Ash Grunwald’s latest single Hammer signifies a new chapter in his 15 year career. It’s a blues rock stomper that sees Grunwald channel classic bluesmen like RL Burnside and John Lee Hooker with hat-tips to contemporary roots musicians like Butler, Rudd and Harper. His single tour brings him to the Gold Coast in April for Bleach* Festival and he spoke to Samantha Morris at Blank GC about his upcoming album – his tenth studio recording and the biggest lessons he’s learned.
You’ve been making music for more than 15 years yet you keep refining your sound. What have been the biggest lessons for you, over that time?
It’s been a really interesting journey for me, both in life and in music. When I first started, recording was all about me being in a room with just a guitar and nothing else. I was against multi-tracking my recordings. Step forward and I’m sitting in a studio in Adelaide with Trials, surrounded with instruments, putting hundreds of layers of tracks down. Step forward a few more years and I’m playing rock music with three other musicians – something I never would have thought I’d do for one reason or another. I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is that at different times, different things feel right, and it’s OK to do a 180 degree flip if it feels like the right move.
You’ve said that this new single Hammer feels like a rebirth. How so?
I’ve moved through a lot of phases in my career. My first records started off as acoustic-blues, and then I went through a lot of different albums searching for a sound that was a hybrid of modern recording techniques and my own blues sound, before transitioning into rock. After almost 20 years of exploration I’m ready to return to my first love of making really grounded blues music.
There’s no doubt you’re a hard worker. Touring, recording, performing sold out shows all over the world. How do you keep the energy levels up?
I think you have to have an obsessive personality and be the kind of person that wants to achieve these things. You’ve also got to be obsessed with hard work. But, it’s also really important to know when to step back and to know that you don’t need to base your entire life around your career, you need balance. I’m actually doing this interview from Bali at the moment and I spent most of last year travelling back and forth for shows and recording, just to give myself that life-work balance. Spending more time surfing, keeping healthy and being with my family has definitely been a big part of that balance.
When you’re here for Bleach* people can join in a jam session with you at the Cooly Hotel. Have you done something like that before as part of a public event? What’s so cool about just jamming with other musicians?
I’ve never done a public event that’s specifically about jamming before, but I’m really excited about it. Blues jams are actually how I learnt to play music in a live setting. I used to turn up to two or three blues jams a week. I was obsessed with them, and they played an integral part of me being a profession musician.
This upcoming tenth studio album – any surprises?
I know it’s always been my ambition to be prolific and do a hell of a lot of records, but I think once you’re on your tenth album the surprises become less and less. There’s always been a pressure to constantly do something different with each new record, but my last record was very, very different for me. I think I’m at the stage where it’s OK to go full circle, go back to what I know best and not worry so much about the pressure of needing to be different. I’ve done such a broad range of stuff that I can now cherry pick elements from my back catalog and weave them in and out – and that’s what people can expect on the next record.
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Ash Grunwald is on the Gold Coast for Bleach* Festival with a live concert and Burleigh on 1 April and then a jam session at the Cooly Hotel. Get details at bleachfestival.com.au.