Interview: Tim Rogers on Tines of Stars Unfurled, inspirational songwriters and what not to drink on tour

  • Bruce Baker
  • March 21, 2023
  • Comments Off on Interview: Tim Rogers on Tines of Stars Unfurled, inspirational songwriters and what not to drink on tour

Tim Rogers


Last month Tim Rogers and his band The Twin Set, released Tines of Stars Unfurled, the follow-up to his much loved 1999 debut solo album, What Rhymes with Cars and Girls.

In recording the follow-up, Tim gathered together as many of the original Twin Sets as possible, including Jen Anderson, Davey Lane and Mark ‘Squeezebox Wally’ Wallace. The album is a sequel, a re-imagining of the songs from the debut, and features Tim and the band at their finest. I caught up with Tim just before the album was released. We chatted about what prompted him to take a fresh look at an album that was released twenty-three years previous. We discussed some of his favourite songwriters, what not-to-drink when on tour and much more.

Tim Rogers and the Twin Set are currently in the midst of a national tour, that will conclude in Sydney on the 29th April. Ticket links and dates are below.

Hey Tim, how have you been?

Yeah – I’ve been good. Speaking to more than 3 people a day is stupidly taxing. It shouldn’t be this difficult. I’m not being asked to perform triage on patients. You don’t want to say anything dull. There’s so much dull to say, so you should avoid it, right

I guess so. I get it though, this is a bit of an exercise..

I live in Country Victoria, and you talk about rainfall a lot. And water tanks. I just don’t want to be a boring talker Bruce, but let’s go.

I was speaking the other day with a friend, who is also a journo. He said I believe you love baseball….. I said yes, so apart from appreciating it aesthetically as a game it serves me well.  My daughter lives in NY, and she’s being there since 11, and if I’m over there to see her, and if I’m with parents of her classmates, and there’s some spare time I can say, ‘what about those Phillies hey’. So, I know more about it that I should.

Is it any good? It seems to go on for ages.

The best analogy I’ve heard about it is with cricket. And I love test cricket in particular, not the silly bash-bash game. Anyway, the former mayor of New York, Andrew Cuomo equated baseball with opera. In opera there are periods of inactivity and a little bit more prosaic musical performances, then there is the arias and the de da da da. With baseball, and test cricket, and for that matter, a lot of novels, there are periods of quiet and then there are climaxes. It can’t be like that all the way through. Expectation is not such a bad thing.

Brian Eno said that the greatest gift his parents gave him was that they had no real interest in what he was doing. That gave him freedom to do his own thing. I think he has done rather well.

Indeed he has!  Your new album is Tines of Stars Unfurled.  Let’s go back to 1999 with What Rhymes with Cars and Girls. Your version 1.0 of the record perhaps. It went out to great acclaim. You won an Aria for Best Male artist that year. It was also nominated for best Alternative Adult Album. Happy days!

Yeah – that was a funny old night. The awards – I didn’t quite expect it to be popular. The record came out, and the Twin Sets did a very quick tour. Things changed very quickly. So, the whole record and the whole experience was fleeting.

Then the play was written based on that record. I was forced to revisit it, and the writing of it, and hearing those songs back night after night. Months of rehearsals. It all came back. It wasn’t just nominations and awards and how that record went. I was forced to listen to the lyrics back night after night. The actors singing the songs. I had a lot of time, and was thinking I don’t know if I like what’s going on here.

The play was beautiful. I didn’t write it, my friend Aidan (Fennessy) did. I guess if musicians/writers have these successful tomes, then they are forced to revisit it over and over again.

After the Cars and Girls thing, I didn’t think about it for years and years and years. There were divorces and all kinds of carnage. When the play was written about the record, I had to listen to it again. It was an interesting experience.

It must be punishing if you’re not really resonating with the lyrcs every night.

It was interesting, ’cause the play was written with a narrative I would never have dreamt up. It was written about class. Aidan, the playwright took all the songs, reordered them, and it was about class in Australia. And how class can disrupt romance and affection and what it does to relationships and friendships. I never saw that as it wasn’t something I didn’t have a grasp on. I thought that class friction was something that wasn’t part of my experience growing up.

I knew that there were people who were wealthy, and some that weren’t. I cared more about what you listened to and whether you had a good story to tell. It was a big thing to Aidan. Listening back to the songs in the context of the play, I wondered if maybe there is something about this. I still don’t know, and Aidan is dead, so I can’t ask him unfortunately. I’d love to.

It wasn’t torturous listening back to them, but I was 49 at the time doing the play, and hearing back these songs you’d written when you were 27 or 28 and living in West Hollywood, and a member of a rock n roll band, it’s a pretty unusual set of circumstances to hear them back months and months at a time.

So, you decided to retackle those songs – new versions …

The idea came to while I was having a panic attack during the show. I wondered what response I could do for this song, I didn’t know another example of doing that in song. There are interpretations of ballets, and theatre shows. I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but Jennifer Egan, the New York writer wrote a novel called The Candy House and it was a squeal to one of her earlier novels, A Visit From the Goon Squad and I was asked to review it for an Arts program, and I thought that’s an interesting idea, revisiting a novel.

