Acclaimed Australian roots music singer, songwriter, guitarist and performer Ash Grunwald has been out of the spotlight for the last five years. For three of those years he was soaking up a tropical lifestyle living in Bali before returning to Australia. Yet rather than merely kicking back and chilling out, Ash was working away on things, rebuilding his career and most importantly … himself. He was focussing more on his physical and mental health, happily writing songs, working hard on his guitar playing and many other projects, which are now all about to come to fruition.
THE ALBUM First of all there’s a new album Mojo, set for release on a new label (Bloodlines) on August 30. It features collaborations with many other respected musician such as The Teskey Brothers, Mahalia Barnes, Joe Bonamassa, The Cat Empire’s Harry James Angus, Terry Evans, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Ian Collard and The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson. The first single, Whispering Voice features Kasey Chambers. We’ll catch up with Ash at a later date to explore the album further. A national Mojo tour has also been announced for October (Dates below).
THE BOOK Then there’s a book! It’s called Surf By Day, Jam By Night and combines two of Ash’s greatest passions- music and surfing. In the book, Ash interviews a collection of famous surfers who play music and musicians who surf. Through conversations with Kelly Slater, Steph Gilmore, Jack Johnson, Dave Rastovich, Jaleesa Vincent, G. Love, and many more, Ash discusses flow states, jamming versus shredding, style, transcendence, fear, career longevity, growth mindset, mindfulness and what it’s really like to live your dreams. The book is also released in August.
THE SIGNATURE PRATLEY GUITAR Perhaps the Grunwald project that we here at Australian Musician are most excited about, especially ahead of his Melbourne Guitar Show appearance, is the announcement of the RBJ-90 Ash Grunwald signature guitar by local makers Pratley Guitars! Pratley Guitars is very excited to announce this new advancement in the pursuit of the ultimate semi-hollow electric guitar with the launch of the RBJ-90 Ash Grunwald blues model, in partnership with Ash. The RBJ-90 Ash Grunwald is the first of its kind for the company, designed to pay homage to old school blues guitars with its classic look and sweet tonality that is delivered through the use of unique Australian tone-woods. Despite the vintage look, the instrument feels entirely modern. Comfortable to hold and with a fretboard that makes playing effortless, this spectacular instrument utilises premium hardware and pickups to bring to the market an instrument combining classic looks, a modern design and unparalleled Australian craftsmanship. As well as Ash performing with the guitar at the Melbourne Guitar Show on Saturday August 3rd, Pratley will also be showing off the instrument at their stand on the exhibition floor throughout the weekend.
THE INTERVIEW Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips had the pleasure of chatting to Ash recently about the new Pratley signature guitar and the many other projects Ash is excited to be sharing with us all later this year.
Ash, there’s a lot happening for you this year with the new album Mojo coming out, you’re playing our Melbourne Guitar Show, you have a new signature guitar coming out and a book. How’s your headspace with all of that about to happen?
Fantastic. Really good because the album is five years in the making, the book took up a lot my life last year and this year. The signature guitar is just a pleasure. I feel relaxed. It’s funny because we were living in Bali for three years, it was a time of a lot of rebuilding, regrouping and working really hard on myself, my guitar playing, my physical and mental self. Now I just feel like I am stepping into something that I have been envisaging for a long time.
We’re really excited about this signature guitar. How did the Pratley association come about?
Martin (Pratley) is a really good luthier from up our way. He’s on the Gold Coast and he approached me after giving me a few stomp boxes, which were cool and then he said do you want to start working on a signature guitar? I thought what am I into and what’s right for this phase of my career? I’m a really big fan of big body guitars. I played a Gibson 137 for many years, that was my main guitar. Then I switched over to a Les Paul when I started doing band things. So I’d switch between those two. Obviously I’ve had a lot of guitars over the years but lately I have been playing D’Angelico, a variant of the 335 and that’s a really cool guitar but the chance to design my own guitar is really cool. We wanted to do something classy and cool and then when it hits production … I don’t know what price Martin will put on it in the end but we want to try to make it in such a way that people can afford to own the guitar. If you get too frilly and put things on that might make it look cool, it’s putting the labour up. At the moment it’s all made in Australia and it’s not made somewhere where labour is cheap.
