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INTERVIEW – Ash Grunwald – May 2013

| 14 June 2013 | 2 Replies

By Shane Pinnegar

Better known as a roots n’ roller than a rocker, Ash Grunwald has teamed up with The Living End’s rhythm section – Scott Owens & Andy Strachan – for a few gigs, a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, recently released as a single download, and an Australian tour. As this article went to press the trio announced that a day’s recording to finish off another track had extended to a week, and an album – Gargantua – is scheduled for release in late June. Ash fills Shane in on the genesis of the project and how his fanbase are taking to it.

This interview was originally published in edited form in Xpress Magazine’s 29 May 2013 issue.

Ash Grunwald 3
100% ROCK: Hiya Ash, your cover of Crazy is awesome, really, really cool.

Ash: Thanks.

100% ROCK: Why that song?

Ash: I love that song, I actually did a … We did a charity gig and that’s the first time I ever played with Scotty was for charity for the Starlight Foundation and we had Ben Gillies [Silverchair] on drums for that one.

100% ROCK: Nice.

Ash: And we did a whole lot of covers and just for a bit of fun and to raise some money, and that was one of them, but I kept it in my set after that because I thought that was such a great song and I always want to work that one out. Then I got Scotty and Rob Hirst to play with me when I did Falls Festival and Southbound and a few gigs, and we did Crazy then and it just seemed to go well.
We ended up jamming with Andy as well at a gig and thought, “Well, I wonder if the guys would want to come and do a national tour?” Then I just thought, “Well, it’s still a promo. Just do the song as a promo thing.” I didn’t really give it a great deal of thought as to what that song would be, but then I’m glad I went for Crazy. It ended up going well for us.

100% ROCK: Yes, I was wondering was it a concious choice to sort of Blues/Rock up a pop song, I mean it seems a little bit of an incongruous thing to cover, but it works so well. Did you, when you were sitting there thinking, “Should we take the easy route and do some Led Zeppelin thing or an old Blues thing, or lets go completely left of center and do something no one’s expecting?”

Ash Grunwald and The Living End

Ash: Yes, well I mean I think that’s the way to go, the funny thing is I tried to … I think you know, for years in interviews and that stuff, I often talk about songs that I like or style of music I like and people are like, “What the hell, why do you like that?” But I try not be too … Sometimes it’s the level of success of something that makes you think what genre it is, but that’s a soul song really, and the way Cee-lo sings it, you know it’s really ‘black’ and most of my stuff is sort of all my influences are sort of black music. I just love that song and it just so happens it’s probably the one time that I love something that’s actually a massive hit, and very mainstream.

But you know, every now and again, there’s something mainstream that’s an amazing song, it probably happens once a decade for me. When those two things do align, for me it’s a great thing that I can cover something like that and really sink my teeth into it. I probably wouldn’t be able to do the same with a Justin Bieber song, and I think, you know Cee-lo is such an amazing singer. You have to really approach it in a different way and, you know, I wouldn’t cover that and do beats in a studio on a computer or anything like that.

That’s funny, because I do, do that on other songs and my original songs, but I wouldn’t do it to that because that’s how … That’s the song’s sort of genre already. Yes, I felt it really important, I think the boys were in charge of rocking it up and I was in charge of bluesing it up.

100% ROCK: Well as I said, it works really, really well, but you said just then that you don’t think you can do the same thing with a Justin Bieber song, thank goodness. But not being a musician worth a damn myself, I imagine it would be kind of hit or miss when you try to rearrange a song to a different musical style.

Ash: Well, I only deal in things that I really sort of love and that are really ‘me’. I’m quite lucky like that, that’s why over the years I’ve been able to experiment with my sounds a fair bit because; the core of what it is cannot change. I wouldn’t know how to play in a way that wasn’t very much how I play everything.

Ash Grunwald 2
There’s really only … There’s a great natural quality control in there, like I can only play good bluesy stuff and so you know everything I do would have to be generally from that more soulful side of the tracks. I don’t have to … And that in its own right, because in that seeming constraint, it totally set me free and within that I can do whatever I feel like.

Because for me over the years, as you know, I’ve dabbled in the more electronic side of making music and done the very acoustic thing to now going to a bit of the rocky side.

