Interview: Tim Wheeler from Ash

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Ash are one of those bands that unfortunately time has left behind. They’ve released numerous albums to critical acclaim, including the Number 1 albums 1977 and Free All Angels, which also included hit singles Girl From Mars and Shining Light, amongst much more. But as indie rock has been left to simmer for a while, the Northern Irish trio have been one of many bands to lose out.

But that hasn’t stopped them, as they released their first album in eight years in 2015 – the riff-centric Kablammo! This was after declaring that they’d never release an album again after Twilight of the Innocents, and also spending 2009 and 2010 releasing a single every fortnight. I was able to chat with frontman Tim Wheeler about their decision to come back to the traditional album release, and much more from their illustrious 20-year career in music.

Hey Tim, how are you doing?

Yeah very well thank you, thanks for calling. I’ve just got to the UK from America, so it’s good to be back.

Oh really, what were you doing there?

Oh I live over there, so I’ve just been having a bit of time off. We’ve just finished the US tour as well.

Don’t you live the high life then!

Well yeah haha, I’m doing alright!

Nice. Obviously you released you first studio album [Kablammo!] eight years ago, are you happy with how everything went with that?

Yeah actually, it’s nice being back for a full album you know. We said in 2007 I think or whenever it was, that we’d never make another one but it felt like the right thing to do. It’s got a great response and it’s great to play live. That’s the real test I think.

What was the main reason of going back to the album format?

Erm, I guess we just started to see the album coming back over the last few years in a way. People listen to vinyl and whole albums more. Back in 2007, I thought it really was the end of the album, but gladly I was proved wrong in the end.

Aren’t we all glad about that!

Yeah I think it’s still a really good way to present a bit of work, and then go on tour and it’s great touring that new album. It’s good for the fans you know.

A lot of people compared Kablammo! to your previous album Free All Angels. Was that something that you intentionally set out to do, or did it just happen as you were making the songs?

Some bits are a bit like Free All Angels and 1977 [previous albums], we tried to find the essence of those records and put it into this. It’s a mix of trying to make a real guitar record also, and not dabbling in too many other areas. There weren’t a lot of keyboards on the record or anything, we’ve tried to keep all the songs short and snappy and exciting as well.

Did you find it was different writing this album without the pressure you had during the 1990s?

Yeah, but I suppose because it was our first album in a long time there was some pressure. If we’d said we weren’t going to make another album, then when we were actually getting round to doing them, it’d have to be really strong you know haha. But we worked really hard on it making sure we had a really strong bunch of songs. So I think I put myself under the same amount of pressure as I always did.

Your latest single Machinery has been out for about a month now, what’s the song about?

Well actually I said that there weren’t many keyboards on the record, but there are some on this song haha. It’s kind of like an indie-pop kind of song. It’s a story of…I was kind of imagining what it’d be like for someone from the 90s to have just passed out for 20 years and woke up today haha. How strange they mind find it you know. In the way that people sort of connect with each other and how different things are. That’s what I was trying to imagine.

Are there going to be any more planned releases from the album?

I think we may bring out another one. But we haven’t decided if it could be the track Let’s Ride or the track Moondust. One of those two probably.

Have you got any particular favourites from the album?

Yeah I love Machinery a lot. Free, another single from this year, I like. It’s difficult, I like them all. Sometimes with a record it’s the one that gets played the least, it’s hidden away. So maybe Bring Back the Summer which is the final track from the album.

Yes, that last song reminded me a lot of Nocturne [an early Ash b-side].

Oh wow, damn that’s cool! I’m surprised you know that song. That’s right, Nocturne is one of our favourites also. It really should have made an album I think. Nice one.

Before your upcoming UK tour, you’ll be in Europe. What’s your favourite country to tour there?

It would have to be a favourite city. I really love Barcelona, but unfortunately we’re not going there. But Paris is amazing, I love Vienna. I’m a big sucker for the Scandanavian places, like Oslo and Stockholm and Copenhagen. Sorry that wasn’t a very direct answer! But Barcelona is number one.

