Record-breaking and trail-blazing Sydney punks the Hard-Ons have a new lead singer – Tim Rogers! National tour set to follow release of new album I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken. Sydney punk/ alternative legends the Hard-Ons, who have shared bills with the Ramones and Nirvana, worked with Henry Rollins and influenced generation after generation of hugely popular Aussie bands, have been cranking out their own brand of punk rock for nearly forty years now (yes, they started young!). And they recently announced the addition of a new member, one Tim Rogers of You Am I! Following the release of its first album I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken, the new Hard-Ons line-up will be hitting the road for a national tour. I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken is a stunning release that further reveals the Hard-Ons’ musicality and will surprise anyone who sees them as just a thrashy punk band. But it doesn’t won’t give fans anything to complain about, and nor will the new line-up’s live shows; the magic in this union comes in part at least from the fact that Tim Rogers is one of those fans himself. Ray Ahn talks to Hi Fi Way about the album and working with Tim Rogers.
It must be great after a pretty tough couple of years to be getting this tour up and going?
Yes and no! It is good to get it going of course and we are really dying to play having said that I’m feeling sorry for younger bands that haven’t had their fill. I have been playing since I was sixteen and I’m fifty-six now, I have had a really good run. If I don’t play for a couple of years what’s it matter? I’m pretty patient about these things, we have these friends of ours in a band from Melbourne called The Clowns, they’re young and chomping at the bit to go at everything. I feel sorry for bands younger than us that have the world at their feet that haven’t been able to play. I’m not getting any younger and I’d like to get a few more in before I die!
I don’t think you’re going anywhere soon!
We have a pretty good attitude towards our band, it’s like a band that started in high school with its under pinning’s are still the same. In a way, we’re quarantined from things that break up other bands. A lot of things that will destroy other bands don’t destroy ours like lack of success, lack of chart success, not enough people at gigs, those things don’t disappoint us, we just keep chugging along. We do it for the musical reasons so in a way it is a high school band gone feral. My family is Buddhist, I was brought up Buddhist so I’m talking Buddhist shit, I don’t have disappointment in my life or any expectations.
The new album charted strongly so you must be happy about that?
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be playing in front of more people, love to be charting, would love to be a millionaire and I’d love to be on TV, love to be on radio twenty four hours a day and have a higher profile… I’d love to have all that stuff. You might be part of the band’s original DNA to be going looking for that kind of stuff so we don’t really need to change. If it comes our way it’s great when it does happen. The main thing for us is that musically it is successful, I was quite frankly shocked when it was first announced that Tim Rogers would sing on the record. When it was announced we had already recorded the album, already had been playing with him in the studio and the album was already in the can ready to come out. One of the reasons we didn’t tell anyone about it was that You Am I were touring their new album which was a fantastic, almost a come back album that was so incredibly focused. This new You Am I album did really well for them. The first time I heard it I heard how much talent those guys have. We didn’t want to interfere with them touring and we didn’t want to take the limelight away from them because it was a big deal what they were doing so we waited for them. When we announced it a lot of people were shocked that we had this album already recorded. We didn’t do it in the stealth of the night or secretly, just quietly. We didn’t want the focus You Am I had on touring to dissipate.
We are obsessed with pop music, there is this belief with people who haven’t listened to The Hard-Ons that we are a punk band that were a thrash band and that were a metal which are all kind of true but we do, one of the hallmarks of The Hard-Ons back catalogue is a lot of melodic pop music. Admittedly, with the production we had was drowned out with layers of distortion on the guitar, distortion on the bass, distortion on everything and a really guitar heavy mix. Uncompromising in your face production and mix maybe turned some people off hearing these songs which at the core of it if you took it and played it on a piano and acoustic guitar the song is still the same with a really good melody there. A lot of The Hard-Ons records if you listened to the singing we take a lot of cues from The Ramones, classic 77 punk style where the singing is concise and not necessarily what you would call soulful.
