Hayley Mary On Tour With The Mighty You Am I Playing The Who’s ‘Tommy’

ARIA Award-winning, acclaimed Australian rock band You Am I, will pay homage to one of their greatest influences, The Who, as they play their legendary album Tommy, as well as a set of Who classics, live across the country this July and August. They will be fronted by two of Australia’s most accomplished female rock voices, Hayley Mary and Sarah McLeod, who will share vocals with Tim Rogers to bring the songs to life. Hayley talks to Hi Fi Way about this tour.

How excited are you being able to tour with the mighty You Am I?
I’m very excited. I’m just really pumped. Before the tour in rehearsals I got together with Tim and did some acoustic run throughs of the songs. He’s such an amazing front man and sort of musical theatre figure. There’s not a lot of crossover in that rock world to be such an amazing authentic rock band and then have someone who’s so interested in the cool, quirky side of music, like The Who, like this Tommy thing. I’ll hopefully learn a lot I’m a little bit scared of how wild it might be.

Of all albums, The Who’s Tommy is quite an ambitious undertaking for anyone to take on isn’t it?
Yeah, what I was getting at is only You Am I would dare think of doing it. I feel it’s compliment that they asked me to do it, but I’m kind of like, wow, this is going to be, who knows how this is going to be? I mean, I think it’s going to be great, but I don’t know in what way it’s going to be great. It’s like far out, there’s some songs in here that are wild and it’s quite outrageous to take it on, which I think is great. You need more audacity these days, I think.

Have certain songs gravitated to yourself or Sarah or Tim or Davy? There’s quite a bit of versatility there.
You Am I are trying to be the backing band as much as possible and we’re like, ah, I think maybe you should sing some of it. He was quite surprised because I requested, I don’t want to tell people who’s singing what you want to keep some of the surprise, he said that most people don’t want to do the dark ones and I was the only person that ever requested to do the dark ones. I’m doing a fair few of the weird quirky ones, which I’m excited about because I love a good villain character.

How did you get involved with the tour? Was it as simple as the band asking you? Or was there more to it?
No, I think that’s really all it was. I’ve obviously met those guys around and hung out with them a bit. We did that tribute to Sky Hooks in Covid together. I’ve known Tim for quite a while and the other guys I’ve met quite a few times. Tim’s a big supporter of my solo music on Double J, when he goes on there and plays it. So, he’s been really supportive, awesome and encouraging the whole time I’ve been doing that. I don’t know, I guess they just asked and I was like, hell yeah, because I love musicals and The Who is a great band. I didn’t actually know this album that well so I got into it. They simply just asked me and I jumped at the opportunity. I actually was talking to my managers about how I’d like to be in musicals and they thought I was joking, so it was just very fortuitous.

In preparing for this did you go back and listen to the Tommy album and some of the classics to try and get in that head space? Or do you just bring your own flare and vocal stylings to it?
Well you kind of have to do a bit of both. I’ve been learning from the original because I know that there was the film version, which some people love and some people hate. I know there’s also the live version that The Who did, which doesn’t include all of the songs, but it’s got a fair chunk of them. I’ve been kind of jumping between different versions. The movie really helped me because I didn’t grow up watching it.

It really helped me tie the story together because the album itself actually infers a lot of the story and I think people know from what Pete Townsend said what the story means, but it’s not clear when you listen to the album what exactly is going on. So, I had to delve into the mythology around it, some documentaries and that kind of thing. Ultimately when you’re singing, you probably know this, but not every song suits every singer, so you’ve got to pick ones that will suit you, but also then like you’ve got your key and your style. You can’t really perfectly recreate someone else’s singing, so you’ve got to find a way to capture the spirit of it, I guess, but turn it into your own. I’ve learnt the material, so I know the story and the vibe and now I’m stepping into how do I make this mine.

Have you always been a fan of The Who or being immersed in it now are you finding that you are more of a fan than you were before?
A bit of both. I think I’m guilty of what a lot of people are, which is being a bit of a I love the hits type of person, but I’ve never like delved deep into them. I love that era of music and I love and late sixties, seventies audacity like we were talking about with how they started. This is one of the first rock musical, rock opera type influence things for me, so I’m definitely learning a lot. My respect for them is growing a lot. I knew they were influential, but seeing how influential they are on so much that I love, I grew up on a lot of Queen, glam rock and stuff that came after. Listening to this and going, wow, this is actually really sort of influenced a lot of what I love as well.

How does the structure of the show work and is pieced together?
This is a fairly true to album format because Tim has said they have actually performed bits of this album. He said that they’ve never done all of it and neither has The Who, so part of what that why they wanted to do it is because no one’s ever performed the whole thing. There’s a lot of the weird or darker songs that people don’t like performing, which I have volunteered to perform.

No pressure but do you feel a little bit nervous?
Yes, of course I do! I always feel nervous. It’s a lot of lyrics to learn. That always makes me nervous because with my own lyrics that I’ve written, they’re in my DNA. Covers are hard in that sense because they’re not lyrics you would write, so they don’t naturally come to you. So you have to know it pretty well, you have to study it. What’s good about this album and makes it a bit easier to remember than other maybe more abstract covers would be that it’s a story so you can imagine it. I can see the character going here and then logically they go there and then that happens and then it happens. I’m hoping that the story will just tell itself in my head and I’ll be able to remember everything. It will be an interesting first pancake, but I think I’ve pretty much got it all down. I’ve been listening to it all on my jogs.

Did everyone else share the same sense of nerves?
I don’t know if Tim ever gets nervous, but he might inside! He never appears nervous. When we got together and he was surprised that I’d learned the lyrics. I was like, it’s in a couple of weeks. He was like, oh wow, I’m very impressed by that and I was like, so when are you going to learn it? He was just chilled. They don’t seem to be the kind of guys that are nervous. I mean it’s in their blood because they’ve always been active and they never really take time off performing do they?

Was there much debate or discussion about the other Who classics that you might play in the, in the show?
No debate or anything. I requested my number one favourite. I don’t know if I’ll tell you what it is, but let’s let keep the mystery. I was quite surprised when they said they’re doing this. I was like, wouldn’t you do a more mainstream Who album? I’ve learned that a lot of people love it and grew up with it, but it’s quite obscure to me. I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems more obscure than some of their other stuff. We’re definitely going to do some classics but apparently they actually didn’t come up with the idea themselves. Cate Blanchett came up with the idea and she asked Tim years ago if he would consider doing a live version of ‘Tommy’ and it just never eventuated. So now it’s finally happening!

Interview By Rob Lyon

Catch You Am I performing with Hayley Mary and Sarah McLeod on the following dates. Tickets from Live Nation

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