7 Questions with Mighty Ash
To say Mighty Ash has worked with a wide variety of artists would be a hilarious understatement. He boasts to have been a member of over 25 bands, working with up to 6 at one time doing everything from singing/ rapping to playing a variety of instruments to music production.
Growing up in Sydney’s inner west in the mid 90’s, he studied acting and visual arts during high school while also learning about the fundamentals of Hip Hop. Back then the guys that listened to Hip Hop were part of “the bad crowd.” Beatboxing and freestyling at Newtown train station was a dangerous pastime.
In his late teens he moved to the south coast of NSW where he spent the next 10+ years PURSUING his creative endeavours in a highly artistically fostering environment, working with bands across several musical genres but always holding tight to his ties to Hip Hop.
Just two years ago he returned to Sydney to focus on his career as a solo Hip Hop artist. His music is positive and silly and his onstage presence draws out a unique and colourful character from his energetic personality.
Explain, if you can, the moment you realised that you wanted to become a rapper?
"My father has always been incredibly cultured musically and I was exposed to a great deal of music from a very young age. When I was five I had my own record player and headphones and had started a record collection. I didn’t start performing until I was a young adult and was always jealous that my friends where studying music at school, but looking back I realized I had been studying music my whole life.
I first discovered Hip Hop when my dad sat me down to watch the Run DMC and Aerosmith film clip for the remake of ‘Walk This Way’ in about 1986 and something just clicked.
I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie and read a lot of poetry from that era and began to see how it all tied together. When I left home I was at art school and had found my way into a group of painters and Free Jazz musicians and when I formed my first band I immediately insisted that Hip Hop become part of the repertoire. Since then it has just been a journey of developing my own sound and playing music with as many likeminded people as possible."
How would you best explain your style and what qualities would you say make you stand out the most as an artist?
"Just a little bit on my background; I play a lot of Folk music, Blues, Gypsy, Funk and Soul, and I hope that when I make Hip Hop music some of that comes across. My focus as a Hip Hop artist is very much in the Old School, somewhere between the very early years and the Golden Era, lets say mid eighties and early nineties. I’m into upbeat and positive vibes with a very tongue in cheek approach to sampling and vocal styles. Through music I have managed to remain very immature and I hope to never take things too seriously sound-wise, but of course I take the importance of the culture extremely seriously.
As for standing out I’m not sure, I guess I have been away for a while developing different sounds with different people in different places and so I hope that I can bring something unique and entertaining to the table."
How important would you say the ability to perform is as a Hip Hop artist? And how does your acting background contribute to your live show?
"I spent a lot of time during my youth writing, doing visual arts and performing as an actor, particularly Shakespeare. And while I eventually abandoned it all it helped me in developing as a Hip Hop artist.
My close friend John Kenny was a huge mentor for me, starting out and to this day. A great deal of what I learned about stage presence and enthusiasm I learned from playing live with him. While sharing the stage he has always pushed me and challenged me as a performer.
I think Hip Hop is one of those art forms where performance is a very important element. Hip Hop is about expression as well as comparison between people's own take on the canvas and how they fill it. If you are going to make Hip Hop whether its music, dance, art or anything else I think its paramount that you put it out into the world with confidence so that it can become a part of the ever growing puzzle.
If you make Hip Hop then you 'are' Hip Hop and so there is a responsibility to contribute whole heartedly and performance is the time to present your work. More so you have to consider the music appreciator. They are present and open to being influenced and you are now up on a platform setting an example.
It’s the job of the MC to evoke the emotions and imagination of the audience. As you are the human voice to the music you have to reach out and connect with people and bring them to the music. It’s a great responsibility being an MC and you need to spend years in front of audiences from all backgrounds to build your skills as a medium to the art."
Where do you weigh in on the great Australian “accent debate” in Hip Hop and how do you respond to people who say your voice sounds too Americanised?
"I've watched this debate get more and more heated over the last twenty years, which makes sense to me because we have grown so much over that time as contributors to the culture. I think it stems from a particular chamber of Hip Hop which is autobiographical. An artist reflecting who they are and where they are from has always evoked loyalty from their audience. And while I have an immensely high regard and respect for that element of Hip Hop, it’s not something I do nor have I ever claimed to be about. Thankfully there are a lot of people in Australia holding that torch and for that we should all be grateful.
When I sing over music my focus is on using sounds, cadence and words to conjure imagery and make people feel good. I have never been very big on rules and was never classically trained as a musician and so I have a very open mind when it comes to art. Art isn’t solely dependant on people being able to intellectualize it, and I believe when you put rules on art creativity can suffer.
I strive to be as sincere as possible when approaching silence in the attempt to fill it with a sound that I feel belongs. I understand and often agree with the argument though, as for my music I just don’t hear it.
But I get that once something has been done more than once its easy to put it in a box and look around for other things that fit that criteria, but while we are preserving our culture its important we don’t start criticizing things for being different to other things. The music I play is not a reflection of my living conditions or location, but more and expression of my personality and individual creativity. It’s really as simple as that, I wouldn’t over think it."
Despite your early connections with Newtown, you are still a relative newcomer to the Sydney Hip Hop scene after spending most of your life on the south coast of NSW. How does it feel starting over again in a new place after being such a well established artist and what are you goals as far as getting your music better known locally?
"When I was living on the South Coast I had fully immersed myself in the creative community- almost everyone I knew was a sculptor, painter, writer, actor, dancer, musician and so on. I took every opportunity to work with as many people in as many different genres of music and with as many instruments as I could. I also tried to go to every concert I could find. It’s about being a contributor and an audience. Giving and taking. Making art your life and living it to the fullest.
There where sacrifices and benefits to moving back to Sydney but at the end of the day it was about focussing on one thing and adding a new chapter to the adventure.
When I met DJ A.S.K he recognized that I was spreading myself thin and that I would benefit from spending some time focussing on being an MC and so I packed my bags and became a solo artist. Its not a permanent thing and I know I will return to the coast one day, but after spending eighteen or so years performing I wanted to have a hand at playing the role of Sydney MC for a while and see how it goes. The response has been so uplifting.
I am amazed at how quickly I was accepted into the culture and how many wonderful friends I have made in the last two years. Sydney has been very welcoming to me. All I can hope to achieve is to grow as an artist and a member of the community here in the same way I did on the coast, and yes it has been funny going from one extreme to the other and I do feel I am back at the bottom of the ladder, but I find that exciting and am very much up for the challenge."
What would you say to the people who indicate that your music doesn’t fit into the often rigid genre of Hip Hop?
"I would agree. I would hope there is nothing rigid about my music. Hip Hop is amazing in that it is influenced by everything and can be anything. I have taken my life experiences and put them into how I make music so you are hearing my life, the sounds that have accompanied me on the way, and how I put it all together is an expression of me as a person.
Again as I said I am attempting to communicate my personality and life experience, not my literal lifestyle or day to day tribulations. This is sound I’m talking about, not narrative. Of course my music does sound like other music, I wear my influences on my sleeve, but to make Hip Hop that only sounds like Hip Hop to me would be a wasted opportunity. Maybe it’s the lack of sincere narrative that sets it apart, I tend to use a lot of free association. Or maybe it comes down to the listeners own feelings about what Hip Hop is to them.
I am always excited about contributing to Hip Hop, but I am going to try to keep it unique and fresh. Whether people can relate to it or not is somewhat dependant on whether they can relate to me and vice versa. Regardless of how people choose to categorise my music I really just hope they are entertained and have fun. I honestly-for the most part- do this to make people happy, the same way listening to music has always made me happy."
Who are your Top 5 Hip Hop artists?
House Of Pain