Ash Grunwald’s first album, Introducing, leant heavily on traditional blues – but it was his second album I Don’t Believe, released in April of 2004, that would change his state of play. It was his first album – of many to come – to graft technology onto the deeply rooted foliage of the Delta swamp. Grunwald continues with his commitment to evolve and to doing so with more mindfulness than ever before. Taking off from the same co-creation ethos of Guargantua, Ash brought in Ian Perez, keyboardist for Wolfmother and Pete Wilkins and former drummer for Blue King Brown to work on his brand new, forthcoming album NOW. The effortlessly gifted pair built the launch pad for Ash’s detonative sonic boom, enabling him to explore the lose-yourself-sounds of psychedelic blues using synth rather than stringed bass. Keeping it old-school, the gents jammed it out live, forming a wall of sound as abundant in clout as it is in groove. Standing behind the richness and warmth of the old Neve desk was famed American Record Producer Nick DiDia, whose philosophy sits firmly in the power of performance and whose name is most commonly strung together in the same sentence as Springsteen’s. Having worked closely also beside Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam, Powderfinger and many other legends, what Nick brought to Ash, above all else, was an intense focus on the structure of a great song. The result is an album with immense force; strongly political, rumbling from the depths of internal rage. NOW is due out in September – the first single, River, is a song to fill the belly with fire, the heart with integrity and the limbs with the energy for action. Ash will be touring nationally & internationally in the coming months.
Having well and truly conquered his homeland with endless touring resulting in a reputation of not-to-be-missed rocking live shows, Ash has shrunk the world with familiarity, making the entire globe his home. NZ, the UK, sold-out tours in Canada and a pioneering trip of America in 2014 with Xavier Rudd; every show, every tour continuing to feed the ravenous beast of Ash’s unparalleled creativity and his unbridled spirit of diversity. We sat down with Ash this week to benefit from the wealth of his experience and knowledge through the filter of our Savvy Seven questions.
The best live music venues in my area are…
[I’m from] just north of Byron, I guess I spend most of my time touring, but it’s a nice area of the world – it’s a good antidote to the touring lifestyle. Get healthy, get back to nature kind of thing – yeah, it’s cool.
In that area – I mean, The Great Northern is the traditional rock venue there. It’s pretty cool. I’ve done a million gigs there. So, I’m mixing it up a little bit in my area next time I play in my area, because there’s a lot of people especially in that Byron Shire who don’t really even drink. Whereas, you know, a lot of the time, I’ve made my living playing piss-up venues. But it’s good to mix that up. So, I’m doing two shows now next time in my touring – I’m doing a small venue they call the Byron Community Centre. Which is almost set up like a cinema, and it’s double storied, sort of looking down on the performers. It’s such a great venue. It’s gonna be interesting because we play pretty loud with this current line-up, and you gotta try play quiet in there. On this tour, it’s gonna be the band that did the album, which is just a 3 piece. But 3 pieces are often the loudest kind of bands. It’s that power trio thing. Ian, who’s playing keyboards – well, he plays in Wolfmother – but he’s super loud, you wouldn’t think so because he’s such a quiet guy, but he’s mega loud. And I’m pretty loud too. I hate being another loud guitarist, but you get pretty loud – I have three amps I play with, so I gotta control that.
The music scene in my hometown is…
Well, I started out in Melbourne – that’s where I’m from – when I say starting off, that’s 15 years ago now – but, there was a really cool blues scene in Melbourne at the time. I’m sure there still is. And that bad weather is really good for the pub scene and that staying indoors scene. And I’m so glad to be away from that now, but it was a really good scene to come up through.
It’s a really cool scene. Actually, in my little suburb, now where I live, there’s a lot of musos, but I still don’t know. If my kids wanted to play music, at the moment I’d probably say – well, who knows what it’ll be like in the future. At the moment, I’m getting to know those young guys who are from more the top of the Goldy [Gold Coast]/Brisbane sort of area, and I do have friends who sort of came out of the Brisbane scene who are really good as well, so I think Bris is on the up, too.
It’s been cool for me in the last few years getting my head around that. You know on this album I used Ian, he lives in Burleigh area, and the drummer (Wilkins) lives down at Evans Head now, so there’s that spread from Northern NSW to middle of the Goldy kinda way.
It could be a good thing to be surrounded by good influences and whatever, but I’m sure people who are from a culture where they suffer from that, if they’re the few, there can be a good thing in that.
My top business tip for new artists is..
I don’t know, all I can say is what’s worked for me. Which the way I started out is the way the industy’s gone as well – very do it yourself, and just very “gig, gig, gig”. It’s all based around live gigs. And that’s worked really well for me. It might not work for everybody that same way, but what I will say is it seems like the mechanisms for getting known and just being able to sit at home and record music and then still make a living from them don’t seem to be there like they were in the days of record companies and all that business, you know. I think the net is amazing and it’s really brought music to a whole lot more people. I don’t know if it has brought more money to individual artists or anything. I don’t know if there’s much of a future if somebody wants to do it for a full time, make a living from it. To do it without playing live. It’s a bit hard, I’m not sure. I’m sure there’s a million examples to prove me wrong, but I don’t know many people who would get away with that. The only ones who would get away with that are the ones from the older era, when record companies were more putting up the money for that.
