When Australian Roots and Blues artist Ash Grunwald showed up at Gibson Guitar headquarters for an exclusive recording with Seatwave.com, I was struck down by his easy going nature and Southern Hemisphere induced tan. Against the London backdrop, the dreadlocked musician was all smiles. His grin widened further when I took him up to the showroom to select his ‘weapon of choice’.
What followed was an interview with an Aussie icon surfing the tail-end of a European tour. After a series of gigs supporting The Cat Empire, Ash had loads to say about his tour-mates, surfing, busking and Belgian beer.
K: What do you think of London?
Ash: I just started coming here this year for the first time and I have really loved it. It’s been really good. I have toured a little but around England. At the start of this tour, I went back to Cornwall and Devon at the start of the tour and I went over to Wales for a gig as well; that’s been really good. I just get along really well with the people.
K: Did you do a spot of surfing in Cornwall?
Ash: I went with a friend. The last time that I went was in the summer; I did surf quite a bit down there. There was one day that was pretty good but the rest of the days we just mucked around. The people down there are really keen on different boards; they are really keen. There’s a really good atmosphere down there.
K: What place in Europe hit the spot for you this time round?
Ash: I do love going to France. One of the gigs that I did with The Cat Empire in Paris was great. They had about twelve hundred people there; it was really fun. Belgium is always good; I really like the people, the beer and the chocolate.
K: What is the vibe like back stage with The Cat Empire? Do you jam at all?
Ash: Not as such but I’ve known those guys for a little while through the festival circuit. They are top fellas – all of them. They’re really friendly. I don’t know why we expect people who are doing really well to be arrogant, but they have no arrogance that may go along with success. They certainly have had a lot of success. I watch them every night and I never get bored because they are the best band – especially live. From doing their support and watching them live, they have definitely become my favourite band.
K: Were you always into Blues?
Ash: As soon as I had musical taste of my own, which is about twelve or thirteen-years-old, I did go down that Blues path – all different kind of Blues though. I just loved Blues, Blues, Blues… electric Blues, heavy Blues and delta Blues. I also got into Hendrix and Cream – all those kind of 60s Blues based rock. There are just little things that I grabbed out of mainstream as well, like the heavy riffs that you find in Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic album by the Chilli Peppers and Rage against the Machine. Just anything that has got that primal vibe; it’s sort of the same as Blues but it’s not Blues. Also, some Hip Hop I like now too. It has got to have that ‘something’ – I don’t know what it is but I look for it everywhere.
K: Do you still have your first guitar?
Ash: I don’t have my very first nylon string guitar but I do have my electric guitar which was a really crap old brand from the 60s; it is basically unplayable. My granddad gave it to me then stole it back off me. I got it back when he died.
K: It’s a family heirloom now then…
Ash: Yeah, it is. He used to do funny things like re-build guitars and take then apart. He would rip the frets off one guitar and out them on another and then spray paint it another colour. It means a lot to me as it reminds me of him… so it is really good to have.
K: Have you had a shot at busking?
Ash: I have done a bit of busking over the years. I think that it is really good for your playing – trying to grab people in. I see myself as a busker on stage. I also did a lot of touring around and playing to people that didn’t really want me to hear what I had to play, like in Country towns where everything was really weird and I seemed really weird. I felt like that was busking as well. They were just there to watch the horses or to drink but I was there to win them over like a busker would.
K: Why there are no set lists at your gigs?
Ash: It’s just that busker thing I guess. I’m not really used to it and I don’t really like it very much. I just like to play whatever I feel like, even in radio interviews. I have just got used to the luxury of playing whatever I feel like. It is a bit like a football team really; some songs get dropped and some stay in the side for the next gig.
K: Where do you eventually want to retire?
Ash: I think I will always be travelling. It will probably be in Australia though. It would definitely be based around surf. Byron – in everybody’s view – is a full on paradise. I think somewhere around Byron Bay. It is a fun place to go but some people say it is not a place that you should live. People say, “Oh, I had to get out of Byron Bay. It is the best place to be but even the Aboriginal Tribes – a bloke said to me that the tribes would meet there but no one actually lived there. I think maybe it is a good place to hang-out and re-charge but not a place to stay in too long as you go crazy.
K: What ‘s the most memorable gig you have ever been to as an audience member?
Ash: No one gig sticks out to me. You do get moved when you see something amazing; you froth on it and tell everyone about it but then you move on to something else. At the moment for me, it’s The Cat Empire. There is not a dull moment; it’s party music but it’s still so musical. They are such gifted musicians. The one in Paris – that was an amazing gig.