100% ROCK: Excellent, now you’ve known Scott primarily from the Living End for a while I believe and bonded over – what was it? Backyard fireplaces, barbeques, and things?

Ash: Oh yes, we’ve done family holidays to Bali and sort of lived in each other’s back pocket a fair bit and we’re really good friends yeah.

100% ROCK: Does that make it easier in the studio, being able to have that sort of friendly mindset there? Or do you find that people … Does the friendship get in the way of the creative process?

Ash: It can get in the path sometimes, not get in the way. Does it get in the way? No, no, what did happen though is, for me when we were doing Crazy, [pauses] I’ve gotten to know things about how The Living End roll just from knowing Scotty. Basically everything I learned about them is just like, they’re mega-pro, they work mega-hard and they rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, they play so tight and they’re just consummate professionals.

If you hear a real kind of rocky, kind of punky song on the radio of theirs, and they’re just kicking arse, you might not think that – you might think they just turn up [unrehearsed] and do it like that. I’ve got so much respect for them as musos, but then seeing the guys in the studio and how they work gave me a new of respect.

It was interesting for me, because I’m a really kind of friendly kind of character, and free and easy, and very casual in general. But with my music I become a bit Hitler-like – I’ve just been playing solo for so many years and also, sometimes I do albums in the studio, where I play every single instrument and write all songs. I like doing it like that.

So, when they say a suggestion, it’s like to myself I’m like, “okay, listen to it, play through with it, let go of the controls, thank you though.” And, you know, some of their ideas are fantastic and I actually even handed my Les Paul to Scotty for one overdub which was a very big moment, for our career of collaboration.

Yes, he played guitar like in the chorus, just this very quiet thing and there’s just this tricky chord that he plays underneath it, just fattens them up a bit and these little tricks are very, very cool.

Ash Grunwald Gargantua CD

100% ROCK: Well, I was going to say it doesn’t seem like the most obvious pairing, the rock and rockabilly of Living End and your more rootsy bluesy sort of approach, do you feel that in the studio and playing live that you stretch each other in a different direction a little bit?

Ash: A little bit, but really it actually works remarkably well – it’s definitely different for all of us and we’re hearing ourselves in a different context, but it’s very … It’s just like music, quite simply; music is about … I guess what’s ‘good music’ is just about opinion but, I sort of have that challenged a little bit because I think the best thing about music is that it’s so good.

It just makes it sound so good, and as I said, in theory I don’t believe that that’s true, because, you know, you think, ‘Oh well, that’s just all opinions.” Whatever, but you’re so tight and they’re so good it just makes your music sound amazing. From my perspective, I just think it works really well based on how good they are. But, I guess, you could have somebody who is really proficient who didn’t know how to jam, that wouldn’t work at all, but they’re good jammers, they’ve got good ears and yes, it’s good.

100% ROCK: Is it just the one song you’ve recorded so far?

Ash: Well, I’ve actually … We’ve actually had a couple of days in a few different studios, and Scotty and I are going down to Melbourne today. We’re going down to see Tenacious D.

100% ROCK: Nice.

Ash: Which is pretty funny, but then out of that, just so much has taken off after Crazy, that we’re going on Triple M and we’re doing a photo shoot for the shows – we’re there anyway so, we just booked a day in the studio as well. It’s turned into quite a big work kind of thing… We might do … I think we’ve … There’s every chance we’ll do an album.

100% ROCK: That was my next question, you know, are you going to formalize this thing, call it a band name or is it just going to be like a collaboration thing, do you think?

Ash: More of a collab thing and I’m even thinking about when we go down to Melbourne in a couple of days, I want to have a try doing some of my older tracks that were more rocky, but I was doing it [in a] backbeats kind of way, and maybe re-record them and put them on as well.

Ash Grunwald and The Living End 2

100% ROCK: Nice.

Ash: So, it’s all pretty out there, but I just think we’ve struck upon something and it’s grown a little bit of unexpected wings and you know what? I’m sort of my own boss, so if the boys want to do it, I can do whatever I want. So my plans for my album that I was supposed to be working on, it went from ‘maybe I’ll get the boys to play on a track or two’ to ‘maybe I’ll just leave that album for a while, bang out an album with these guys because it sounds fat!’ I’m just evaluating all that at the moment…

100% ROCK:` Maybe just run with it for as long as it stays fun?