Has there been much back and forth with prototypes?
There’s a lot of back and forth and so far I’ve only just been playing the first one. The idea is that it looks like a classic guitar in the mould of the 335 but with a different shape and a lot more fret access and the neck is designed to be very playable.
What about tone-wise, will you get much variation from this guitar?
I’m probably going to experiment with this a little bit between P90s and humbuckers. Martin makes his own pickups, so there are a few different options. With my tone, I stick to the neck pickup a lot. I like that big round mellow neck tone, especially on the P90s and get my variation from my pedalboard. But I go through phases where I just get the tone through my amp, just loading the front end of the amps and doing the old blues thing with just the volume. That first prototype in my studio is a lot of fun and has a really nice tone. Currently it has two P90s but we’re probably be going to work through one more prototype, maybe two before the Melbourne Guitar Show.
How important was the look of the guitar, the visual design? It has a beautiful colour scheme to it.
I love earthy tones. I’ve got a Les Paul Studio that I keep in Canada that is unfinished completely, it’s just like a raw wood thing and I almost thought that was my perfect Les Paul because I have that earthy side to myself, to my songs and to what I like. I like raw wood so it is a half way point between that and some really fancy ornate guitar that you can see a lot of work has been put into it. It’s made of Black Ash, I think it is called, which is a pretty funny coincidence but I still wanted it to have a warm sunburst look to it with a little bit of red coming through. I think it looks wicked. I’m pretty happy with it. I like vintage warm and natural, so I am really happy with the look of the thing.
You must be pretty stoked because there aren’t a huge amount of Australian musicians who have a signature guitar.
It’s really cool and I am really stoked. It’s really funny when you have played a million gigs, it’s really enjoyable to get to that level where you’ve been doing it for a long time and you get recognised for that. It feels really good. It almost feels like fate that all of these things are coming in now, that I have come back to Australia with a bit of a rebuild. One of the things I did while I was in Bali was I prepared myself for a new part of my career. I came up through the roots scene of the noughties. I started as a blues player in Melbourne. At that time I’d played a lot of guitar and was keen on the guitar, then I got into the roots scene and focussed a lot more on my songwriting. I kinda thought, I don’t want to be some shredder guitarist, I want to be tasty and be a songwriter. I think over the last few years I’ve looked at my career and thought about where I want to be going forward and I decided that now is the time being older, to go back to treating the guitar with more respect and being more in the guitarist scene. As soon as I did that, the irony of it… in a way it was me accepting my age in a way. Ok, I’m going back to a different phase and the irony of that is that I have felt so much love for my instruments. In the years gone by they were just my tools. I loved them but I didn’t froth. It didn’t excite my like when I was fifteen. Now I feel like I am fifteen again and the reason is that I am practising. I am putting the work in and I have found that it is a funny by-product that the more work you put into your playing, the more love you feel for the guitar and the more enjoyment you get every time you pick the instrument up. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
You are playing our Melbourne Guitar Show in August. Have you ever played a show like that before where there are a lot of musicians in the attendance?
I have done little things that were fairly threatening as a guitarist before. I have done guitar clinics and at Port Fairy I played with the Grigoryan Brothers and Lloyd (Spiegel) and Nick Charles and a few other really good guitarists and that was fairly intimidating as a guitarist. But I am just me. I have my own peculiarities as a guitarist. A big part of me has always been my vocals and songwriting and I think that’s what I bring to my guitar playing. It’s always my intention to talk through the instrument, so I will be enjoying doing that. I just think for me personally, to be there is actually a real honour on that side of the equation and I am just going to be really interested in nerding out completely and plugging into a million pedals and watching different players. I am putting together a bit of a pedalboard that I will be using with a lot of cool analogue pedals too.
Will you be playing some tracks from the new album?
Yeah and the new album is really ‘guitary’. The first single Whispering Voice with Kasey Chambers singing on it is a reworking of an old song that I used to play on my Cole Clark lap steel back in the day and it was really mellow but I reworked it with the band into a dub mix, Hendrix kind of thing. So that was fun to have a fret on, so that will be a good one to play.
