Ash open up about the making of new album Islands…
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler only celebrated his 41st birthday last year, but he, along with his fellow cohorts in the band, have been key parts of British music for as long as most people can remember.
First formed in 1992, Wheeler along with bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray burst into public consciousness in 1996 with their all-conquering debut 1977.
An explosion of pop-rock and punk fury, it scored rave reviews and lead the band to massive success, so much so that a year later they were headlining Glastonbury. The next 15 years would see the band release four further albums, sell out huge venues all over the world and cementing their reputation as one of Britain’s finest rock bands.
After 2007, they swore off albums altogether, telling 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.
In the years after, 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, which arrived in 2015 with the well-received Kablammo!
Having got a taste for making albums once again, they return this week with Islands, the seventh studio album of their career and a return to Infectious Music, the band’s home for their first five albums.
For the writing of this album, Tim Wheeler has taken the theme of Islands wholeheartedly, writing the bulk of the albums on trips to Mallorca, Santorini and Lambay Island, off the coast of North Dublin. The album was also recorded on an island, but a much bigger one, Manhattan.
As Islands hit shelves (you can purchase it from hmv’s online store on the right-hand side of the page), we spoke to Wheeler about channelling a bad break-up into this new album...
How did you want this album to move on from Kablammo!?
“We wanted to follow it quite quickly, but the mechanics of getting the deal for the album meant it hasn’t happened as quickly as we would have liked. We wanted to continue on the same path. We were under a lot of pressure with Kablammo!, it was the first album we’d made after we said we’d never make another album, we knew it had to be really good.”
Must have a bit like starting over?
“Yeah, it felt like the slate was clear and we had more confidence, we knew we had fans who were still hungry for our albums. Kablammo! also felt like we were reconnecting with our three-piece punk/pop/rock roots and we wanted to keep going. We’d done a few anniversary shows for 1977 and that put us back in touch with how we were on those early records, we felt like we tapped into something.”
You self-produced the album, did you ever think about bringing in an outside voice?
“It’s going to the point why we just don’t think about it anymore, we don’t need anyone else. We’ve learned enough tricks from all the great producers we’ve worked with, we know how to make a good Ash record. The thing I think about most is the songs. At this point if the song’s great then I don’t worry too much about the production, I’m just trying to capture how good it feels in the rehearsal room, I don’t think we need anyone else at this point.”
You always write a lot of songs for each album, how easy is it knowing what to keep and what to junk?
“It would be a nightmare if I was doing it alone, but having the other guys there makes it a much more diplomatic process. We sit there, we listen through everything, whittle the songs down to the ones we like and then we rehearse them. I rely on the other two a lot for that, there’s always tonnes of ideas floating about.”
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to the songs?
“There a lot of break-up songs on there and I can see the whole thing unfolding. They were written over the course of a year so there’s a development of how I’m feeling. It’s not a concept, I’m not getting over it in sequence, but I can hear the different stages of coming to terms with it.”
Will it be hard to relive that every night onstage?
“Once I’ve done the recording, that’s when the catharsis is complete, when we’re playing live all I can about is technical stuff, hitting notes, make sure I remember what comes next and the chords I need. I don’t get too wrapped up in emotion when we’re playing live. The meaning of the songs is never in my mind when we’re playing, I think that would just make me crazy.”
When did you decide that Islands was the right title for the record?
“Early on. For a while I thought it might be Isle of something, I wanted it to be in that vein. I’d be taking writing trips to all these islands that really inspired it. We recorded it on an island too in the sense that we did it in Manhattan, though it’s not exactly an isolated place like the others…”
How will you go about putting together your live set for this tour?
“We normally play a lot of old hits, that’s normally what people want to hear, but we fit about five new ones. It depends how the album connects, we’ve been playing five of the new ones so far and they’ve been doing really well, if it goes down well then we’ll keep adding more. Keeping everybody happy with our back catalogue is tricky.”
You’ve gone out as a four before, last time you had Russell Lissack from Bloc Party and previously Charlotte Hatherley on guitars, are you sticking as a three-piece for the foreseeable future?
“Sometimes I do miss having a second guitarist, it does free me up quite a lot and make things more fun, but the songs do work really well as a three and it’s a very easy dynamic. I think we’ll stick with being a three for a while at least..."
The band will perform live and sign copies of the album at four hmv stores across the next week, click here for more details.