Highest Symbol – New Solo Music and Interview with Iwan Gronow

Iwan Gronow, the singer-songwriter and bass player from bands such as The Mutineers, Haven, and Johnny Marr, has today released his 3rd single as a solo artist called “Highest Symbol”.

Iwan had this to say about the new song.

“Highest Symbol is a term used in cards. I never set out to write a song about the issues of gambling.

It happened by accident. Some time ago I watched a program which stuck with me. A story about a man who had a stable career and family and lost it all to gambling. It was something I couldn’t get out of my head. Highest Symbol is about the dominance of betting and gambling within our society. Whether it’s online, at the bookies or casino gambling “there’s no sense in lining your pockets green, it won’t stop the lying and the running fees”. It approaches the false hope “sea of dreams” the loss “you left and failed to mention what threw you out” and the danger “roulette a sense to rush” fuelled by gambling.
The Highest Symbol video directed by Emily Jade Hagan tries to capture this sense of undeniable risk, loss and loneliness. We tried to show how everything can quickly disappear, how a past life can turn to a distant memory “The Highest Symbol, Highest Symbol will save the urge, will save the urge. The Highest Symbol, highest symbol will fade and burn, will fade and burn”.

With the release of the new song, we took the opportunity to ask Iwan our DISARMing questions about his music, art, travel, and life in general.

So check out the new song and read the interview while you listen.

DISARM: What are you listening to right now?

Iwan: Jehnny Beth, Warmduscher, Nadine Shah, Anna Calvi, BC Camplight, and She Drew The Gun

What was the first LP/tape/CD/MP3 you can remember owning, buying, or obsessing over?

My dad use to make Blues and Rock cassettes of artists such as J. J. Cale, Robert Cray, Hendrix, and Clapton. That really got me into the guitar. The first tape I bought was very heavy. I’m not going to pretend to be cool, but it would have been a band like Slayer or Sepultura, Ha!  I grew up in Cornwall and metal was very popular around that time.    

Are you loyal to vinyl or CD/Digital formats?

Recently I found all my CDs in the cellar. I cleaned them up and put them back on the shelf. I try to buy vinyl when I can. My dad has very kindly let me borrow some of his collection. I go through phases of books and vinyl. It depends if we’re gigging or I’m writing. That side of music takes up most of my time.

What bands are hardwired into your musical DNA?

In the Haven days, we were heavily into Velvet Underground, Skip Spence, Stooges and Peter Green. So I guess they have really stuck with me. 

Why do you live where you do? What is your favourite journey?

The late great Joe Moss is the reason I am where I am. We threw everything we had into a van and turned up at his doorstep. Joe kindly let the whole band (Haven) stay in his house until we got sorted. I think he was slightly gutted as it meant his trips to Cornwall would be less often, ha! He loved Cornwall.

My favourite journey is when my wife and I get the chance to go back to Cornwall and see the family. My dream trip would be New Zealand. We were lucky enough to tour there with Johnny. It’s a great place to run; it would be good to go back. South America is ace as well, especially the gigs. Great crowds. 

What’s your idea of a perfect Sunday?

Going for a long walk, catching a film, reading and playing my acoustic.

What is essential for your go-bag (plane/train/automobile/tour bus)?

Headphones, iPod, book, toothbrush, ear plugs, eye mask, chargers and passport.

What do you do with 4 hours of free time in a new city?

Go for a run as I think that’s the best way to see a new city and find your bearings, although I generally get lost, ha! Go for food with our tour group.  If we’re near water, I head straight to it and spend time there, sometimes even go in. Doviak and I did that a couple of times on the last American tour. Always feel better by the sea.

Who/what got you into playing music?

My dad was a singer in a punk band called The Wolfboys. They were signed to Rocket Records so there was always guitars and vinyl around the house. From a young age I was really intrigued by the guitar.

What was your most memorable day job?

I use to work at a fish and chip shop in St. Just in Cornwall. My job title was ‘fish boy’. My friends had fun with that one. Think my pay was £1.50 an hour.

What advice should you have taken but didn’t?

That’s a tough one. I try my best not to have regrets as it can have a negative affect and I try to learn from situations that may not have turned out how I wanted.

What should everyone shut up about?

It would have been the ‘B Word’ (editors: Brexit) but that’s kind of done now, which is something I’m very sad about. Personally I will always see myself as European.

What is getting under your skin at the moment?

We are at present in very unsettling times. My pet peeve would be people that don’t listen to expert advice, especially health advice. The NHS need us more than ever and we should be doing everything we can to support them.

Who are your perfect dinner guests, living or dead? What’s on the menu?

Would love to have dinner with the late great Arthur Lee (Love) and Iggy. I would cook a veggie roast, ply them with wine and get as many Rock and Roll stories out of them as I could.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

Miss Havisham from the Charles Dickens book Great Expectations, I studied in college. She was super dark. My favourite quote of hers is “Break their hearts, my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!” I always felt there was a bit of humour there which I liked.

Tell us about one of the best live gigs you’ve ever attended.

Recently we played the Rock En Seine Festival. The Cure headlined I was blown away by them especially Robert Smith, his voice was flawless.

What are your must-reads?

I mainly stick with books. David Bowie – a life by Dylan Jones, Salt Path by Raynor Winn. At the moment I’m reading The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather. Johnny also got me into the writer Yuval Noah Harari. For light relief, I really like the Off Menu Podcast by Ed Gamble and James Acaster.

What’s something that you consider a mind-altering/reality-reframing work of art?

Anything by Joan Miro. Me and my wife went to the Miro Exhibition in Barcelona; mind blowing. I also like Wassily Kandinsky’s work. Upward is a particular favourite. 

What does the next six months look like for you?

Unfortunately due to recent events, our touring and festival schedule has thinned out. Right now people’s safety is far more important. We are booked into to play with ‘The Killers’ in the U.S. in August. Until then, I will be mostly writing and preparing for the single release on the 10th of April.

Editors:  Fingers crossed we’ll see you at the Toronto date with the Killers!

It’s been said about musical or film icons: “Never meet your heroes.” Agree or disagree?

I would say go for it. What have you got to lose?

Thanks Iwan!

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