Look out, Skrillex – roots guru Ash Grunwald is dabbling in dubstep and bass-heavy beats on brand new album, ‘Trouble’s Door’, and he’s got the US mega-star in his sights.
“Yeah, I was a bit worried that some people might be turned off... But I just ended up doing it anyway,” chuckles Grunwald while reflecting on his surprising decision. “It’s not like the whole album is dubstep or anything, though – there are elements of it. I love what Skrillex does – with a lot of his tracks, I’ve noticed how he uses samples from mainstream, poppy music, which is stuff that I would never listen to in a million years, but then he’s got these drops that are so huge and menacing! It’s really sonically powerful stuff. As a producer of music, a recording artist and as somebody who just loves sonic ‘phatness’, I get really excited when I hear it.”
Describing himself as a “bass addict”, Grunwald says he’s been playing around with new gadgets in the studio, while next on his agenda is developing his DJing skills. That’s right, forget the ‘singer-songwriter’ title, Grunwald is increasingly immersing himself in technology.
“I’ve actually got this DJ set-up going on in my live show,” he reveals. “When you see the show, I think it’s going to be very different. I’m using a lot of beats throughout, I’m almost DJing my own beats from my own album and into my own set. I’ve been mucking around with that and playing a bit of the organ as well, getting the dubstep wobbles happening, getting into the evil basslines – it’s been super fun!”
Grunwald’s fans aren’t likely to be the only ones surprised by the new musical direction on ‘Trouble’s Door’ – the singer claims he’s often as taken aback at how much his tastes and recording approach have changed in the decade since releasing his first solo album, ‘Introducing Ash Grunwald’.
“On the [new] album there is a song called ‘180’,” he points out. “It’s a bluesy song about some things that I used to think back in the day, which I now think of in an opposite way. It’s a song about change. For example, I never ever thought that I would ever use a synth – I hated synthesizers and now I absolutely love them. I used to hate multi-tracking for my own stuff, the layering, laying different things on top of each other ... I used to be all about the raw studio process – what you see is what you get. That’s how I pretty much recorded the majority of my first album, I mixed the whole thing in one day.
“These days, I spend months of painstaking work. I’ll do tracks with 150 layers. I’ve evolved a lot and I’ve realised how important change is, it’s what inspires you.”
A self-confessed lover of the album-making process, Grunwald laments that records as we know them are quickly going the way of the cassette tape. It’s a sad state of affairs, according to the singer, but more and more it’s becoming obvious that longplayers are simply becoming obsolete.
“I would be very sad to see the demise of the album, which I believe will probably happen,” he says. “I just don’t think people will buy albums anymore. I think they’ll buy singles and songs on their own, but just the notion of selling any kind of music is slowly deteriorating. For someone like me, I’ve been a DIY muso all my life, so I’ll miss immersing myself in the whole album-making process.
“Spotify is probably a good indication of things to come. My Spotify stats that I’ve just recently found out are interesting to say the least... I’ve been on it for a couple of months now overseas and I’ve had 29,517 people stream my tracks, but I’ve only actually sold 11 tracks. I’ve made a grand total of $180 so there you go. I’d be a rich man if that was the amount I actually sold.”
Not that Grunwald isn’t living the good life at the moment. International iTunes sales have seen the roots musician “making good money overseas”, while the general lifestyle of the musician has meant Grunwald is far from bored, with a satisfying family life (wife and kid) providing a sense of security. Nevertheless, the troubles of the world are never far from his mind, hence the title of his new album.
“It’s an interesting contrast about me,” Grunwald admits. “Most of the time I am surrounded by sunshine and surfing; I’m having a good time on the road, I’m happy, I’ve always been that guy who’s into having a party and dancing around.
“Music has been very good to me and I’ve seen the world because of it. I’ve got a cool set-up at home, a nice house, a kid and a wife... But in the back of my mind, there are things that still concern me very much as a human being. A lot of that came out in this album. Remember those ‘80s sci-fi films like ‘Robocop’ and all the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies set in the future where the world is run by a government corporation? Well, it seems more and more that’s actually coming true. Our only ethic seems to be money; capitalism seems to be more pronounced each year.”
The system just doesn’t work, as Grunwald states, and nobody’s quite sure what to do about it, including the singer himself.
“I don’t know how it could be fixed!” he laughs. “The capitalist model isn’t working but it’s the only model we have. I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a buck, but when it’s rampant and there are little backroom groups that gradually get big enough to influence government policy, bad things happen. It’s why we’re still using fossil fuel. In the ‘90s they had electric cars which were perfectly functional and people started using them, then they took them back and crushed them once Bush got in power. What do we do about it? Well, you’d need a radical change, like you’d need a government that is like the Dalai Lama, someone who is incorruptible! But it’s not all bad, I think technology has helped us become a much more democratic society than ever before. We can get in touch with one another so easily and if something really matters to the community, we can get enough groundswell to support it. The album also hits out at rednecks a few times, which is something I’ve always wanted to do but never really found the right excuse! I’ve always wanted to be seen as the ‘party guy’ and not get involved in that kind of stuff, but once you’ve met an idiot one too many times – people who hate on refugees when their own forefathers came to Australia on a boat – you can’t hold back anymore. So the album is not all doom and gloom, but it does take a look at some serious issues that I think everybody should be concerned about.”
Ash Grunwald plays the Hi-Fi June 15 and the Coolum Civic Centre June 16. ‘Trouble’s Door’ is out now.