Your UK tour will be quite close to Christmas, will there be any surprises?

Yeah, well we have been known to throw in the odd Wizzard song haha! I’m a big fan of Christmas records and music. I put out a Christmas record with Emmy the Great a few years ago which was pretty fun. We’ll have to do something, especially the closer the tour gets to Christmas, it might just take over.

When you tour, are there any songs that you don’t particularly enjoy playing, but you do so for the fans?

No not really. There are songs that we play loads like Burn Baby Burn but I love them. I’d never have a problem with them, even if we play them two or three thousand times. People go crazy when we play them and that’s worth it. The adrenaline gets us going big time.

What about songs you don’t get to play much?

Ah there’s loads of them. I think if we were going to make everyone happy we’d have to play for three hours, but the trouble is people’s attention span is nowhere near that long. We have to try and find somewhere in the middle. I kind of think that an hour and a half to two hours is good. I’ve love to play a bunch more stuff, but we like to play stuff that gets the best reaction. That dictates things.

You’ve been known to take on quite a few covers, from David Bowie’s Teenage Wildlife to a few cheeky ABBA covers, but are there any cover songs that you’ve attempted, but ultimately defeated you?

Haha, well no, I think we’ve just persevered until we get there. Hmm…I wonder…well covers are quite a good way of improving as a band because you can see how different people do it. Teenage Wildlife has some really incredible guitar work so doing that sets myself the challenge to take myself up a notch. I don’t think anything’s completely defeated us yet.

How different is touring now, compared to when you were fresh into the scene during the mid-90s?

Mark and Rick [Hamilton and McMurray, bassist and drummer for Ash respectively] are both dads and they both have two kids, so we’ve definitely got a bit more responsible over the years. Especially Mark was…well probably one of the craziest persons I’ve ever met haha! There are elements of maturity, and there used to be so much drinking but now it’s just…”drinking responsibly” haha, as the Americans would like us to say!

I found out that you had played at our University’s club The Sugarhouse during your early years amongst other bands like The Stones Roses, but we get nothing like that anymore.

Oh yeah, that used to be so good going all around the UK to these types of venues, as everyone was out. Doing universities was so fun. And bands like Coldplay would support Muse, or was it the other way round! Things like that, or like Oasis doing small venues like that all the way back. They were really strong times.

Looking to the future, what does 2016 hold for Ash?

A lot more touring, next year we’ll be in Australia and Japan in the spring. We’ll probably be writing a lot of songs also, to get working on a new album hopefully. We’re doing a bunch of festivals next year too.

Have you got any ideas about a new album yet in general?

I think we’d like to develop from Kablammo! a bit, because I love how guitar-centric it was. I’m not really sure, the songs we write will lead the way. Once you get a few good songs it sets the tone. More blazing guitar rock hopefully!

Wouldn’t we all love that! What about your solo stuff, would you consider doing more of that?

Well yeah, if we start getting some material that doesn’t sound like an Ash record then maybe. I really would like to do another solo record at some point, but the main priority is getting another Ash record out there. If we get any nice off cuts I think another solo album could be on the cards.

Have you got any more collaborations planned? You mentioned that you had worked with Emmy the Great before.

I’ve got nothing in mind right now, but you know, I keep my mind open.

Well I’ll end on a hard question. If you could pinpoint your favourite Ash moment, what would it be?

Haha. Wow. That’s tough. It would have to be…let me see…it would have to be playing Reading festival…but I have to decide what year. Maybe 2001 when we headlined the tents. There was a couple of times where we headlined the tent but we probably should have been on the main stage but those were great moments. I love it when we played the main stage, because some of the main stage shows were great. There have been times when we’ve gotten a really frenzied response there. It was one of the highlights of the year every time. I’d got for that haha!

Thanks for time Tim, this has been a good chat.

Yeah same, hope to catch you at one of our shows!

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