Interview: You Am I’s Russell “Rusty” Hopkinson on recording The Lives of Others remotely, Mexican psychedelic 45’s and Chuck Berry

You Am I

You Am I will release their eleventh studio album tomorrow, The Lives of Others. It’s been six years since their previous album was released, Porridge & Hotsauce, and hasn’t the world changed since then. In February they released the first track off the album, the highly lauded “The Waterboy”, and the rest of the album has been keenly anticipated by fans.

It was an album recorded under completely different conditions to their earlier albums. Porridge & Hotsauce was recorded in Brooklyn, NY. With drummer Russell “Rusty” Hopkinson and bassist Andy Kent living in Sydney, and vocalist  Tim Rogers and lead guitar Davey Lane living in Melbourne, a creative approach was needed to getting this album recorded.

I caught up with Rusty to chat about the recording process. We also touched on some of his current favourite bands, and also reached back into the memory archives to relive some great touring moments with the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who.

Great to chat with you Rusty. 

You too. How are you mate?

Excellent thanks. Let’s get started on your new album, The Lives of Others. You guys obviously had to record it somewhat differently to your other albums.

Yeah, circumstances meant that we had to do things a little differently. We’ve done things like that in a piecemeal fashion where we’ve been forced to due to circumstances where our schedules clashed, but never a complete album where it was recorded entirely apart from each other. We weren’t in the same room together for over a year, so that made it a little hard. We had to make do, and I think we managed to do that

For sure – it’s a knockout album. The first single you released off it was “The Waterboy”. Is that the track you recorded first?

It all started out in Lockdown. I had a drum-kit setup at home in our record room, Davey has his studio, and Tim was pumping out some demos. Myself and Andy went into a studio to flesh out some rhythm sections for the guys to add to, that was one that lent itself immediately to what I heard, and the guys were happy with it. It was a good experience.

So you largely recorded your bits with Andy, and sent them back

Some of them together, some of them myself. I had to move to Perth at the end of the year for family reasons, so some were recorded in a studio in Perth with a guy called Sam which was a lot of fun. Probably four or five Andy and I recorded together as a rhythm section. “The Waterboy” was one of those. Everyone was in different stages of learning things for the album. Another song, “DRB Hudson” I just went in and played a whole lot of drums over it, took it home, edited it all together and sent it to them. It wasn’t quite what they were expecting, which was kind of cool.

 

What was it like for you getting some of these tracks back from Davey and Tim after they had added their finished bits back in?

One of the most interesting things out of the process was that you could surprise each other. Sometimes it was me doing the surprising. I put down the whole percussion section of “Rubbish Day” in our spare room, and they were surprised by it, but fortunately dug it all. Other songs I’d get back and didn’t expect the vocals or guitars to be like that. The demos were pretty stripped back, and that gave you room to move. And it gave them room to move after I laid something down. We didn’t stick to a template.

Rubbish Day is a song that stands out. That one gets a bit cosmic, doesn’t it ?

Yeah, I was sitting around having some afternoon shandys listening to Mexican psych 45’s which I have in my possession, and I had the urge to play some really rubbish cowbell and bongos and stuff like that. It then came back with Davey playing some searing Pretty Things Parachute-era style guitar lines over the top. It showed how some things appeared to just grow up out of nowhere. They grew out of the fact that Tim wrote a bunch of really great songs and let us have at them which is what it’s all about.

Some nice variations – your 60s era, your cosmic-psych, and your classic early days You Am I

Yeah – there were some songs where you could hear that they needed the classic 90s “treatment’- not that it was exactly like that, then there were songs like ‘DRB Hudson’ or ‘Lookalikes’ or ‘Rubbish Day’ where it was a little more open to interpretation and you could go a little bit wackier.

Tim is deep when it comes to songwriting, he is generally not very satisfied, so when you get something, you know that he has thought about it a bunch. The fact that he handed all these songs to us was indicative that he had this level of trust and let us take them away and do whatever we wanted with them. I don’t think there was any occasion where he came back and said change it. His usual reaction was ‘holy shit, that’s amazing’ – which is gratifying as a musician to get that response from a songwriter.

What songs from the album are you looking most forward to playing live.
“DRB Hudson“ – we’ve played this once. That’s a hell of a lot of fun to play. It has lots of my favourite drum-fills back to back, and a really good 68-era freak-beat sound which is something we all really dig.

“We All Went Deaf Overnight” by Davey is something completely different which I like to play. It has this great pub rock feel which is heaps of fun. And ”The Lives of Others”, the title track, is another one I’ve really enjoyed playing live. It’s quite dark and powerful and you get to dig on some big cymbals and make a hell of a noise, which after a year of not being able to make any noise is highly gratifying to be able to do so.

Have you listened to much music during lockdown?
Yeah, kind of, being slightly older, I tend to listen to older records. I work for a label called Daptone Records, and there’s a lot of stuff on there I like. They have a sublabel called Penrose Records which has Southern California soul groups that I love. There’s a great Melbourne band called Banana Gun.  Also, Rock Music Fanclub from Ulladulla are a band I really dig.

It was 381 days I believe since you guys last played together. Is that right?

No, it was worse than that. It was 381 since we were in a room together. We played at a brewery in March in 2020, and then Covid hit. Having the idea of making a record helped us all get through it somewhat. It gave us a sense of purpose, and we kept working away at this thing without even thinking about it too much. Luckily we had the focus of making this record.