Ash: Yes, well that’s good sort of catch cry!

100% ROCK: When you’re … The live shows that you guys are doing together, what sort of set list have you got? Is it all your songs, covers, some of their songs?

Ash: Oh no, it’s all kind of my songs with a few covers, like Crazy and it’s just kind of my set list, but we got this great song that I’ve always wanted to do but I haven’t really had that rock band kind of thing, it’s an old Chain song from the 70’s called Black and Blue…

100% ROCK: Fantastic song!

Ash: Oh! Yeah, well, hopefully they’ll want to put this song on the album, because it’s just really, really, really fat and it’s a fat song to start with, I mean – I love the song, it just reminds me of the 70’s and makes me want to drive around in Sandman panelvan!

100% ROCK: (Laughs) I can see that, Ash, I can see it.

Ash: [Laughs] Yes, we’ve definitely gone with the Sandman vibe off it, to me it’s that Aussie, rebellious 70’s, kind of vibe and I just feel that when I do that song. So I was stoked to do it with the boys because it’s a great example of what you can achieve with those guys.

100% ROCK: How about your older fans, who are more into the beats meets rootsy acoustic blues sort of stuff, how are they taking to the new rocked up direction?

Ash: I’ve got no idea! Every gig we’ve done has gone well, but you know as for doing a national tour with those committed hard core fans… I started out last time by doing dubstep-wobble in the middle of my set anyway, so they know I’m a loony…

100% ROCK: Searching and exploring musically.

Ash: Yes, yes I mean I think some of them will; I’m sure there’ll be some people who have been listening to it who – it’s always been kind of heavy anyway and kind of have this thing that they’re designed to go off and if they like my stuff as well, then I think some of them will really love the band thing.

100% ROCK: Awesome, now, do you remember how you felt when you first picked up a guitar?

Ash: I did love it from an early age, played for a long time. I’m 36 now I’ve played since I was 10 – so that’s a while. It’s always been something that I’ve reached to, even emotionally, it’s just been my friend. And I was never; well I could be wrong about this. I could be retelling history wrong, but I don’t really regard that I was ever that… ambitious, like trying to be the biggest guitar slinger in the West kind of thing, but it’s always been a massive part of me. So, I don’t know what I’d do if I … I’d always play.

100% ROCK: Awesome.

Ash: Hey, can I just answer this because it’s my next interview and they’re hounding me – can I get straight back to you?

100% ROCK: Absolutely mate.

Ash: Okay. You there?

100% ROCK: Yes, sorry I didn’t even realize we’d gone over time Ash, sorry about that.

Ash: No that’s all right, I asked for three more minutes.

100% ROCK: (Laughs) No probs, well, I only had one more question anyway and then I’ll let you go. If you could …

Ash Grunwald 1

Ash: Okay.

100% ROCK: If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any album throughout history, which would you chose?

Ash: Wow, that’s a tough one, [pauses] I think I’d like to be … I’d like to be there seeing Hendrix do his thing, in full swing, with the acid, with the groupies, in the studio. I mean, what they were doing was radical, and probably what we never really realized but to do it now it’s high tech and futuristic too.

100% ROCK: Absolutely.

Ash: And I just cannot imagine what it would have been like, what he was coming out with at the time – such quantum leaps! No wonder the more left of center hippy thought he was an alien. You know it was mind blowing, it still blows my mind now, not only was he a huge influence, he was an amazing guitarist, a great song writer but he was very inventive and experimental, so I’ll most want to be a fly on the wall there.

100% ROCK: Absolutely, look thanks very much for your time mate, and good luck on the tour

Ash: Beautiful, thank you.

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

Comments (2)

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  1. Wisey says:

    if that photo is the album cover it’s a total rip off of the cover of Sammy Hagar’s I Never Said Goodbye album from 1987.

  2. Shane says:

    Pretty difficult to copyright “guy jumping in the air with a guitar” as a concept, I reckon!!!

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