"To be open-minded with all types of music and to draw from everyone. Having your own voice in this is the most important factor. You have to sound like YOU, not just copy your heroes and sound like a derivative of them. Be intelligent with your lyrics, kick ass on whatever instrument you play, dominate the room and be entertaining. They want a show and when I come to town, they’re gonna get rocked!"
Gwyn Ashton: The Man And His Mojo
Gwyn Ashton has just released 'mojosoul', the 10th album of his career, on Fab Tone Records, 50 years to the day that he started playing guitar. The UK-based musician, former Virgin Records France artist and South Australian Music Hall of Fame inductee has toured in over 30 countries. He’s a storyteller who shifts from the personal to the acerbic and belatedly to the introspective, while his acoustic guitar playing is his best ever, illuminating the light and shade of his songs. Armed with a 1930 National Triolian, a D28 Martin, Gretsch 12-string acoustic guitar, a vintage Harmony H-75 and some fuzz for the only electric track on the album, Ashton provides the perfect accompaniment to well-crafted songs occasionally beefed up by his foot drums and blues harp.
(Gwyn Ashton, UK-based musician and South Australian Music Hall of Famer / Photo by Sue Hedley)
“mojosoul” is Ashton’s versatile take on the blues, a musical journey that stretches the genre from acoustic folk to ragtime, swampy supercharged boogie and delta blues. This 10-song set offers plenty of contrast, subtle dynamics and, as his label name suggests, plenty of sumptuous tone to fill his mojosoul canvas.
How has the Blues and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
As I travel this planet, I play to a lot of people who really love music that’s played with conviction and from the heart. There’s so much computer-generated music out there on mainstream radio that I see as just beats with not a lot of substance and terrible lyrics. That’s ok as background “muzak” or for dancing but to make a real connection with people I feel you have to touch on subjects that they can identify with.
Everyone loves a musician who can take them on a journey through their music. It’s like folk musicians from yesteryear. It takes their minds off their reality which may not be a very happy one. I think my job is to bring some happiness into people’s lives for an evening. When I make people happy, it makes me feel like I’ve done a good job. On my new album 'mojosoul', I like to think that I've developed into a better solo performer. I'm playing all the drums with my feet and it's a pretty funky album.
How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?
As you go through life, paying your dues, your music should develop as you do as a human and as an artist/writer. You learn from experiences of your own and see into other people’s lives. I like to think that my lyrics and subject matter mature, as well as my playing. What has remained basically the same is my hunger to create new music, record it and to go on the road and play live.
It’s always important to come up with new fresh ideas but to take it on the road and play for the people is where I can see it can change people’s lives and that’s what I’ve always strived to do.
I think it’s because it’s raw and soulful. Fads and trends come and go but timeless roots music is something that anyone of any race and ethnicity can identify with. Music transcends language and barriers.
"I don’t really have fears for the future. There are a lot of great artists keeping it alive. I’m just one of them who got turned onto this music at an early age. If there were to be one thing it would be if I couldn’t tour my music around the world because of lockdowns, fuel crisis or anything else that would stop a touring circuit." (Photo: Gwyn Ashton)
What's the balance in music between technique and soul? Where does your creative drive come from?
I love learning new things and being inspired by other musicians that I see. You get ideas off everyone, you just have to open your ears and mind to all genres. Developing new techniques is a challenge, you just have to make it sound musical and relevant to the song. It’s equally important to play well and grow as a musician as it is to create music that touches the soul. My drive comes from continually trying to say something different and try not to repeat myself too much. It’s very difficult but I try my best to accomplish these things.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
The old blues records were guitar-dominant and that’s how I believe blues music sounds the best. They were dirty and lo fidelity. The sound of tape saturation and a band playing together in the studio, feeding off each other. This was music played loud and dirty. I love it. Even the old black delta blues guys had this earthy dirt in their playing that is so hard to recreate.
As technology develops it’s tempting to use it all. For instance, I was saying to someone the other day that my favourite records from the 50s and 60s sound different because of the limitations of the equipment in the studio. Engineers had to bounce the drums down to two tracks which made the guitars sound really fat on top of them.
Nowadays you have over 100 tracks to put things on where in the old days it was between four and 16 tracks. This means every drum has a microphone and they get these huge drum sounds which means there’s not much space left for the guitars to be in the mix and to ME modern production doesn’t turn me on so much. I like three microphones on the drums and treat them as one instrument. You can still get great sounds out of that setup AND make the guitars forward.
I don’t really have fears for the future. There are a lot of great artists keeping it alive. I’m just one of them who got turned onto this music at an early age. If there were to be one thing it would be if I couldn’t tour my music around the world because of lockdowns, fuel crisis or anything else that would stop a touring circuit.
"As I travel this planet I play to a lot of people who really love music that’s played with conviction and from the heart. There’s so much computer-generated music out there on mainstream radio that I see as just beats with not a lot of substance and terrible lyrics. That’s ok as background “muzak” or for dancing but to make a real connection with people I feel you have to touch on subjects that they can identify with." (Photo: Gwyn Ashton, the UK-based musician and South Australian Music Hall of Famer)
What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?
I want to keep creating and exciting people. Times change and different music becomes popular but to turn young people onto this music is important. A lot of them have never seen a band or artist before and I REALLY like it when people say “I never liked this music before I saw you playing it’’ and it happens nearly every night that I tour. Then I know I’ve spoken to someone and captured their soul. It’s important that blues music stays around but it’s also important for it to develop into blues music of NOW and this generation. It can’t get stuck in the past and you need to address subjects of this generation. Then young people will get it.
Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?
Absolutely. I play a lot of venues that aren’t always music places. They might have cover bands or background singers and when I get to town, I try to give them a show they won’t forget. It’s easy to win over a crowd that is already into this music but it’s sometimes more rewarding to break through to people and change their lives. Since going solo, I get a lot more young people telling me that they appreciate what I do and that’s a real good thing. Some musicians don’t push as hard as I do. I slam it in their faces! I’m not a “background guy”. They’re gonna know that I’m in the room!
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
To be open-minded with all types of music and to draw from everyone. Having your own voice in this is the most important factor. You have to sound like YOU, not just copy your heroes and sound like a derivative of them. Be intelligent with your lyrics, kick ass on whatever instrument you play, dominate the room and be entertaining. They want a show and when I come to town, they’re gonna get rocked!
(Gwyn Ashton / Photo by Sue Hedley)
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