Let’s touch on the another project you have coming up, the book …
It’s called Surf By Day, Jam By Night and I am interviewing all of the famous surfers who play music and musicians who surf. I’ve got 14 different people. I flew to LA and interviewed Kelly Slater, who is a really good singer and has some great guitars. I was sitting in his kitchen as he was waking up and I was playing the guitar that Ben Harper gave him, a beautiful Martin signature guitar. We had a jam and he ended up showing me his Les Paul that says Slater on it, SL8R which Pearl Jam gave to him as he jamming with them in front of 60,000 people. This was the kind of stuff that was happening. As the book went on … I interviewed Jack Johnson and a whole lot of really inspiring people. I really started to draw a lot of conclusions about … things like meditating on shred versus style. Things that apply to surfing, they apply to music, they apply to your whole life. Jack Johnson said this great thing … the most stylish guy in surfing going back to the 80s is Tom Curren and that’s Jack Johnson’s hero. He said watching Tom Curren surf is like listening to a BB King solo, where there is nothing frilly, nothing extra put in there but everything is as it should be. What you are hearing is a lot of technical ability but somebody with their ego in control to the level that they don’t have to show you everything they can do. They do what is needed for that passage or part. That’s what we’d call a tasteful player in music or stylish surfer. It borders on a spiritual thing. It’s being so in control of yourself and your ego that you do what is perfect for the moment. I think of Derek Trucks like that and also my traditional heroes like Albert King. What my mission has been lately is to try and get all of those skills into my body, the maximum I can so that I can channel it. It could be something really simple or it could be something really complicated, that’s the journey I am on with my playing and something I kind of learned doing the book. The thing I noticed was that how you do one thing is how you do another thing. Jamming with Steph Gilmore, who is a 7 time world champion surfer, she had really good technique on the guitar and playing some chords that I didn’t know and shredding, playing some more heavier stuff with really good right hand technique. I was like, well why should I be surprised? She knows how to practice, she knows how to get good at stuff. Of course she’d be a such a great guitarist. So that was really interesting.
• You can check out Ash and his signature RBJ-90 Pratley guitar at the Melbourne Guitar Show. August 3&4 Caulfield Racecourse. Ash performs on the Saturday.
• The new single ‘Whispering Voice (feat. Kasey Chambers)’ is out now.
• The album Mojo is released August 30.
• Ash Grunwald’s new label Bloodlines have also acquired the rights to his entire back catalogue, including the ARIA-nominated albums I Don’t Believe, Live At The Corner, Give Signs, Fish Out Of Water and Hot Mama Vibes, plus Ash’s collaboration with The Living End’s Scott Owen and Andy Strachan, 2013’s Gargantua.
• The book Surf By Day, Jam By Night to be released in August (via Pantera Books).
1 Hammer (feat. Terry Evans)
2 Ain’t My Problem (feat. The Teskey Brothers)
3 Waiting Around To Die (feat. Joe Bonamassa, Josh Teskey & Ian Collard)
4 Whispering Voice (feat. Kasey Chambers)
5 Human (feat. Mahalia Barnes & Harry James Angus)
6 Trouble’s Door (feat Mahalia Barnes & Kim Wilson)
7 Mountain (feat. Mahalia Barnes)
8 3AM (feat. Harry James Angus & Ian Collard)
9 How Many More Years (feat. Eddy ‘The Chief’ Clearwater & Ian Collard)
10 Whipping Boy (feat. Terry Evans)
11 The Boogie
12 Goin’ Out West (feat. Kim Wilson)
With special guest Jack Botts
TICKETS ON SALE NOW
Friday 4 October
Jive Bar | Adelaide, SA
Saturday 5 October
Howler | Melbourne, VIC
Friday 11 October
Rosemount Hotel | Perth, WA
Saturday 12 October
West Australian Guitar Festival | Perth, WA
* Jack Botts not appearing
Friday 18 October
The Lansdowne Hotel | Sydney, NSW
Saturday 19 October
The Zoo | Brisbane, QLD