COLLABORATIVE: For the first time in his 20-year recording career, blues and roots artist Ash Grunwald worked with co-writers on his new album Shout Into The Noise.
THERE was a time where Ash Grunwald literally sold CDs out of the boot of his car.
Armed with a guitar, stomp box and his thundering blues voice, he'd travel Australia performing his DIY craft without management or a record label. It was as grassroots as it gets.
It was the mid-2000s and Australia's independent blues and roots scene was thriving thanks to the popularity of the John Butler Trio, as the likes of The Waifs, Xavier Rudd, The Beautiful Girls and Grunwald followed in their footsteps.
"At that stage it was this beautiful sweet spot where you could get really big just doing that, too," Grunwald says from his home studio at New Brighton, before it was inundated in the recent Northern NSW floods.
"You had your independence and did whatever you felt like. It was cool."
The ARIA Award nominee spent eight studio albums as an independent artist and built a solid career off the back of it, until he joined Mushroom's Bloodlines label for his 2019 record Mojo.
The record features co-writes with pop songsmiths Fergus James, Bostock (Mansionair), Joel Quartermain, Edwin White (Vance Joy, Jack River), Andy Hopkins (Hauskey), Kyran Daniel (G Flip, Gretta Ray), Sammi Constantine (Evie Irie, Jaguar Jonze), and Cam Nacson (Cxloe).
"I've never done anything like this," Grunwald says.
"I used to hear stories of people doing 20 or 30 demos and picking the best songs and I used to think, 'wow that's so luxurious, who would ever be so pro?'
"I used to just go in and make it up on the spot in the studio and that was the album.
"It's been good late in my career to have this realisation that you don't have to be in the DIY wilderness forever.
"That served me well for a long time, but it's served me now to actually be working with other people a lot more. This album is collaborating a lot and using people who have skills I don't have."
Like all musicians, the pandemic has been a difficult time for Grunwald.
In early 2021 he drove around Australia playing small shows like he did in his formative years, but as the COVID vaccine was slowly rolled out and the states adopted different rules, Grunwald's frustrations peaked.
After being denied entry to Queensland to play the Milbi Fest in Bundaberg last October due to border police not accepting his vaccine medical exemption, Grunwald wrote on Facebook: "I'm not anti-vax but I am absolutely pro choice and completely dumbfounded by the mandates and the divide that is happening in our country. We need to stick together and demand our freedoms back."
Grunwald's comments, which also included blaming various levels of government and mainstream media for creating fear surrounding COVID, were met with a mixed response by fans.
COVER: Shout Into The Noise is Ash Grunwald's second album on Mushroom's Bloodlines label.
Some like Newcastle folk musician, James Bennett, expressed support for Grunwald, while others described the post as disappointing.
With Australia's state borders finally fully reopened, Grunwald is hopeful the divisions caused by COVID are behind us.
"It's just the arbitrary nature of the rules, the fact it's different in every state," he says. "There's no coordination. It's been a difficult time, it really has.
"I know in a lot of countries they're dropping a lot of this stuff and I think Australians are really keen to have normality back."
The upheaval the pandemic caused to the music industry provided the inspiration for the title track.
Bostock suggested the lyric "shout into the noise" when discussing the way musicians were forced further onto social media through livestreams, for example, to maintain relevancy without gigs.
"Shout into the noise and tell them all how good I'm doing," Grunwald says. "It's trying to make yourself bigger than you are or feel.
"I think it applies to everyone because the way social media works everybody is projecting this thing of how their life is awesome.
"So they're their own spruiker or little media agency whether they know it or not. It's quite funny."