the moment Tim Rogers knew he needed help

Tim Rogers was onstage with an acoustic guitar, a hip flask of whiskey, a pad and a pen. And he was having the mother of anxiety attacks. This wasn’t with You Am I, the iconic and enduring Australian band he has fronted since 1989. It was during a 2017 run of What Rhymes with Cars and Girls, a stage play written by Aidan Fennessy, based on Rogers’ 1999 debut solo album of the same name.

Rogers was musical director and part of the onstage three-piece band. When the first attack hit, he picked up the pen and scribbled on the pad, then surreptitiously showed it to fiddle player Xani Kolac.

It read: I’m having a panic attack. I need help.

She wrote back: It’s OK. We’ll cover for you.

Tim Rogers on stage with Sophie Ross and fiddle player Xani Kolac in What Rhymes with Cars and Girls.

Tim Rogers on stage with Sophie Ross and fiddle player Xani Kolac in What Rhymes with Cars and Girls.Credit:Jeff Busby

But he toughed it out. And he got thinking about why he was anxious. It was then he realised it was the songs. Night after night he listened to the lyrics he had written almost two decades before, and felt discomfort.

That night on stage he could have hit the hip flask. Instead, in the breaks between playing he reached for the pen and pad and scrawled lines in answer to the old songs. The result is Tines of Stars Unfurled, a song-by-song response to What Rhymes with Cars and Girls.

The first thing he wrote was the line “I was doing all those things, no one clapped and no one cried”. It was a reaction to You’ve Been So Good to Me So Far, a song about becoming someone you’re not in order to please another person. It featured the lyric “forgot all my girlfriends and I even washed my hair and I did all that couples stuff and I pretended that I cared”.

“Every time I heard [actor/singer] Johnny Carr sing that line in the play, I’d think, ‘No, I didn’t have girlfriends, I had one girlfriend’,” says Rogers, wearing a red Bob Seger T-shirt and sitting in his home in Taradale, a small country town north-west of Melbourne. “And I wasn’t pretending that I cared. I really cared. And I thought, ‘God, who’s the guy who wrote those songs?’”

That’s why we’re here – to go back in a DeLorean to find out who Tim Rogers was in his 20s, and then return to 2023, to see where he is now. Buckle up.

Tim Rogers: ″⁣I thought ’God, who’s the guy who wrote those songs?‴⁣⁣

Tim Rogers: ″⁣I thought ’God, who’s the guy who wrote those songs?‴⁣⁣Credit:Aurora

In 1997 Rogers was living in West Hollywood during the writing and recording of You Am I’s fourth album #4 Record. He says it was a confusing time for the band – he remembers countless lunches with record labels and publishers and being encouraged to co-write with established songwriters to come up with a hit.

Then he and his long-term girlfriend, Tracy Forrester, broke up. He returned to Australia and moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1998. He felt lost.

“I didn’t even know how to look for an apartment,” he says. “I ended up renting a flat in Carlton that had no windows. I remember going to the local hardware store and buying a knife, a fork, a spoon, a bowl and a saucepan. The lady at the counter looked at them, then looked at me, and said, ‘Haven’t been single for a while, then?’”

Rogers had recently fallen in love with country music, particularly Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Bonnie Raitt and Hank Williams. In his hotel room in West Hollywood he wrote song after song that leaned more towards Nashville and Austin than the ’90s Australian alternative rock scene. Now he wanted to do something with them. He was a big fan of Melbourne folk-rock heroes Weddings Parties Anything and became friends with the band’s fiddle player, Jen Anderson.


“Tim landed in town with a broken heart and not many connections,” Anderson remembers. “I had this little home studio in Fitzroy and he asked me if he could record some demos and if I could help get some musicians together.”

Those musicians became the Twin Set. Was Anderson surprised when she heard the style of songs he was working on?

“I was impressed more than surprised. I realised he had this whole other side to him that he’d never shown before. There was this indescribable chemistry between Tim, myself and those musicians. We were just recording what were meant to be demos, but apart from Paul McKercher mixing it later at Sing Sing, that’s what ended up being the album.”

