You Am I bring it all together in isolation on The Lives Of Others

REUNITED: You Am I recorded and produced an entire album despite going 381 days without being in a room together.
REUNITED: You Am I recorded and produced an entire album despite going 381 days without being in a room together.

ANYBODY that's seen You Am I live understands what their drummer Rusty Hopkinson means when he says, "our band is very physical."

Tim Rogers' Pete Townsend-style windmill theatrics and Hopkinson's explosive drum fills are as essential to the band's visual performance on stage as it is inside the studio.

For 10 albums - which include some of the finest in Australian rock's canon like Hi Fi Way (1994), Hourly Daily (1996) and #4 Record (1998) - You Am I have eyeballed each other as they've recorded their tracks.

On album No.11, The Lives Of Others, they were forced to change. State border closures due to COVID-19 meant the Melbourne-based Rogers (vocals, guitar) and Davey Lane (lead guitar, backing vocals) spent the majority of 2020 isolated from their Sydney rhythm section of Hopkinson (drums) and Andy Kent (bass). A total of 381 days apart, to be exact.

It had already been five years since You Am I's last album, Porridge and Hot Sauce, when the pandemic struck, so getting back to work was a no-brainer.

"We just thought in order to keep busy and momentum going, we'd try and make some music and it blossomed into this record," Hopkinson says.

Rogers had a host of new songs he'd written during a 2019 trip to the NSW south town towns of Milton and Rosedale, where You Am I used to rehearse in their earliest incarnation in 1989.

Locked down in Melbourne, Rogers sent through the demos to Hopkinson and Kent.

While Rogers initially envisioned the tracks as folk songs for a solo project, Hopkinson instantly heard You Am I rock'n'roll and set about recording the necessary percussion in his inner-west Sydney home, and once restrictions eased, in Forbes Street Studios in Woolloomooloo.

"It was actually a really cathartic experience, because we hadn't played any shows, everything had been cancelled," Hopkinson says.

"We didn't know what's going on, and to have this chance to go in the studio and knock out some drums was quite a breath of fresh air."

The drums and bass recordings were then sent to Melbourne for Rogers and Lane to add layers of electric guitar and vocals.

Hopkinson says it wasn't an ideal process and one that only a seasoned band confident in their strengths and weaknesses could manage.

"It's a pretty kinetic rock'n'roll band," he says. "When you cut off that visual element of Tim swinging his arms around, you kind of have to picture that in your head.

"We're not the kind of band where you put everything into a grid with a click track and it all lines up. It's rock'n'roll, it's got to be a bit sloppy."

Tracks like DRB Hudson, the first single The Waterboy and Rosedale Redux are classic You Am I, but the isolation from each other also led to some intriguing new directions.

Hopkinson had spent an evening listening to Mexican psychedelic vinyl 45s when he came to record drums for Rubbish Day. His contribution transformed Rogers' track into a brooding slab of psychedelic-folk.

"I thought it was time to grab the cow bell and bongos and have some fun," he says. "People weren't expecting that. So when we edited it all together and sent it back down, they were like, 'holy shit, what the hell is going on'? But they loved it.

"The way we were bouncing things around meant there was always a surprise around the corner of how something would turn out or what your expectations would be compared to what everyone actually did. So it was always surprising.

"Normally you're in a space making music together and this way was different, but a fun way to spend a lockdown."

COVER: The Lives Of Others is You Am I's first album in six years.

COVER: The Lives Of Others is You Am I's first album in six years.

Even before the pandemic, The Lives Of Others faced obstacles.

In 2019 Rogers was depressed and struggling for motivation, had taken a job bar-tending and couldn't envisage You Am I "making a record together again."

Did Hopkinson fear You Am I's 30-year career was grounding to a halt?

"I'm sure that's not the first time that's happened," he says of Rogers' doubts.

"We can only have a You Am I record if Tim feels like he's got the songs for it.

"It's a collaborative effort but they're his songs and Davey has been writing more and more as well.

"I think we all go through phases of wondering if it's the last time we'll tour, but it's been around a long time and not many bands do that.

"At the end of the day we keep going back to the fact it's actually really good fun.

"We're good friends and I'm really glad Tim felt like he had some songs in him to share with us, because we had a lot of fun helping him knock them into shape."

The Lives Of Others was released on Friday.

This story Distance and isolation makes You Am I grow fonder first appeared on Newcastle Herald.