You Am I
“ I can’t speak for the other lads, but I think it’s the best one I’ve been involved with.” You could be forgiven for thinking that this bold statement from guitarist Davey Daniel Lane is merely typical publicity hype for his band’s new album. But many longtime You Am I followers (and critics, it seems) are in agreeance. Their self-titled ninth studio album in a career that now spans 20 years is their strongest, most cohesive effort in over 10 years and it very much deserves a spot alongside Hi-Fi Way and Hourly Daily as an album that defines You Am I’s legacy.
The biggest difference between this and earlier You Am I albums is that the band were under no pressure or obligations to deliver a set of recordings. Joining up with independent Sydney label Other Tongues, the four-piece were free to concoct and put their 11 new songs to tape whenever they chose fit. With each member of the group involved in various projects on the side, this creative freedom was a perfect fit.
“It definitely was an advantage to be able to work on our own bits and pieces at home in our own time,” Lane agrees. “In this day and age it’s obviously a lot easier to have a set up at home to track guitars and so forth. Being able to take stuff away and have some time to reflect and think about our parts really helped.”
Whilst at times sounding like it is covering new and unexplored aural territory for the band, You Am I still has the feel of being a natural progression from 2008’s Dilettantes. It’s surprising to discover that not all of the new tracks were written in the last few years.
“There’s a song on the record called Trigger Finger that started off as a guitar riff that was kind of in ‘Stones territory,” Lane explains. “We were mucking around with it during various soundchecks as far back as six or seven years I go, I think. We originally tracked guitars on it but ended up taking most of them off. Here’s hoping it’s a song that people will be pleasantly surprised by.”
An interesting aspect of You Am I is that it’s perhaps the most non-immediate of all their releases. The first listen through may be impressive, but it really begins to shine on the third or fourth spin.
“A lot of friends I’ve played the record to agree with that,” Davey adds. “It probably would take a few listens for it start sinking in.”
Lane promptly agrees that the self-titled is “a real record to be listened to from start to finish.” The four previous albums he’s been involved in since he joined ranks in 1999 – Dress Me Slowly, Deliverance, Convicts and Dilettantes – have all been excellent long-players in their own right, but a few of them had an average song or two added that tripped them up, or they didn’t really feel consistent from beginning to end.
“I haven’t sat down and listened to (each album) in chronological order or anything, but I’m sure that on each record there’re one or two songs that hint at what the next record might sound like,” he reasons. “I think this one was a logical step forward from Dilettantes. I’m really proud of that record as well.”
In the lead-up to their national tour during October, You Am I have appeared during the NRL final’s half-time show and as part of a special Sydney gig playing songs from The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main St.
“It was just a really fun gig and it’s a record we all love,” Davey beams. “It’s kinda cool because we hadn’t played together that much as a band over the last year, so it was nice to get back together and play a bunch of ‘Stones song before we start figuring out how the fuck we’re going to play our own stuff!” he laughs.
Although he’s tight-lipped about what exact tunes from the new record we can expect to hear live, Lane does confirm that a special guest will be joining them for these shows. “We’ve got a good mate of ours, Stevie Hesketh (part of Jet’s live band), with us and it’s a real shot in the arm to have someone like him around. Arrangement-wise there’s a bit more going on with this record and he’s covering all the keyboard parts.”
Attendees of some of You Am I’s shows during 2008/9 may remember Davey himself taking command of the keys. Will this still be part of his live responsibilities? “Probably not much, which is cool,” he answers. “Last time around it was getting pretty hard to do both because there were some songs on Dilettantes that had guitar and keyboard parts that overlapped.”
One of the most exciting parts of any You Am I tour is what will be thrown into the setlist. Although there are always stalwart tracks such as Junk or How Much Is Enough?, each new tour is littered with surprising additions, whether they be tunes from the first two albums that haven’t been heard in years or the odd cover, such as Teenage Fanclub’s The Concept.
“I don’t think it’s ever a conscious decision to keep chopping and changing the setlist,” Davey says. “I suppose because Tim (Rogers) has been so prolific over the years, there’s no shortage of great songs to choose from. It’s not a calculated thing; we just play whatever we think would be most fun. On one tour in the last few years we ended up playing a bunch of B-sides like Midget In A Nightclub and Useless Information again. It’s fortuitous to have songs like that we can pull out as well.
“For me, as a music nerd,” he chuckles, “it’s nice to be able to wheel out B-sides that are worthy of being played. Also, sometimes I might be sitting at home getting drunk and listening to my music player when something like Plans from #4 Record comes on and I start thinking about it again.”
The band’s last national tour during the start of 2010 saw them playing a few tracks from Deliverance – some of which hadn’t been part of their live repertoire since the album launched in 2002. “Because nobody likes that record,” Lane jokes heartily.
Recorded around the time Tim was newly-married and had just become a father for the first time, Deliverance is an album full of positivity and exuberance, yet it’s difficult to pinpoint why it is something many fans neglect to go back to. Perhaps it was due to negative aura that surrounded the disc’s poor sales performance – which led to the four-piece being dropped from Sony BMG and an infamous altercation between Rogers and Mark Holden at an Adelaide airport. Whatever the reason, Lane admits the album still holds a special place in his heart.
“Tim and I fuckin’ love that record,” he says. “I don’t know if people think it was a misstep or what. I got no fuckin’ idea, but I still love it.”
You Am I’s growth in the last decade has also run alongside the emergence of Lane as one of Australia’s most versatile and respected guitarists. He’s gone on to play with his own outfit The Pictures as well as become a guitar gun-for-hire alongside performers like Jimmy Barnes. In the late ‘90s he emerged from Boronia as a shy kid just out of high school with a love for The Who. You Am I’s #4 Record, released in 1998, became an obsession of sorts for him and he began penning tablature for all the guitar parts, submitting them to Danny Yau, a friend who ran the earliest You Am I fan-site.
After a few meetings with the band when they were on tour, Lane was one day called by Tim and asked to join him for some gigs. It wasn’t long after that shows took place at a secretive location in Melbourne for the recording of their 1999 live opus Saturday Night ‘Round Ten
“I’d actually like us to go back and do another live record,” Davey says. “I mean, I’ve done a few hundred You Am I gigs since then and although I like that live record, I think we could do a better job of it now.”
It was during the shows played in the latter half of 1999 that Lane truly found his calling and became not just an extra guitarist that Rogers and co. could take with them on tour to help out, but an integral part of the band.
“I was finding my feet that tour,” he recalls. “I had zero social skills and it was quite the learning curve in terms of playing the guitar parts properly.”
In regards to what shows have stood out to him over the years as being the most memorable, Lane admits it isn’t just the ones they’ve played in front of the most people.
“There are the obvious ones like getting to support The ‘Stones or The Who – but that’s just because it was shit I’d dreamt about since I was 8 years old,” he figures.
“For me, it’s shows we might have played in Milwaukee or somewhere like that – shows we might have played to a room of 15 people. We end up in places overseas where people don’t really know the band and little shows like that always stick out to me.”
YOU AM I’s excellent new self-titled album is out now locally through Other Tongues – you can read our review of it on page 82.
YOU AM I launch the album at Billboard on Friday October 22 with support form Black Cab and Custom Kings – tickets from ticketek.com.au and 132 849 or billboardthevenue.com.au – as well as playing a few select regional dates in Warnambool, Ballarat and Traralgon.
See youami.com.au for more details.