grins "Look ma, I wrote a riff! After making a lil' demo into a Dictaphone, I thought if we can do this we can do anything. Writing a song for the pure joy of being able to dance to it is possibly juvenile and I totally recommend it. "You aint seen the best of us yet" is a clarion call, it aint just for us, tho' true for us, but I loved a song about mousey haired positivity."
In a dank Melbourne studio I tracked down You Am I in the midst of recording WANKERS, a curious tune that combines a rhythm section deep within the Velvet Tinmine, guitars treated like giant sludge blunderbuss and a whimsical vocal that sounds like a Denmark St Dandy on a summer stroll. The chorus is call and response in-excelsis, seemingly sung by some of the scruffiest urchins available, and the strings sound like they know where Roy Wood lives. In conversation with Tim it appears the song's history is far more convoluted and meaning deeper than it might appear, "(Wankers) started as a delicate ballad, written for kids to let them know that every middle aged man isn't as heartless as cold porridge. To challenge a kid's optimism for the sake of "hardening em up" or because of your own ennui is simply the trademark of a tool. David Lanes reinvention of himself as a randy space pirate is... truly inspired."
THE BIG WHEEL has a false start, a minute or so of audio-verite, the lads at their instruments casually warming up before doing what in technical terminology is known as a "take", deep in their headphones not even aware the machine is spooling tape like a fisherman reeling in his white whale. The tape echo and faux dubbery briefly enchant before, with a flurry of drumset fills, the song arrives in terse 4/4 dance mode, Roger's clipped, quick-fire verbiage bounces along sounding for all the world like Noel Coward's delightfully wicked and obviously spiritual grandson. The arrangement steadily opens up until it reaches a crescendo, there's dirt on the guitar strings, the electric bass is relentless and THE BIG WHEEL rolls to a sudden and spectacular full stop. After a late night playback Tim winked at me and said "Rock'n'roll is a lovely place to hide, though the amenities are often lacking. Once again lyrically began as another song "Who we all look like" which chronicled my family's more famous doppelgangers, which when edited and cudgeled fit mysteriously well with a tune that has the levity of soufflé yet the grunt of a Rockhampton pastry chef. If you will."
"As a young lad, a swimming teacher enlightened my mum with what he thought the reason that I was resistant to his methods. Hence the title. Anger management is still needed yet still expensive, so I keep getting in trouble. And I don't like It." said Rogers of THE BOY'S ANGRY AT THE WATER, a song so steeped in the liquor of melancholy that it almost intoxicates. The sinewy acoustiche guitar drives the drumset shuffle that lopes along, kicking stones and contemplating the horizon. It's an horizon littered with tasteful instrumentation as electric bass, whirling guitars and welling strings all come together in a state of absolute harmonium. The vocal is plaintive, this young chap may confuse his elders but he doesn't know why, perhaps he never will.
As noted YOU AM I are DILETTANTES, they exist in a world of their own making, they remain unmoved by the society of the spectacle, but then again their music isn't a soap-box for them to berate from. Even at their most base moments when the low slung guitars and grubby rhythm section swing like apes in a rocknroll rainforest, it sounds celebratory, GIVIN' UP AND GETTIN' FAT is the dirtiest pair of Dunlop Volleys in the closet but You Am I wear them with pride. The way Rogers spits out the words, implying violence but probably more likely needing a hug, is in itself a display of rocknroll as an artform of the highest order. This is the kind of song that will ring like a clarion call from the stage; the sweaty throng who devote themselves to such things will all become involved in the song’s deeper meaning. Why give up? Indeed as Tim himself says "Why should I wake every morning with the desire to plonk myself in the opposing corner to most commercialized modern culture? Is it innate or an affectation? Am I doomed to be a ranting misanthrope wearing only a sack and a scowl? Surely it's easier to... just meander along? I think if I end up in a sack I’ll still have my winning smile"
ERASMUS manages to invoke the sprit of power-pop, the kind made by callow Southern youths, not men in Skateboarding clothes and it almost seems like the boys are a cheer-squad for the love of rocknroll as a simple basic pleasure that exists beyond the touch of money or fame. It starts in the bedroom facing your mirror and looking past the pimples to see the ocean of possibilities that dwells within all of us. Tim knows what this fellow is seeing, "I like this kid. He's been given the name of 16th century philosopher, steadfastly ignores his physical shortcomings in the face of the desires of the flesh and digs the Pretenders and Van Halen. He’s got a plan to win the heart of a young lady, and just aint gonna hear no. Could be the stirrings of a reciprocal restraining order I hear, but he's a good kid, although the aforementioned lady's current boyfriend? His arse is grass." ERASMUS is tense like your first date with a young lady, but grows in confidence as the evening progresses, hopefully in the direction of the boudoir.
