10 Q’s with GWYN ASHTON

Gwyn Ashton has a new album ‘Radiogram’ released on 22nd October and has an acoustic album in the works…

1. What are you currently up to?

I’ve been touring a lot through Europe and starting this record label up, Fab Tone Records. I’ve also been immersing myself in graphic design and a bit of photography. I designed and laid out all the artwork for ‘Radiogram’ and recorded it on my mobile studio. We went around to Robbie Blunt’s, Mark Stanway’s and Kim Wilson’s houses to record them. From California to the midlands of England. Don Airey tracked his Hammond part in his home studio. It was fun. I’m working on new songs now for an acoustic album, playing more lap slide and generally creating.

2. Could you take us through the new album ‘Radiogram’?

The principle of the album is quite simple. It harks back to the old days when an album was written, recorded and sequenced as an ALBUM, not just a collection of individual tracks. The new young audience is growing up on iPods with shuffle mode, downloading only the tracks they like instantly which doesn’t allow a song to grow on them – and the best ones can be sleepers. You don’t realise it until you hear it a few times and they can be a little gem that one day you think “Why didn’t I like this before? It’s the best song on the album”. It might take a few years before you realise it and if you didn’t get exposed to it because it was part of an album, you might never hear it and miss out. I don’t like big rock productions that you’ve been hearing over the past 25 years or so. I like the idea of a band playing together in the studio and capturing a sound with a bit of guitar bleed in the drum mics. In fact, we only used ONE drum mic on this entire album and tracked 90% of the vocals live with drums spilling into the vocal mic.

 

 

 

3. How did you get Robbie Blunt and Mark Stanway involved in the new album?

We worked together on a project that went to a school and I did a guitar masterclass with them. We really enjoyed playing together and just took it from there. It was natural. We’ll do more in the future.

4. On the album you have many guests but touring wise it is just a duo most of the time. How do you adopt the songs for the live environment?

I’ve been touring for about nine years with just a drummer. It’s quite invigorating and frees up a lot of space as long as someone keeps the bottom end going somehow, whether it’s a good sounding bass drum or floor tom or my octave pedal. I can do most of this album as a duo but the songs change a little. I think that’s a good thing. Music needs to breathe and you don’t just want to mindlessly recreate your record. If you wanna hear the album, go home and listen to it. I believe in giving the audience something else to listen to. We change feels, keys of songs on any given night. We might enhance the band with a bass player for a while, but I won’t stray too far from being a minimalist. I love the duo format, I play bass with my thumb, but it’s good to change things around to keep it fresh.

5. Has the internet helped you get your music out there or has it in some ways hindered it by websites offering free downloads? Do you still rely heavily on CD sales as opposed to download?

It’s a double-edged sword, technology. On one hand I can get my stuff out there as easily as the next guy, but on the other hand the next guy has multiplied a hundred-fold and there are a bazillion ‘next guys’ competing for the same small space. Then there’s the illegal downloading and sharing and all these kids don’t wanna pay for music anymore. I’m really happy I grew up in a generation of record-buying people and not embracing the industry as a newcomer now because it ain’t nice! Thankfully, my audience is predominately older and still buys shit! Record stores are closing. We sell more on the road, but CDs are really just file sharing. I mean, they’re nothing like a good old-fashioned record, but it’s what it is and we have to go along with it until someone finds a better medium.

6. Would you like to perhaps do a duet album in the future, like for example Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart recently did? If so who would you like to do on with?

I’m open to anything. If it were to be with another guitarist I’d say the guys out there that I like are Billy Gibbons, Ry Cooder, David Lindley or Ben Harper. I don’t like modern blues rock. It bores the crap outta me. It’s over-produced, over compressed and over played. I can’t stand all these fast players with nothing to say. They’re all technically good players but I haven’t heard much that stirs my soul. I also like Warren Haynes. Marc Ford is great. We recently laid down a track in a studio in LA, earlier this year. I think those duets come naturally as certain musicians meet others along the way. I don’t think about it. If it comes along and feels right, I’ll do it.

 

 

 

7. What have been the live highlights so far and why?

There are so many. From chicken-wire fronted stages in Darwin to a gig with Rory Gallagher in Adelaide in 1990, playing with Mick Fleetwood in a seedy Adelaide late-night bar for an hour to last week in Finland when Johnny Winter’s band sat in with me. I was a guest with Canned Heat one night in Germany. My last drummer and I played a gig in Stourbridge one night and the only people in the room were his parents and Robert Plant with his young son. Robert insisted we DIDN’T get a bass player, so I never did!

8. How did you view the current upsurge in all things blues with many new young artists emerging and also a newly launched blues magazine now readily available in UK shops? Anyone out there you’d particularly recommend?

There are a bunch of young UK gunslingers who are proficient players but I don’t think any of them are the blues, really. It takes years to be a real blues player. You need to live a bit of life and suffer. There are some fast players with better technique any of US had when we were that young but the blues isn’t about that. If you called it rock-blues then you have more to choose from. The modern UK blues scene differs radically from the 60s insofar as those players from back then generally came out of the jazz bands of the day, as opposed to the Hendrix and SRV generation of today. The kids now who are emulating Rory or Peter Green need to look back to where THEY got it from. I LOVE the fact that they’re digging this music but it needs to get a little deeper and paying your dues will NEVER be replaced by the internet. The YouTube generation can instantly call up anyone we’d struggle for MONTHS to hear and learn and get wrong! It’s surreal. In the old days you’d hear or see someone play something and you tried to remember what it was and you’d go home and play it and write a song around it but it wasn’t actually anything like what you heard. That made it original and unique. Now it’s more note-for-note perfect copying. I’m not hearing much new. Ian Siegal, Todd Sharpville are doing some great stuff. Kevin Brown. These guys aren’t young, but they’re the real deal. I like the Black Keys and North Mississippi Allstars. Gary Clarke Jnr is fab. Well-Hung Heart are really cool, too. The magazines Classic Rock Blues, Blues Matters and Blues In Britain are all good for the industry and need support to keep them running and promoting the blues in the UK. The last thing anyone should do is think of them as being in competition with each other. They all have their place and enhance the audiences listening.

9. What made you want to start making music and who have been your musical influences?

In 1969 my brother had a guitar that he wouldn’t let me touch so I just sat and looked at it. Three years later, after not forgetting it for ONE DAY, I got one for myself. George Harrison, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly were my first heroes. Then the Australian guys Chris Finnen, Ian Moss, Kevin Borich. Then came Billy Gibbons, Rory Gallagher, Roy Buchanan, Jeff Beck, Richie Blackmore and so on. My friends would turn me onto all this great music. I’d go round their houses and listen to their records.

10. What do you enjoy doing in your time away from music?

There isn’t any. Music takes up my entire life. I’m more obsessed now with the guitar than I was in 1972 and that’s saying something!


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