Tumbleweed came rolling into the Australian music scene in 1990, bringing us hard hitters ‘Acid Rain’, ‘Sundial (Maryjane)’, ‘Gyroscope’, and ‘Hang Around’ across the decade. Fast forward three decades and the band is still kicking and about to tumble back into Melbourne as part of the inaugural rock festival Uncaged Festival.

Presented by Silverback Touring, Uncaged Festival has unveiled their first lineup announcement, boasting a melting pot of veteran and emerging rockstars including The Meanies, The Hard-On’s, End of Fashion, Wolfmother, Kingswood, The Superjesus, Magic Dirt, The Getaway Plan and Alt. 

Our writer Tammy Walters had a chat with Tumbleweed frontman, Richie Lewis, about their upcoming festival appearance, their 30 year anniversary and new music.

Tammy: It’s great to talk to you today especially considering how many exciting things are happening with Tumbleweed at the moment. Firstly let’s talk about that massive milestone, celebrating 30 years of Tumbleweed. How does that feel?

Richie: It’s kind of unbelievable considering - it’s weird to think 30 years. But it has been a year of a lot of retrospection because of that 30 years. We’ve had a big tour planned to celebrate and were going to get some of our old friends, Fridge, who were one of the first bands we started playing with in Melbourne when we first started playing, they were going to reform and come on the road with us and that tour was going to culminate to a big show at the end of the year with KISS at Townsville Stadium. Then as, you know, the world went crazy, we all got locked down and all of our plans went awry. It has been a little bit frustrating but it has given us a lot of time to think about the good things over the 30 years because we have put together a book and a few other things. I've had to dig out memories and think about it. It’s amazing how, one we’re still around, two, it doesn’t seem like 30 years in some ways but in other ways it does.

T: Really it has come at a good time where you are at home and able to dig through the archives and have that time to focus on this and reflect. Have you been in Wollongong during this pandemic shutdown?

R: Yeah, just been at home. I guess this lockdown has made everyone sit down and reflect on things in a different way and reprioritise your life, and you realise what is important. Lockdown has been good for that and spending time with family as well. But we did some demos before lockdown happened and we have about eight songs sitting there. We have the intention of celebrating our 30 years through releasing a bunch of singles throughout this year. That was a bit of a bummer that we couldn’t get back into the studio to finish that off but we had months and months to sit on these songs and think about what we were going to do with them. So that has been a good thing and a lot of songwriting has been going as well which is always a positive thing.

T: That’s fantastic. So ‘Shadowland’ and ‘Rebellion’ were positioned in that time as well. Was that the start of that cycle then and the lockdown halted it?

R: Yeah it was purely because we couldn’t get back into the studio to record it. We have two songs at the moment that are finished and ready to go so they will probably be out soon. The next single will be out in January I’m hoping because it’s pretty much done. And also in those times of lockdown we rethought our strategy as well. We thought let's make it all a record but I don’t know. We’ll continue on - now that we’re back in the studio. I was in the studio earlier this week and it was really cool so my head is in a whirl a little bit. I'm thinking of finishing off those eight songs that we demoed or partially recorded before lockdown and thinking about ways of releasing them. I kind of like the singles idea though. I like releasing one at a time so we probably will stick with that. The thing I find with an album is that there are so many songs that are wasted in the middle and people only like one or two songs. We may as well release them as singles and they can like what they like. There’s more freedom.

T: Absolutely - give each song that you’ve put so much time and effort into its own spotlight.

R: That’s what I reckon and they don’t have to match in this whole album thing. They have to live in this one group where it tethers them to this album feel. I like the idea of having a song that might be different to the last and exploring a little bit. That’s what we find so attractive about the idea of putting out singles.

T: I understand that. It also feeds into that live setting as well. You don’t have filler songs and you're not just playing the hits. Each song stands up on its own. It’s perfect timing that you will be releasing in January now that you’ve been announced for Uncaged Festival. 

R: The hope is that we will have the song out for that. Uncaged Festival will be really cool. I like how it is a rock festival predominantly with rock and roll stuff, and I like how it’s not an ageist festival - they’ve included a lot of old farts like us which is cool. It will be good to catch up with old friends like the Meanies and Hard-Ons and Magic Dirt and bands we’ve all played with over the years as well as seeing stuff that I’m not too familiar with and hopefully being surprised and inspired by something new will be cool.

T: It’s certainly a mix of seasoned bands and the upcoming bands as well. Considering it is the first year of the festival they have done incredibly well with the current line-up and that’s just announcement number one.

R: It is such a good line-up for that reason with a real mix. It’s not going with the trend of what's new but really going with a mixed bag with rock as the driving force. Much the same as Soundwave was. It’s a dedicated rock festival and I think Australia needs a dedicated rock festival. I think the time is right too. It’s been a weird couple of years and hopefully with things opening back up they can have proper capacities at festivals and things like that. People are just dying to get out and back to normal so that will be cool.

