This Is Not The End
Author: Izzy Tolhurst
Surf roots bluesician Ash Grunwald has taken his collaboration with The Living End bassist Scott Owen to the next level, inviting the band’s drummer, Andy Strachan, to join them in the studio.
Ash Grunwald and Scott Owen, notorious bass-straddler with The Living End, allegedly forged their friendship and founded a musical collaboration over furlongs of soy sausages. As it happens, their respective wives play together in a band with Kram called Mr Cassidy, so social mingling was inevitable. The first fruit of that friendship saw Owen join Grunwald on a track from his most recent album, Trouble’s Door. However, the speedy acquisition of The Living End drummer Andy Strachan to join Owen and Grunwald on their latest endeavour, has resulted in a full collaborative album, which the boys are about to launch an album via a national tour.
The project and tour preparation is now in full swing, and following the commercial success of their cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, the trio have announced that their debut album, titled Gargantua, will be released late June.
“It has been a truly fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants expedition,” Grunwald admits of the whole process. Particularly the mere six days this band spent at St Kilda’s Hothouse Studios – which boasts a worldclass Neve console, featuring 24 Neve 1073 mic pres, on which albums by AC/DC, Midnight Oil and Rose Tattoo were recorded – to create the album.
Grunwald describes Hothouse as “an Australian Sound City”, referring of course to the documentary directed by Dave Grohl that details the history of Los Angeles’ Sound City Studios. But Grunwald is making specific reference to the Neve 8028 analogue mixing console that the St Kilda studio utilises. Craig Harnath, the longterm owner of Hothouse, also has an overwhelmingly “massive collection of guitars here,” says Grunwald, like a kid in that sort of store. But amidst the multitude of guitars sits a Neumann U47, the microphone apparently manufactured “for the perfect broadcasting of Hitler’s voice”. And it‘s Harnath’s Neumann U47 that Frank Sinatra allegedly sang into when he was here when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and he got in trouble for calling that news reporter a ‘two-dollar whore’, a member of the recording team discloses excitedly.
Several tracks on the album have already been previously released by Grunwald, including Walking and Breakout, both ‘fist in the air’ songs that have been reinterpreted with Owen and Strachan. And throughout the speedy process, Grunwald says he’s “learnt the value of professionalism. Because I’ll tell you, these guys are as tight as a fish’s arsehole.”
But for drummer Strachan, it’s Skywriter, taken from Grunwald’s 2006 album, Give Signs, which speaks most of their experience together. “That song sums everything up for me. The first time we played together was in Geelong and I didn’t know what we were doing… but Ash just said, ‘It goes kinda like this,’ and as he played it we started tracking it, and that’s the final product.”
“There’s no bullshit. That’s the whole thing [about] working with Ash – if it doesn’t sound good and if it doesn’t feel good then don’t do it! It’s kind of where this whole project is at; we’re only doing it because it sounds and feels right. We’re not trying to be anything or anyone else, and we don’t think too much about what’s been done in the past, but rather inject what we feel is required to make it different.”
Smack-bang in the middle of the ten-track album, Gargantua is a cover of Black And Blue, a song by seminal ‘70s Aussie act Chain, who Grunwald jokes were “pretty much Australia’s biggest-ever blues band. They were the panel van driving, VB drinking, wife-beater wearing, going to Sunbury in ’73 kind of riffy ‘70s band.”
But perhaps the most enticing track on Gargantua is Last Stand, a song first composed by Grunwald and his regular producer Fingers Malone as a pitch for the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger film of the same name. And while it didn’t gain Grunwalda film credit, his wife was persistent that the song be included on the trio’s album, saying, “Do that Arnie song! It’s catchy, and evil and heavy!” the dreadlocked singer recalls. “Then I realised we really should. And it’s probably one of the rockiest tracks on the album.” Running through the analogue Neve desk to get that essential warmth, the album tracks have gone through Hothouse’s ProTools HD3 Accel system on Mac Pro with 24 96k inputs and outputs, the digital part of the process allowing for the speed necessary to get the whole thing done in the six days the trio had to deliver the album.