JACK LADDER MARCHES TO THE BEAT OF HIS OWN DRUM. You know what, he probably doesn't even march, he is that unconventional, especially to cliched article openers like that one. But my point is that if he didn't keep his own rhythm during his now-lengthy music career, there's a good chance he wouldn't be half the artist is. Larger than life, hugely charismatic, unconventional and, in his case, very tall characters, such as the noir-adjacent Ladder - real name, Tim Rogers - might make for greatness, but tend to compromise some of their commercial success and radio play for their art. It's a conundrum - we wouldn't have them any other way, but simultaneously we want them to do well, don't we? So they're assured to keep making music. Their reward will be longevity, Rogers is well into already experiencing this....
He released his seventh long player earlier in the year, a collaboration with Kim Moyes of The Presets called Tall Pop Syndrome. It's an album which is unconventional by the artist's own standards but something that can undoubtedly speak more clearly to the more casual music consumer. Heavy on synths with the sharpest and focussed song writing we've perhaps ever seen from the artist, it has more in common with the likes of Kraftwerk, Caroline Polachek, John Maus and Yazoo than it does his own back catalogue, but without compromising any of his integrity. It's a refreshing sojourn from his masterful previous album Hijack!, an album that Rogers himself admitted to NME "... didn't land anywhere. The algorithm doesn't favour the brave."
Enough of this quoting other publications though, we had a chat to him recently -- yes, a little late, but better that than never.
Hi Tim! Congrats on the release of Tall Pop Syndrome earlier this year, such a brilliant album! Knowing (and loving) your back catalogue, it lands a little differently, there are more electronic flourishes and succinct writing - what spurred on the changes?
"Thanks! Mission accomplished if a guy that spends all day listening to music in a record store likes it. When I make a record I'm usually reacting to the last thing I made. Often it's in disgust. The previous record Hijack! was dense and slow, like an icebreaker. It had some beautiful string arrangements and required a small militia to perform live under very specific circumstances. I loved playing the grand piano in the recital halls but I don't think it translated well outside of that environment. I don't like playing those Nord things. Anyway, prior to that, when Hijack! was released we went into that four month lockdown from August to December 2021, which was when we were supposed to be touring. During that time I was asked to open for The Killers when they would eventually tour Australia in a years time. I thought, well, I'm not going to take the string players to the stadiums. I'd supported The Killers on their last tour and knew the drill. I thought about what sort of music I'd want to hear in a half full arena and ended up writing Tall Pop Syndrome on my computer. I wanted the tracks to be obviously electronic so it wouldn't feel like I was missing the band up there in front of 5,000 screaming Killers fans - known respectfully as The Victims."
You've been touring the album, how do these songs translate onstage? Having missed the shows, I imagine they might need to take on new instrumentation to get them right live?
"We have been touring. I think we toured the album more before it was released. It was exciting for me to play songs live before anyone else had heard them, but that might be selfish on my part. I think the crowd is often bemused, but in a good way. It's a strange mix of genres which feels very unique and pure to me. We play some old songs on acoustic guitars, the ballads, then we do the techno pop. For me it all makes sense because I'm thinking about songs more than genre and the best way to get inside a song. But also I think this kind of electronic music I'm making is rooted in tradition and I think I make traditional music. That's mainly what I'm interested in. Folk music. Now electronic music is a kind of folk music but my version is about story telling and love. Playing acoustic guitars is a deceit."
NME described you as "perennially underrated", a statement I would suggest most Australian music lovers would agree with. Being underrated is one thing, but why do I feel like that's the way you prefer it?
"I think I was on the next big thing list for the first 10 years of my "career". Now I'm a "stalwart". I saw some fans at a show last weekend and the guy said him and his wife like to listen to my music but more recently they are concerned for my well-being because of my "perennially underrated" position. I guess I'm just not very malleable. I prefer the auteur existence. I'm frustratingly independent. When I released my first album I had the inserts printed separately because the CD manufacturer couldn't do what I wanted so I had to go to the distribution warehouse and sit in there all day packing them into the CD's. That wasn't a common practice for 22 year olds releasing their first album. Things have not improved from there."
On 'Home Alone', you extensively list some fallen heroes. I imagine you learnt a lot from the likes of Leonard Cohen, for example, but what's a good example of what you got from one of the other not so obvious characters in that list?
