Ash Grunwald has never been a man for simplicity, but one of Australia’s most mutli-talented blues artists is heading back to his roots on his latest tour.
The 37-year-old Melbourne native has made a career out of fusing modern production styles lifted from hip hop and electronica into a sonic backdrop of roots and blues. But following the release of his seventh studio album, 2013’s Gargantua, Grunwald decided to step back from his usual maximalist approach, relying not on loops or effects pedals during his live shows, but on a stripped down sound that harkens back to his musical foundations.
“I have this desire to do something original and new in the genre. For a long time that manifested in experimentation, using loops and different beats live, but I’ve actually gotten away from that on this tour. I’ve gone back to a more organic approach,” he explained. “I want to keep it breathing. I sort of missed that old thing I used to do years ago where every song was different and every gig was different every time you did it.”
While he admits he couldn’t leave his loop pedal at home for the tour, Grunwald has yet to bring it out on stage, instead peppering his solo performances with only a slide and electric guitar, harmonica and kick drum. The pared down sound was inspired in part by recording Gargantua with one of Australia’s best rock rhythm sections, Scott Owen and Andy Strachan from punk trio The Living End. It even led to Grunwald doing something he hadn’t done in years: practicing.
“I’ve spent the last decade playing bass and drums when I’m playing solo and doing simple lead lines and stuff at the top, so when I played with a good bassist and drummer, there wasn’t anything left for me to do, so I had to go more to the traditional role of a guitarist,” he said. “I felt like I had to come up to the mark a little bit, and it was just so fruitful. I actually picked up the guitar and had a bit of a practice so I could shred on the guitar on that album Gargantua, which was stuff that I sort of shied away from in my recording career. Sometimes mixing it up means doing things a little more traditionally.”
Mixing it up has paid dividends for the festival favourite, with Grunwald earning his first taste of mainstream attention in 2013 with the release of his cover of Gnarls Barkley’s single, Crazy. While his bluesy take on the 2006 smash hit was played on commercial radio stations across Australia, Europe and North America, it didn’t equate to instant stardom for the dreadlocked songwriter, who continues his workman-like approach to recording and touring.
“It’s funny, the commercial plug didn’t really make me have more or less people at my gigs on the tour, which was a shock to me actually,” Grunwald said. “I always think to myself, ‘Oh, I’ll be finished next year.’ Music’s a bit more of a plug than I think any of us realize at times. Some people have stardom straight away, but for me it’s been a very gradual rise, and it does go up every year.”
The regular Whistler performer and avid snowboarder hits the GLC Friday (Feb. 21) at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance at the venue or online at www.whistlerblackcomb.com. $20 at the door.