Maybe that was going on in my head. I thought to do a sequel or answer songs to something you had done previous. It would be if nothing else a writing experiment. How to do it? It reminded me in a way of doing a cryptic crossword. Writing to spec, instead of writing freehand, flight of fancy and train of thought, interested me. It was a bit like work, and I like work.

The play was 2015. When did you start to get the band back together.

It was during the worst of the lockdowns in Melbourne. Maybe a year and half ago. I contacted Jen who worked on the original record and said hey, would you be interested in making a record again? She said it’s an interesting idea, I don’t know if it’s a good idea. We tried to get as many people as we could who played on the first one.

It worked out well! Your lyrics are a bit more forward in the mix than perhaps some of your You Am I records. Did that mean you had to ..

Get better?

Sharpen the pencil when perhaps you would have let it go through… 

That’s interesting – when I started out friends exposed me to country and folk music. The lyrics aren’t always good, but they are exposed.

Too true – sometimes they are really corny

Corny lyrics can really work. I remember when I wrote the Cars and Girls record. I’d just seen Guy Clark, a Texan singer/songwriter a couple of years previous and I was completely knocked out by Guy and a record of his called Dublin Blues, and the lyrics are so exposed. That was my exposure to country music and I guess to Hank and Dolly Parton‘s songwriting, I thought it’s not always good but it’s exposed. With rock’n’roll music you can get away with a lot. I like the challenge of country music and folk instrumentation that there is nowhere to hide. Lyrics aren’t always good, but it’s better if they are!

So meeting a bunch of people through Jen in Melbourne who were country musicians, jazz musicians, folk musicians, the challenge was there to try and step up. And in a few ways it got there, but I thought with this new record. Let’s really work on it, edit and make it the best record you can lyrically, and get a band that’s going to bring it home.

In your Detours book, you referenced the great Loudon Wainwright as someone to be admired. I thought there was a few lines on the album that would reminiscent of Loudon.

It’s possible!

I liked the start of “Left My Heart” – it references  a serious topic, but starts with the line ‘The thing about International Roast, sometimes it’s the perfect toast’. It reminded me of his humour and guile

(chuckles) – If he knew International Roast perhaps…

For sure – he’d be swapping if for something he knew, but it wasn’t difficult to draw an arc

I haven’t met him yet. He is one of the few heroes of mine I haven’t met, ’cause I know he wouldn’t be interested in meeting another middle-aged fan. I was exposed to his music when I was pretty young, around 28. I was listening to a record of his he wrote about his experiences of middle age, and youth and family. I’ve taken a lot of succour from that. Any record he puts out I’ll get straight away. I don’t love everything he does, but when I love somethinghe does, I’m all over it.

Tim Rogers

Yeah – he goes into such difficult territory.

Ha ha – “I Wish I Was a Lesbian” got him some unwelcome feedback. I’ve only seen him once at the Metro, and love his delight in wordplay. There’s another songwriter, Todd Snider who I adore, and is very similar in that you can feel them having fun with the wordplay, and they are not always fun songs. Loudon goes there.

I had Martha on a TV show I was hosting on cable TV about 7 years ago, and I love everything about her really. Before the interview started I told her that I wasn’t going to ask anything about her family. She said, it’s my shout all night if you don’t. Because everyone always does. I didn’t ask one question about the McGarrigle’s, Rufus, or her Dad and she brought it up – so it was her shout all night. And she was the best company.

Martha of course goes there as well, as does Rufus. When you write about people who are very close to you, if you thought twice about it, you wouldn’t do it.

I don’t think twice about things. I wrote a new song on this record about my Dad dying. I didn’t think to speak to his wife about it, or his family, and you just do it, record it and put it out there.

Then when the record comes out – you go ‘fuck, is this going to upset people’. And I’m a person who is desperately worried about upsetting people. Because I drink, and as a songwriter you leap before look. You don’t have to wear the consequences.. You can’t be afraid of upsetting people too much if it’s about your thoughts or daydreams or situations and relationships. If you thought about it too much, you just wouldn’t write. What do you do?

You’re just telling your truth

Or exaggerated versions of it….

Has Ruby (Tim’s daughter) heard your song “22”?

Yeah – but we don’t talk about it. She’s a songwriter herself, and she’s lived overseas since she was eleven, and we don’t talk about that. We talk about other stuff. She let’s me know that she knows there’s a record coming out. I think if there was something that bugged her about her old man singing adoringly about her, she’d let me know.

The other option was writing about a 53 year old. I love being 53, but I didn’t find it interesting enough to write a song about being 53 and the vicissitudes of relationships at that age. But my daughter’s relationships with her friends, and her partner and her mother, they interest me, so I’ll write a song about that.

I could have written a riposte to 28, and called it 53, but I still feel pretty much the same. Lets write about other people instead.

You’ve started to play these songs live. How has that been?