"The list began in 2016 when Leonard Cohen died. I'd bought a cassette of I'm Your Man on tour and a week later he fell down the stairs and was gone. I felt connected and responsible. I wondered if I was cursed or subconsciously predicting it. Again the next year on tour I bought Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever on cassette and the next day he died. It's happening again, I thought! I wasn't feeling too good about myself and went to Allgood Psychology in the Blue Mountains and whilst in the waiting room for my first appointment looking at my phone saw that the great David Berman of Silver Jews had killed himself. I knew I was in the right place. There are lots of others in the list I feel very connected to. I cried for a week when Lou Reed died. I think this song 'Home Alone' was a way of processing all this. I owe everything to these people."
Lyrics - 'Home Alone' : "Prince is in my house / David Bowie in my house / Leonard Cohen in my house / Little Richard in my house / Aretha Franklin in my house / Alan Vega in my house / David Berman’s in my house / Florian Schneider in my haus / Ric Ocasek in my house / Harry Dean Stanton in my house / Eddie Van Halen in my house / Gil Scott Heron in my house / Lou Reed is in my house / Tom Petty in my house / Whitney Houston’s in my house / Scott Walker in my house / Amy Winehouse in my house / Lemmy in my house / Kenny Rogers is in my home."
Also, how about Prince - he's the GOAT!?
"Prince has affected me in ways I'll never fully comprehend. Watching the video for 'Cream' as a kid was a sexual awakening. Realising he'd written 'Nothing Compares 2 U' and Martika's 'Love Thy Will Be Done' blew my mind."
What's the thing in the album of which you're most proud? Something that no one else would understand or notice that makes you have a little internal cheer when you hear it....?
"I love to perform the track 'Co-Dependecy Blues'. I didn't realise when I wrote it that I even "wrote it". I was goofing around on a baby gamelan and I wrote something down in my notes and when I played it later it had an energy to it. There's a line "If things go on this way it's your fault / That's what I tell myself, you say it's my default" that feels very true to the situation."
I really love characters like you, Tim. I believe that anything can and will happen to you when you live your life like you do - open minded and spontaneous. And it has, things have occurred that I don't imagine you listing as goals at the beginning of your career. You've opened for Weyes Blood as well as The Killers a couple of times, travelled with Kirin, had dinner at an Oscar winner's house ... who else can you name drop? And can you wax lyrical (no pun) on this a little - how does it all happen to you?
"A big one for me was playing bass in Bill Callahan's band when he toured Australia. When I was starting out and listening to Smog records he really made me feel like I could write songs and sing, so playing in his band was a huge trip for me. One of the shows was recorded in Melbourne and he later released it as a live album, Rough Travel For a Rare Thing. My friend Will Sheff from Okkervil River was telling me he was in the studio next door when Bill was mixing it and he was really impressed by the bass playing not knowing it was me! Writing this now still weirds me out.
"Also when I was in LA for an extended period with Alex Cameron working on his Forced Witness record I booked an Airbnb for the last few nights in a basement in Silverlake. Turned out it was under Crisipin Glover's villa and Alex came to stay there because his booking had run out. It was really weird because Alex and I had first recognised each other when we went to a screening of Crisipin Glover's movie It's Fine, Everything Is Fine in Sydney. Alex left his shoes by the door and in the morning they were full of water from a ceiling leak we could only imagine was from Crispin's bath. We didn't meet him but would watch him take his recycling out. That's as close as I needed to get."
What do you want that you've not achieved?
"My own Greatest Hits record!"
How do you feel about your career in 2023? Lots of challenges have been issued to ya'll in the last couple of years.
"It's tough but someone's gotta do it."
And vinyl is obviously important to you as an artist, you brought two albums in for us, but how important is it to you as a human being?
"I go through waves with vinyl. I had a very stable living situation for a number of years and bought myself a good sound system and invested in lots of records. The last few years have been a little rocky and I had to leave my stereo behind so I don't listen to vinyl as much as I should. But I'm in a good place right now so I'm about to get deep in it again. It's a magical thing. I love the sleeves and the focus it brings. Listening to sides. The side is a very important experience in listening to music.
One of my favourites is a really rare record I was gifted by a friend of Dave Pajo singing Misfits songs on an acoustic guitar into a four track. It's called 'Scream With Me'. I have a green vinyl copy of Iggy Pop's The Idiot which is one of my all time favourites and probably the biggest influence on my record HURTSVILLE. It was weird because I used the same green for the HURTSVILLE record before I even knew there was a green copy of The Idiot. It's an 80's pressing, not an expensive reissue.
And I love Fred Neil, there's a record of him and a bunch of friends playing live in the studios, like a free folk jazz record. I think it's just called Sessions."
Thanks a bunch, Tim - don't go changing.
JACK LADDER'S TALL POP SYNDROME OUT NOW ON ENDLESS RECORDINGS
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