Bluesfest Interview: Ash Grunwald

Ash Grunwald playing at Bluesfest 2011
Photo and interview by KT Bell

There is no doubt in the blues and roots scene that Ash Grunwald has done the hard yards over the last decade and has won over many fans in the process. With his Bluesfest appearance, a tour in May and a headline position on the upcoming Snowy Mountains of Music festival on the June long weekend, Timber and Steel‘s KT Bell took time out to sit down and chat with Ash about his influences, story telling, Hollywood and recent album Hot Mama Vibes.

KT: I’m sitting here with Ash Grunwald at Bluesfest. You had a cracking set earlier, you look really at home at Bluesfest, it’s the 6th Bluesfest for you, it must be like a second home.
Ash: Yeah, yeah it is. It feels pretty good. I do feel comfortable at Bluesfest and I guess in Oz, that festival context is obviously something that’s been a big part of my career and been really helpful to my career. It’s just something you can relax into and enjoy. Although, having said that, I’m a local now and it used to always be, when I lived in Melbourne, the Corner Hotel was the only gig in the world that I felt nervous at, so there’s almost a little bit of that creeping in to the Bluesfest. I really make sure I have new strings on my guitars and everything’s in tune. We were probably a bit tighter than we normally are, just because of that. The hometown thing, you always just want to smash it in your hometown.

KT: It was a fantastic set. You dedicated “Crossroads” to Dutch Tilders who passed away yesterday. What kind of influence did he have on your music?
Ash: He was like the first blues guy that I know of, in Australia. He’s like the oldest that I know of. It was him and Chain that I really thought of as the forefathers of it. He played a different style of blues than I do, so musically speaking, I really didn’t take that much influence from what he does, but I just always respected him, as we all do. And some friends of mine, definitely Geoff Achison, who’s an amazing singer/ songwriter, guitarist played in his band for years and they had a legendary residency in Melbourne, in Prahan, that a lot of people used to go to. And Lloyd Spiegel, who’s a really good guitarist who I used to do a duo with, he’s very influenced by him too. Anybody who’s in to Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, it’s that style of music, acoustic blues. He just had an amazing voice and a really good stage presence. It was sad you know, when I did “Crossroads”, I actually felt quite emotional when I was doing that. He was a very hard partier, dare I say… oh, I don’t dare, but he was a big drinker. He lived the life and he was really good.
KT: He’ll be missed, I’m sure.

Ash: Yeah, absolutely.

KT: It was really great watching your set and especially, over the last ten or so years, watching your how your style has developed. You have an amazing performance style in itself and you’re adding a lot more electronic and DJing and technology in to your sound along with all those traditional sounds of percussion etc. Is it a fine line, genre wise, when you start adding in that kind of technology?
Ash: It can be, I think most of the music, maybe I’ve subconsciously worked hard to make it like this, it doesn’t really feel too much like a musical departure, even though genre wise you might be really chucking in all this different stuff. It really sounds like, roughly speaking, the same kind of music, or you can hear that it’s the same dude doing it. I guess, in my vocals and guitar, it’s very specific. I can’t do anything different, at all, and sound like anything different than basically what I do. In that sense, I think I can experiment a lot and it has this sameness about it, so it’s kind of almost a strength that no matter what the technology is, for example, if I jumped on an organ and I had a timpani and a saxophone, it would sound pretty similar, because I always go for the same sort of thing.

KT: That’s the thing I love about folk, people think it’s this old style that’s had it’s day, where actually, no, it reinvents itself constantly and you add new technology and new sounds and new ideas to it and it revitalise it, it’s pretty cool.
Ash: Yeah, it’s a good thing. If you talk about the genre of folk and where I would find myself fitting in to that is the emphasis on the song and song writing. And that’s something I don’t really talk about very much, but it’s pretty important to me. I always think a lot about the lyrics that I put in songs and they all mean something to me. Over recent times, when I do do the more electronic things, that’s when the lyrics are more like poetry, or rock poetry, where it’s just a bit more of a clash of just things that bring connotations to your mind and have a purpose, but it’s not like a story. Back in the day, and certainly on every album, there’s story songs as well. On Fish Out Of Water, there was one called Port Campbell that was very story oriented. “Hot Mama” is a bit like that. That was influenced by a story my sister-in-law told me, about this woman in the mountains who had heaps of followers, both male and female, and she’d have sex with all of them. She told me this story and it just really struck me that there’s this woman who’s had such power. And then that chorus ‘hot mama vibes’  I had in my head for years, so I threw them together and just created this storyline. I like to do things like that and that’s where I think it intersects with the folk thing, because it’s about the story.

KT: And how has the response to the album Hot Mama Vibes been?
Ash: It’s been good. I think it’s gone better than anything I’ve done before. Very stoked, I think in the gig I said that the first track off the album is on a Hollywood movie, Limitless, the song is “Walking”. That’s the first time I’ve had anything in Hollywood. There’s just little things like that that go on in the background, you don’t have to work for it, but you get paid money and you get recognition for these other things. I’m enjoying the fact that further on in your career, these things start to come in for you, and they’re just bonuses so you’re very stoked when that happens.

KT: One last question for you. On Timber and Steel we like to spotlight and focus on new, upcoming acts, so I wanted to ask whether you can recommend anybody that we should check out?
Ash: I’ve heard a lot about Kim Churchill, he supported me years ago.
KT: Yeah, we spotlighted him a couple of months ago and spoke to him at Woodford.
Ash: He’s a really amazing guitarist, and a really good singer so I think he’s going to go a long way. And then there’s a good one in the folk genre also, Jordie Lane from Melbourne, he’s really amazing.

KT: Fantastic, thank you so much for your time. Have a great tour in May and we’ll see you again at the Snowy Mountains of Music in June!
Ash: Thank you!

Earlybird tickets for the 3rd annual Snowy Mountains of Music festival at Perisher are still available until May 15, after which regular price tickets go on sale. Packages including travel from Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong, accommodation and special offers are all available online now.

More photos of Ash’s Bluesfest set can be seen at KT’s Flickr Collection.

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3 Comments

  1. May 10, 2011 at 14:01

    [...] [...]

  2. May 23, 2011 at 11:58

    [...] of Music festival is going to be the Coolest festival and we can’t wait to warm up with some Hot Mama Vibes from Ash Grunwald and all of the other stellar acts on the line up including Christine Anu, [...]

  3. May 30, 2011 at 12:03

    [...] list. KT: Thank you. And we try and cover as much of the Australian scene as we can and I actually interviewed Ash Grunwald earlier this weekend and asked him one of the things we ask a lot of established artists, which is [...]


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