Ash Grunwald on dealing with demons, the importance of keeping the mind fit and why he believes that the worst crimes are legal Ash Grunwald is an Australian blues veteran who has released eight albums and has been nominated for six ARIAs and three APRAs. In this short interview we sat down with Ash and talked about his songwriting, how being proactive about your state of mind can positively affect your mental health and also the current affairs of Australia’s concerning political and social issues.
Aware: How long have you been in music and where did it all start off?
Ash: I started playing guitar when I was 10 and I’m almost 40 now. I’ve been playing music live for about 15 years, and it was 2001 when my album was first available on shelves of CD stores.
Aware: And what triggered your passion for music? Was it always around you?
Ash: It was just a part of me, always there. It wasn’t a career ambition. I didn’t think it was very possible, or it just didn’t occur to me that it could be possible. It seemed so far away, being a professional musician. I never really thought ‘hey, that’s what I’m going to do’ but I guess every kid picks up a guitar and dreams of doing that kind of thing.
Aware: So when you put out that first album was it like ‘maybe this could actually be a career,’ or was it just like ‘I want to do this as a career?’
Ash: Already a couple of years before that I had been trying to make it happen. But it was kind of a late start. That was when I was 24, so I didn’t get into it straight after I left school, it took me a couple years to get going.
Aware: Can you tell us a bit about the song, ‘Dolphin Song,’ and exactly what happened there?
Ash: That was kind of, as far as I’m concerned, a true story. But as the story goes it’s the dude who was with me that saw the shark. Then we were suddenly surrounded by dolphins and were shepherded in, so we pretty much understood that we were rescued. I had the experience and it was a total spin out. In the car on the way home I asked him ‘are you sure you didn’t just mistake a dolphin for a shark?’ ‘No way man.’ Then I heard the same story told to me at a party and I thought ‘that’s the same thing that happened to me’ and I just thought well, I’m just going to have to write a song about it. It was one of those funny ones where it came out straight away and it’s still requested to this day. Even at first when I wrote it, I had this inkling that it would be. I thought, quite arrogantly, ‘this song is going to annoy me because people are going to be requesting it for ages.’ But it worked out, so it’s a good thing.
Aware: Your sixth studio album, Trouble’s Door, you have said is your most personal album to date. As seen in the song ‘Troubles Door’, it has sort of a darker feel to it. You’ve said the song is about dealing with demons. What are some demons you’ve had to face, either around that time or recently? And has making music like that in Trouble’s Door helped in the process of facing those demons?
Ash: I think at the time, I needed to rein myself in a little bit. It was probably too much of the touring around, playing music and it just being a constant party scene. Drinking and carrying on, just living that lifestyle. That’s really what I was writing about. Also though, I can’t remember when I wrote it, if I was actually referring to this, however it’s a constant ongoing thing for me. There’s this chatter that’s going on in your mind that takes you to dark places. A lot of questions, a lot of insecurities and paranoia. So much negativity in your mind just running crazy. I think we all deal with that. So many of my songs over my whole career of songwriting include those sorts of things. Always dealing with that issue of trying to control your mind and finding different ways to be as happy as you can be. I don’t think it’s as easy as people think. Often we don’t even think about making your mind a happy, healthy, cool place for you to be, we think that it just happens. To a certain extent it does, but you don’t get super fit from just sitting around doing nothing. And you don’t get your mind fit and ultimately as happy as you can be from just sitting around mentally. There’s certain things that you need to do to work at that, enhance your habits and work out your shit.
Aware: So did creating music help towards that or were you just putting out what you felt at the time? Or was it other things that made your mind more fit?
Ash: I think it’s a bit of both. Music can be a kind of therapy for the songwriter but I think more, it’s usually just a statement of where the songwriter is at. Still, my latest album Now is about dealing with a lot of those same kind of issues and working your stuff out.
Aware: Like a lot of your previous albums, the album Now has a lot of political and social commentary. For instance in ‘River’ or ‘The Least Among Us’. What social change movements do you find to be the most important right now for Australian society and why?
Ash: It’s so wide ranging. It’s too hard to try to distill it down to just one thing. It’s not just one thing, because there’s so many different issues. I was going to say we’re at a time but it’s been like this for a long timem that money is the biggest factor in the decisions that are made at a government level or a social level. I feel like we’re not even necessarily in a democracy that represents what we want from life, but we’re more in a ‘Corporatocracy.’ The government’s there to do the bidding of the big business and there’s people to lobby the government so that they can get what some multinational company lobby wants and thats how its set up. It’s a system of dividing up trade and exactly like that. I think it’s naive to think that governments are just there, looking after everybody and here to help us all the time. In some cases, yeah. It’s the same way a farmer needs to provide water and grass for the cows to keep them alive but at the same time they’re still farming that animal. Sometimes I feel like across a whole range of issues, that’s the root cause of what does go wrong. It’s the whole thing about how the worst crimes are legal. If something is legal, it just means that somebody pushed for that law to be brought in. For me I’ve been really into trying to stop, especially in my area, the whole fracking thing. That’s a great example – its all legal, yet people have been poisoned, they’ve ruined the water supply forever, and all these catastrophic things have happened. But its legal, and landlords pretty much have to leave. If they protest, a cop, which they’ve paid for because they’re the taxpayer, will rip them off and take them to jail or whatever. All legal, and all wrong.