It’s usually around this time of year, when the weather begins to warm up proper – it’s been an unusually cooler start to Spring / Summer compared to recent years – that I find myself being drawn to ‘Ocean’, a classic track from Tumbleweed’s 1992 self-titled debut album. It’s hard to believe it will be twenty-five years since its release in 2017 – I was only thirteen when it came out!
Back then, this song became one of many crucial musical “pills” that many a teenager took for surviving the volatility of youth. For me, personally, after another long day in a regional country city (technically a large country town) high school, wondering how to escape, much less, exist there – the Weed appeared at the right time. As did a whole host of other bands and artists like R.E.M, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Dinosaur Jr, and Concrete Blonde. And not to mention the bonus discovery of my dad’s large KISS record collection – I’ve been obsessed with Ace Frehley ever since!
At the ripe ages of fourteen and fifteen, after a quick smoke behind the shed, it would be off to isolation in my room to spend time with the Weed (after having some myself). It was around about this stage of my life where I knew I needed to be somewhere else. How to get there was the question that had yet to enter my mind, yet Tumbleweed, like the bands listed and not listed above, had the ability to hit a life reset button.
Tumbleweed were a unique band, and for the early 1990’s, it’s arguable Australia did not produce a better band. They were different compared to many of the Australian bands out at the time – they were non-conformists, much like Radio Birdman, the Church, Midnight Oil and the Birthday Party / Nick Cave and the Seeds.
The Weed emerged during a period of music that was over as quickly as it began. Alternative music had started to make a serious dent in the mainstream long before a band called Nirvana appeared. The seeds had been sewn throughout much of the eighties, yet the hysteria and hype that happened between September of 1991 and April of 1994, nothing like it has really been seen since. Rock music has virtually been put in a cage. This particular period arguably is the main reason why rock was a suddenly ostracised genre.
That Tumbleweed would tour with Nirvana on their only visit to Australia, as well as share the stage with other era heavyweights such as Mudhoney, is always hard to overlook. In retrospect, that’s all romanticism, it should not detract from Tumbleweed’s own impact in their homeland. They were a Bid Day Out / Homebake and festival favourite amongst music revellers, and they inspired many in their hometown to start bands of their own. And like their alt-rock peers, they gave many a loner-bullied kid a shot in the arm.
There were other Australian bands that were of a similar ilk in rock music’s most volatile decade – Spiderbait, Screamfeeder, Magic Dirt and You Am I. Yes, there was also Powderfinger, who I initially took a shining too, yet they ended up too domesticated. Safe. There was nothing dangerous about the Finger. The Weed were dangerous, as Daryl Sommers and the Hey, Hey It’s Saturday gang found out. Never ask a fuzz rock band to turn their amps down, because they’re only going to go up!
What made the Weed stand out for me was simple, they sounded like where they came from; a working class industrial coastal city and region, with all its beauty, metallic grind and hardship, surrounded by natural wonders – a surfer’s paradise and a bushwalkers dream. Beaches in the east and an escarpment in the west. The band themselves were all students of punk. They had learned a lot from their own experiences of growing up in suburban Wollongong, and tended to reject the self-loathing themes which became a common, at times, monotonous theme associated with nineties grunge. Where they differed was their music had the same free-spirited nature their heroes had before them (the Ramones and Iggy Pop and the Stooges).
Tumbleweed were indeed introspective; they explored dark and raw emotions, ‘Acid Rain’, ‘Carousel’ and ‘Darkness at Never, Never’, and themes of isolation and rejection, ‘Fish Out of Water’ and ‘Gyroscope’. Similar to bands like Dinosaur Jr, the music was underpinned by an oddball sense of humour. They were a band for outsiders and misfits, and being one myself, I often felt the band was challenging me to break out of it – don’t let it pin you down or box you in; get out and live your life; don’t shrink away – make something of it!
Of all the big songs Tumbleweed released, ‘Ocean’ is the one that I found myself playing a lot. The circular and swirling riff, which moves like an oceanic swell moving in and crashing against the shore line rocks, has an immediate lure. As do the sweeping ‘Big Muff’ pedals from Lenny Curley’s Mosrite and Paul Hausmeister’s Fender Jazzmaster, which are underscored by the late Jay Curley’s swooping bass and Steve O’Brien’s pounding drums. With a partial environmentalist theme, it shifts through many phases, the psychedelic touch which the backward guitar solo has the song drift in a way that awakens dreaming. Dreaming big. Dreaming for better.
‘Ocean’ was a soul soothing song I could go home to, put on, and just escape. When I came back from wherever it took me, I returned a better person – it was like I found the pieces of myself I was looking for.
At fourteen, the song was an instant life changer.
Nearly twenty five years later, at thirty-seven, it’s no different.