“Doing nothing is the most creative thing for me to do. Itʼs a huge luxury. Just sit there, maybe with a guitar, sometimes a keyboard or nothing at all, and just wait. Occasionally a ‘thing’ will float in and I’ll try to catch it. Eventually you have to finish it. I try not to finish too quickly.” Tim Rogers, who writes and performs under the moniker Jack Ladder, has been ‘catching’ inspiration since he was a young kid on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, playing drums in the school band and trying to coerce friends at boarding school to start rock groups with him. “I was a big contributor to the school talent quest,” he confesses. “My most notable performance was at age 10 when I sang Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend dressed as Marilyn Monroe … Needless to say I did not win the talent quest.”
“After my moment as Marilyn I didnʼt sing for 10 years … In early recordings I sound like a deaf person, figuring out how to use my voice without hearing it. Some people think I still sound like a deaf person.”
The image of Rogers playing Monroe is a stretch for the imagination – Monroe with those iconic breathy vocals and Rogers with his striking baritone – but the pair do share the gift of presence. That inimitable ability to command a room, to hold a crowd, to manoeuvre rowdy, dimly-lit bars with beer-soaked floors and beer-soaked audiences. Yes, he’s tall, but it’s more than that – there’s swagger, there’s gravitas – and this is all before the man has even opened his mouth. A deep voice with a slow burn. The long hair, rumpled suits and intense stare evoke natural comparisons to fellow troubadour Nick Cave, but in the 13 years since his debut album Rogers has carved a space for himself in the music landscape that is entirely and deservedly all his own, now culminating in the release of his latest nine-track record, Blue Poles.
“Blue Poles was an effort to take control over my work, so that I could then abandon control,” Rogers explains. “Until this point I had always sought out other people to handle the technical side of the recording, all the boring bits. Then I realised I was losing out on so much personality in my recordings because of this. I wanted to have control over how many mistakes I could leave in, I wanted to make something that had all my finger prints on it.” The plan was for Rogers to make the album quickly, “because I had laboured over my last two albums so long”. He started writing in summer of 2016, began recording in winter and by spring it was complete.
“Releasing it into the world took a lot longer, and to be honest I wasnʼt ready to deal with it. It sat on ice for 18 months. I think it benefited from time on the shelf, it definitely came out too hot.”
Rogers sings about complicated emotions on the self-produced album. “The usual things: depression, euthanasia, Stockholm Syndrome, reincarnation … Thereʼs no overriding concept. Each song has itʼs own world. The only consistency is a sense of existential dread.” It’s credit to the musician that he makes existential dread sound so seductive. The sixth track on the record, Tell It Like It Is, with its steady beat and slow build has Rogers crooning ‘My heart sinks like an anvil. Our love is a door with no handle. Won’t you kick it down before we both drown’, and us sitting easy in the palm of his hand. There’s a quiet panic at the heart of the album, stemming from a recent self-described ‘personal crisis’. “I turned 33. I was weighing up whether I could even keep doing this. I was unhappy with many things in my life and I feel like making the record gave me clarity and was ultimately healing for me,” he muses. “Itʼs my most personal and least personal record. Itʼs also my best and worst album. You catch my drift? Itʼs about polarities – public and private personas and love and hate and success and failure.”
“When I started, one of my main fears was being disposable. I wanted to make things that lasted. Even when I handed out flyers for shows Iʼd print them on beautiful paper so that people would want to keep them.”
Not one for pushing out a slew of singles, Rogers has always been found in the pursuit of albums. “One song is never satisfying enough for me, I need my songs to have the context of other songs to tell a complete story. I love them all rubbing against one another. As soon as I separate one in my mind it falls apart,” he says. “Itʼs completely instinctual. Why do these songs go together? Because I feel that they do.” With Blue Poles arguably the most acclaimed release from the musician and his supporting band The Dreamlanders (comprised of Donny Benet, Laurence Pike, Kirin J Callinan and Ben Hauptmann), how does he manage to stay grounded? “How can I get off the ground? Iʼm too grounded. I want to fly.”
On the subject of success, for Rogers it looks a little like longevity: “I needed the things that I made to be hard for people to get rid of. I didnʼt want to be the CD in the hard rubbish collection,” But more than this, there is a yearning to be of aid, to be of comfort. To throw his sound into the abyss and have it not only reach an audience but offer guidance, if they need it. “On top of being held as family heirlooms for generations, if people are helped by my music than I have been successful at some level. Thatʼs really what Iʼm looking for. Iʼm here to help.” Some of his songs took seven years to craft. Some are written from different perspectives. Some are actually multiple songs blended down and distilled into the one. And for us, his listeners? They all help.
PHOTOGRAPHY Alex Tracey
FASHION Ellen Presbury
TALENT Jack Ladder
GROOMING Madison Voloshin @ Vivien’s Creative
PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT Leif Prenzlau