Ash Grunwald has been busy this year amid performing with a big band at this years Byron Bay Bluesfest, a US and Canadian tour, and recording and releasing highly acclaimed and eye-opening single River. To top it all off, he recently announced an action-packed national single tour, beginning with a free Gold Coast show as part of the Blues on Broadbeach festival.
Yanina Benavidez had a chat with the Byron Shire bluesman and discussed his latest recording, his talented band and his connection to land and water.
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Although Ash Grunwald says it was an incredible honour to hit the Byron Bay Bluesfest stage with such a phenomenal band he also tells Blank that he has stripped it back for his upcoming tour to a three piece. He’s taking on tour established Gold Coast musical virtuosos Ian Perez of Wolfmother on organ and bass and George Carpenter of Jimmy the Saint and Sinner on drums. Grunwald says he feels blessed to be working amongst so much talent and that this line up will certainly make an impact.
River was recorded at the famous Byron Bay Studio 301 and produced by international legend Nick Didia.
“Working with Nick Didia was really cool,” Ash told me. “It was really different to how I would normally work. Going into that Neve desk which is a one a kind desk that they have down there, the same as the desk they use in the Soundcity documentary. There were only a few of these ever made and each one was a custom order, this particular desk was very similar to the one used in that film. It was amazing to go through that especially with a guy like Nick who really knows what he is doing.”
“The whole way to really make the most of that desk is to do everything in front of it, before it goes into the computer and not fiddle around with it. Treat the computer as a tape machine, focusing on the performance. Most of the effects you hear we were doing ourselves before it hit the desk, when I was doing my vocals I had my live set up – which is my distortion and my normal microphone. I had a delay on my distortion (Microphone), which Ian actually gave me, and doing my own delay sounds as I was singing. I have never recorded this way and it was cool. If I didn’t get the delay right we would have to do another take, the take was about singing and also about getting that exact effect and tweaking that at the very right moment.”
It’s obvious from talking to Ash that he’s passionate about the comeback music is making in terms of authenticity and getting everything right the first time, as opposed to taking it and mixing it to sound like something else after the recording process.
“That’s exactly what it was all about, for me my first album ever was done in Pro-Tools, on a computer,” Ash said. “I have embraced and loved it, but for me half of making music became like a process of using Photoshop. There was a lot of cutting and pasting and in a visual environment that actually has nothing to do with making music. I think it’s really great that we can make music this way but it was really interesting to finally go back to these old school ways of producing and creating music.”
“We are almost as a society chasing that analogue authenticity; records are coming back, every second day there is an incorporation of an older technology into modern life and recognition of the value of that. Even bringing back a bit of our human-ness. It was always funny for me because I play this old school blues, but I was always playing with technology and adding all these effects. I was fascinated with the future and I seem to have gotten a little bored of that. So it’s a privilege to work with the Neve console and Nick himself.”
I asked Ash about his touring band and he said he searched for someone to play synth base instead of guitar bass and that was the basis for meeting Ian (Perez).
“I had no idea of the whole gamut of what he was capable of. He is just an insane musician. I am really looking forward to doing the tour with him and George. The three-piece line really allows him to go crazy and showcase his skills. Its going to be so fun, I cant wait,” Ash said.
Ash lives in the hills of Byron, which is very much a community of talented and connected musicians. I ask him whether he thinks it’s something in the water there.
“I have circumnavigated Australia about eighty billion times, and we thought we have a baby now and there is no better place to live,” Ash told me.
“The alternative values, people wanting to make conscious choices within their lives and there is a farmers’ market just down the road. You can get local organic veggies and you can throw a seed out the window and next thing you know there is a tree growing out where you dropped it.”
“Living a different life has inspired me, but my values have remained pretty strong over the years. It has given me a chance to really get involved with the community and help causes and through that I became involved with the anti-CSG campaigns.”
“There was a flow-on effect because I asked to go and see it first hand and was able to go up to Tara and find out what the deal was which just put me on a whole new trajectory of engagement and I got to see what was really going on and that really has changed my life.”
“You often in life or in interviews when you say something conscious or pointing out some thing close to your heart or trying to make a positive change it almost feels like you are defending yourself and it’s so refreshing to be recognised for it in a positive light. I think the way things are going, people are changing and coming to a realisation of their impact on our environment, that was part of the inspiration for River – I am amazed with the response it’s been getting.’
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Ash Grunwald hits Blues on Broadbeach as part of his national River tour on Saturday 23 May after which he’ll hit 10 more stages with his trio.
Watch Ash speak with Blank GC right after his Bluesfest set in April.