I’ve been lucky enough to get my songs on movies, that’s something that, in terms of making a living, that’s still good. That’s a thing that didn’t die like records did. So that’s really cool. [But] even that, it’s a weird thing, because you’ve gotta get a profile somehow, and for me that’s been through gigs and festivals, it’s all intermingled. Once you get on the road, it’s like a campaign trail. Like what we’re doing right now, interviews, I wouldn’t necessarily be doing as much of that if I wasn’t gonna go out and do shows. That’s what I angle everything around. Even though recording and all that is probably what’s most important to me. That’s where the art comes out. It’s good to have both sides of it, so I would say, people starting out, my advice would always be just dive into that process, which is, you know, record an album, go out and launch it and tour it, that kind of thing. I know that sounds silly, that sounds obvious, but I just say launch in and start doing that, even if it’s like, say when I started, it was like, recording a demo for 10 bucks and then getting a friend to do some cover art and cutting it out with scissors and selling it for 10 bucks. That was the start, and I really think, you know, that was the start and same process that The Rolling Stones are still doing, it’s just at a different level.
In my opinion, the most important issue facing the music industry is…
It’s different for everybody. For me, you know how people don’t buy albums as much as they used to, and then we say “Oh yeah, well look at the bright side, people in Bulgaria know about your music!” And that’s pretty cool, but it hasn’t quite filled in that gap as nicely as you’d like it to. And then iTunes came along, and I got really stoked for a while, I started buying a lot of stuff on iTunes, and I thought, “This is so much easier, downloading [music], I think Steve Jobs has helped us out here!” And then Spotify came along, and Spotify is just so good for listening to music, and I thought, “Damn, you bastards, this is so much better than buying stuff – okay, now we’re f*cked.”
With my latest album, I spent more than I’d ever spent on an album, I put more effort than I’d ever put in. And I think I did something better than I’ve ever done, but I’m not so sure that it’ll get that recognition – even if it is the best thing I’ve ever done, people won’t spend the same time [on the album] as they would’ve with something in the past. It’s not like back in the day, when if you made a sick album, you were like “Yeah!! We made it!” We’re hearing classic albums all the time, but there’s no time for them to become classic albums anymore, because they’re not in a format that you can spin round and round till it’s your favourite album, they just come through [like] whoosh. And it might be the best music you’ve ever heard, but there’s no chance for that music to become classic like an old album, let alone the ones from the days of records. I just got a record player for the first time ever, and all this time I thought, “People are just being silly about records, they’re getting too romantic about it,” but then when I took the time I realised that there is something about that format that makes you listen to music in a different way. People who made music when it was only in that format were lucky, because it got cherished a little bit more than it is now. It’s sad to say that the best strategy might be – cos I don’t really agree with ever fighting against the flow of the way things are – so the best strategy might be to do the opposite of what I just did, to just make albums quickly, don’t think about them too much, and don’t put too much time and effort into them. And if that’s the case, then I find myself as the old guy going, “That’s a shame.” And I hate being that guy. I really wanted to do something where you put your energy into a whole body of work, and I thought this might be the only time to do that. But there is something cool about it all going into this “single culture”, albums haven’t always been around, I only found out recently that they came about in the 60’s. Before that it was just singles, so we’ve gone back to that.
When on the road, my favourite pit stops are…
I like to eat healthy and whatever, but it’s so impossible on the road. But there’s this one shop at a servo called Oliver’s where they actually make really good coffee, you can get a fresh veggie juice, you can get sushi, you can get organic food, you can buy vitamins there… and if that was all over Australia I’d be so stoked. And I love this about France: they respect coffee, there’s really no take away – or maybe there is a little bit, but you stand around and drink your coffee and then go. There’s a lot of that in Europe, you don’t just go, “Right, food’s just a means to an end!”
My biggest career mistake has been…
Well, maybe I should’ve cut my dreads off earlier! I dunno. Who knows? You don’t know them, you just make them and keep going, same as your wins. You don’t know what your alternate destiny was. I mean, career wise, I should’ve started on the US earlier, because now I’ve got two kids and I’ll go over there and do festivals, but I don’t really wanna slog it out over there. It’d be too hard, and lots of people I know who’ve had success in the US don’t still have their marriage or relationship. It’s really hard. So maybe that’s a career mistake, but a life success to not work on that earlier. I’ve given a lot to my career, and I feel so lucky that I get to play music for a living, I want to do it for the rest of my life – you always want to have more success, but there are so many factors. All you can do is do the right thing and see how you go, but I think it’s important to put your lifestyle first if you’re lucky enough to be able to do this.
My best advice for emerging artists is…
Don’t focus on goals, focus on processes. If you wanna be at a certain level, think about what the process is to get there and then love the process. So it might be working hard, gigging your arse off, recording heaps, you’d probably start off self-managing, being hungry… if you wanna do that, and you wanna do that for about a decade, then it’s worth aspiring to be a musician. If you’re more focused on where you wanna be, you won’t have the stamina. So just focus on what you wanna do, and if that’s in line with what’s required to get there then it’ll work. So you’ve just gotta love it, and leave the ego at the door, and just work hard at it.
ASH GRUNWALD TOUR DATES
May 29 – The Gov, Adelaide (Tickets)
June 5 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (Tickets)
June 6 – Barwon Heads Hotel, Barwon Heads (Tickets)
June 7 – Westernport Hotel, San Remo (Tickets)
June 12 – Metro Theatre, Sydney (Tickets)
June 13 – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (Tickets)
June 19 – The Triffid, Brisbane (Tickets)