The magical quality that keeps Tumbleweed so vital
As music fans, we don’t often think about what relationship an artist might have with their most classic work. While we constantly thrash the records we adore, year after year, the artist who made the work might not spend much time revisiting the fruits of their creative labour.
So it is for Tumbleweed frontman Richie Lewis. His band’s 1992 debut album is one of the great heavy rock records in Australian music, but he hasn’t spent a lot of time with it in the past quarter of a century.
It was made palatable for the masses. It wasn't how we wanted our first album to be.Richie Lewis, Tumbleweed — Double J, 2018
“I probably hadn't listened to this record for about 25 years,” Lewis told Double J’s Zan Rowe this week.
“For me it's icky. I don't want to listen to myself. The job's done. We listen to it and do our quality control, and then it's out and done - we'll hear bits and pieces of it here and there, we'll play it live, but that's enough. There's no need to go listening back to it. It's like looking in the mirror. It's weird.”
While this can often be simply because an artist wants to keep looking forward, sadly Lewis admitted it was mainly because he didn’t particularly like the finished product.
“Initially, I was quite disappointed with how it turned out when we listened to it the first time,” he recalled. “We were in New York at Atlantic Records and they played it to us over the speakers and I felt deflated.
“Up until that time, Tumbleweed had been this wild, wah-wah, stereo fuzz, marijuana induced band. There was a wildness and a psychedelic freak-out-ness to it.
"I think the edges were cut off, it was smoothed out, it was made palatable for the masses. It wasn't how we wanted our first album to be.”
There’s a happy ending though. It’s taken two and a half decades, but Lewis is now starting to hear what we all have over all these years.
“I must say that, with the benefit of hindsight and being older and wiser, maybe that producer knew a lot of stuff that I didn't know and did it in a way that I probably wouldn't have done, but that created its own personality.
“I can appreciate that record on a whole different level now. I got to the end of listening to the record and thought, 'Wow, that's a lot better than I thought it was'.”
Lewis has been revisiting the album because the band are playing it in full on their forthcoming Australian tour, which kicks off this week. And, so far, Lewis is loving how it feels to revisit this landmark Australian album.
I feel like I'm 21 when I'm playing this record and it's been nice to feel that good again.Richie Lewis, Tumbleweed — Double J, 2018
“The one thing about music that I think is so addictive is that there's a timelessness to it. I feel like I'm 21 when I'm playing this record and it's been nice to feel that good again,” he says.
Tumbleweed have been back together for almost a decade now, which makes it easy to forget that there was a very long time where the band’s original members were no longer making music together, nor were they on particularly good terms.
But Lewis will always remember what it felt like when the band re-engaged and played that first song together again after all those years.
“Tumbleweed had this 15-year hiatus. We weren't getting along,” he said.
“We finally got back together for Homebake and thought we'd better get back in the jam room and see what it sounded like.
“I'd sort of forgotten this magical quality that the ingredients of Tumbleweed can have sometimes.
"We plugged in and it was just there. It'd really bizarre. You sort of just have to go with it.”
That magical quality is the very thing that drove the band – and their grunge-era peers – in their infancy. A lot has changed in the 26 years since their debut album, but the magic that the band feels when they’re together remains.
“There were certainly no aspirations beyond just going to the pub and playing it loud,” Lewis said. “I think that was the thing that was really effective and really alluring about the grunge movement was its authenticity. It was like a celebration of reality and the loser and just this messiness that was allowed to be celebrated.”
Tumbleweed play the following shows around the country this month:
Friday 6 July – Badlands, Perth (with The Floors and Purple Urchin)
Saturday 7 July – Prince of Wales Hotel, Bunbury (with The Floors and Purple Urchin)
Friday 13 July – Miami Shark Bar Gold Coast (with Screamfeeder and Budd)
Saturday 14 July – The Triffid, Brisbane (with Screamfeeder and Budd)
Saturday 21 July – Marrickville Bowling Club, Sydney (with The Pink Fits, The Electric Guitars and Enfant Terrible)
Friday 27 July – The Gov Adelaide (with Even and The Dunes)
Saturday 28 July – Croxton Band Room Melbourne (with guests Even and The Electric Guitars)