It’s really exciting. It’s seat-of-the-pants stuff. The band is incredible, but I don’t rehearse a lot. I don’t prepare a lot, I leave a lot up to chance. But I’m an anxious person, so when I go to start a song that has a tricky riff, I’m thinking ‘fuck, I should have really learnt this, reheased it’ – it’s exciting and terrifying.

You Am I have never rehearsed very much. Twin Sets similarly. The Hard Ons rehearse a lot – but without me. Again with the wordplay and the writing. There’s no safety net musically, and presenting lyrically there’s no safety net either. I try to not have any notes around to remind myself of lyrics, so I’ve got to think on the night. At the end of the show, I’m really exhausted. There’s a lot of words in there.

I think it’s good for cognition. I hope so anyway!

You keep so busy – doing so many different things – film, theatre, tele, writing, triple j, multiple bands. How do you manage it all?

It’s going to get weirder this year. I don’t go out looking for much. When you get asked to do something, particularly if it’s musical or in the theatre context it’s hard to say no to. It’s not because I necessarily feel I have a lot to add, but you never know what you are going to learn from the experience.

I’ve been working on a big film recently. It’s all about team work. You have to be there present all the time, and be ready to work and get physical. Then just wait hours and hours. It’s a bit like being in a rock band. It’s going to get physical and silly and confrontational then there are going to be long periods of inactivity.

It’s your business to be congenial and convivial and work on yourself and it’s why I don’t put headphones on when I’m on tour. There’s a lot to listen to but I want to be available to the band.

There are musicians who dictate what they want from every player, and they want to see shows go a certain way. I don’t have the perspicacity to give that vision to everybody – ‘we’ll have a bit of this, and a bit of that’. I can make it fun for everybody I think, but that’s my contribution. The rest, just get good people around you. I wish I knew that 20 years ago, but you learn some things very late.

I think we all take a meandering path through life don’t we, to get to the end point?

There’s a lot of meandering….. so much meandering…..

I think Davey’s first tour with you was with the Twin Sets?

Yes! We had become friends, and I asked him to come on tour with us.

Our bass player in the original Twin Sets, Stuey, who has since died, was our hero. He was the funniest guy in the room. He knew it was Davey’s first tour. Stuey and I were drinking friends. He said to Davey and I – I’ve got a drink for the tour. Jack Daniels and orange juice – I was thinking at the time, really? – Jack Daniels & orange juice? He said that the vitamin C will help as will the Jack Daniels. So Davey and I every night, that’s what we drank. Beer during the day, then two hours out from show time, we would switch to Jack Daniels and orange juice.

By the 45th gig – Davey and I were turning green. Stuey turned to us and asked are you boys doing alright? I said I think it’s the Jack Daniels and orange juice – he just recoiled in horror and said surely you haven’t been drinking it all this time? I said yeah, you mentioned it, and he said it was a joke man. No one drinks Jack Daniels and orange juice. That was Davey’s introduction to touring.

And he is still with you all these years later…

Better than ever. We’ve talked a little bit about that first tour, and that first experience, but Davey and I have been through a lot together. I think we are good at knowing that everything doesn’t always need to be important. Sometimes you need to make the song ‘the thing’, other times you need to make your friendship ‘the thing’. Priorities shift. What he did on this new record is that he made the songs, ‘the thing’. And when it was all done, that’s when we got back to talking about our lives together, and what’s going on individually.

He was 17 I think when he was on that first tour. Don’t try that shit at home, it’s a killer! It is satanic.

He has been an incredible musician – I love his last solo album, Don’t Bank Your Heart On It.

I think Davey is really, really undervalued. People know him as virtuosic, dependable and a great team player. He is writing out of his skin. I think he is undervalued, not with us though.

Not with your peers either….

He is an arsehole though. Despotic almost!

On that – thanks for your time and good luck with the rest of the tour


Friday Mar 24 | HABA, Rye, VICTORIA – tickets HERE
Saturday Mar 25 | The Archies Creek Hotel, ARCHIES CREEK – tickets HERE
Thursday Mar 30 | Imperial Hotel,  EUMUNDI – tickets HERE
Friday Mar 31 | Eltham Hotel,  ELTHAM – tickets HERE
Saturday Apr 1 | Brunswick Picture House,  BRUNSWICK HEADS, NSW – tickets HERE
Saturday Apr 15 | Smiths Alternative,  CANBERRA – tickets HERE (late show sold out, 3pm show on sale now)
Thursday Apr 27 | Hotel Westwood, Footscray MELBOURNE – tickets HERE
Friday Apr 28 | Brunswick Ballroom, MELBOURNE – tickets HERE
Saturday Apr 29 | St Stephens Church NEWTOWN, SYDNEY – tickets HERE


Tines of Stars Unfurled from Tim Rogers and the Twin Set is out now. You can purchase limited edition vinyl, t-towels, stubby holders and other merch bundles HERE.

You can keep up to date with Tim Rogers via his website, Facebook and Instagram

Photo credits: Bruce Baker

Bruce Baker

Probably riding my bike, taking photos and/or at a gig. Insta: @bruce_a_baker