A&E » Music

A return to roots and a need to speak out

Australian bluesman Ash Grunwald goes back to music basics and turns political to fight fracking



Bluesman Ash Grunwald, a contender for Whistler's favourite recurring Australian (non-resident category), is in Margaret River in West Australia, knocking back a Red Bull for the sake of our interview.

It's 7 a.m. there and the singer-songwriter had a late night of performing, he needs the caffeine injection.

Grunwald makes it to Whistler every year and his latest performance is at The Garibaldi Lift Company on Friday, Feb. 21. He says "the mind boggles" when it comes to adding up the number of times he performs at the resort.

He's well known here, with a snowboard under one arm and a guitar under the other.

"I love Whistler. I love B.C. in general. I'm just basically playing a three-week tour in the area," he says, but it's not to escape the Aussie heat. "It's to just keep building something in Canada. It's an adventure with a very beautiful vibe."

Musically speaking, Grunwald's current extended tour is a "back to roots" moment for him, taking him to his blues beginnings.

"It's a great direction for me to go in for a while and culminating in an album. I probably stopped doing this sort of music about five years ago. Instead of incorporating hip hop beats (his work in recent years), this is still a heavy stomping vibe — but it's 100 per cent organic."

What does an organic version of Ash Grunwald look like? Aren't you already firmly in that camp?

"It's the meat and potatoes of what I do... It looks like me sitting down and using a kick drum and then a snare drum with the other foot to get the percussion going. It's more by memory than by feel. I've just done three shows like that and it's so much fun because they've gone in unexpected directions," Grunwald says.

"But because of this I've also had moments where I've played riffs and thought that it's cool and I could make a song out of it but then it's gone. I guess that's the danger but I like it because every night is different."

Last summer, the album Gargantua came out, a three-piece rock offering made with Scott Owen and Andy Strachan of The Living End. Grunwald is now following that with demo work, but hopes to have a new album by the end of the year.

The Last Stand, the single from the album, was particularly close to his heart as he wrote it as part of his opposition to fracking near his home on the outskirts of Sydney. He has interviewed people living closest to Australia's gas fields and found many, particularly children, are impacted health-wise.

"Now I do that song every single night. I'm very much in the camp of mega-against and we have, in all our little suburbs, 93 per cent of people against it. There is very much a feeling that there is no democracy and the worry is that it means nothing to the government, that governments are there to facilitate business for corporations rather than protect people.... It's pretty scary."

Grunwald sees it as part of a wider attack on Australia's wilderness; he mentions coal and gas shipping through the Great Barrier Reef. Given the debates in British Columbia about fracking and shipping oil through the Great Bear Rainforest, this sounds familiar.

"It's divide and conquer," says Grunwald. "We know that fossil fuels are wrecking the world anyway, in the best-case scenario, but this is the worst way of extracting fossil fuel and they're going for it!"

Grunwald says he wasn't particularly political before becoming wrapped up in his concerns about fracking.

"Yes, it was a kind of awakening. I like to be progressive and logical. But I thought that wasn't my role to espouse too many of them, in an interview like now, I would never do that.

"But this goes beyond just expressing an opinion. I feel like I am bolstering something."

Advance tickets are $15 from www.whistlerblackcomb.com or $20 at the door.