Latest release: Galactophonic (Super Galactophonic – 20th Anniversary Edition) (Universal)
On August 26 2014, the Australian music world was rocked by the sudden death of Tumbleweed bass player Jay Curley right as the band were gearing up for a run of shows and little more than a year after their triumphant return with Sounds From the Other Side. It was a cruel blow for one of the country’s perennial favourites, a blow that they still feel.
“It’s still a bit weird,” admits quietly-spoken frontman Richie Lewis. “The idea of replacing him is something that we don’t really want to think about seriously. The thing is, it’s still really hard. It’s like the old don’t-miss-it-til-it’s-gone type of thing. He’s a big personality and sometimes very testing and would piss you off just like any mate would, but when he’s gone, he’s really a missing component of the group, so replacing him is kind of impossible.
Following Curley’s death, Tumbleweed finished off the year with some shows in his memory but no plans about if or when they’d ever play again. Eventually, however, the band returned for a performance at Brisbane’s Dead of Winter Festival last month with stand-in bassist Luke Armstrong, from fellow Wollongong group Bruce!, who also played that last run of gigs in Jay’s place.
Luke is the next best thing [to replacing Jay] because he’s part of the family,” Lewis says. “He’s been around Tarrawanna since he was a little kid and we taught him how to play bass, he’s in a band with Mick Curley and he’s part of the clan so it’s the only way we could do it.”
Their Dead of Winter appearance was, Lewis says, “just the thing for us to get back into it and start afresh and move forward again with positive energy”. It provided the perfect warm-up for their upcoming national tour to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their breakthrough album Galactophonic, that cemented Tumbleweed’s place at the top of Australia’s 90s alternative rock scene for most of the rest of that decade. That makes this run particularly special.
“Because it’s got this direct purpose it’s something that’s really exciting,” the singer says. “It’s not just running through the best of hits again, it’s not run-of-the-mill running through the motions, being a Galactophonic show. And it’s like a thank you to all the people who’ve followed us for twenty-odd years, which is really amazing considering how slack we are at keeping up with things. We have some pretty hardcore fans and it’s one thing we don’t take for granted. We can’t live without them. We just seem to want to keep plugging away.”
Galactophonic marked Tumbleweed’s ascendancy as one of the country’s top touring acts but also came at a critical time for a band still reeling from being dumped by their US label and losing their manager. It really was make-or-break time for the five piece, who originally come to national attention as Nirvana’s opening act on their only Australian tour in 1992.
“It was a pretty tumultuous time for the band, playing shows every night, all sold out, pretty much living and breathing, sleeping, the band all the time. 24/7. With that came a certain amount of frantic energy,” Lewis recalls. “Being our second album and going through some changes, we got so deceived… We got dropped from Atlantic Records and our manager left and yet we’d just finished doing all the summer festivals and we were at the height of our fame in Australia. So there was some pretty big expectations about it.”
The band had planned to work with producer Matt Hyde in the US, but the association faltered when early demos didn’t work out. In the end, Tumbleweed decided to go with Paul McKercher, who had given them the sound they were looking for on the legendary ‘Daddy Long Legs’ single.
“Galactophonic was really a reaction to the first album sounding really Americanised and clean and we wanted to have an electric album that was really rock and roll and sounded like our live stuff with plenty of energy. So there was a lot of wah and fuzz and it only goes for 40 minutes so it’s really in-your-face and ready to go.”
Despite that impact, Richie and the band have barely revisited Galactophonic since those heady days. Rehearsing it for the tour was the first time most of the album had been aired in many years, and most of it has never been performed live.
“For us, we tend to write something, play it once it comes out and not play it again, so it’s been twenty years since we’ve heard a lot of that stuff,” he explains. “Obviously the singles like ‘Hang Around’ or whatever [have been] part of our set, but the majority of the album is pretty much untouched. So it’s been awesome reacquainting ourselves with it. There’s a lot of stuff that, back in the day, all of us didn’t like certain songs – there were certain songs that were favourites and others that we didn’t like so much.”
That sentiment has also passed over the intervening years, meaning that Tumbleweed are excited about their old chestnut again, and hyped to be playing it in front of crowds in its entirety for the first time. Lewis promises it will be something that shouldn’t be missed.
“On the weekend we had a really long practise and just went through everything that’s on the record and b-sides and whatnot, and it was just awesome. So it’s going to be amazing. Paul [Hausmeister] was saying that we’ll be on stage, just laughing at each other. It’s just an amazing record that we forgot about. We forgot about how good it was. It’s incredible, and I think people are in for a real treat.”
Catch Tumbleweed as they tour this month:
21/8: Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
4/9: The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
11/9: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW
18/9: Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
19/9: Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA
26/9: Waves, Wollongong NSW