Australian Musician Interview
Ash, there’s a lot happening for you this year with the new album Mojo coming out, you’re playing our Melbourne Guitar Show, you have a new signature guitar coming out and a book. How’s your headspace with all of that about to happen?
Fantastic. Really good because the album is five years in the making, the book took up a lot my life last year and this year. The signature guitar is just a pleasure. I feel relaxed. It’s funny because we were living in Bali for three years, it was a time of a lot of rebuilding, regrouping and working really hard on myself, my guitar playing, my physical and mental self. Now I just feel like I am stepping into something that I have been envisaging for a long time.
We’re really excited about this signature guitar. How did the Pratley association come about?
Martin (Pratley) is a really good luthier from up our way. He’s on the Gold Coast and he approached me after giving me a few stomp boxes, which were cool and then he said do you want to start working on a signature guitar? I thought what am I into and what’s right for this phase of my career? I’m a really big fan of big body guitars. I played a Gibson 137 for many years, that was my main guitar. Then I switched over to a Les Paul when I started doing band things. So I’d switch between those two. Obviously I’ve had a lot of guitars over the years but lately I have been playing D’Angelico, a variant of the 335 and that’s a really cool guitar but the chance to design my own guitar is really cool. We wanted to do something classy and cool and then when it hits production … I don’t know what price Martin will put on it in the end but we want to try to make it in such a way that people can afford to own the guitar. If you get too frilly and put things on that might make it look cool, it’s putting the labour up. At the moment it’s all made in Australia and it’s not made somewhere where labour is cheap.
Has there been much back and forth with prototypes?
There’s a lot of back and forth and so far I’ve only just been playing the first one. The idea is that it looks like a classic guitar in the mould of the 335 but with a different shape and a lot more fret access and the neck is designed to be very playable.
What about tone-wise, will you get much variation from this guitar?
I’m probably going to experiment with this a little bit between P90s and humbuckers. Martin makes his own pickups, so there are a few different options. With my tone, I stick to the neck pickup a lot. I like that big round mellow neck tone, especially on the P90s and get my variation from my pedalboard. But I go through phases where I just get the tone through my amp, just loading the front end of the amps and doing the old blues thing with just the volume. That first prototype in my studio is a lot of fun and has a really nice tone. Currently it has two P90s but we’re probably be going to work through one more prototype, maybe two before the Melbourne Guitar Show.
How important was the look of the guitar, the visual design? It has a beautiful colour scheme to it.
I love earthy tones. I’ve got a Les Paul Studio that I keep in Canada that is unfinished completely, it’s just like a raw wood thing and I almost thought that was my perfect Les Paul because I have that earthy side to myself, to my songs and to what I like. I like raw wood so it is a half way point between that and some really fancy ornate guitar that you can see a lot of work has been put into it. It’s made of Black Ash, I think it is called, which is a pretty funny coincidence but I still wanted it to have a warm sunburst look to it with a little bit of red coming through. I think it looks wicked. I’m pretty happy with it. I like vintage warm and natural, so I am really happy with the look of the thing.
You must be pretty stoked because there aren’t a huge amount of Australian musicians who have a signature guitar.
It’s really cool and I am really stoked. It’s really funny when you have played a million gigs, it’s really enjoyable to get to that level where you’ve been doing it for a long time and you get recognised for that. It feels really good. It almost feels like fate that all of these things are coming in now, that I have come back to Australia with a bit of a rebuild. One of the things I did while I was in Bali was I prepared myself for a new part of my career. I came up through the roots scene of the noughties. I started as a blues player in Melbourne. At that time I’d played a lot of guitar and was keen on the guitar, then I got into the roots scene and focussed a lot more on my songwriting. I kinda thought, I don’t want to be some shredder guitarist, I want to be tasty and be a songwriter. I think over the last few years I’ve looked at my career and thought about where I want to be going forward and I decided that now is the time being older, to go back to treating the guitar with more respect and being more in the guitarist scene. As soon as I did that, the irony of it… in a way it was me accepting my age in a way. Ok, I’m going back to a different phase and the irony of that is that I have felt so much love for my instruments. In the years gone by they were just my tools. I loved them but I didn’t froth. It didn’t excite my like when I was fifteen. Now I feel like I am fifteen again and the reason is that I am practising. I am putting the work in and I have found that it is a funny by-product that the more work you put into your playing, the more love you feel for the guitar and the more enjoyment you get every time you pick the instrument up. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
You are playing our Melbourne Guitar Show in August. Have you ever played a show like that before where there are a lot of musicians in the attendance?
I have done little things that were fairly threatening as a guitarist before. I have done guitar clinics and at Port Fairy I played with the Grigoryan Brothers and Lloyd (Spiegel) and Nick Charles and a few other really good guitarists and that was fairly intimidating as a guitarist. But I am just me. I have my own peculiarities as a guitarist. A big part of me has always been my vocals and songwriting and I think that’s what I bring to my guitar playing. It’s always my intention to talk through the instrument, so I will be enjoying doing that. I just think for me personally, to be there is actually a real honour on that side of the equation and I am just going to be really interested in nerding out completely and plugging into a million pedals and watching different players. I am putting together a bit of a pedalboard that I will be using with a lot of cool analogue pedals too.
Will you be playing some tracks from the new album?
Yeah and the new album is really ‘guitary’. The first single Whispering Voice with Kasey Chambers singing on it is a reworking of an old song that I used to play on my Cole Clark lap steel back in the day and it was really mellow but I reworked it with the band into a dub mix, Hendrix kind of thing. So that was fun to have a fret on, so that will be a good one to play.