Ash Grunwald, musician

Follow your passions. Work hard at those things that matter to you and don’t work hard at things that aren’t important to you.

Known for his raucous live shows, Ash Grunwald is credited for bringing blues and roots music to a new generation. His signature style blurs any traditional lines between genres with foot-stomping blues tracks that are buoyed by blistering guitar, hip hop beats and synth instead of the stringed bass. Lyrically, he’s is inspired by the fiery breath of injustice with Trouble’s Door a rally cry against political and environmental mismanagement and rampant capitalism. He’s shed his famous dreads and is set to embark on a new chapter that includes the release of his 11th album and a tour that will bring him to Gold Coast in May for Blues on Broadbeach. Ash spared a few minutes to chat with The Weekend Edition Gold Coast about his upcoming album, Now, and words of wisdom.

Running through your entire library, you’ve gone from stripped-back soulful blues to swapping the stringed bass for synth. Was that a path you always thought you might head down or was it a surprise to you too?
I’ve been doing it more and more over the last couple of albums, especially when I was delving into the more electronic realms but this new album has been different because it was all played live. I’ve got Ian Peres on board now and he’s a really amazing player, he was able to really fulfil my vision for doing that blues-rock thing but with a nice warm, synth bass. Not only did he fulfil my vision but he took it a whole lot further in terms of his amazing organ skills! Ian plays in Wolfmother and they play pretty heavy on the old organ so it was a really incredible experience to be part of.

You’ve revealed the title of your new album is Now, can you tell us a little about what fans can expect from the record?
Well, it’s my favourite of all of my albums. I feel really happy and confident about the way it’s come together. This album certainly had the most time and money put behind it and it had a really amazing producer, Nick DiDia, who has done so much work with the who’s who of rock including Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine and Bruce Springsteen, so he just brought all that experience to it. He had a really old school approach that was very much about the live element. Normally you’d spend ages editing where as with this album I never looked at a computer screen, it was just all so old school which I think has really worked. I think the whole process was just a lot more thorough, similar to what a rock band would do. I guess I was just stepping it up a bit and trying to make something of a higher quality. Lyrically, it is very motivated by a lot of my struggles and experiences especially in the movement to try and stop coal seam gas mining. There are some serious themes but then there’s the general booty shakers just for fun. It’s a nice mix.

Any hints on when we can expect Now to land in stores?
Well there’s a single coming out very soon. I just did the film clip last week, which I am very happy with. As far as a single goes, everybody that I have let hear it have all picked this particular song. It wasn’t what I was going to have as a single but by popular demand I’ve come around to say okay. I’ve got high hopes that it will go well.

We’ve seen some pretty amazing shots from Bluesfest recently, what was that show like for you?
It was amazing! I live down that way these days so it’s a hometown gig for me now. I’m in the town as the excitement builds which is always fun. That particular show was a really cool experience as I had a big band behind me. That’s the sound I really want to bring to the Gold Coast for Blues on Broadbeach.

After touring the US with Xavier Rudd, how do American audiences differ from Australian audiences?
In their tastes. Xavier’s crowd has a lot of alternative, or what you might term a ‘hippy’ kind of following but it was a really diverse audience. But what really shocked the hell out of me was that no matter what walk of life these people came from they all knew the blues songs that I played. It seems like the average punter there knows as much about blues as somebody from Australia who would call themselves a blues fan. Blues originates in America so you never know they will react to an Aussie coming over and playing blues music to them but they really connected with it. I was so encouraged I am going to go back a couple of times this year and really try to open up the US market. I’ll be touring far and wide and hiring a motorhome so I can take the family and try and do it properly.

You’ve become known for your energetic live shows. For readers who haven’t been fortunate enough to see you perform, can you tell us what a live performance with Ash Grunwald entails?
Well my upcoming show at Broadbeach is not going to be the same solo show that I’ve been known for in the past. It’s going to be a big band and I’m still deciding whether I have a five or a seven piece so it’s pretty different from what people have seen from me before. I am playing a little bit more and because I have the backing of a big band, I can play a few more guitar solos. There’s a lot of new material in there, maybe four or five new songs so I’m really looking forward to it.

Coal Seam Gas mining in Australia is something you have taken a strong stance against. What have been your personal experiences with the effects CSG?
The first time that I saw people lighting their tap water, which is supposed to be drinking water and I thought oh my god. As I got more into it and learnt more about what is going on, out of ethics I got more involved. I went up to Tara and Tintilla where it’s going on and interviewed residents and played the video at my shows. The reason I did that was because I feel that it is an issue that is covered occasionally in the media but not to the extent that it does damage. I don’t feel that it would go on if everybody knew about it. Australians are pretty apathetic when it comes to things like this, we let a lot of stuff happen because I feel like as a nation we don’t like somebody to stand up and say, “Hey, the government is doing the wrong thing.” I think we have to start really trying to see it as it truly is. I believe the government sees its role as just shepherding in industry in any way at any cost and I think when you’ve met the residents in these areas who are being really heavily affected and when you think about our access to water being compromised, it’s pretty important. It couldn’t be more important.

You’ve cut off your famous dreadlocks! How did it feel?
It felt really weird at first. Just like when you cut your hair, to a smaller extent, you feel fresher, there’s something optimistic about it. I feel really good about it. Now that I’ve gotten used to it I feel like I should have done it ages ago but I was really stuck on it. I think this is a time in my career that is a really important time of looking forward and trying to come into my own so I guess it represents that a little bit too, just a bit of a change. Having put everything behind this new album I think it’s a bit of a signal that there’s change there too.

With so many amazing albums, stacks of awards and legions of fans around the world, what would you consider your greatest achievement or proudest moment?
Marrying my wife and having two beautiful daughters. My life has been so full of blessings, you can’t really narrow it down to one. I can honestly say that the way things have turned out, I wouldn’t have dared to think any of it would have happened. The way my wife and I have been able to travel the world and take the kids has just been amazing.

You’re coming to the Gold Coast to headline Blues on Broadbeach at the end of May, what are you most looking forward to about being back here?
I have played Broadbeach once before, it was a really cool gig. It was outside and it was really fun. I’m really looking forward to it. Blues on Broadbeach is a great event, I’m really glad it’s kept building and it’s going really well and it’s on the map as a great gig to play.

Finally, any words of wisdom?
Follow your passions. Work hard at those things that matter to you and don’t work hard at things that aren’t important to you.


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