Tumbleweed’s central role on the fringes of Australian rock has always been both a blessing and a curse for the band – and yes, their place in the scene has always been somewhat of a contradiction.
It’s mammoth enough that 1995’s Galactaphonic will forever remain a seminal Oz rock album (the band was also honoured with the support slot for Nirvana’s 1992 tour of Australia), yet when they broke up in 2003 they managed to do so without a barrage of rumour and speculation about why and when. Reformation is a challenge for any band, but these five Wollongong lads have slid back from the alley with as little fuss as when they left. That’s not to suggest people aren’t interested – their fans are waiting with open arms – but Tumbleweed aren’t giving the impression they’re flogging a dead horse. Frontman Richie Lewis has already said he never felt the band was destined for a life of nostalgia gigs, but that they still have more to give, and with a new album – the aptly titled Sounds From The Other Side – it’s almost like Tumbleweed never left.
Still, it’s a feat to be come back onto the scene with such a distinctively ’90s sound, and re-enter unscathed. “I think it comes down to honesty – and I also think it does come down to Tumbleweed always being on the periphery,” Lewis says. “We grew up in Wollongong; we don’t feel like we really fit in. We’ve always been our own entity and we approached this record in the same way we approached the first records. We picked up with our original band members and picked up from the crossroads of Galactaphonic and went down the path we would’ve gone down [then]. We’ve always been organic, we don’t do things beyond our comfort zones; we know what music we like and we don’t play the game. We’ve been around for 23 years, we do Tumbleweed because that’s who we are, and I think our fans appreciate us doing our own thing and us being honest about who we are and where we came from.”
It’s surprising to hear, but despite a lengthy back catalogue, Lewis feels as though they’d never made their one great album – at least, not until now. Tumbleweed have always been a live band first and foremost, and perhaps that energy had been hard to harness – or perhaps, as is often the case, the powers that be should’ve just shut up and let them do what they do best instead of trying to commoditise their creativity. Either way, after years between sessions, the ’Weed finally ventured back into the studio to make Sounds From The Other Side.
“We wanted to make the record that we’d never made yet,” says Lewis. “We’d been with record labels in the past and we felt this pressure that every song we made had to better the last and outsell the last. They were trying to push the whole career aspect of things and so we kind of lost our way. We had complete control on this album – we pushed the band ourselves, we saved up our own money to record the album and we didn’t want to make a record at all if it wasn’t better than what we’d done in the past. That really wasn’t that hard, though, because we were never entirely satisfied with anything we’d done in the past. Also, we had some loose ends, we had some unfinished business as a creative unit. The band sort of exploded before we could make the record we wanted to make.”
It became obvious early on in these sessions that the creative freedom had an immediately positive impact on the entire process. “There was no implied brief, there was no time limit, but still being as slack as we are, we were still pushing it once we actually got into the studio. That gave it a real vitality,” Lewis says. “There was an electricity – it was awesome. It was an agreeable time; it was productive time. We always have shared, though – no-one holds back in that band.
“There was pressure on the first few nights when we were first figuring out what we had and what we wanted out of the recording time. I suppose there was a little bit of healthy debate about the pros and cons of certain songs, but that provoked a lot of good action and a lot of excellent performance … There isn’t really any massive editing or anything like that, it’s played to tape and there’s a real sine wave you’re hearing.”
This new album is bringing a whole new dynamic to Tumbleweed’s live show, and the structure of their set is something Lewis takes quite seriously. “We’ve just done a bunch of shows and it’s been a warm-up. We wanted to see how the new songs would fit in and I suppose to pre-empt the album release and to promote ‘Mountain’, the single. We’ve figured out how to set up our set really well, and it’s given us some great ideas for this next tour … I sort of conceptualise it. I work it out on the dynamics of how I want the beginning, middle and end to feel. We’re really well-rehearsed at the moment – it’s probably sounding the tightest we ever have in our history – but the thing with Tumbleweed is it wouldn’t be Tumbleweed if it wasn’t a complete shambolic mess at some times.”
BY KRISSI WEISS