Geelong ’90s cult favourites Greenhouse reunite, returning to their roots with first headline gig in 27 years

Geelong ’90s cult favourites Greenhouse reunite, returning to their roots with first headline gig in 27 years

Greenhouse, Sydney 1991. Photo by Tony Mott
Words by Talia Rinaldo

Greenhouse come full circle to where it all began.

One of the best (yet sadly short-lived) Victorian bands to come out of the ‘90s, Greenhouse, haven’t played a headline gig in almost 30 years, but the indie darlings are back, picking up right where they left off.

Originally from Geelong, the Melbourne-based four-piece arrived with a bang in the 1990s with their debut single ‘See-Saw’, which sent them on a very quick, upward trajectory.

Becoming favourites on triple j, their debut was listed as one of the important songs of 1990, alongside Vapour Trail by Ride and The Only One I Know by The Charlatans.

Earning themselves a solid reputation for their obscure jangly sound, the band went on to release their EP ‘Full Circles / Travel Agent’ which launched them out of Geelong and onto the national stage. Playing to packed houses around the country supporting international acts The Wonderstuff, The Mission, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and The Godfathers, Greenhouse amassed a legion of fans in their three-year run.

“We used to play a lot,” says guitarist Johnny Helmer.

“We got together ‘89 and then we started properly gigging for the late 89, but it was really in 1990 when we kicked off and that went through until ’93 when there was a real grunge explosion.”

With the 90s ushering in this new brand of rock, the music scene brought a rush of new bands to the forefront of music, including the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.

“That was when Nirvana and Mudhoney and all these bands from Seattle really started and that changed the nature of independent music and what people listened to on the radio,” Greenhouse frontman Michael Ormond Robinson adds.

Mainstream music was now a hybrid of hard rock, metal and punk, with harsh, distorted, and electrified sounds, leaving Greenhouse – a jangle pop, indie rock band – out in the cold.

“Our sounds were more clean and English sounding, and that sound was getting left behind.”

Going on to release the ‘What It Is’ single two years later, Greenhouse was the cusp of their big break but sadly lost their way, calling it quits in 1993.

“We veered away from our sound,” Helmer explains. “We were seduced by the heavy guitar sounds and we tried to do something that now we look back at that and think that just wasn’t us.”

“We were on the precipice of a major label deal with an English record company,” Robinson adds, “but we made every mistake we could have possibly made. We said no to things when we should’ve said yes; we thought let’s wing it when it should have been ultra-rehearsed.”

And while the band members continued performing together in various projects, there was no word of a Greenhouse comeback, until now.

Fast forward to 2020, Helmer and Robinson reunited with their drummer Glen Galloway for an impromptu weekend writing session which saw the band take the first steps towards their debut album. Four weeks later, Galloway passed away and it was then that they decided a Greenhouse album was imminent as a tribute to the late drummer.

By chance, Greenhouse’s desire to reunite coincided with the arrival of the Sound As Ever (Australian Indie 90-99) Facebook page – a page created by ’90s staple Jane Gazzo for friends, fans and bands to commemorate, celebrate and appreciate one the most exciting decades in Australian music.

Spawned from a need of wanting to document this time and the wonderful people and artists who were part of it, the Facebook page has become a place to immortalize the time and relive some life-changing moments, garnering more than 17,000 members in less than a year.

The group even went on to release two compilations dubbed The Showbox Series, comprising a slew of long lost or unheard songs from the Aussie bands from the era, including the likes of Klinger, The Earthmen, Violetine, Pollen, Disneyfist, Moler, and Greenhouse.

Offering up a demo version of their song ‘Pray’, which Helmer found on an unmarked cassette in a shoebox, the single sparked a demand for more.

“People started asking, ‘well, when you going to play?’ and ‘why don’t you play?’, and then we started to get excited, and we looked at each other and just went, ‘well, why don’t we play?’,” Helmer says.

Solidifying their return, Greenhouse released an official video for ‘Pray’ and scored support slots for The Earthmen at Lulie Tavern and the Underground Lovers at The Brunswick Ballroom back in March.

Performing to sold-out crowds thanks to the Sound As Ever community, roaring through old and new material as if they’d never been away, Greenhouse is now gearing up for perhaps their most significant gig to date.

Taking to the former Zigfrid’s venue on Pakington Street, the band are coming full circle to where it all began, performing their first headline show since the ‘90s where they would regularly appear at the likes of The Barwon Club, The Nash, The Lyric, The old Geelong Hotel and even Deakin University.

“We had to play Geelong; it’s got to come full circle,” says Robinson, also referring to the single from their 1990 EP Full Circles / Travel Agent.

“Even though we didn’t play our first gig back in Geelong, this will be our first headline show in a long time. It’s our gig and we’re coming down to Geelong because this is where it started for us and where people first responded, this is where we first got into trouble for putting posters on light poles,” he laughs.

“We want to see people that we used to see and people that we haven’t seen!”

It’s quite clear people want to see them too, with the gig selling out more than a week in advance.

Making this truly a night to remember, Greenhouse will be joined by a special guest – the wonderful Nick Batterham, a creative force in the ARIA-nominated Earthmen, known to Geelong especially for his music on the recent Rone in Geelong exhibition. A voice described by Rolling Stone as “an almost other-worldly instrument of beauty,” the famed Melbourne artist will be celebrating the release of his sixth studio album Lovebirds, which will be out this Friday, May 21, giving the lucky ticket holders something else to be excited about.

While playing live in Geelong is important to Greenhouse, the main driver for the gig is to raise funds for the creation of their upcoming album, which will be recorded in two parts.

The first is a retrospective album featuring the band’s previous releases, ‘Pray’, and live versions from Live at the Wireless on triple j which is due for release in July this year, around Galloway’s birthday.

The second will be the long-awaited debut album, featuring new tracks and unheard material from 1991 that the band never got to record.

Recording in Robinson’s off-grid studio in Wombat Forest, the band are ensuring they’re giving this album the best chance they can, enlisting the talents of Barny Barnicott, one of the UK’s leading Mixers and Producers, known for his work with artists from Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys and Temper Trap, to Coldplay, The 1975 and Sam Fender.

“If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it properly,” Helmer says. “We could do a ‘Mickey Mouse’ album and release that, but that’s not what we’re about. It’s got to sound right and we’re having a real dip at making it sound the best we can.

“We’re on a mission. We really want this to be something we’re proud of.”

27 years later, you can bet this album will be one for the books.

All proceeds from the forthcoming gig will contribute directly to the production costs of Greenhouse’s debut album.

The sold-out gig goes down on Saturday, May 22 at Zigfrids – 66 Pakington Street, Geelong West. Unfortunately, tickets are no longer available through the website or Moshtix. The band are encouraging punters to post ticket requests on the event page, or hit up the band on Facebook.