It took five years for Ash Grunwald to create the album we now know as Mojo. Five long years of traveling, touring, writing, recording and activism work. There’s little that Grunwald hasn’t done on the journey that led not only to Mojo, but also his first book: Surf by Day, Jam by Night.
Originally set to be his American debut, much of Mojo was recorded in Los Angeles in 2015 with producer Brian Brinkerhoff. Over two weeks Grunwald recorded with a variety of experienced blues artists, including the late Terry Evans.
“The Terry Evans [collaboration] was amazing” Grunwald recounted. “Terry Evans isn’t the biggest name on the album and not even a name that people in Australia may even know.”
“He’s the amazing African-American vocalist on the first song Hammer and on Whipping Boy and on a few other songs in the album. He [was] an older guy, he’s not with us anymore unfortunately, from Mississippi and he just bought that authenticity to my music. I felt so honoured to have him on there.”
Tragedy struck when Grunwald returned to Australia, however, with Brinkerhoff suffering health issues, and the album that would be Mojo seemed to be lost. 2018 saw Grunwald’s new management find the lost tapes, and he headed to the studio with friend and producer Jordan Power to finish the album.
“It’s a very new era of my music,” explained Grunwald. “It’s just me; it feels like it’s me coming into a new epoch of my career and finding myself in a different way as a musician. It’s more like how I first started playing way before anyone had ever really heard me.”
As well as re-tracking some instruments and adding new songs to record, Grunwald was able to collaborate further, introducing an array of Australian artist to his project including the likes of The Cat Empire’s Harry Angus James, king of shred blues guitar Joe Bonamassa, and Mahalia Barnes, described by Grunwald as ‘the Australian Aretha [Franklin]’.
“Obviously The Teskey Brothers [stood out] on two tracks, they’re on fire at the moment. I used to play solo at this pub in the country and the Brothers used to come see me when they were like 10 years old, busking over the road.”
Some of the tracks from Mojo have appeared in Grunwald’s catalogue before yet have changed dramatically since their first release. Whispering Voice is one such song, appearing 2004’s I Don’t Believe, originally a slide guitar tune, now featuring Aussie legend Kasey Chambers.
“That’s a song that’s really close to my heart that was done ages ago. When you’ve had a career for so long, it’s like the context of certain songs change. After writing the book I just had a lot more perspective and I looked back on that song and it sort of rang true in a different way.”
Despite taking five years to complete, featuring nine collaborating artists and almost never happening at all, Grunwald finds no challenge in bringing Mojo to life live: “It’s one of the easiest to ever play live. It’s just live music. As we speak, I’ve just done my first two shows of the Mojo Album Tour and absolutely loved it. It’s been so amazing. I’ve just enjoyed these gigs so much, more than I’ve ever enjoyed gigs. It’s just something that’s been so long in the making and I just feel like it fits so well.”
Ash Grunwald will appear at Queenscliff Music Festival this November, during which he will also mentor newcomer Cooper Lower through the Alison McKenzie Mentor Program. While on the Surf Coast Grunwald hopes to hit the waves, a passion explored in his newly released debut book, Surf by Day, Jam by Night. “I hope I can [surf] this year, it seems like these days I just end up so busy going from thing to thing. I feel like the further my music goes, the less I get in the water which is really annoying”
“You can do everything, and you can have everything, but you can’t have it all at the same time. So I’m content, and I’ll just surf when I get back.”
When & Where: Halls Gap Hotel, Halls Gap – October 25 and Queenscliff Music Festival, Queenscliff – November 23.
Written by Thom Devereux