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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
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Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday February 5, 04:31 pm
Our winter is gonna get warmer thanks to this Aussie guitarist

ASH GRUNWALD

Wednesday 18

Vangelis

 

When I reach him for this interview, Australian musician Ash Grunwald is at home in Melbourne, barefoot and wearing shorts, thinking warm thoughts as he prepares to depart for Canada. He’s toured Canada in the depths of winter more than once in the past, so he knows what to expect — but that doesn’t mean he’s ever ready for the chill until it actually hits.

“There’s no preparing me for sub-zero temperatures,” he laughs. “It's a shock to the system. I do Canadian winters without the family, and try to be gone no more than three weeks. It's still a fair amount of time to be away, and honestly, it is hard at times, but that's the gig.”

Grunwald learned to play guitar when he was 10 years old, getting his first electric guitar from his grandfather. His set-up back then was hardly high-tech, he says.

“My first amp was an old ghetto blaster salvaged from a building site. I used to have to start a generator to play.”

Grunwald’s music is clearly rooted in blues, with a swampy R. L. Burnside or Black Keys-style sound, but it’s also a mixed bag of other influences ranging from hip hop to punk. He plays with a band at home, but he’s a one-man show while touring abroad, relying on a stomp box to keep the beat.

Grunwald is a five-time ARIA (Australia’s version of the Juno) nominee, and his music has appeared on the soundtracks to a few Hollywood movies, like Moneyballand Limitless. He’s played the Montreux Jazz Festival and even opened for the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.

“I stood next to [Brown] and said, ‘Hi,’” he says. “Actually, I just realized I've been telling people all this time that I didn't meet him ‘cause we didn't shake hands, but we did say hi before he went on. I had the instructions that I was to call him Mr. Brown if I spoke, but all I got out was 'hi.’ I thought the gig was amazing even though his health was waning. He was dead a year after that.”

Grunwald’s eighth studio album, Now,won’t come out until after this tour is over, but there’s already buzz building around it in a lot of music circles. As his career grows, Grunwald says he’s trying to balancing marketability with maintaining the elements that made him credible in his native country in the first place. Some bands might not want to be compared to a popular act like The Black Keys for fear of losing their own identity, but Grunwald doesn’t see it like that.

“I'm not looking to avoid those comparisons at all,” he says. “For most of my career there have been no mainstream bands that sounded remotely like anything I did. I'm in the happy situation at the moment that bands like The Black Keys, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys and Gary Clarke Jr. are turning people on to the bluesier riffs and vocals. I think it's amazing. I've been doing this for quite a while now, so I'm not worried about whether I'm perceived as copying or anything like that.”

Being a one-man band may be limiting in certain ways, but Grunwald says it can also open up a live show. As just one guy, he can make it flow in whatever direction he feels it needs to.

“I’ve been working on making my solo show as huge as possible for the last decade. It's mainly party-dance-blues but it depends on the venue, the fans, and what takes my fancy in the night. That's the great thing about playing solo.”

 

 

THE PISTOLWHIPS

Saturday 14

Amigos

When I ask The Pistolwhips how merch sales are going these days, they tell me they’re striking a sponsorship deal with Uncle Mike’s All Natural Products, pimping some kind of Pistolwhips soap on their upcoming tour.

“He's a big fan of music and reached out to us,” says Pistolwhips bass player Zach Davies, “so we'll be keeping fresh with his products for the tour."

The ‘whips had a great 2014: their album On Your Side was named Best Album in the 2014 Planet S Best of Saskatoon Readers’ poll, they won a $10,000 Rawlco 10K20 prize, and they recently returned from a stint in England.

“We were well-received,” adds guitarist Paul Kuzbik. “London has a really vibrant music and art scene — from the street art to the fashion to the music — and a lot of people were digging on all kinds of music everywhere we went.”

The Pistolwhips sold out of their merchandise in London, so they’re now restocking prior to taking their bluesy rock strut on tour across Western Canada. And if their new sponsorship agreement is any indication, it’ll probably be the nicest smelling tour van you’ve ever encountered. Assuming you also find the smell of weed enticing, that is.

“Paul’s been known to blaze a little wacky tabacky to help pass the time,” says singer/guitarist Rylan Schultz. “He’s the hippy in the band.”

The Pistolwhips’ fanbase has been steadily growing, thanks to both their recorded product and word of mouth about their kick-in-the-face live set. They each have different ways of preparing to plug in and blast the audience, although all of them seem more well-grounded than the usual rock-star routine of chugging whisky or doing a Tony Montana-sized mound of blow.

“We’re big fans of warming up before we play,” says Kuzbik. “I like to do yoga and eat a really good meal before the show.”

“The adrenaline that starts pumping hours before the show gets me going,” says Davies. “Also, the puking. I get nervous.”

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