Tumbleweed praise the vibrant music scene thriving in Wollongong

Back in the ‘90s, Tumbleweed were riding waves of success in the Australian stoner-rock scene. 

The Tarrawanna-based five-piece were born from the merging of two smaller bands, Unheard and The Proton Energy Pills, forming something of a supergroup. 

Their acid rock and grunge sound garnered them ARIA nominations and a supporting slot for Nirvana in ’92, but things have toned down a bit since then. 

“Hold on a second, sorry,” says vocalist Richard Lewis apologetically, turning his attention to a child’s voice in the background. It’s school holidays and Lewis is on dad duty – a different kind of crazy to life on the road. Music hasn’t been far from his mind though, and he’s been using the downtime to seek out inspiration. 

“I’ve been on holidays this summer for the last five or six weeks, and I’ve made a promise to myself during this break to just listen to new stuff,” he explains. 

“I’m a big old music fan. I listen to a lot of ‘60s music, but I’m so out of touch I just thought ‘OK, I’ve got to start listening to some new stuff’ and I’ve been blown away; it’s been a really positive experience. Just sort of getting to know some great stuff out there that I was just ignorant to, so that’s been cool.” 

A lot of the “great stuff” Lewis is referring to has come from bands in his own backyard of Wollongong, which has really put itself on the map musically. The coastal region has been churning out artists like Hockey Dad, Bec Sandridge and Totally Unicorn, as well as cementing its own music festival, Yours & Owls. His hometown’s dedication to music is a point of pride for Lewis, although it wasn’t always like this. 

“We had to kind of invent our scene in a way,” he says. “There was nowhere to play and there wasn’t really much support, because it’s a very working-class town. There were a lot of cover bands and there were a lot of footy fans and a lot of surfers, but if you were into music you were sort of an outcast.

“The people who started up Yours & Owls and Music Farmers in town, they were kids. They’d come to our all ages shows when they were really young, so they sort of grew up with us, and the scene became more solid as it went. I suppose when Yours & Owls started to make a big impact that really helped, it really drew people in.” 

It’s a scene that shows no signs of slowing down, and the influence of Tumbleweed and the ‘90s grunge rock revival is evident in much of the music being produced now. However, that’s not to say bands have taken to spitting out carbon copies of the old stuff, and Lewis has great admiration for the young artists who aren’t afraid to push creative boundaries. 

“I’ve always been into sort of left-of-centre melody and strange, quirky pop and there’s a lot of great stuff happening in that world,” he says. 

“One thing that was really incredible when we began, was that we had this drive and spirit and energy to really do something different and to make something our own. And I see that in people, in young bands in Wollongong now, and I find that a really awesome thing.” 

Lewis and the rest of the Tumbleweed guys; guitarists Lenny Curley and Paul Hausmeister, bassist Jamie Cleaves and drummer Steve O’Brien, will be making the trip out of the ‘Gong and heading to Melbourne later this month, for their first gig of the year. Taking place at the newly refurbished Esplanade Hotel, it’s a venue the group already know and love, but not as they’ve seen it before. 

“Everyone knows how much importance The Espy has to Victorian and Australian culture,” says Lewis. “It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve done to it, and also breathe new life into the place – bring back the rock’n’roll.” 

Tumbleweed will play The Espy’s Gershwin Room on Friday January 25. Tickets available through Moshtix. They will also play Beechworth Music Festival which takes place on Friday January 25 and Saturday January 26 at Mayday Hills, Beechworth. For tickets and more information visit the festival website.