By Bob Gordon 

Touring in support of his new album, Mojo, Ash Grunwald last weekend made his way to Tasmania. And while it’s the other side of the map, it seems there’s a touch of Bridgetown everywhere.

“I met a bunch of people in Hobart and Launceston who saw me at Blues at Bridgetown back in the day,” Grunwald says. “It was classic! Two couples, actually, who didn’t know each other. They’d moved over to Western Tassie. It’s really beautiful over there, it’s probably a bit of a crossover in terms of getting away from it all.”

That’s just what Grunwald did when he moved his family to Bali a few years ago (they’ve since moved back to Australia). Following a false start to the album that eventually became Mojo, he was at a crossroads and took some time out. It was a move that eventually bore fruit with Mojo as well as his first book, Surf By Day Jam By Night.

Taking Mojo – an album that brought him from a darker place and into a more positive light – on the road has been a joy.

“It’s been really cathartic because looking back it was a dark time, especially in regard to career stuff, because the album was lost,” he recalls. “A guy flew me over to LA to record with the idea being to introduce me to an American blues audience and to have all these special guests and stuff like that. That was such a great feeling… then to have that disappear was very disheartening, and that probably coincided with going to Bali. I was focusing on having a good time and surfing and it seems like the recuperation that I kind of needed.

“So touring it this year, having gotten the album back and recording with The Teskey Brothers, Kasey Chambers, Mahalia Barnes and all the other people that got involved, it ended up being double the album it would’ve been. So it actually worked out for the best.

“Having had that time out now I’m throwing everything into the career stuff just out of the joy of playing. I’m loving it. I was working hard on my playing, but it was so enjoyable, and I was writing a book at the same time. I don’t think I even looked at Netflix at all in 2018 (laughs). I was just working at such a rapid rate, which was really good. And now playing the shows, it’s something that I envisaged while playing the how and doing all that practice.”

With the likes of the Teskeys, Chambers, Mahalia Barnes and Terry Evans (“a one-man Blind Boys Of Alabama,”) on the collaborative album, it has now imbued a whole new energy into Grunwald’s own live performances.

“All these authentic blues guys playing on my music makes it come alive in a completely different way,” he says. “Having a guy like Josh Teskey singing (Ain’t My Problem), then I’ve got to sing his bits live by myself has been really good because he’s an amazing singer and will often sing higher an octave higher than what I would. So that’s been good for my voice.

“Then playing on the song that Joe Bonamassa played the solos on (Waiting Around To Die), it doesn’t get any better than him on blues guitar. So going out after and playing the songs live is a really interesting part of getting special guests on an album.”

Grunwald’s album, book, podcast and Clean Up The Coast initiative are the many ways he reflects hard work and positivity both in himself and for his audience.

“They’re all part of the same thing,” he says. “If I have any one message it’s that I think that when depression and anxiety are at record levels, at the same time matching prosperity being at record levels, we’ve got some serious things to work out.

“I think we’ve got to get on the front foot of our psychology and be excited to change and improve your mindset daily, on an internal level.”

Grunwald’s last Blues at Bridgetown experience was a smokin’ performance on the Saturday night at the Geegelup Stage in 2017. He has, of course, played the festival many times.

“Yeah, I have,” he notes, “and it’s been really different incarnations every time. This one is going to be a bit of a mixture because I have Andy Strachan from The Living End playing drums and Uncle Tio (Xavier Rudd) on bass, so it’s a monster, monster rhythm section and it’s really exciting to play with guys who can just lift it to new levels.

“One of my first ever festival gigs was Bridgetown. Probably 20 years ago. I just came out with my stompbox and two little guitar pedals and away I went. It was magical.”

Ash Grunwald performs at 9pm on Saturday, November 9, at the Geegelup Stage.