“IF THE BUSINESS SIDE OF IT DIDN’T MATTER, I’D PROBABLY BE A BIT MORE ADVENTUROUS”: ASH GRUNWALD REVEALS THE BIGGEST LESSONS 15 YEARS IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS HAS TAUGHT HIM

In an industry where expression collides with business, how do you keep the passion to play/write music alive?

It can be tough… It really depends on your perspective.  It’s hard not to take it for granted sometimes, that we get to do this for a living, especially when you’ve been doing it for years.

I guess one thing that the business side of things wrecks is that I’m less likely to try the really out there side-projects that have little relevance to my usual music, because they wouldn’t be immediately successful or relatable to my usual audience. If the business side of it didn’t matter, I’d probably be a bit more adventurous. It’s a little harder to justify when it’s your living. It’s a shame because that would keep everything fresher.

Having said that, whenever I do a new album I love being in the studio and writing new songs… actually I wish I could be doing that all the time. But that’s a bit difficult these days with live sales being what they are.

Have you ever come close to leaving music? If so, what prompted it and what inspired you to stay?

Nah, I love it. If I could take a six-month break and just surf all day and not play, and be guaranteed that my career would not falter, I probably would. But then again, I’m based in Bali at the moment for that reason, so there’s enough give and take.

One thing to remember is, just because you’ve had success in a certain area, doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life trying to rekindle, maintain or even continue that career…

We often feel trapped by that success which was, in hindsight, more than you ever expected anyway. I got a lot out of Tex Perkins’ new biography in that regard. Can’t remember exactly how he put it but it was that kind of thing.  

How do you stay true to your vision, in an industry that is filled with opinion?

The good thing is most of the opinions of how shit you are go unheard. You have to somehow find a niche without compromising who you are as an artist. You’ve also got to remember there is some of the old ‘right place, right time’ that plays a factor.

There’s nothing you can do but stay consistent in trying to make great music and being to committed to getting that to as wider audience as possible.

What does the day of a gig right up until stepping on stage look like?

Travel, food, exercise (if it’s a long tour), sleep (if I’m lucky), sound check, food, a couple of drinks, playing, a couple of drinks, sleep, repeat.

What tips do you have in balancing family with music life?

This is hard when it comes to playing overseas, but if you can do two- and three-week tours and keep coming home and having five days at a time with your family it can be balanced – albeit far from perfect.

When you’re away for longer than a month it makes it really tough for everyone. I try to always speak to my family a couple of times a day when I am away.

What do you do to stay physically and mentally balanced? (on and off the road if you are a touring artist)

I try to keep fit and I surf whenever I can. I surf every day at home, and I used to be able to surf every day on the road when played on the coast a lot, but that seems to have fallen along the wayside as things have started going better career-wise. I try to eat healthily… mainly vego with a little bit of fish and I try not to drink too much – but that doesn’t always work out.

How do you carry out the roles of a performing artist during times when you’re feeling sub-par? Be it unwell or emotionally unstable. 

Ha, have a couple of drinks and get on with the job! That’s not really the way to go… I don’t know. Sometimes it’s tough but the people have paid their money and deserve the best show you can do.

As for your ailments, mental or physical, you have to do your best to overcome them and do the best show you can do. I hate it when performers just think of themselves and don’t give the people the best show they can.

What epiphany(s) has altered your approach to music/life?

I have many epiphanies and they usually don’t alter much! Maybe at the start of my career when I heard Ben Harper say he doesn’t practice guitar, he just writes songs. That’s when my focus changed from trying to be good at playing [guitar] to trying to write great songs.

Have you ever experienced anxiety/depression/nervousness around a tour? If so, what are (were) the triggers and how do (did) you manage it?

I’ve had those emotions over crowd numbers. It can be a bitter pill to swallow when the numbers are down. I remember one tour that was selling badly. I wished I could have just made up an excuse to cancel it. You still have to turn up and deliver to those people that have believed in you, but it can give you a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

There’s nothing wrong with playing small rooms, but big rooms that are empty make that gig a torturous 90 minutes to get through, but once you get going you usually have a good time anyway. 

Can you trace your current successes back to any big risks or leaps? If so, what were they?

The decision to use up two credit cards to buy a van and hit the road felt like a pretty big risk back in the day, but I had a strong feeling that it would be fine. Later when I’d had financial success the risk was reversed – it was buying a house and having to have faith that I could meet the repayments playing music. But it was the same kind of deal – I had a feeling it would work out, and it has. I think a bit of pressure to succeed financially actually helps stop natural procrastination.

Help those who are falling and relay an experience you’ve had that landed you flat on your face.

Oh geez, man. I’ve had so many rejections. It’s embarrassing to mention or think of them. I actually try not to. Sometimes, when I get a new opportunity, I don’t get too excited because there’s always a good chance that it will end up not happening.

But the truth is, if you’re not getting doors slammed in your faces, you’re not knocking on doors. The only way to doom your career is to give up. I really beleive that. When it wears people down and they give up, its over. Sometimes you’ve just gotta hang in there. Like for a decade!

What is your philosophy on fear? How do you deal with it?

You should really not let it dictate anything for you career wise, especially when it comes to failure. Aim to fail often, and fail well, as in keep striving and keep learning – easy to say I know.

If you were to wave a magic wand, how would you like to spend your time in the future?

Recording a whole lot, doing sick festival shows, hanging with the family and surfing.

Are there any other wisdoms you’d like to share?

You have to trick yourself a little bit. Aspire, work hard, don’t give up and know at the end of the day, that it’s only a silly game that humans like to play, and you can walk away at any time.

So keep that little thought hiding under the ambition. You don’t REALLY need it, because music doesn’t define you.

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