Thirty years on from their punk rock beginnings, Wollongong legends Tumbleweed are still very much a part of Australia’s rock music fabric. The lads are celebrating their career with a limited edition box set of 12 of their singles re-issued on vinyl and closing 2021 with a four-night stand at La La La’s in Wollongong in late December. Early next year they will be lining up at the Uncaged Festival on the east coast with 29 other acts that have so far been announced. There’s very little Tumbleweed hasn’t done on the national music scene, and singer Richie Lewis has been part of it all.
This should have been a really big year for Tumbleweed, as the 30th anniversary of the band. You do have an amazing anniversary package that’s about to come out, and early next year you will be playing the Uncaged Festival. That will make up for the Spring Loaded shows that got pushed back and moved around all over the place. Next year is also the 30th anniversary of the first Big Day Out, which Tumbleweed was a part of, so it’s a major time for the band at the moment.
Yeah, I suppose it is. I mean, this year we had big things planned being the 30 year anniversary of the band. We planned to do a sort of national tour as well as the Spring Loadeds and release a whole lot of stuff along the way, and then it was all going to culminate with a show with Kiss at the end of the year, and all of those plans, for everybody, got messed with… not being able to record and also not being able to tour or do anything like that so, it was kind of like the bow was pulled back and ready to fire and then you had to slowly let the arrow back into the quiver.
So we’re gearing up just to like pick up where we left off, kind of thing. As you said, we’ve got that that box set of seven inch vinyl singles, which is supposed to be like a limited edition of 500 of all of our singles. It’s basically just for the fans and people… I think one thing I suppose about being around for 30 years: you become pretty appreciative of the people that have stuck by you for that time, and so we were sort of like just wanted something that we could sort of give to them, more so than anything else. So that’s a cool little package to get and we hope to release a few more interesting, different kinds of things, like a live record, probably early in the new year as well. That might coincide with Uncaged if we can get it out in time and pull our finger out. And we’re also recording a few things as well, so we have some songs backed up to record a succession of singles and we did some demos of it earlier in the year just before we went into lockdown and we’ve sort of been sitting on them. So now we’re sort of thinking with that time to sit and think we’ve thought about other avenues of working on it and stuff and making some changes to it.
Now that we can go back in and record I was in the studio last week with Rob Younger and we started working on it. So we’re going to continue on getting those new songs finished as well for next year.
What has it been like working with Rob Younger? I know that you were pretty excited about doing that. He’s being such a big influence on Tumbleweed, and of course one of your drummers played with Radio Birdman for a while too.
That’s right, Nik Rieth. He’s been playing with Radio Birdman for a fair bit and Deniz Tek, and now he’s in the Gurus, so he’s been around but we’ve been big fans of Radio Birdman since we were teenagers. Not only that, just all of the Australian stuff that Rob Younger was producing throughout the 80s, for Citadel. Stuff like Screaming Tribesmen and The Eastern Dark, The Hard-Ons, a whole bunch of stuff, The Stems and the list is long, and so we would listen to those records and that sort of was our quintessential Australian sort of underground rock that we got into and we always wanted to do something like that. So working with Rob, there was a lot of build up to it. And then when we did, he’s not really a hands-on tools guy. He’s more like a creative visionary that becomes a part of the band, so as you’re playing he’s sort of like coaching and telling you what he’s digging about it, what he’s not. We’ve never worked with a producer like that, so it was interesting, to let go of the reins a little bit. I mean, we’re all pretty pigheaded. We’ve done it for a long time, so we sort of thought we knew what we what we loved and we do know what we love but it was really interesting to have a different perspective from somebody that we really respect and sort of gave us a new way of looking at what we were doing.
I thought it was really helpful. It was a great experience, but I think the result of Shadowland was really good. Something that we already dig, and it was good that it was like an extension. We were going into territory that we hadn’t discovered before so it from a creative point of view, it was really satisfying.
It did strike me as being something very different. You have this reputation for or having a particular sound. But you go back through the archives, that’s not exactly true. Your first single was Captain’s Log, which is nothing like that sound! A lot of people might not remember the fact that you didn’t sing on that, but you were playing drums.
That’s right, and so I started off as the drummer of Tumbleweed. In fact it was like a three piece band when we first started: me, Lenny and Jay and then Dave joined when we did Captain’s Log. I mean we were really fast. We were a fast punk band until we smoking pot and everything slows down. When we started smoking pot, everything slows down! When we’re drinking beer when we were young teenagers it was all about energy and fast and intensity, and then it was more about grooving out when we when we were stoned.
There was certainly that aspect, but you had your psychedelic influence and fast and slow songs.
We got enough songs that are… I suppose we’ve got our more sort of punk songs or more rocking songs, hidden within all the albums and recordings throughout the years we always sort of have adventures into psychedelic pop and stuff like that. We’re all big fans of 60s psychedelic pop as well, and bands like The Stems and The Church and Sunnyboys and stuff like that so we’re not really a one trick pony, although we’re sort of painted like that because of Daddy Long Legs and our stoner rock fans. But I’ve always found that really weird. I don’t know how we really fit into the stoner rock category, but you know, certainly we have those songs that are big journeys and they roll and rock and there’s a bit of light and shade, I like to think.
You have been stuck with that – I wouldn’t call it a stigma so much – but definitely that label. It’s not the worst thing to have been called though, but obviously people have heard Daddy Long Legs and that may just be the extent of their knowledge of Tumbleweed. That was such a huge song and an amazing riff and that’s the sort of song that everybody sort of brings up. That and probably Sundial as well, but then if you dig into the discography, below the surface there’s a lot more going on. I’m actually really excited about the potential for a live album because I don’t think you’ve done a live one before, have you?
