It hasn’t been easy for Melbourne-based musician Tim Rogers and his intellectual art-rock outfit You Am I. First on hip Aussie imprint Roo-Art, then on Warner Bros. for a brief period, they’ve been trying to catch on in the U.S. for two frustrating decades and a dozen albums. During their major-label stint, Rogers says, the band members were never further apart as friends. But judging by their latest eponymous indie outing — and quirk-poppers like “Crime,” “Pinpricks” and the F. Scott Fitzgerald-themed “Kicking the Balustrade” — they just might be too smart for us.
You have a new song called “Let’s Not Get Famous.” For irony’s sake? Well, I didn’t think there’s anything ironic about it. We’ve steadfastly avoided fame for a long while — we chose to remain fringe. When I started the song, it was called “Let’s Get Famous,” and it was a very flippant, Noel Coward-like tune, about flying business class and all the perks that come with fame. But having been within arm’s reach of friends who’ve acquired or achieved fame, it just didn’t seem to do much for them.
But isn’t its line “The best-laid plans of mice and men/Were noble before the crowd walked in” one of your finest? Over the years, we’ve had so many requests to tailor our songs or our performances to be a bit more marketable. And I kind of regret it, some of the decisions I made — I probably listened a little too much to those things. So I think we’re at our best when we try not to pursue anything but our own odd little version of art. And now we’re where we should be — just grifters, scrapping around, putting out records, doing little tours and managing ourselves.
Didn’t you just pad your income with a role in a made-for-TV horror flick, “Panic at Rock Island”? Oh, dear. Yeah, and we take things on the basis of, “Will this be a good afternoon’s fun? And can we get a sluice of free beers?” So this was a chance to get out on a barge in Sydney harbor and look at the beautiful vista. And there were zombies involved!
You regularly act in theater and film, right? I’m doing a couple of films next year, and I start in theater again straight after this tour — a play called “The Story of Mary MacLane By Herself,” about an early 20th-century American writer. But I really enjoy the discipline of live theater. After 23 years of being undisciplined, it’s nice to take direction, you know?
— Tom Lanham
IF YOU GO