Here’s Ash at The Gov in Adelaide during our afternoon soundcheck. I always have a wistful feeling when I arrive at a club in the bright afternoon light to load in the gear and have a soundcheck. The people who will come see the show later that evening are still hours away, off in lunchtime mode somewhere. Many don’t even know yet that they’ll be at the show. Clubs have a skeleton crew – sometimes only one person – there to let us in. Gradually other staff start wandering in, turning on lights, stocking the bar, pulling chairs down off tables. Most clubs and theatres – even the best of them, tend to have a peculiar sour smell whilst empty. Floors are oft sticky. Posters and piles of fliers, handbills, are in piles all over the joint, their colours gaudier. I don’t drink booze these days, so routinely finding myself in a ‘morning after’ bar scene in the bright light of day really revolts me sometimes. But it’s part of my job. During today’s soundcheck Ash
and I dropped some knowledge on each other; I fiddled with the setup of Ash’s drum kick pedals so that they were way easier for him to play, and then we plugged my Asher lapsteel into his Roland VG-99 guitar synth, whereupon he fiddled with the knobs to transform my instrument into a sitar, an organ, a guitar in an open G tuning with cheesy synth pads floating behind it. It could be set up make my lap steel sing harmonies using a voice I sampled. Endless possibilities. It’s sort of silly that I don’t own a guitar synth yet considering that I probably own one of the few lap steels in the world that is equipped to communicate with one. Anyhow. Fiscal prudence is ruling the day at the moment. The show itself was enjoyable, despite the fact that my backing tracks died a sudden death in the middle of my last song. The tracks were being triggered from Ash’s iPod, because mine had been stolen. I literally killed Ash’s iPod in front of a live audience. Not
ideal. People were great anyway. During Ash’s set, I sang with he and Benny during a few songs which was a blast. I love those guys. I’m impressed by Ash’s unflagging dedication to the life of a travelling musician. And I’m impressed by the sheer positivity of his music. I’m impressed by his ability to sing with the projection of a 400-lb black woman. This tour was physically and mentally challenging for me – jet lag has always had the effect of scrambling my brain in an existential blender, and this time the jet lag was paired with illness and wintery weather. I felt like a vaguely agonized but dutiful robot for most of the trip. The first robot with a runny nose. But that aspect is already fading away, replaced by the more vivid and meaningful hues of the experience – Cass and I singing vocal harmonies on the fly during Ash’s set in Jindabyne, hours and hours of conversations in the van and in hotels and restaurants about science, futurism and
consciousness, the fascinating mutations in store for recorded and live music, the spiritual and athletic dimensions of surfing, the texture of daily life in Brooklyn and Bells Beach and Manly and farmland Western Australia and Vancouver and a remote island in the Pacific, and other places we’ve lived at various times. Then there are the people I get to know at shows, where it sometimes feels like a bit of psychic DNA is exchanged even in a four minute exchange or a handshake. One of the conversations the boys and I had was about how the life of the musician forces one to stay very open to the world and the people in it. The life of a professional musician lacks many of the rituals and protections – financial, geographic, psychic – that other professions offer. Artists commit to being set afloat on the high seas, subject to both seasickness and soaring beauty. Goodbye once again, Australia. Next time I’m coming in the Summertime.

(On Australian tour with Ash Grunwald.)

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