The release of Ash Grunwald’s new album Trouble’s Door is the solidification of two years of change for Ash personally and a reflection of the shifts in the world around us. Mandy Nolan catches up with him on the eve of his show at the Hotel Great Northern.
How does your new album reflect the changes in you and in your life? Hmm. It’s always hard to see your music, or for that matter yourself, objectively. I think I’m a lot more sure of myself than I used to be. That’s kind of a strange thing to find myself saying because I’ve always had a strong sense of self and my world view hasn’t really changed drastically over the last decade. I just feel a little older and more entitled to throw my 50 cents’ worth in when it comes to social commentary. I feel the same way musically. I’ve stopped second-guessing myself. I have a phrase written on one of my songbooks that says ‘It’s the artist’s job to finish the work, not to judge it’. That tends to clear up creative blockages for me.
As a creative artist, how hard is it to continually push into new territory rather than put your feet up in your comfort zone? It’s a very natural thing for me because I have a very enquiring mind. I think my passion for technological innovation drives me to be continually changing the way I create music and explore sonically.
Is there a thrill of risk every time a new album makes its way into the world? Yeah, for sure. When you get positive feedback it’s more a relief than a cause for celebration. I think most artists are striving pretty hard and we expect that every album should be better than the last. Of course there are always people’s personal reactions to take into account but thankfully (touch wood) the reactions to my albums have been incrementally better with every release. I don’t know what I would do if I did something that was hated! I’d probably be quite depressed for a while, move to Indo and live off past glories.
What were the ideals or objectives you set out with for Trouble’s Door? To make the best album I’ve ever done. For people to like it. I think that’s always the agenda. I hope there is some good-quality songwriting on there. I love making people feel like taking off and living out of a van. That’s a thread that goes through all of my music for some reason. I hope the album also makes rednecks and right-wingers look uncomfortably at their shoes when they hear a few of my little digs at them!
How close did you come to realising those? I don’t know. It’s really in the eye (or ear in this case) of the beholder. I think at the end of the day it has a freshness to it. That’s something I was really looking for. Its also been cathartic in getting some things off my chest that have been percolating for quite some time.
This is a more political album; do you feel that music can make a difference? I think music has the power to influence the way people view the world and in that there is tremendous value. I don’t think now is the time for musos to hold their tongues, especially when there’re impending atrocities like coal-seam gas mining. I’ve always been acutely aware of my own lack of expertise in political issues and that has held me back in times when, upon reflection, I should have piped up. I guess that’s a confidence thing. Its also good to refrain from comment until you’ve researched things as much as you can. With the fracking though, it seems pretty clear cut. Same with my comments on racism.
What does it take to make people passionate about an issue? Confidence, empathy and the ability to see the big picture. Something that really excites me is the fact that the world is full of people who have those qualities and are putting them to good use. We live in unprecedented times of charity, activism and philanthropy. The results have been amazing yet there is the sense that it may be too little too late when it comes to the environment. I really hope we can get our shit together but it’s pretty difficult when you’re working against big business. All too often it’s David versus Goliath. Invariably the activist is operating on one per cent of the budget of the big company who always seem to have governments on their side. So it can seem all too hard at times, but the flipside is that we have the ability to spread messages virally like never before.
Do you think we’ve all become a bit to blasé or apathetic? Of course, but as we become less preached-to by a few media outlets, there are more opportunities to hear alternative viewpoints. For example, if you get an email from a friend, you’re way more likely to read it and feel accountable for your response than by seeing a biased story about the same issue on A Current Affair.
You have been outspoken re the coal-seam gas issue – what is it about that particular issue that ignited such passion in you? The fact that the changes it makes to our environment are seemingly permanent. The fact that they can just muscle in and just take your land and start drilling. I was shocked to see someone lighting their tap water in America as a result of CSG. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get so much info in such a short time if YouTube didn’t exist. So that’s the flipside I was talking about. We can spread ideas mega-rapidly, as long as we actually give a shit.
As a songwriter, how do you know what to keep, what to ditch? It’s often the toughest thing. Sometimes a song is really ordinary and has its head on the chopping block for a month only to be transformed at the last minute into your best stuff on the album. More often than not a song that starts a bit average ends that way too but you really have to work it to see how it will shine up. I couldn’t say I always make the right call though. Sometimes it comes down to the fact that you just like it and it’s going on, because it’s your album and that’s the way it is. The good thing is that if people don’t like a particular song they don’t hold it against the artist, they just skip it. As long as you have a couple on there that people absolutely love they’ll be into you. At least that’s what I’m like as a listener.
Do you ever have to run it by someone else? Or is it an intuitive thing? Yep, I always run it by my wife Danni, who’s a great sounding-board. I know her tastes, so I can tell if she doesn’t like something because of that or because she’s simply picking up that I’ve done something really lame! I try to stay open and not get too attached to half-finished ideas, but that’s always the hard bit. Fingers Malone was a great sounding-board as he worked producing much of the album.
Tell me what to expect for your Byron show? Well, speak of the devils – it’s Fingers Malone and Mr Cassidy (which is my wife Danni’s band) who will be supporting. I think it will be a super fun night given that this is now my home town and we shot the filmclip here, so it’s a fitting introduction to the Australian album tour.
Ash Grunwald kicks off his national tour launching Trouble’s Door at the Hotel Great Northern on Friday with doors opening 8pm. Tix are $22 plus booking fee at the venue on 66 856 454 or at www.thenorthern.oztix.com.au.