Ash Grunwald, dear reader, is not feeling too crash hot right now. “I’m doing this interview in bed ‘cause I feel like crap,” he coughs. “I hope I feel better soon. It’s this weird flu-y thing, and I’m on tour from tomorrow.”

He’d better perk up, though: he’s got a new album, Trouble’s Door, which mixes up his low down blues playing and the hip hop beats that have characterised his last two discs but adds a newfound confidence in the lyrics. While there are still plenty of stompers, much of the album sees Grunwald look, both within and without, at his own failings and those of society at large.

Thematically Trouble’s Door is very different to Hot Mama Vibes.

Well, I guess this is just a more honest album: there’s pain and dealing with inner demons. There’s more social commentary and political stuff and then there’s really shaky blues music too. It’s just me making what comes out, I guess.

These are themes that you have touched upon in the past but lyrically this is a more explicit record than might have been expected from you.

Yeah, I do think it’s been comfortable. Being older, my first release was ten years ago and I have six albums. Eventually you stop second-guessing yourself.

I’m curious because you’re such a confident player: the thought of you going “okay, I’m not sure about this” seems incongruous.

Well, I always deliberate. I was a big one for trying to weave interpersonal thoughts into songs. There was always a beat or some logical background to it. I did second-guess myself a fair bit, I guess. You have to, to a certain extent. You have to self-produce if you don’t have a producer.

But it seems that you’re working with a lot of producers.

What you mean by a producer these days is very different. They’re not really going to question your lyrical stuff, they’re just going to be making a beat. I didn’t mess with the songs on this album, though. I just sort of smacked them out pretty quickly once I was in the studio. I’m reasonably good at going into the studio with nothing and coming out with an album. I can really only write songs when I’m in the studio, for some reason. It flows quite well with that mic on, and not too well before then.

So what was to process for this record? Did you go in with beats or was it all a completely blank slate?

The first lot of recordings I did are the songs that are in the latter part of the album, and I did the beats myself on those ones. I was trying to do a traditional blues album but I found I kept putting things into the music anyways. I do a lot of beats on my iPad and at home and we replaced some of those sounds in there but it was a good starting point. Those were the more questioning-of-society songs. Then the stuff that you hear in the earlier part of the album, most of the booty shakers, I did later.

Obviously, something like “Shake” is a booty shaker, but the title track is certainly one of the more questioning songs on the record – yet it’s also got a hell of a groove.

Yeah, that’s a very dark one. That’s dealing with your demons, really. There’s another one that just came out like that, too. And I’m imagining a guy who used to be a smacky just thinking about that idea of throwing stones at trouble’s door and just working with that idea. That chorus has been in my head for about six or seven years. I wrote that on my National Steel but ended up playing it on the Les Paul with a Ricky under it.

A lot of the time I can’t work out whether you’re doubling up on tracks or whether you’re using effects to fatten out a single track.

It’s always different. I do use a lot of layers in the studio but when I play live I’ll use a lot of amps and effects to get a big sound. Like, on this tour I’ll probably use four amps and an octave pedal and a few other things. But I do do heaps of layers of guitar. The interesting one is ‘Long Time’ because it’s really thick with acoustic guitar and all that was one guitar going into a nice ribbon mic and I just layered and layered and layered and layered it. And then you hear a tiny bit of bass, and a tiny bit of banjo but apart from that it’s just all one acoustic guitar with I don’t know, 40 layers.

It’s a shrewd trick.

Coming from the perspective of somebody who did their first album 100 percent live in the studio with one guitar mic and one guitar amp and that was it, I really honestly think that’s the way to go. It depends what you’re after but if you want to make it big, you’ve got to layer it up.

Are you a studio rat?

Yeah, but it’s funny: I don’t really know anybody else in the blues scene that gets obsessed about this. They no doubt get obsessed over their gear or their instruments and really get into pedals or whatever, but not maybe so much into the recording. For me, I just love being in the studio. I create my songs in building blocks, unless it’s a really folky one or really bluesy one. If it’s got any beats in it or anything it’ll usually be made in little blocks or loops, just how anyone could do in GarageBand or something like that usually in Logic Audio which sounds really good. I know a lot of people prefer ProTools but I prefer Logic.

Does that ever pose a problem when you’ve completed an album and you’re sitting there going, “Now how the fuck am I going to pull this off live?”

Yeah, absolutely! [laughs] But I always had the theory that I just wanted to do the best album I could do and not worry about whether I could play it live or not. When I was very stuck on doing everything 100 percent organic, I used to play versions of my songs that had beats in them and just play them with a kick drum and a resonator. Some of those versions that I’ve come up with I still use now because they’re a good version in their own right. Like ‘Give Signs’, I tend to play it 100 percent live – I don’t even have the beats for that on my computer. But the other stuff I have a computer on stage and I’ll trigger different beats with my feet and they all play from the iPad.

So what’s your live set-up?

Up back I have a kick drum and my old set-up, but I’m standing in front of that for most of the gig and it’s kind of like a DJ set-up.

So what guitars do you use live?

Well, I have a lot of guitars at home so I don’t always take them all out but the mainstay of this tour is the Cole Clark acoustic. They’re just beautiful. They’re very playable and pick the top end in a nice way. Using that thing in my show gives a very different vibe because I’ve never played just acoustic guitar, never in my last decade. I had an acoustic that I had a magnetic pickup put on and I played that for a while in the early days but even that was going through an amp. But I only do two or three songs on that, and for most of the night I play on the Les Paul, which took me a while to come round to.

I have to say I never thought of you as a Les Paul man.

Yeah, I don’t think I was a Les Paul man. I started playing in a side project called Crash with Kram from Spiderbait, and at that time I thought “Ah, time to get a Les Paul.” I bought it in Geelong and I used it at the Queenscliffe Music Festival and I was just like, “This thing is amazing!” So I haven’t got off it.

Any other secret weapons?

Well, I have Strats – oh, I used to play a Gibson 137, which I have actually brought on this tour. I’ve been playing “Lady Luck” on that ‘cause I go for a BB King sort of tone. The 137 is beautiful for that. It’s sort of halfway towards a jazz guitar. I bought it in Memphis when I was doing the International Blues Performer of the Year competition and my National got broken so I just picked that up off a shelf. Oh, and I play a guitango that I bought for my wife, actually, for Christmas.

They’re the best kind of presents: the ones that you buy for someone else for yourself.

[Laughs] I know it’s cheating, but it’s fantastic to jump on something that you actually know how to play and it sounds like a banjo. That made me do “Ramblin’ Man” on the album. Whenever you play a new guitar, if you’re a songwriter, it usually makes you write new songs – or at least makes you come up with new covers.