“People like Ash to be fun, they like blazing guitars and big melodies. We wanted to give people what they want” – hmv.com talks to Ash
Musicians change their mind all the time. They turn their back on instruments, band mates, concepts and even if the bands they’re in, only to return soon enough. What is rare, however, is when a band turns their back on the idea of making an album ever again.
But, back in 2009, that’s exactly what Ash did. They’d sold millions of albums earlier in their career, but they’d had enough of the format and told everyone who’d listen that singles were the way forward. They took that pledge seriously too, releasing 26 singles over the following two years, one for each letter of the alphabet, they did a UK tour of places in the same way, playing in the likes of Ventnor, Zennor and Upper Norwood to make sure they hit every letter in the alphabet.
After finishing up, they kept themselves busy, they did tours where they played their 2001 album Free All Angels in full and offering up Best Of sets at various festivals. Eventually though their minds drifted back to making a full album, their first for eight years, which is what arrives on Monday (May 25th) in the shape of Kablammo!
The album is an energetic blast, full of the classic pop rock and red bull soaked guitars the band do best. We sat down with frontman Tim Wheeler to find out all about how the album came about…
Your first album in eight years arrives in a few days’ time, how are you feeling ahead of that? Weird? Nervous?
“It’s exciting more than anything. I can’t wait to get out and play it. It’s been four years since we put out anything new at all, so I can’t wait to freshen up the set.”
When did you realise you were working on an album? After saying you’d never do one again…
“We did a couple of writing sessions a couple of years ago and we decided that we needed to commit to something. Initially we just wanted to get some new songs going and we all knew we’d said very publicly ‘We’re not going to do another album so we can’t do one now’. But after a while I think we just looked at each other and went ‘Oh f**k it, let’s do another album’.”
Did you feel like you’d explored everything else you could do?
“We did the A-Z singles, which was a really massive undertaking and then we went off and did other things, I did my solo album and a Christmas album. I think in the time we’ve been away we’ve noticed just how much vinyl has come back and we thought this would be the best way of getting our music out there again.”
Did you have lots of songs to choose from? You must have gathered quite a few in eight years…
“At least 40. We try to write three times what we need, that seems to be a winning ratio for Ash. We’ve got our own studio in New York so we recorded there, we’ve done all our recording there for about 10 years.”
In a lot of cases bands tend to take as long over records as they’re given, is it hard working with no deadline if it’s your own studio?
“We did have a deadline in that we really wanted to get out and play festivals this summer. We ramped it up at the beginning of the year and we knew we’d need to be set with the album by March. We recorded quite a lot of the album last summer and then I went off to do my solo record, so it was mostly done already.”
Did you produce the album yourself?
“We worked with Claudius Mittendorfer, who we run the studio with and he co-produced and mixed it. We’ve been self-producing for a long time now. Sometimes I think it would be nice to get someone else in, but we’re pretty disciplined, we’re quick at arranging songs and we get them done quickly. We had a decade of working with producers so we’ve picked up a lot of their tricks.”
How are you at self-editing?
“We wanted to make sure we had 12 killer tracks. We recorded about 18 we really liked and were very sorry to leave off, so we’ve still got six good tracks in our back pocket.”
What kind of album is this lyrically? What do you find yourself writing about?
“There’s quite a bit of nostalgia in there. I went back through our earlier records and looked at the ones that did the best, so 1977 and Free All Angels. We’ve played both those records through start to finish at shows in the last few years so I know what fans like to go for. So there’s a lot of summer and referring back to our crazy days on tour when we were kids.”
Do you write lyrics in the same way you always have?
“I came into this record following my solo record, which was almost like a concept record about losing my father to Alzheimer’s, so I was coming out of a project with a very dark and heavy theme and I had a lot to say about that. With the Ash album I didn’t want to stay in that place, I wanted to have some fun.”
How did you know which songs would be Ash songs and which are songs for your solo career? Most Ash songs must start with you…
“The solo record was such personal material that it had to sit apart. People like Ash to be fun, they like blazing guitars and big melodies. We wanted to give people what they wanted.”
Will you tour as hard as you did when you were younger?
“Because of when the record is coming out we’re doing quite a small UK tour and then it’s straight into festival season. We’ll tour the States and Europe and do a longer UK run, then hopefully it’ll be Japan, Australia and more festivals.”
You and Mark (Hamilton, bassist) are based in New York now, but your drummer Rick (McMurray) is in Scotland, does that mean you end up touring less?
“It means we end up doing fewer one off things, but if we can get a decent run of shows together it’s always worth coming over.”
How do you think living in America has affected your songwriting?
“I think I moved over here at a time when we were quite well-known so I was able to live a normal life, which I think is good for writing lyrics, it’s good to have as much reality as I can, especially as I’ve been doing this for so long.”
Do you think you’ll stay in New York forever?
“I can see myself coming back to the UK, I’ve been here for 10 years now, I’m in London a lot and I like it, all my family’s in Northern Ireland, so I can definitely see myself coming back to live.”
It must be nice to be adding new songs to the set, especially after doing those tours when you played albums in full, did you mean doing those tours?
“They were fun to do. But it’s strange to go from a set where you can pick your best songs from the last 20 years and then play an album you wrote when you were a kid. Plenty of those songs wouldn’t cut it in those main sets now, but the audiences never seem to mind, it’s a good nostalgia trip.”
How are the new songs fitting in? Will you mix them in? Or will you do a block of new ones and a block of old ones?
“We’ve played a few of them already and they fit in pretty well. We’ll mix it up. The ones we choose for the record were ones that sounded brilliant in the rehearsal room, we knew they’d work live. But we love playing our old hits too.”
What’s your live set up like now? You had Russell Lissack from Bloc Party out with you last time, is he back? Or is it just the three of you?
“It’s just going to be the three of us. Russell’s off doing other things. We’re very happy as a three, I’m enjoying hogging all the guitars, I don’t think there’s anything missing with it just being three.”
Do you ever get tempted to make the sets really long?
“No, no, a lot of our songs are quite short and fast. We never do more than an hour and a half. For the longest time Green Day had a rule where they didn’t play anymore than an hour. I like that. Keeping it lean.”
Finally, do you feel back in the groove now? Will you be back to making an album every couple of years? Or does it feel like a one-off?
“I’m quite keen to get recording again and I’d like to make another album. We just needed to step away for a while. If we’d gone back in 2009 and made another album it would have been very predictable. We needed to go away and do other things.”
Ash’s new album Kablammo! is released on Monday (May 25th). You can pre-order the album in stores across the UK now.