How good was it getting out there and playing again?

Fantastic.  We played at the Enmore Theatre, it’s one of my favourite stages to play, and it’s a venue that people like seeing the band in. It’s kind of something else, people were really up for it. It’s a lovely feeling – it’s like waking up from a nightmare. We had Smudge playing, and the Holy Soul, who are a bunch of people that we really like. It was a nice atmosphere on stage, back stage and in the audience. It was the same in Melbourne when we played the April Sun gig with Magic Dirt. You can’t ask for any more. It’s probably the longest I’ve gone since I was 16, which is 40 years. It was a long period of inactivity in terms of rocking out.

You’ve got more shows coming up

Yeah – we’re going to be busy the next few months. Our own shows and the Spring Loaded festival. We’re happy to get in a cab, fly somewhere and play a show. We treat each show as our last and give it a red hot go. It’s rare we play somewhere we don’t want to.

Touring is still something you enjoy then

Yeah – especially when it has been taken off you. When we don’t want to tour, we don’t. When the urge comes we then play as many as we can. We don’t live in the same city. We don’t jam. We just play gigs together. Everyone has their own things on the side. We can walk away from it and walk back, or more likely run back to it. It’s great to have this thing to have.

I’ve always admired the obvious camaraderie between the band when I’ve seen you live. A contrast to the Rolling Stones perhaps, who have epic songs but the friendships for them aren’t quite what they once were.

Ha ha – the last time I saw the Stones they were pretty good for about an hour until they did a version of “Miss You’ with a backing track which sucked the life out of Charlies drumming a little bit. But up until that point they were sensational and clearly enjoying themselves.

You supported those guys, what was it like?

It was amazing. Mick came and watched us from side of stage. We met them all. It was a larger-than-life experience. We toured with The Who as well. You don’t expect those people to be normal humans. Standing back stage and Pete Townsend comes up to me, shakes my hand,  and says “my son’s a big fan of your band” and starts talking about the 1968 Small Faces / Who tour of Australia. You don’t expect to have those experiences.

It was the same with the Stones. You look over and Tim was doing a little bit, and it ripped off Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! and Mick was watching it, and he punched the roadie on the shoulder and said “Hey, that’s from Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” – which made me laugh. It was a human moment which you don’t expect – you don’t expect to see the Rolling Stones watching you from side of stage.

Well – Mick and Tim have similarities in the way they shake their hips, don’t they?

Yeah – when I got married, we got married in Vegas. Mainly because we could go and see Chuck Berry supported by Little Richard at the old Caesars Palace. And Tim and his wife came along as well. We went and saw Chuck Berry who was 72 at the time. I was struck by him, how he was every guitarist I know, including Tim, in a lot of those moves. There’s a lot of history in the way Tim moves, a lot of things which he has picked up. It gets passed down the line, or he is part of a collective consciousness of how people react to Rock N Roll.

Totally, Tim is a great front-man 

Yeah – it’s an absolute pleasure to sit behind all three of those guys and try and power it along, and have fun interactions and try and push each other. It’s a great band to be in that regards. We are never going to tie ourselves down to a backing track and try and be modern. We play rock n roll and aren’t going to try and change that. As long as we have fun and people come along and dig it. That’s all that really matters I guess.

You’ve done some interesting merch for the album. Three different colours of vinyl I see.

I’m a fan of records – so we are doing three different colours of the vinyl. And a cassette, of course a CD, which I kind of love. Personally, I like buying records (vinyl) – I think it’s the funnest way of listening to music.

On your setlist, what are some of your favourite tunes to get on there.

It’s hard to say – I enjoy most of the set. I’m looking forward to playing “Manliness”, cause we don’t play many slower type of numbers. I still get a kick out of playing “Good Morning”, or “Mr. Milk” or “Berlin Chair”. And I like more obscure tracks, like things off Porridge & Hot Sauce or our self-titled record.

There’s a track we do which is called “The Ocean”. It’s a big number that is really fun to play cause the band locks into a distinct groove. It’s fun when everyone locks into it, it has a sludgy nature which is enjoyable. I’m just lucky to be a drummer who can play all these tunes and hang out and have a beer afterwards.

We’re lucky to have such a good main songwriter and we have Davey as well, who has written some You Am I gems.

 

His album, Don’t Bank Your Heart On It, was a cracker…

For sure. It is fantastic. He is a very talented gentleman. He is someone who we have seen literally grow up. He never ceases to amaze me.

Thanks for the chat. Good luck with the release of the album. 

Thanks – we are really happy how it’s all working out – we will keep on keeping on.

 

The Lives of Others by You Am I will be released 14th May 2021. You can pre-order limited edition merch bundles (including vinyl) HERE

Upcoming Tour dates:
Sunday, 16th May | The Zoo, Brisbane | Tickets HERE  matinee session – 2.30 pm)
Wednesday, 19th May | Factory Theatre, Sydney | Tickets HERE
Thursday, 20th May | The Night Cat, Melbourne | early and late shows
Friday, 28th May | The Cambridge, Newcastle | Tickets HERE
Saturday, 29th May | The Concourse, Chatswood | Tickets HERE

Bruce Baker

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

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