Ash Grunwald is a busy man. Not only is he an accomplished musician – having side projects with Kram (Spiderbait), touring internationally with Xavier Rudd and locally with Andy and Scott from the Living End and collaborating with both those guys and Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst – he surfs, has a young family and finds time for a little environmental activism on the side.
Ash’s first mainstream hit was a funky, grooving cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, which is included on his LP Gargantua. This track spread like wildfire throughout Australia, filling household speakers with the glorious guitarnwork Grunwald is well known for.
But the understated Grunwald expressed genuine surprise at the response the song received.
“I knew it’d go well playing with The Living End boys, not only their playing but their reputations as rock legends in Australia, so it was really sick. I’ve never had something playlisted on Triple M and I never thought I’d get a song on Triple M, it’s a pretty mainstream station, but I did, and it was played all around Australia. It’s awesome,” Ash said.
Scott from The Living End had toured with Ash previously when he played Falls Festival, and both Scott and Andy recorded the cover of Crazy with Ash. So it’s no surprise he had both involved on the back of that track’s success when he recorded his full album.
Ash says that they had a lot of input into the recording process which was completed very quickly.
“They recorded their tracks in about two days and then I came in and layered a gazillion guitar tracks over it, that kind of thing,” Ash said.
“It was a longer thing for me obviously. In the mixing stage they were really involved and something I respected was Andy’s response when I said near enough was good enough. Andy said he wanted it perfect since he was involved in the album so he got everything into action, they remixed this, changed that and had things to say about mastering and all the different stages which I really appreciate and I learnt a lot from him too, because we do things different ways and they do things that were different, like recording high end and spending a lot of time and money whereas I was used to recording albums quickly.”
The idea to write and record an album wasn’t on the cards for the three-piece initially. The cover of Crazy was recorded with no clear plan in mind and everything developed from there.
“Once our Crazy cover got playlisted, it was like ‘wow well, why don’t we just do an album quickly, bang that out’. The creativity came from rerecording these songs in a rock band format and they are really different. If you listen to Walking, the version we recorded on Gargantua, its mega fast and hard and what you would expect The Living End would bring to it. I did chuck two new songs on it, one was Acting Cool which is sort of heavy and the other was one about coal seam gas mining called The Last Stand, a bit of an anti-coal seam gas mining pub rock track with anthemic flavours.”
The album artwork is extremely vibrant, featuring three massive gorilla heads on a star studded background that is almost circus-like. The artwork is attention grabbing and Ash says he was extremely pleased with the final result of the artwork.
“I wanted to have a King Kong, playing with those boys it was monstrous and an aural assault,” Ash said.
“For me I had never really played with other musicians so powerful and I wanted to represent that so the original idea was to have a King Kong like a 20s or 30s styled image. I ended up picking the final artwork when I said to the artist ‘Grab that big mouthed gorilla head, like me being big mouthed in the middle and these other two hardcore, bad MF dudes in the background.’ It was like a three piece rock group and it just represented what we were doing. I’m really happy with it.”
Grunwald’s connection with Xavier Rudd is long-standing. The two are close friends and Ash has been supporting Rudd on his tour throughout the USA. He also ended the tour by landing a sweet record deal with Agency Group, a label that Xavier Rudd is also signed to.
“It was amazing touring with Xavier Rudd over in America. Having an international hookup is great but when it’s your mate it’s awesome, I stayed on the bus with them, hung out with them and when we had days off we went off on adventures and it was just really, really fun,” he said
“I had just said to myself, ‘Fuck it, it’s about time I just give the US a crack. Bluesy stuff is really taking off there now with Gary Clark Jr and The Black Keys playing arenas around the country, so why don’t I just give it a try?’ It was the right time in America because the audience got where I was coming from and I wasn’t sure beforehand whether it would be the case or not, so I’m stoked.”
Grunwald’s year just keeps getting better, too. As well as a string of gushing reviews for the blues man as he toured the USA, he also last week took out the LA Music Critics Award for Best International Act.
Ash has a large list of collaborations and touring artist friends that he’s worked with. You may not know that he collaborated in a new outfit with Kram from Spiderbait and he told Blank what the experience was like being in a band with the singer/drummer.
“He had a lot of other commitments and it was a shame but it was really good there for a bit. It was kind of like he was the leader of the band and I was doing a lot of soloing on the guitar but I was accompanying him and he was leading a lot of the time until I’d take over for a bit. It just had a great vibe. It was great for me to have a chance to not be entertaining people the whole time, I could be a bit more aloof with the audience and just focus on the music and it was about as far into shoegazing as I’d ever go and that was really refreshing. I love side projects; I wish I could do more of them. When you’re at my level, which is not the super-stardom level where you can just kill it and sell a million albums and sit for a bit and casually do a few side projects … it’s a bit hard to do side projects since I tour my ass off.”
Of course, Grunwald’s other collaborations include Rob Hirst, best known for his role as drummer with Midnight Oil.
“I’ve got to say I haven’t been a big fan of Midnight Oil. I’m a big fan of what they stand for and I like their music but I have never really listened to it much. I’m probably the only person in Australia who hasn’t,” Ash said.
“Rob Hirst was a great guy to work with and an inspiration. When I played Falls Festival and a lot of the New Year’s stuff it was Rob, Scott from The Living End and I. It was sick talking to him. Rob was Scott’s hero and he had a Midnight Oil tattoo on his arm and he kept covering up the whole time until the last morning when we were in the airport and he’s gone over and showed Rob and that was funny. He’s the loudest drummer I’ve ever played with on stage by far, still so physically fit and he’s just an inspiration.”
So, how do you follow up a blistering tour of the USA, killer reviews and coming home with a new LA Music Critics Award under the belt? You tour Australia, of course. Grunwald hits the road this week, starting in Townsville on Friday 15 August and taking in a whopping 21 towns. The tour also includes an appearance at BigSound 2014.
And as usual, Ash is taking a special guest with him.
“Ian Collard is a big hero of mine and I am stoked to have him out on the road with me” Ash said.
“I’d say he is probably Australia’s best blues player … a world renowned harmonica player and he plays on one of my live albums, Live on the Corner. I’ll get him to jam with me on the shows too.”
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Ash Grunwald plays Springwood Hotel on Saturday 16 August, Bigsound 2014 on 10 – 11 September and Soundlounge Currumbin on Friday 12 September. Get all the details at ashgrunwald.com.