T: So this will be your first festival back, now that we have some sense of normality? You do have a couple of shows at La La La but this is the first festival outside of the pandemic state.

R: It is, we did slot a couple of shows in between lockdown one and two with Spring Loaded in Queensland but what we have coming up now is - we thought we can’t end the year without having some celebration to say “Hey, good one us - we made 30 years” so we decided to do five shows in our hometown of Wollongong in a little venue called La La La. I think it’s only holding 100 people per night so we will do five nights in a row and will have our favourite bands from Wollongong play with us each night. A different band each night and other special things planned for each night so it will be a little bit different. I know a lot of people will come to multiple shows so each support band will sing a song with us and I’ll jump off and have a rest for a minute and we will do different vibes each night; so rock one night, more psychedelic the next, that sort of stuff to break it up a bit. It will be really fun. 

T: It sounds like it will be a trip down memory lane for both you guys and the punters. With the amount of line-up changes and members you’ve had over the years as well, will any past members make an appearance?

R: No, that actually wasn’t something we considered. I think the period that we went through different members for the Return To Earth album we had Nick Reith on drums, and Dave Curly and we shuffled through members a lot throughout the last couple of years of our first existence and it came to a point where it dissipated and Lenny and I looked at each other one night and said ‘what are doing?’. We had the break from 2000 to 2011 and when we got back together we got together with the lineup we still have now except for Jason [Curly] of course because he died a few years ago. That lineup to us resembled the classic Tumbleweed lineup and we’re still going, only with Jamie [Cleaves] on bass now. So going back to the other lineups it’s something we couldn’t do. Alex [Lynch] who played guitar for a long time was in Fridge who were going to go on tour with us and if we reschedule thi tour for next year there will be two of the guys who were in Tumbleweed, Phil Lally and Alex Lynch will both be in Fridge and coming on tour so that’s our reunion. They are along for the party.

T: It is a shame that Jason can’t be with you for this huge milestone because he was such a crucial member to the band and part of that Tumbleweed family. Were the couple of songs you released, ‘Shadowland’ and ‘Rebellion’, along with the others about to be released, were they the first songs recorded without Jason?

R: Yeah. I think ‘Shadowland’ was Jamie's first song, yeah it was. 

T: Was that a different experience for you going in without Jason?

R: It was a little. Jason was a big personality and there were always fun moments in the studio. But he’s never far away though. Everything we do it still feels like he’s still with us in a way. Lenny is his brother so it’s still a part of our lives in that sense. It certainly felt different and I don’t think we would have been able to do it with just anybody. It’s only because of Jamie's friendship with Jay for one - they pretty much learnt how to play bass together and were good friends for 30 years - and also Jamies way and mannerisms. He’s respectful of playing Jay’s stuff and just a humble, beautiful human being. Without his spirit and the way he is it would have been really difficult to do but he helped us to, I suppose, get over losing Jay and move on in a really positive way.

T: A band is a family so it’s lovely to see that he has fitted in so well and really honoured his work as well. A lot of bands would call it quits after the loss of a member but you’ve done incredibly well to respect his work and build that legacy. Why did you decide to continue?

R: I don’t think we would have but we had our arm twisted by Spiderbai who were doing a 15 year reunion at the Corner Hotel and Kram rang up and asked if we would play on it. I said ‘Look we don’t have a band anymore’ but he asked if we could get someone for the night and we did with Jamie. When we were practicing it felt special and cool and felt natural and organic so that helped us get through it and enjoy it. Now there’s a really good vibe within the band. A good comradery. We’re actually enjoying it more than ever.

T: It had to be Kram - you can’t say no to him!

R: [laughs] He’s definitely convincing and I’m glad he is. We’re still going now so he did something right. It’s been two years now.

T: Well us fans are certainly thankful and I think punters for Uncaged will be thankful once they see that chemistry live. Will there be a difference between the sets for La La La shows with that nostalgia trip and then the hits for Uncaged?

R: Yeah a little bit! They’ll both have completely different feels. The La La La’s will be a bit of a house party and looser with anything goes kind of thing and I imagine the people coming to that will be there for our birthday and allow for that looseness and people getting up on stage and doing stuff with us. The Uncaged Festival will be us going back to the start and picking and choosing the favourites and things in between. It will be more of a spectacular and more of a show so it will be Tumbleweed at their very best.

T: That’s giving the people what they want! I, for one, cannot wait. We look forward to witnessing that magic on January 29! 

R: We can’t wait either! See you all then!  

Uncaged Festival is happening Saturday 29 January at Coburg Velodrome. Tickets are available at https://uncagedfestival.com/