After a massive six months which saw Aussie blues’n’roots favourite Ash Grunwald play the Australian Open, tour Spain, support Midnight Oil and Jimmy Barnes and play the Blues At Bridgetown 25th anniversary, he is back with a stomping new blues single in You Ain’t My Problem Any More and a run of seven WA dates in nine days.
It would certainly seem – even with financial concerns aside – that Ash Grunwald enjoys keeping busy and pushing himself.
“I do enjoy being busy,” Grunwald confirms. “I guess it’s hard to disassociate yourself from those financial concerns that you mention… my aim has always been to do a lot of gigs, and when you’re getting good gigs and when the money is flowing in and all that, it’s great.
“So in that sense I love being busy, but you know, I’ve been doing this for a long time, so sometimes I wouldn’t mind just chilling out and surfing and slowly demoing away, playing music. If I had all the money in the world I would still be playing music anyway. I do enjoy pushing myself – especially artistically – it’s very easy to just chill out and get lazy and all that.”
The new single is a great hand-clapping, foot-stomping blues. Grunwald says he “very intentionally made it sparse and that was the aim for the whole album: to go for a really sparse production, like my first album.”
There’s nothing sparse about the lyrical content of the song. A positive breakup song which we could all have used at one time or another, it’s about walking away from a toxic relationship with dignity and grace. He’s quick to point out, however, that it’s not based on any recent personal experience.
“I’m very happily married,” he reminds us, “but I guess I was writing it with the perspective of somebody who is in his 40’s and been around – so hopefully, I know how to write a breakup song and I know the things that people go through. I was really happy with how that came out – lyrically it hit the nail on the head with what I was trying to convey, and always the challenge is to do that while still making it sound like an old blues song.”
Grunwald and family now live in Bali, but he’s still travelling so much that he’s not had the chance to soak up much of the local musical culture.
“I do live in Bali, but I’m always travelling,” he explains, “so I haven’t had much of a chance for the local music to inspire my songwriting as of yet. I’d have to spend more time staying put, which I’d love to do at some point. Last year I spent one full month here – that was pretty cool, but apart from that, the last two years I’ve never spent a full month here!
“There is a live music scene here as well, but I don’t really get out much when I’m home, I’m mainly chilling out. I still tour a lot so when I’m here I’m just on the health trip, trying to get up early in the morning and go for a surf and I’ve actually been practicing a lot lately. I’d like to get out at night and have a few jams with a few friends who are local musicians who are really good, but it’s hard to get a chance.”
With a press release boasting that he is ‘much happier when I’m trying to improve rather than just cruising,’ one can’t help but ask: after 31 years playing guitar, how do you challenge yourself?
“I just love working on my music and improving, and I feel like something has woken up in me this year and I’ve been working on my playing heaps,” he declares passionately. “After 31 years what’s to improve? The answer is a hell of a lot! I’ve spent a lot of my career thinking there’s no need to improve at playing the guitar because I don’t want to be a guitar shredder, and I just want to write good songs, and this and that, but I’m aspiring to that a little more and I think it’ll make me a better songwriter to improve as a practitioner.”
Grunwald is currently working on album number 10, which he expects will be finished “middle of the year.” Preceded by singles The Hammer and You Ain’t My Problem Any More, he says it’s likely to be a diverse lot of songs.
“I’m going to do one more slightly pumping blues boogie kinda tune, which will make a good single for the album, I think, and then those will be the three singles and the rest of the stuff on there will be quieter.”
Recording so far has been done in Grunwald’s old stomping ground of Byron Bay.
“I still have a house there,” he says, “so we still spend some time back there, so I was recording with my mate Jordan Power who I’ve done stuff with over the years who’s a amazing engineer. There is a good studio over here (Bali) but at the moment I’m just demoing here, but I’ve got some good gear so I almost do it in the home studio anyway. If I can get it up to standard in the home studio, I will maybe do one like that, but if it’s not up to scratch then I’ll just go into a recording studio once I’ve got it all nailed and I know exactly what I want to do for the new song.”
Grunwald hints at future collaborations, but refuses to be drawn on who they might be with, redirecting the conversation with a smile and, “I’ll let you know when something’s recorded.”
In the meantime we have this run of WA dates, where he says he, “might do a couple of new ones off the album.”
Conversation turns to Grunwald’s other great love beyond family and music: surfing, one of the reasons he moved to Bali.
“I had some really fun waves today,” he coos, “I actually got two little sessions in today. One quick one with the family down at the beach when we went for a walk, then I went for a hour-and-a-half later in the day, then came home and did a few little demos.”
If that sounds like a pretty idyllic lifestyle: play guitar, surf, go on tour, live on an island paradise, rest assured it’s still hard work to maintain.
“It is a pretty idyllic lifestyle, and yes it is kind of hard to maintain in a way too – I think that’s the standard deal when you want to do something that’s enviable, that everybody says they would love to do. Usually it’s a little tough to maintain, or tougher than people think.
“I’m not complaining at all – I absolutely love it, of course,” he laughs. “There’s a hell of a lot of travel involved, and it’s a bit hard to have multiple homes – all my gear is there probably rotting away in a shipping container in northern New South Wales where it’s very moist.
“Some of your life in your home country tends tO fall apart when you’re away,” he adds. “Because I have Bali as a home to return to, and I’m touring, and I’m still going overseas at times as well, it can mean it can get pretty chaotic – but it’s worth it. I love it.”
Friday, March 16, Ravenswood Hotel*
Saturday-Sunday, March 17, Nukara Music Festival (3pm)
Sunday, March 18, Port Beach Garden Bar*
Thursday, March 22, Settlers Tavern, Margaret River*
Friday, March 23, Denmark Civic Centre
Saturday, March 24, Prince Of Wales, Bunbury*
Sunday, March 25, Indi Bar, Scarborough
*With special guest Michael Triscari
Tickets for headline shows via oztix.com.au
Tickets for Nukara Music Festival via ticketbooth.com.au