Hamish Rosser almost died once. His spleen was ruptured in a freak rugby accident in high school. He’s healed up nicely now, but the experience left him with a unique perspective. “I think it sort of gave me that, this-ain’t-no-dress-rehearsal kind of attitude,” says the Sydney native. “No point in waiting for things to come to me.” So when, in 2002, he saw a “Drummer Needed” ad in a magazine for The Vines, a promising retro-flavored Aussie rock outfit, he jumped in with both feet. It seemed the right fit, considering Rosser had spent the last few years overseas honing his timekeeping skills and retro-rock chops in a cheeky ’60s tribute show called Sixties Mania, playing two shows a night, six nights a week in casinos and on Indian reservations all over the American Southwest behind a lead singer whose impersonations ranged from Neil Diamond to Jim Morrison. “Probably half or a third of the show was done to a click track or sequenced parts,” Rosser remembers. “So that really got my playing straightened out.”
So when The Vines gave Rosser a copy of their unreleased debut album, Highly Evolved, and told him to learn three songs, he mastered the whole CD instead, making a strong impression at the audition and, in January 2002, earning his spot on the drum chair.
Within a few days he found himself back touring in America and, as it turned out, embroiled in a situation that was more complicated than it had at first seemed. For starters, the band’s previous drummer, Dave Oliffe, had abandoned ship in the middle of the recording process for Highly Evolved. “I think Dave, not to bag him out, was sort of um, a bit unstable mentally,” Rosser says. “And with Craig [Nicholls, lead singer] already in that space as well — it was a bit of a volatile band.” In fact, Nicholls’ bizarre onstage behavior would eventually be explained with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, a fact the band makes no attempt to hide, if for no other reason than because it’s often impossible to ignore.
“For him, touring’s really bad,” Rosser says. “He needs a stable sort of routine. He was good for a few years, and just recently he took a turn for the worse.” That turn led to the band having to cancel a string of shows in support of the new album, including a major festival, Big Day Out, which Rosser says is “like the Australian Lollapalooza.” “We were all really disappointed about that.” But Rosser, who spends his downtime surfing and managing a microbrew label, has taken the Zen approach. “It is what it is,” he says.
Besides, considering the obstacles, the band has managed surprisingly well over the years, having cut three of their four albums, including the most recent one, Melodia, in America, with producer Rob Schnapf, and earning widespread acclaim. “For us it was a bit of an anomaly,” says Rosser. “The fact that we had recognition internationally, almost before we were known in Australia. And so the response in Australia was, ‘Who the hell are these guys?’ How come they’re overseas and they’ve got an overseas record deal when there are all these other bands that a lot of people thought probably deserved it more than us?”
That’s part of the reason they cut their third album, Vision Valley, in Australia. And to show what they were made of, they cut everything live, forgoing the polished gloss that Rosser says plagued the previous two albums. Likewise with Melodia. “On this album more than any other we said to the producers, ‘Look, can we not overdo the Pro Tools and the editing? No Beat Detective.’ I can’t stand that.” That put a lot of pressure on Rosser and bassist Brad Heald, who had just six days to perfect their parts at L.A.’s Sunset Sound studio before the rest of the band headed across town, to Eagle Rock, to lay down guitars and vocals. “It was more or less three songs a day, and by the end of that week we had all the drums and bass complete,” Rosser says, noting that what you hear is pretty much as they played it, warts and all.
“That’s sort of going back to that old-school idea of just get a really magic take, like just get one great take where everyone nails it. And even if there’s a couple of little mistakes in there, so be it.” After all, if you think that missed bass drum hit is bad, you should try a busted spleen. Talk about putting things in perspective.