“Can everyone put their volumes up full blast for the deaf fucker?” Hard-Ons’ guitarist Peter “Blackie” Black shouts into the Zoom call, “…Audio settings? I bet you mine’s already on full blast… Yep, full blast. God, that’s how old I am.”
One doesn’t simply interview Blackie and Tim Rogers – the Hard-Ons’ newest frontman, also known for his solo work and as the man behind legendary outfit You Am I – together two of our era’s greatest storytellers.
“Can I tell you a funny story of mine, Mike?” Rogers asks. “I hope it’s funny. I’m a little sleepless.”
As BLUNT would soon learn, when Mr. Tim Rogers has a story to tell, the only viable option is to strap in and enjoy the ride…
I calmly push aside my carefully laid-out notes and questions; they won’t be any help from here.
“My older brother, Jamie, is gorgeous, and he’s the biggest Hard-Ons fan in the world,” Rogers’ story begins. “He was the guy who introduced me to them. My mum made him take a Hard-Ons t-shirt back to Waterfront Records in about 1987. She said, ‘You’re not wearing that.’ And my mum’s really fucking cool, but she just said, ‘No, you are not wearing a Hard-Ons shirt around Baulkham Hills.'”
“Then last year, before I even told her I was joining the band, my mum went online, went to the Citadel Records website, and bought a Hard-Ons t-shirt for my brother, just because she remembers making him take it back. And she said, ‘The more I get to know those men, [the more I know that] they’re good guys.’ And so she sent him a Hard-Ons shirt 30 years later. I was speaking to Mum [recently] and she was saying, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’ve joined this band, and it’s fucking great. I can’t wait for you to meet them.’ Anyway, fair to say, we won’t be told to take any t-shirts back to the record store.”
It’s a safe assumption that Rogers’ mum is onboard with his addition to the Hard-Ons fold. But unlike most other musical projects, this one is appealing to more than just the members’ immediate family. In fact, upon the announcement, it was a groove that just about all fans of the Hard-Ons, You Am I and Rogers’ own work could get down with – metaphorically, and literally, too: the announcement came with the first wares offered by the new incarnation of the Hard-Ons, a punk-soaked pop firecracker titled ‘Hold Tight’. It’s a jam that’s equal parts cheeky, sincere and impressive, and the first glipmse into the forthcoming full length, Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken, out Friday, 8th October.
Blackie takes us back to the conversation in which Rogers was first brought up – one that Blackie insists was as simple as: “Blah, blah, blah, we need a singer.”
Rogers interjects: “Ray [Ahn, bassist] just said to Muzz [Murray Ruse, drummer] and Blackie, ‘How about this cunt?’ And it was just on a whim.”
“We all looked at each other, and went, ‘That’d be fucking mental,'” Blackie adds. “And that’s how easy it was. ‘Tim, do you want to join?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘All right, we’re rehearsing then.’ And it just happened.”
“When Ray called me,” Rogers muses, “My first thought was, ‘I’m just going to be a better person. I’m going to try and get singing lessons.’ Firstly, I needed to get fit. I mean You Am I don’t rehearse, and fuck, the Hard-Ons’ rehearsals are like going to bootcamp, man. And I reckon they’ve been easy on me so far!”
“Because we’ve got such different writing styles, it was really, really fucking great to sing someone else’s words, and get inside that vernacular and that world.
Going back to their first jam sessions as a unit, Rogers recalls being nervous – and naturally so, because as he happily admits, “I’m a fan first and foremost. [They were] the first band I loved that I could see, the first band I got my nose broken to, [and the first band] I lost my hearing to. There are so many firsts. And then to be in the rehearsal room… I looked over at Blackie’s amp and went, ‘Oh, that’s the amp.’ And I saw the SG, and I was like, ‘That’s the SG.’ I’ve been watching him play with those since 1986.
“That studio experience was pretty full on. I don’t know, Blackie, whether it was obvious, but I was fucking shitting myself on that first day. That’s why I walked in the rain, because I was thinking, ‘I need to rid myself of nerves.'”
“I just remember sitting there, and then after the first take,” Blackie responds, “You did look a bit nervous. Then you went, ‘Oh, how’s that?’ And I’m like… I remember as you were doing it, you obviously couldn’t hear because you were doing the take. I’d go to Lachlan, the engineer, and say, ‘What the fuck is this? This is fucking mental.’ So we had to fit in each other’s pockets, but this is how happy we are with this shit. You have no idea. I know it sounds like hyperbole, or whatever you want to call it, but almost from the word go, I got goosebumps thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this isn’t just working, this is something else.'”
We’ve all seen the Mark Wahlberg film Rock Star, and as such, we have an entry-level understanding of how the addition of Rogers may have gone – at least initially. But as the bandmates would explain, ego was never an issue when it came to writing and jamming Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken – the first album to feature Rogers as the Hard-Ons’ frontman, due out in October. Indeed, it’s quite clear that ego was nowhere to be found in the sessions.
“They’re Blackie’s songs,” Rogers explains of his mission plan. “I just wanted to serve that. I’m a pretty… Whether it’s ‘pretentious’ or ‘egotistical’, whatever it is – but when I get in the room, he’s my mate. I get into hero worship territory with the songs he writes. When Blackie sent through the lyrics and I read through them, they just knocked me for six. Because we’ve got such different writing styles, it was really, really fucking great to sing someone else’s words, and get inside that vernacular and that world.
“It just felt like a job – like, ‘I want to do this job, and I want to do it right.’ And I’m not going to half-arse it, or go in with any preconceived idea of what my part in the band would be. I just listened to them. So it was actually easy, because I blood-thirstily just wanted to do the best job.”
This anti-ego ethos was put in display in real time, with Blackie pissing in Rogers pockets without missing a beat. “He didn’t just do a job,” Blackie scoffs. “The amount of vocal flourishes that Tim did, it’s fucking insane. There’s a lot more soul in [his performance], to my ears anyway, than with our previous records, because both me and Keish [de Silva, former vocalist] have voices that border on average. Tim started playing around with some of the melodies, and then adding harmonies, and things like that. And it’s like, ‘Fucking hell, this is taking it another step.’
The pair describe a rapid-pace approach to the record, assessing that the whole thing was done within two and a half days at the studio. That’s a big giveaway to an organic and natural writing and recording process – one that no doubt deserves to be explored over more releases. Good thing, then, that Rogers is more than open to sticking around for more albums.
“Look, that’d be the dream, really,” he says. “I think one of the things that we have in common is, the night that we finished recording, Blackie wrote to me and said, ‘I’m going to send you some new demos.’ And I went, ‘Oh, we think the same.’ As soon as I finish every You Am I record, or record by myself, or even with the Bamboos record a couple of years ago, I started writing new songs that night. I don’t know what that is… A desperate cry for help, maybe. But I’m always just looking for the next thing.”
In reality though, joining the Hard-Ons is much more than a dream come true for Rogers. “It’s been a fucking lifesaver, really. I didn’t want to tour again. I didn’t want to really play again. Then Ray called me. He sent me the songs. Now all I want to do is play again, and make music.”
Hard-Ons new album Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken is out Friday, 8th October.