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An alternative rock band from Australia, Ammonia made a name for themselves in the 1990s, producing a mixture of grunge and guitar pop (a sound they described as 'pop-metal'). The group began in 1992, initially comprising guitarist Dave Johnstone (ex Hideous Goldsteins), drummer Alan Balmont (ex Dear Octopus, Cherrytones) and bass player Phil Natt. This line up performed under the name Fuzzswirl, and following departure of Natt, continued to perform with a variety of bass players around their hometown of Perth. It was not until 1993 when bassist Simon Hensworth joined the group that the name was changed to Ammonia. The band was considering the name "Glorious Noise Earthquake", but selected Ammonia for its simplicity after Hensworth stumbled across the word in a science textbook.
|Labels||Murmur (Australia) |
Epic (United States)
|Associated acts||Something for Kate|
The Living End
|Past members||Dave Johnstone |
The band's early success was due mostly to their self-financed recordings and word of mouth. The trio released a self-titled cassette and developed a distinctive live sound, driven by Hensworth's overdriven (and high volume) bass guitar, complemented by Johnstone's infectious pop hooks. By 1994 the band had completed successful tours of Melbourne and Sydney, establishing a solid fan base, and had an album worth of material recorded. Influential DJ Richard Kingsmill aired "Incinerator" from these recordings to a national audience on the alternative radio station Triple J, sparking further interest in the band. Importantly, the band did not independently release these early recordings, as Ammonia was determined to sign with a major label. This was to ensure optimum exposure of their music, and given the isolation of the city, to avoid the pitfalls other independent bands from Perth had experienced in the past.
In 1994, the band did a live recording for Triple J, who in turn added the track "Orange Juice" from the session to their regular play list. The continued airplay created great interest amongst a number of major record labels, who subsequently began courting the group. In the summer of that year, Ammonia was the first band to sign with Sony's Murmur label (the second band to sign was the then unknown Newcastle group Silverchair).
EPs and Mint 400Edit
Ammonia's first release was the In a Box EP (1994), which was composed of the band's early recordings paired with the newly recorded title song. Again the band was supported by Triple J, who played a number of songs from the EP, expanding their fan base around Australia, and ensuring another successful tour. In early 1995 a second EP was released, again featuring the band's self produced recordings paired with a newly recorded title track. The Sleepwalking EP included the first official release of "Orange Juice" and aided by continued touring, saw the band crossover from Triple J to commercial radio.
The band juggled live work with the sessions for their debut album Mint 400, which featured ten new songs along with newly recorded versions of "In a Box" and "Sleepwalking". The album was produced by American producer Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Slayer). Recorded in only 10 days at Festival Studios in Sydney the recording captured the band's live sound, avoiding excessive overdubs and studio manipulation. Mint 400 was an immediate hit in Australia, jumping into the national charts at Number 15. When released as the album's first single, "Drugs" (written in five minutes during a rehearsal) emerged as an instant success, despite certain stations' refusal to play the song due to its title. The song peaked at number 12 on the Australian chart, and emerged in the top 20 of Triple J's Hottest 100. "There isn't really that much of a message," says Johnstone, ""Drugs" is about apathy towards drugs". The success of the single saw the band added to the main stage of the 1995/96 Big Day Out, traveling with the festival nationally.
In light of the success of the album at home, Epic released the album in America, and MTV put the $5000 video for "Drugs" on high rotation, the cheapest video to ever do so. The band toured America, the UK and Europe throughout 1996, emerging with global record sales over 100, 000. "Drugs" was the group's lone charting single in the United States, reaching No. 29 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts.
On returning to Australia, the band recorded and released a single, "Satin Only", which went largely unnoticed and later re-emerged as a hidden track on their second album. The band finished the year preparing music for their upcoming album, which was to be recorded in New York with Dave Fridman (The Flaming Lips, Mogwai, Weezer).
Eleventh Avenue was very different album from their debut, moving away from simple arrangements and traditional rock instrumentation. The record retains the initial chemistry of the band, but is sonically complex, adding harmonies, samples and psychedelic keyboards. Upon completion of the album, the band realized that they were unable to play it live. So in mid-1997, after doing some dates with Something for Kate's Paul Dempsey on second guitar, Dave and Alan asked original bass player Phil Natt to rejoin the band, only this time as a vocalist/ guitarist/ keyboard player.
The first single off the album was "You're Not the Only One Who Feels This Way", which was quickly added to radio. This was followed by the single "Monochrome", and finally the album Eleventh Avenue was released in 1998. The two singles featured prominently on Australian radio, as did the final single from the album "Keep on My Side", released later that year.
Due to the heavy touring in support of their second album, tensions within the group reached breaking point and at the end of 1998, Ammonia announced that they were splitting up. Wanting to go out on a high, they decided to play their final gigs as part of the Australian festival circuit. As a result of this decision, the band's final Sydney show was at the Homebake Festival, their final Victorian performance was at The Falls Festival, and the very last Ammonia show was on the Main Stage of the Perth Big Day Out in January 1999.
Johnstone and Natt went on to form a new band, The Peaks, with Dan O'Halloran (The Favourite Game) and Shaun Lohar (Blueline Medic), which released their debut album Avoca in November, 2004. As of 2007, Johnstone has been recording and playing with The Lazybirds.
In February 2001, Simon Hensworth joined Potato Stars on bass and played in PotStars 7-piece showband during most of 2001. Potato Stars vocalisator Prozac Boy, aka Falcon Randwick, remarks how grateful Simon Hensworth was to be called up for service as Spud #35, scarcely believing his good fortune. After all, for Hensworth to join Potato Stars amounted to an enormous leap in his music career. Suddenly, instead of playing in front of 35,000 fans on the main stage of the Big Day Out in 2000, he now played in Potato Stars at Fuel Bar in Northbridge on a Tuesday night to 22 paying punters takes a certain je ne sais quoi. Il ne regrettait rien.
Reportedly overwhelmed by the $6 payment he received for his performance in this epoch-defining concert (which also featured a rare performance by local legends Johnny Rock and the Psychotics), Hensworth could only stutter a word or two of gratitude before he shuffled off in the direction of his classic HJ Holden, mumbling something about putting five bucks worth of juice in the car. Hensworth later related how he'd recklessly invested the entire dollar coin in a packet of PK chewing gum from the petrol station. [In conversation as reported in Potato Stars fanzine It's Not Rocket Science. Vol 2, Issue 4]
- Dave Johnstone - guitar, vocals (1992–1999)
- Alan Balmont - drums (1992–1999)
- Phil Natt - bass (1992) guitar, keyboards, vocals (1993–1999)
- Simon Hensworth - bass (1993–1999)
|Year||Album details||AUS chart||ARIA certifications|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart or receive certification.|
|Year||Album details||AUS chart|
|1994||In a Box
|1997||Limited Live & Rare
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
- "Drugs" - Murmur (1995) AUS No. 32
- "Ken Carter" - Murmur (1996) AUS No. 50
- "Suzi Q" - Murmur (1996)
- "Satin Only" - Murmur (October 1996)
- "You're Not the Only One Who Feels This Way" - Murmur (August 1997) AUS No. 83
- "Monochrome" - Murmur (February 1998)
- "Keep on My Side" - Murmur (1998)
- Ammonia - Independent (cassette)