Ash Grunwald: Now More Than Ever (Interview)

Australian blues rocker Ash Grunwald will be touring New Zealand beginning November 27th in support of his new album, Now. It’s been three years since Ash has played here, which is also when The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda last spoke to him. They spoke again, recently and did some catching up. During the conversation, Grunwald revealed a few details about an exciting new project he is about to be involved in.

Click here to listen to the interview with Ash Grunwald:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: So, what have you been up to in the last three years?

AG: Well, I released another album, which is kind of almost a hybrid side project in a way, with the rhythm section from The Living End, who are a very legendary band…three-piece rock band here in Oz and we reinterpreted some of my stuff in a kind of rocky context. And that was cool. And then, I’ve just done my album, Now, a very much more, very long thought out studio album with some, I guess, more serious lyrics and themes.

MD: Yes, I had a listen to it. It’s pretty dirty sounding as well, as far as the actual sound of the guitars and the sonics of it. There does seem to be some messages coming through on some of that stuff. So when you say it’s a more thought out album, what kind of process did you go through to come up the songs on the record?

AG: I guess more planned than ever because I wanted to do it in the traditional sort of rock band setup where you go into a nice studio with a producer and you have the songs rehearsed when you roll. So that takes a lot more effort than what I’m used to. Cause normally likes Trouble’s Door I wrote in the studio, just on the spot kind of thing which sometimes sounds amazing, that you spontaneously came up with things, but the way you do it in that computery-way, you do it in building blocks. You almost build it up like a collage so it’s possible to do that writing on the spot thing but you’ve got to be a little bit more prepared when you do it the traditional way and just go in there and play it. So it was a little bit more effort but I just really wanted to experience what that was like…to do that old school traditional method and get some really fat sounds down.

MD: And now that you’ve gone through that process do you have an opinion of what you prefer?

AG: (long pause) At the time, I loved doing it the way that I did it and I think sonically, it sounded absolutely amazing, but it’s more expensive. And…I really did love it, it’s just a different thing but I can see myself getting back to do one of those project-studio-working-with-a-hip hop-producer kind of things at some point in the future, but my next project is going to be happening in December and it’s going to be in America and I’m just going to be playing with a band of, just sort of all legends in the scene, none of them I know personally but it’s going to be very live as well.

MD: Is this going to be a recording project?

AG: It’s a recording project. It’s gonna be an album, it’s gonna be my album. It’s gonna be some of my original material from the past nine albums with special guests…I guess how John Lee Hooker late in his career did albums where had Santana on one Robert Cray on another…

MD: Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison…

AG: It’s that kind of thing. There are some absolute legends’ names being thrown around that…it’ll just be huge for me. Yeah, so that’s really exciting. I’ve gotta write some new material for it as well, that’s the tough bit when you’re touring constantly.

MD: Yeah, I was gonna say, because you just released the one album about a month and a half ago. It’s pretty quick..

AG: It’s radical!

MD: I don’t suppose you’re able to tell me any of these special guests that you’ve got lined up for this thing?

Tony Joe White
Tony Joe White

AG: (long pause) Um…none confirmed, but very likely that we’ll get Tony Joe White who’s an actual hero of mine, a big influence on me, and Taj Mahal as well, who’s absolutely amazing and then there’s a few other names being bandied around. I don’t know how far they’ve progressed, but even all of the players on it as well, they’ve played on everything…seminal kind of session players. So yeah, it should be good.

MD: Excellent. With somebody like Tony Joe White, do you approach them personally, yourself, or does it go through some kind of channels? How does that connection get made?

AG: This whole thing came about because a producer contacted me. He’s flying me over to do it so it’s his…it’s really all in his court, there’s nothing…I haven’t done anything.

MD: Well that takes some of the pressure off of it, all you have to do is come up with some songs.

AG: Yeah, yeah, and just do my thing. I never had anything like this before in my life so I hope it all works out. It’s just a golden opportunity, I mean, the dude’s just picking up all of the expenses and just getting me over there to do it.

MD: Very cool.

AG: Yeah, I’ve never had that. It’s always been DIY, self-funded on the credit card.

MD: You did Pledge Music funding for the Now album, is that right?

AG: Yeah, and that’s how it came about, too because the guy pledged, the producer…pretty amazing.

MD: Beats having to pay them.