No, we’ve never done a live album, but we had a good recording done at the Triffid in Brisbane. We’re sort of tweaking that and we’re thinking that might come up pretty good, so hopefully that’ll be ready to go early in the new year. It’s just about done, it’s just having a remix. That should be cool. The only thing about that live record is it was a part of our first album anniversary tour, so it’s predominantly first album, but at the end we did an encore of a couple of other hits or, you know, hits and misses, throughout the years and so it’s got a few others besides the first album, but pretty much it’s the first one.
What we’ve go to figure out is, because our set is long, we’ll have to cull it just ’cause I wanna get it on one record.
It would be remiss of me not to talk about this, because the anniversary is coming up of that first Big Day Out, but also the first and only Nirvana Australian tour which you were a part of. What sort of memories do you have of that?
I have good memories of it. They’re sort of fading, but it we were lucky at the time. It all came about because in the previous band we were in, the Proton Energy Pills, we were sitting around with Mudhoney in Melbourne and Matt Lukin the bass player lived with Kurt. At that time, Nirvana weren’t a big band, so we signed up for that. If you have a look at all the support bands that were a part of that tour, it was us, The Meanies, I think Nunbait did a couple, the Psychos did a couple… they were just like a big punk rock band you know, yeah, and then they exploded! So being a part of it was like being caught up in this whirlwind of excitement, like the focus of the world was on this band at the time, and you felt that being a part of the gigs. It was exciting. It was exciting to see this band.
There was something about Nirvana just sort of breaking down that wall between what is considered, you know, like what is considered viable commercially or so like appealing to the masses, and being cool music and for a long time there was a really cool scene here. You could see Dinosaur Jr one month, and you’d see Sonic Youth the next, and it was pretty cool. Nirvana was booked into the same kind of tour that previous bands like that had done. You know, doing like the Phoenician Club and the Palace and the same sorts of venues. And it was a really cool scene that everybody felt like that didn’t fit in with all this sort of all the stuff that was out there in the outside world. They found a place where they belonged and where it was really cool and it was theirs. And then Nirvana came along and broke that scene open.
So there was two parts to that. There was a part where, like you went OK, that scene’s over! This thing that we really loved, that was ours and had this sort of collective sort of spirit that was small and contained, and it was like a close-knit crew, to being this thing where people, you know, for a while they did care, but they didn’t really sort of have the same passion, but at the same time, being a part of that was amazing and suddenly caught up in the whirlwind of excitement and attention.
And Nirvana was amazing.
They really came along at exactly the right time when something was sort of needed to happen to change the focus again.
You know there was a lot of like youth centres, and kids were changing and there was a lot of change going on. Radio became like youth radio, became national. That was one thing, there was outlets for it in youth centres all over the country and that wasn’t just here, but it was kind of like a groundswell that was happening all around the world. I remember touring with Mudhoney earlier on, like going over to England, and you’d meet people over there that were into the same sort of music and you felt like there was this brotherhood. Because you’re sort of into this, at the time, alternative music and then all of a sudden when it broke, sort of that alternative scene became the main scene and it was really great for a lot of young punk rock bands. Being able to sort of have that exposure and sell records and live the dream for a while. That was awesome. And also seeing great bands with great production and that was really cool as well and still sort of trying to keep that punk rock ethos.
I think that was an important part of the period as well, like the celebration of the loser… the distortion, the sort of fuck-it-up sort of slacker mentality that was really cool.
There was definitely something that seemed to have been missing for a while, but was always there. It wasn’t not so much the Revenge of the Nerds so much, but definitely where the downtrodden finally got there got their day in the sun.
That’s right, and the uniform was ripped jeans and flannos. It’s pretty cool when you think of it like that.
It did open the door for Tumbleweed in lots of ways, because I think there was barely at a time in the 90s where you weren’t playing on a major festival or a big show somewhere. You just really did seem to be kind of everywhere for a long time.
Because we were around at that right time and we had Stoned out and then Craig Carmen from Atlantic came out to Australia, because basically A&R guys from America were sent around the world to find any band that had a distortion pedal and long hair and sign them up. We were caught up in that and as a result we got records out pretty quickly and we were sort of swept up in that and rode that wave from the get go. Doing all the festivals was a lot of fun and we were everywhere. But we were living that like 24/7 and that was really cool.
You must feel lucky that you’re still able to get out there and do that and have shows, especially with some of the shows you’re doing next year, there’s going to be probably a new new generation of people that that may not have necessarily seen Tumbleweed before, or only heard the legends.
Yeah, it’s always good to play the new people like that. I definitely feel lucky that we’re a part of it, that I got to experience it, that I got to live what I always wanted to do, but you know, at the same time to be honest when you got sort of… You take it for granted at the time and it becomes a bit of a drag. All the business stuff and all, um, yeah, I remember feeling like it was just a big drag. I think now, with the benefit of sort of having so many years under the belt, we just sort of like learn how to balance what we do. So when we do get out and play when we come and get together and write or record or do that, we’re there 100%. We want to be there and we’ve learned how to tolerate each others’ differences and and understand what each other brings to the band, you know as a collective. The experience of doing it now is kind of, I suppose, a little bit more satisfying in a way that it’s 100% ours, that we can decide what we wanna do and when we want to do it and when we do it it’s an escape. We can escape from our realities. And it’s also like, you know, it’s a bit of reliving past glories. But at the same time we really do like to be in it for the same reason why we started a band. That’s just to be creative and to explore creatively and to have fun, you know. And that’s basically what we do. We’re doing that now.