OLIVER Leimbach can remember a time not that long ago when he and his brother Louis performed to literally no one at a Newcastle market.
"It was just us and the sound guy," he laughs.
On Wednesday night the Leimbach brothers' indie-pop band Lime Cordiale returned to Newcastle to a completely different reaction. They performed the first two of eight sold-out shows at the Cambridge Hotel.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions all gigs are seated and capped at 100, but the tickets were exhausted within hours. It was proof Lime Cordiale have become one the hottest acts in Australia.
That statement was further solidified this week when their second album 14 Steps To A Better You debuted at No.1 on the ARIA charts, above fellow Sydney rock band DMA'S and a posthumous release from US rapper Juice Wrld.
"We're a band that's never really won stuff or charted," Oliver says. "We're not used to that sort of thing.
"It's pretty lovely. I never really thought I'd care about something like that, but when you hear that news you're stoked. It's a lot of work and time so it's a nice little reward."
Of course 14 Steps To A Better You's success wasn't totally unexpected. Lime Cordiale have been on a steep upward trajectory over the past year.
In January three of the record's singles - Robbery (No.7), Inappropriate Behaviour (No.13) and Money (No.32) - charted in the triple j Hottest 100 and the track Dirt Cheap (No.86) snuck into the 2018 poll.
The appeal of Lime Cordiale isn't difficult to explain. The Leimbach brothers Oliver, 30, and Louis, 28, are highly capably pop songsmiths.
Like true musical magpies they have borrowed elements from The Beach Boys, '70s soft rock, synth pop, ska, reggae and indie to present a breezy blend of sweet melodies and arrangements.
However, the climb to No.1 has been anything but swift. Lime Cordiale began in 2011 and almost immediately looked to expand their fan base beyond their native Sydney northern beaches home.
I never really thought I'd care about something like that, but when you hear that news you're stoked.Oliver Leimbach
They regularly performed free gigs at Newcastle's Great Northern Hotel and supported former Newcastle indie-folk band Nova & The Experience, who featured Anna Buckingham, known now as pop singer BOI.
By 2015 they graduated to paid shows at the Cambridge, but they were lucky to get 30 punters through the door. By 2019 they were selling out the Newcastle West venue's 800-capacity room.
"We've been going for quite a while and it's just been these gradual steps," Oliver says. "We've seen a lot of other bands form, get bigger than us and sometimes they blow or break up.
"We've just chugged along. There's all these little moments."
COVID-19 has hit at the worst possible time for Lime Cordiale. Smack bang at the crest of their popularity.
Before the pandemic Lime Cordiale were preparing to perform their largest ever show, a headline gig at the 14,000 Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
Despite this setback, the Leimbach brothers never considered packing up their guitars and waiting until the full venues and festivals re-opened. They opted to play 18 80-people shows at Sydney's Oxford Art Factory and three gigs with a 300-person capacity at Brisbane's Tivoli.
"We were really gearing up for these huge shows and it really takes a lot of preparation and a lot of planning because it's a completely different thing from playing a small club," Oliver says.
"At first when we heard you could play these 80-person shows, we were like, 'Oh man, that's a big difference to what we were gearing for'.
"But then with such a long break with no live music we just got excited to be doing shows again. It's interesting that even with 80 people there's still that atmosphere of excitement of live music and has the same vibe.
"We realised that after doing the first one. It still had that live music excitement and everyone is there appreciating music and the culture around it."
Oliver says there's been a slightly nervous energy within the crowds at the seated shows, particularly at the beginning of the night.
"It's a lot more imitate and everyone is seated and not going wild and really paying attention to all the music and every word in between the songs," he says.
There's a long road to recovery for the Australian music scene following the existential threat of COVID-19. However, Oliver remains optimistic. If infection rates are contained, he actually sees a golden opportunity for homegrown artists in the next 12 months.
"Everyone is super eager, I don't think there's any worry about the music industry dying because people are thinking outside the box as much as possible," he says.
"Festivals are gonna happen, we're just not gonna be looking at these big international acts. There's gonna be bigger opportunities for Australian acts. The bigger Australian acts will be headlining and you'll start discovering these smaller acts who didn't get a chance at all to be on those bills.
"That will be really cool. No one's losing enthusiasm, they're just trying to think differently."
Lime Cordiale perform at the Cambridge Hotel from July 29 to 31.
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