AG: Yeah, amazing. So he pledged for Trouble’s Door and he pledged for Now and he sort of, I guess, was a fan because of that and then he said, “Ok, do you want to do this thing?” I was like, “Wow!”

MD: I guess there’s some good things that can come out of the way the recording business is kind of shaking out. That’s definitely positive, I suppose.

AG: Yeah, and the Pledge thing is a positive too, I mean, I just…as part of my schedule today I gave a gut a Skype singing lesson.

MD: Oh great.

Ash_Now_CD__03008.1443156729.800.800AG: And the connection…and then, on Sunday I played a house concert for…that was part of the pledge as well…and it was just at a local, at a soccer club. But, you know, it was for a family that I was very close to because it was a hardcore fan…I went and played for her, she had cancer and she’s been to probably 20 of my gigs all around Australia…and she had terminal cancer, so I went and played for her in intensive care and she passed away and I ended up writing a song for her funeral. It was all very emotional and I ended up putting it on the album, on Now. So, it all sort of goes full circle. Her parents did a pledge and got me to play and it ended up being a memorial for that particular lady and we were all choked up and it was a very special kind of experience for everybody, including myself. These are the kinds of things that sort of all…that Pledge has been a conduit for these very real things so that’s been quite amazing.

MD: And you wrote that song with your partner, right?

AG: Yeah.

MD: Do you do that often or do you mostly write on your own?

AG: I write on my own a lot but she’s always, you know, in the background, putting her two cents’ worth in and it’s always good advice. And I do the same for her too, cause she writes songs. It’s really cool, she gets credit for some and there’s some she doesn’t get credit for that she should get credit for.

MD: I’m sure it all evens out in the end. You’ve been touring Australia with the new album up until now, when you come over here to New Zealand, how has that process been going?

AG: It’s been great. I’m doing it solo so there’s a mixture of like, brand new material but then I haven’t played in Australia solo for a while so it’s been a good time to do all that stuff and bring all that back. And that’s what I’ll be doing in NZ as well.

MD: Before that, you spent a lot of time in Canada, is that right?

AG: Yeah, I went to Canada four times this year.

MD: What is it about the Canadians that seems to connect with you?

AG: I don’t know, I’ve just been going there for awhile and I’ve finally broken in . It took me longer than I thought actually, I thought it would. But I’ve finally broken into the really strong festival scene there and, you know, the folk festivals are just phenomenal. Before that I went to Nova Scotia and did a festival for two days and it was about a 40 hour commute from my door, or maybe more. And then spent two days and then came back for a festival in Australia. And then I was back for a week and I jumped on a plane and did another 40 hour commute so in a short time that was like 120 hours in a plane.

MD: Oh boy.

AG: Because everywhere I seem to go it takes four flights to get there. There’s the Sydney to LA but there’s the getting yourself maybe two more flights to get yourself into the town you need to be in…and I’ve got to fly to Sydney at the start so just spend an incredible amount of time in aeroplanes.

MD: One thing I wanted to run past you…I know you have a song on the album called The Worst Crimes Are Legal…

AG: Yes, I love that phrase.

MD: …which is a political statement. Here in New Zealand there’s quite a bit of hub bub going on about the relationship between New Zealand and Australia and these prisoners that are being kept on Christmas Island and being deported. It’s big news here and I’m wondering if anyone in Australia is at all aware of that kind of thing?

AG: I should say, I have some very strong views, and I’ve done a lot to back them up in certain areas, but I’m not abreast of everything that happens. I don’t watch the news at all. But, I think that’s probably a good thing sometimes. Yeah, of course we’re all very embarrassed about the Australian government’s behaviour and our abysmal human rights record. It’s not something we’re proud of but most of us, a lot of us, are not proud of our government at all and feel under-represented. Just because we’ve got this thing called “democracy” at the moment, I fail to see how it is true democracy. I really feel like it’s a corporate-ocracy. It’s really…the rights of multi-national companies are kept on ‘high’, but the rights of citizens…I don’t really think they’re a high priority. Year-by-year things like schools and hospitals will get less and less funding as we shepherd in multi-national companies to…for example do some crazy gas mining or something that a lot of people don’t agree with. And that will be subsidized by the taxpayer. So you can disagree with something but you still fund it and then if you protest about it you’ll have a cop that you funded throwing you in jails that you funded. And I just feel very under-represented in that sense.

Click here for info about Ash Grunwald’s NZ tour.