I don’t know if you know Tim Rogers personally but he has a lot of influences from singers that are quite soulful and intimate in their delivery. I know for a fact he loves Steve Marriott from Small Faces, Reg King from The Action, Kenny Pickett from The Creation, Spencer Davis, he would like these guys like Carl Wayne from The Move, singers that were singing blues and soul music so their phrasing where they sing a note, hold it longer than The Hard-Ons would and play with that melody in a soulful way. He thought the new batch of songs needed a singer that was quite soulful and more expressive where the melodies would come to the fore. The good thing about Tim is that he had so many ideas for the vocals once we gave him to the demos, he came up with all these harmony bits and said that he added this bit to this song, added this bit and added this bit and kept on going. A lot of the stuff you hear on the record is his director involvement arrangement and re-jigging of melody lines, embellishment of harmony parts here and there. He has added a hell of a lot and has done a lot of homework. Every time we saw him he had new ideas and by the time we went to record he had that many ideas that were working fantastic. When he first joined the band we asked him this one question. What can you do that is fantastic? His answer was quite a lot actually. His answer was right.
When you were thinking about singers was he the first and only choice?
Basically the only choice! What happened was that we were stuck without a singer. We parted ways with our original singer, some of it and the reasons why is on the internet. There was five weeks to go before we were going to record it in the studio. I rang Blackie saying we don’t have a singer, there’s only three of us left, are you going to sing on the new album? Then I said are we going to do this new album in five weeks as we have booked the studio? He said yes we are! Who is singing? Are you singing? I asked who is going to sing and he said I don’t know. That’s great, we have five weeks to go and at that point I came home one day and it dawned on me. I hear Tim Rogers singing these songs.
So, I rang him to say hello at first because we are friends and then I asked if he wants to do this project. He said straight away without even thinking. He said yes I can do it. I asked if he could squeeze it in with his busy schedule and do you want to do it? He said yes to everything and basically everything I asked he said yes. The biggest question was do you understand where we are coming from as a band? The answer was yes and he wanted to explore all these songs we play live. The band has been going for a long time and the most popular period was the late eighties/ early nineties where we were popular. He wasn’t that interested in that period of the band, he was more interested in the time where we broke up and came back playing slightly more differently. Tim was interested in the albums from the last ten years. He has kept up with the development of the band over the years where quite frankly a lot of people weren’t that interested in the band and didn’t have much profile. We had enough of a core group of fans that made it worth while and Tim was always one of those fans. Tim kept buying those records that were putting out. We have this mail order company that makes t-shirts and his name was always popping up buying t-shirts.
We hadn’t kept in touch, what happens is Nick Tischler who used to be in You Am I would always say come and see my band. I went to one of those early gigs and it was Tim’s brother on drums and Nick and they played this place called The Den. There was literally ten people there and I watched them intently the whole time from side of the stage, as Nick was a friend of mine and I felt obliged to see his band play, from that moment we became friends with everyone in You Am I including Tim. Tim was this shy kid, Nick said later that Tim was a really big fan as well. I told Nick he should of told Tim to come over and say hello. They were hassling us for gigs and we gave them one in 90/91 then at that moment they started taking off. We were in the middle of a Ramones tour and they did a secret gig at the Dee Why Hotel, You Am I were supporting them then next thing we were doing the Big Day Out tour and they were doing the whole tour with The Clouds, Tex Perkins, Beasts Of Bourbon and all these American bands.
They were climbing up and that year we did Big Day Out we went to Europe after that and broke up. You Am I kept going and kept getting more popular, the whole while I would say hello to Tim when I saw him, his music is getting better and his band kept getting even better each time. Next time I don’t see him as he has his band and I have mine, quite frankly You Am I shouldn’t be giving The Hard-Ons support gigs as he is obliged to give them to up and coming bands that need exposure. We have had our day in the sun and don’t need that. For that reason we didn’t see each other that much because of different trajectories in our career. The whole time I could see what he was doing with You Am I which was pretty incredible. His talent is not to be underestimated. The core of all through this and the one thing that has stayed true is his incredible burning talent. To be able to interpret things and to pay respect to the songs properly with his vocals, I think he did. We are really happy with the album and he sung exactly as we heard them. When we had a band meeting I said I asked Tim Rogers to come and join the band. They said what, without even asking us? I said it is a no brainer, can you not see that. They said it was a total no brainer. This lead singer was literally starring us right in the face and hidden in plain sight.