Fast forward almost a quarter of a century, and Rogers got in touch with Anderson again to tell her he wanted to repeat the experience, with a new album. Been So Good Been So Far is something of a mea culpa to Tracy Forrester, with nods to her in mentions of Palm Springs (where she now lives) in the lyrics and the old Holdens (which she used to drive) in the video.

“We write letters to each other a few times a year,” says Rogers. “We check in with each other about parents and stuff. We’re always going to be friends.”

Around the time of the first solo album, Rogers met and married Rocio Garcia Rodriguez and they had a daughter, Ruby. The marriage ended in divorce and mother and daughter moved to New York more than a decade ago.

On the first album, Twenty Eight was about Rogers’ contemporaries changing at that age, with talk of arthouse movies, house renovations and wine appreciation courses. The answer song is Twenty Two, an ode of wonder and admiration for Ruby, who will turn 22 on the new record’s release date. “She’s an adult now, a very astute and fun person and a hero to me in the way she navigates the world,” says Rogers. “Every time we get to see each other, when we say goodbye, we both say, ‘Don’t cry now.’ I save it until we’ve parted.”

Tim Rogers in 1999, the year he released What Rhymes with Cars and Girls.

Tim Rogers in 1999, the year he released What Rhymes with Cars and Girls.Credit:Michael Rayner

I Left My Heart in a Country Church Hall is his response to I Left My Heart All Over the Place. It opens with the line: “Now the thing about International Roast is sometimes it’s the perfect toast, and it’s the free brew of the day at this kingdom of the old AA.”

Rogers has never made any secret of his battles with anxiety and alcohol. He has attended the odd Alcoholics Anonymous meeting over the years, “on nights when I’ve felt adrift, or at the urging of other people who are in those programs, and although I wish everyone who is in it the best, it’s not part of my life”.

As for his relationship to alcohol these days, he’s refreshingly honest.

“It’s pretty much the same, Baz,” he says. “I wake up some days and it’s on, and other days it’s not. But in the past I’ve used anxiety as an excuse to get f—ed up and I don’t want to do that any more.”

Walking and reading have helped. Recently he has set himself the task of reading 100 pages of a novel every day. He’s in the process of writing a book, a follow-up to his 2017 memoir Detours, about how reading fiction can help with addiction.

Does he feel more content at 53 than he did at 28? He pauses for a few seconds and rubs his beard.

“Reading these books every day has put me in a kind of daydream state and it’s kept me from popping tins or bottles at midday,” he says, citing Virginia Woolf and Robyn Davidson as some of the authors he has been delving into. “I’m yet to talk to counsellors or neurologists about the benefits of reading fiction, but at the moment I’m writing about what I’m reading and what it does for me.”

In the video for You’ve Been So Good to Me So Far, Rogers sauntered through the streets of late-’90s Marrickville, a young rake with a glint in his eye and a wry grin on his face. In the video for Been So Good Been So Far, he looks like a grizzled country character in a Nudie-style embroidered suit, wandering the paddocks and hills around Taradale.

It was while he was walking around at night during a “glamping trip” on the east coast of Tasmania with his partner, choreographer Alice Topp, that he looked up and pointed out a constellation that he thought looked like a fork. Having a momentary blank, he asked Topp what the spikes of a fork were called. “Tines,” she said. And thus an album title was born. It was a return favour for “annealing”, a word Topp saw in Rogers’ notebook. It refers to heating metal and allowing it to cool slowly to make it more malleable, and Topp used it for a recent work she choreographed for the Australian Ballet.

It sounds like Rogers has been doing a bit of annealing himself lately. Does he feel more content at 53 than he did at 28? He pauses for a few seconds and rubs his beard.


“It depends on the day. There are some difficult days at 53, just like there were at 28. It’s not a depression as much as a melancholy. But I’ll go for a walk and a couple of miles later those feelings will abate somewhat. Then I’ll get home and put on a record or get stuck into a book, and things will be a bit better.

“Even on those blue days, though, I’d say I’m very surprised where I’ve ended up. My needs are very simple now. And I’m very grateful. That’s the big one. I think the most consistent feeling there now is gratefulness.”

Tines Of Stars Unfurled is released on February 24. Tim Rogers plays the Sooki Lounge in Belgrave, March 9, Bendigo Theatre, March 11, HABA in Rye, March 24, Archies Creek Hotel, March 25, and Eltham Hotel, March 31.

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