It’s every fan’s wildest dream to be plucked from the crowd and hoisted on stage with their favourite band, to have their special fandom recognised from afar and brought in to the inner circle.
But unless your favourite band is full of your friends, it’s probably never going to happen. Unless you’re Henry Rollins – who was a fan of Black Flag before being recruited as their singer – or Davey Lane, who was asked to join You Am I when he was just 18, after posting extremely accurate guitar tabs of the band’s songs on a fansite.
It’s always been a strange dichotomy for Lane, who has for the past 15 years been both You Am I’s lead guitarist and their biggest fan. But with the re-release of the band’s first three records – Sound As Ever, Hi Fi Way and Hourly Daily – Lane’s dual identities have become intertwined as never before. Because in addition to the work of remastering, Lane has been neck-deep in old cardboard boxes, finding photos and even recordings long-since forgotten by his bandmates.
“Even though I didn’t play on those records, I was an aficionado of the band when those records came out, so it’s nice to be involved a little in the process… It’s a little daunting, but it’s been great to go back and listen to the records, and be reminded how much the songs have morphed over the years…[and] what the actual harmonies were before we started singing whatever we felt like.”
Lane is still referred to in press releases as the “new guy”, despite his decade and a half in the band. It’s obviously tongue in cheek but, remarkably, he wasn’t yet part of the band when these three albums were released. I ask him whether, given he’s played most of these songs hundreds of times over the years, he feels a sense of ownership over them. You can almost hear the shrug of his shoulders when he replies in the negative, but after he tells me that some people have suggested he should cede his position to Greg Hitchcock – who was the band’s touring guitarist (though never an official member) during this particularly purple patch – he sounds a little indignant. And fair enough too. “I’ve been playing these songs for 14, 15 years,” he says, “So I guess I’m entitled to have a crack at them too, y’know?”
Lane also reminds me that, except for his own addition, the lineup of the band hasn’t changed in 20 years.
“We’re probably better friends now than we ever were,” he says. “And fuck, if one of us was to leave, I think it would all fall in a heap. We’ve played together for long enough for it all to mesh, and fuck, I couldn’t imagine playing these songs with any other people.”
In a serendipitous turn of events, the studio where the remasters are being done is literally next door to the studio Lane has been using to flesh out his impending solo album – the perfect symbol for the way in which You Am I has been a constant presence throughout his life. I ran out of time before I could ask whether Lane feels as though he has been able to establish his own identity as a guitarist, but I get the impression that, even if he felt he hadn’t, he wouldn’t care anyway.
“It’s funny looking back at the band back then, and thinking that this is a band that I had tremendous respect for, and really looked up to,” he says. “The opportunity to play in this band for as long as I have is something that I never, ever take for granted, and going back to those records, and listening back to all that stuff again just reminds me how lucky I am. And I am lucky. Fuck, I’ve got to play in, in my opinion, the best band in the country, for 15 years.”
Don’t be fooled by all these reminiscences into thinking that You Am I have spent 2013 navel-gazing. In fact, Lane tells me somewhat sheepishly, at this point they haven’t even organised a single rehearsal to go over the older stuff. But great things are afoot, with Lane and Rogers starting to throw ideas around for a new album, something they can focus on once this tour is done and dusted.
“The last couple of records have had a little more of a pastoral bent to them,” says Lane, “[But] I think this next record will be a snotty, rock’n’roll album. Which is kind of what we’re all into at the moment… When I get drunk and play with [Tim] we’ll inevitably get to the point where I put on Nick Lowe records.”
But that’s the future – for another couple of months, at least, You Am I get to spend a little more time in their past, and music that has defined far more than the lives of these four men. And no one is more excited than Lane.
“There are a few songs on Hi-Fi Way that are really unembellished, and are just one guitar, bass and drums. So there might be a couple of momentswhere I might go and take a little drinks break, and let the classic three-piece lineup take centre stage. The frustrating thing about what I’ve been doing is that I haven’t been able to watch You Am I play for 14 years!”
BY HUGH ROBERTSON
You Am I play Panthers, Newcastle on August 1-2.Reissues of Sound As Ever, Hi Fi Way and Hourly Daily out Friday June 14 through Sony Music