Thursday, May 7, 2009

Interview: Ash Grunwald for Tom Magazine

Ash Grunwald.

"I live outside all the time; if I was at home, I’d probably be stuck inside doing this interview," Ash Grunwald, who is travelling through Western Australian in his new motor home, says. "But instead, I’ve got a cuppa, in a nice park, and I’m sitting here jumping on rocks as I’m talking. It’s great."

The Australian bluesman is nomadic by nature, taking his life on the road in his stride, although he admits that if you want to be a musician, you don’t really have a choice but to love travelling.

"I’m kind of addicted to touring; it’s a great way to live, you’ve got your whole life with you, you feel free - you don’t have to have a normal life," Grunwald enthuses.

Grunwald plans to drive his motor home up the coast of Australia, bringing his innovative brand of blues across the country, before embarking on an international tour. Those who have seen his shows know to expect the unexpected; Grunwald’s unconventional and laid-back performances often falls back on improvisation, and never follow a pre-determined set list.

"If every gig was the same it wouldn’t be fun," he says. "I’m not going to be playing a solo show, but I try to keep the feeling of a solo show, so I’ll be with a band, but they have to be ready to drop and change at any moment."

"The support band that’s playing the Queensland shows, Band of Frequencies, they’ll be getting up and doing some on-stage jams with me as well - it should be great."

Grunwald juggles electronic foot pedals, instrumentation and vocals on stage, ensuring every element of his music is performed completely live, saying it "wouldn’t be right for his music" otherwise.

"I don’t have anything against people who just play to a backing tape and the audience doesn’t give a shit," he says. "But for me, people would come to shows and it just wouldn’t be the same for them."

Grunwald began his music career in his early twenties, playing small-town venues, developing a love of live performance. He may have retained his love of working with live crowds, whether large, at the many festivals he plays, or intimate groups in rural Australia; but he has come a long way from his humble beginnings.

"Any venue you play where you can really smell the toilet - that’s a bad sign," Grunwald laughs. "I used to play a lot of inland, wheat-belt places, playing in the front bar for four hours. It was pretty rough; it wouldn’t be advertised and you’d just be playing to eight drunks."

"It’s a really old-school kind of path, not many people do it that way these days. Eight years ago, there was no roots show on JJJ, there was no blues in Australia - so it wasn’t that weird for me to be actually playing those places. I’m glad I had that background though, because I never take where I am now for granted," he says. Laughing, he quickly adds, "Well, I try not to!"

Grunwald’s fourth studio release, Fish Out of Water, released in August 2008, has met with critical acclaim, and is widely recognised as his best work to date. Grunwald’s signature laid-back feel is still very perceptible on the record, with many tracks focusing on escaping the drudgery of city life. Fish Out of Water retains Grunwald’s traditional blues roots, whilst easing in modern electronic influences, thanks to beat-smith producer, Countbalance.

"It’s definitely an evolution, but my music has always been about the groove, and using electronic beats is just an extension of that," he says. "Being of the generation I am, it would feel less natural for me to try to make it sound old and traditional, when I really dig the new-school electronic stuff too."

Grunwald, who refers to himself as a "riffologist" by trade, first picked up a guitar at the age of ten, and has dabbled with a wide array of instruments since. He mainly plays bass guitar and drums these days.

"The guitar is the instrument I think on, but I’m always building my set up," he says. "I got into music from my parents getting me a guitar; I used to jam a lot with my grandad, who played bass, just for fun."

Grunwald starting making blues music out of love for the genre, after being exposed to the many different types of blues through community radio in Melbourne. He says he never expected to make a career out of music, but that he "feels very lucky that that’s the way my life went".

"What feels natural for me is just making music, but I got into blues specifically because I just loved the soulfulness of it," he says.

"I wasn’t playing with any ambition, but just for the feeling I get when I play," he says. "I think that’s why I’ve always had such a strong sense of self in my music - which is sometimes a big problem when you’re a songwriter, knowing which direction you want to go in."

Ash Grunwald plays Greenfest June 6, Coolangatta Hotel June 12, Joe’s Waterhole June 13.

By Anna Angel

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