Brotherly love is a fine thing, and all of these upstanding chaps look out for each other in a most charming way. DAVEY'S GONE GREEN AGAIN is a story about David Lane, never a junior member of the group even though he's been a part of the band since leaving his schooling, that illustrates this across a host of hotel rooms, bars and late night shenanigans. Another song picked up by the group on the spot and with Rogers in full bandleader mode, dragged kicking and screaming into the realm of ensemble performance, managing a nod to the beat groupings of the fabled late 80's Swinging Liverpool in the process. Both vaudevillian and surrealist at the same time, it's a cautionary tale tempered by the collective love of a good night out AND an even better night in. In questioning Mr. Rogers about this, he was quick to put both theme and song in perspective "You can't keep a good man down. David Lane was a very young man when he joined our rock group, and while we all did, and still do, look out for him, his thirst for kicks is unquenchable. He's no wanton wildebeest, more like a dandified, slender, handsome spaniel...trusting, committed yet up for anything. Sharing a room in London I woke to see him a shade of... guacamole. We placed a curfew on him for his own damn good, and then WE broke it for him, as, well...it was London. Does the tune sound like someone falling down the stairs? Good. Perfect."
JOLLY'S FIRST TIME AROUND THE SUN is another song delivered kicking and screaming into the world on a dark, cold and rainy night in Melbourne, upstairs in a tenement house filled with exotic studio paraphernalia. The group show remarkable restraint in their performance, changing momentum when required with the minimum of fuss. You’re lulled into a sense of serene pleasure as the mélange of guitars gently drift in and out. Suddenly the track takes a dramatic turn and builds to an almost painful crescendo; syncopation replaces flow, disharmony rules, the demons are released. Thankfully this mood passes and we take a deep breath before the song takes our hands and leads us to the gripping conclusion. It’s hard to break into the lyrical code of this song, though Mr. Rogers is on hand to provide some clues “When I was twelve or so I got in some trouble. My dad's response was relatively restrained, as was his style. I respected that. When I questioned him on why he didn't whoop my ass, his response was" Tim, this is my first time at this gig, I haven't been here before, I don't know always what to do either". I love him for that. "One man's fear is another's thrill" is what I muse on when I’m in turbulence. There's a beautiful seven year old girl who this song is for particularly.”
And so we come to the end… this journey that takes in so much heart and soul. At the end waits THE PIANO UP THE TREE, the band join Tim on a long, loping expedition that seems to encapsulate what has come before in an almost perfect manner. The steady thump of drums in a rudimentary Levon style, bass notes hitting the sweet spot, the sawing cello and searing guitar all combine to propel Tim’s perfectly measured and inspiring vocal performance. It leaves you drained and I recommend a glass of sherry and a lie down after you’ve listened to this, but I’ll let Mr. Rogers leave you with some final thoughts for your complete edification, “James Thurber, US humorist and cartoonist, wrote that his autobiography when compared to Salvador Dali's would be akin to comparing an old banjo in the attic to a piano up a tree...with breasts. I paraphrase but the last bit is verbatim. I walk a damn lot, and gawk at folks a hell lot, and often see myself in the future, or more often than not what I don't wanna be in the future. Everyone's got their demons and such, keeping them down in their pit can be too much over a flurry of hits in the gut. Here's hopin'. Singin' "Back it on up and start again". I get the sense I may be singin' that for a long while.
- Beau Geste
- Frightfully Moderne
- The Big Wheel
- The Boy’s Angry At The Water
- Givin’ Up And Getting Fat
- Davey’s Gone Green Again
- Jolly’s First Time Around The Sun
- The Piano Up The Tree