What was the reaction playing the album back for the first time?
We all heard him singing in his head and were a hundred percent convinced it was going to work. I rang him saying we have a practice booked can you get up to Sydney. Given Tim is in Melbourne I offered to book a flight he said no need I’m going to get a hire car and drive up. I said what the hell for? It is a long drive and he said that those demos you sent me I’m going to play it in the car over and over again for eleven hours and get really familiar with those songs. I said that this guy is on a different level of professionalism compared to other people who play music. This is great, he is dedicated and has proven he is dedicated. So he has driven up listening to the songs and singing to himself in the car. He has turned up to band practice, took the microphone we had organised, took that off, put his own microphone in. First single Hold Tight, he sung it exactly how you hear it on the record. I swear you not, he nailed it before he was even singing in the band. We gave him the melody and he said yes I know the melody, got familiar with it and bloody nailed it! After the first song I said everyone just stop I’ve heard enough, I’m one hundred percent convinced this will work. Tim Rogers looks at us and say of course it’s going to work, I love the band why wouldn’t it work? He said the moment it wouldn’t work I would have heard it and stepped back in the car and driven back so you can get someone else.
How did the traditional fan base react to Tim becoming a member of the band?
The moment we announce on Facebook that Tim Rogers is in the band and here’s the first single Hold Tight people were saying you guys are a punk band, what is this pop drivel. It was like, well excuse me, you really can’t please everyone, it is insane how judgemental people are.
Are the plans for another album with Tim?
Yes, what we have said to the guys in You Am I that we are going to borrow your lead singer. We’re stuck for a singer and we are going to borrow him as this is a sure fire way to resurrect the band. We don’t have a singer, we are down in the dumps, we’ve got five weeks before recording, we’ll borrow your lead singer but we will give him back. We live in a country where you can’t play twenty fours a day in every city so there is plenty of Tim to go around. Tim wants to do it and they thought it was a great idea, all three of them. Rusty did the record cover for us and those guys were really happy for us. When someone in your band creates something and is excited about it, being creative and productive there is a trickle down effect to everything else they will do. It is so, I pay in lots of bands so does Blackie and Murray as does Tim. Everything we go off and do other projects it is good for every other band we are in. None of us are in a band like The Rolling Stones where you can only play in one band because it is full time. With have plenty of time to do everything here.
I said to Tim after this album we would go and get another singer, we don’t know who that will be but someone who is decent and that we wouldn’t audition, someone who already is fantastic and we will draft them in and do another record unless you want to draft them in. He said he wants to stick around and do another record and we have already started writing new songs. Tim has already got all these demos for the new album, listening to them going I have this idea, this idea and this idea. He is always talking about it and calling Blackie discussing melody ideas and other ideas. Don’t forget he plays guitar really well and he is so musical that is contribution is really awesome when it comes to writing new songs. He was even suggesting he could play guitar on the new record but we don’t want to change the DNA of the band too much. The DNA is that we have this three piece sparseness to our sound, we’re one rampaging guitar player on channel left and bass player on channel right. It’s our DNA with that one alpha male lead guitarist holding court. We didn’t want that to change and Tim said yep, I understand that. He will stay our singer and we will do another album with him. The moment we are treading on You Am I’s toes we will say you can have him back. If and when Tim does leave and we get another singer it is going to be another exciting thing for us. We have a keen ear on what we know will work for us and what won’t work because we have Tim. So we are pretty excited about whatever the band does next.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch The Hard-Ons on the following dates…