Tim Wheeler reviews Ash's decade with Ross McGibbon
“I like playing every night. It’s brilliant. And not having to worry about… er… domestic stuff. There’s nothing you can do about things at home so you don’t even think about it.”
Ash have been around a long time. Is it ten years? I’m trying to remember where I was living when 1977 came out.
“It was 1996 but our first single came out in January or February 1994. Thirteen years.”
Jeez! Does it get into routine?
“Certain things. This kind of tour is the same one we did after 1977 came out and we’ve done the same one each album since.”
Same kind of venues.
“There’s a certain routine to it but it’s all broken up with festivals and different sorts of gigs and recording. Writing is totally different. Promotion is my least favourite thing but it’s kind of different as well, y’know.”
How do you mean writing is the best time?
“Because it’s nothing you can force, you just have to relax. Just kind of indulge, do what you want to do.”
Is that you set then? In ten years will it be “March - we’re recording, April – we’re touring, etc”?
“No. That’s one of the reasons we’ve decided not to make any more albums. We can break up that routine. We can write something, record it and release it really quickly as a single or an EP. Then go out and do four dates instead of a tour and come back and do some more work. I wanna be more prolific but still get to tour lots.”
I like the way the Artic Monkeys stuck out an EP with stuff that hadn’t been on the first album.
“Back when we did Kung Fu we were getting some notice but we were still doing our exams so we couldn’t record an album. We didn’t have the time to do it so we’d go in and record singles. Angel Interceptor and Goldfinger were all like separate sessions. It’s just brilliant, the anticipation that built up. Then, eventually, we compiled them with a bunch of other tracks into 1977. I feel like going back to that.”
I wonder what happens to the collectors?
“We’re still doing physical formats and we’ll still want to compile stuff into collections. In effect, you’re getting an album, just not recorded in one session. With my own studio, we’re working things out in there a lot.”
Is there the temptation to set up a label?
“Nowadays the studio costs just aren’t there and that makes it a bit more feasible. But then there’s the marketing and all that.”
I tell Tim about seeing Steve Diggle in The Buzzcocks, now pushing fifty, playing a year or two back, still looking thrilled. I wonder what it’s like to be playing the greatest hits after so many years and what its like to put a setlist together with so much history to draw on.
“It’s kind of hard. One thing that dictated to us recently was going back to a three-piece. We had to adapt a lot of stuff. We went through about twenty songs. A lot of it was 1977 era stuff from before Charlotte came along so we could play it. Then, as the years gone on we’ve introduced more of the other stuff so we’re pulling from forty-plus songs – it’s really cool.”
How do you choose between pleasing the person who needs to hear Kung Fu and playing the new album or obscure B-sides?
“We’ve extended it – we’re playing an hour and forty, an hour and fifty minutes.”
You’ve turned in to the Grateful Dead!
“Yeah! I think people are into it. We get people we’ve picked up at all sorts of different times. I think we can please people and introduce them to great album tracks they maybe haven’t heard. We do five or six tracks from each album except we don’t do much from Nuclear Sounds, although we love it, because that stuff just doesn’t go down so well. And half of that album is down beat and we want stuff so people can go mad for it. Every night we play one or two songs that we haven’t played for three to five years and it’s been really exciting. The fans on the internet are freaking out about it. I’m just really proud we can do it.”
I ask about what you lose and gain by changing to a three-piece.
“Certain songs will have an emptiness or there’ll be a guitar line that’s missing. But there’s no rule that says you have to be exactly the same live and sometimes that space in the sound is really cool.”
Does that push you up into playing more lead?
“Yeah. I always played seventy-five percent of the leads but now I’m a complete guitar megalomaniac and its great!”
What are you proudest of out of your catalogue?
“Probably the consistency of the songs. I mean the melodies have all been really strong. There’ve been milestones along the way. Girl From Mars. I was sixteen, really young and then Goldfinger, I wrote at eighteen and I was using quite interesting chord progressions which I was proud of. (Looks really surprised at what he was doing then). And then the new album – Twilight Of The Innocents – there’s a whole new way of writing. It’s like nothing else we’ve done and it’s really powerful live.”
What do you think is the big difference?
“The way we wrote it. It’s based on a loop. It’s a four chord loop that cycles over and over but it kind of builds in intensity – we change our playing. I think we found so many possible ways of playing these four chords that it never gets boring, it just builds and grows. It’s kind of a bit mantra like “Still breathing, my hearts still beating”.
“I recorded this loop into the computer then I just asked Rick to play along whenever he liked and he did, so we just went crazy. And then spent three days chopping the drums up and making it into something that grew. Then we put some bass on and did the same thing – cut it up and moved it around, then guitars. Then the lyrics – originally I was just going to have one verse. Then getting the orchestra on it – we worked with Paul Buckmaster (he did the strings on the first few Elton John albums, he played cello on Life On Mars) – he’s a cool guy – and that tied it all together. It began as an experiment, it was kind of amazing how it turned out!”
Tim sounds, at this point, like someone surprised at their own work. I can see how he has acquired a reputation for a sort of arrogance but here it seems a more like someone who lets his creative side loose, steps back and is later surprised. Like a fan of the part of himself that makes things.
So, who else is he a fan of at the moment?
“Arcade Fire, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – I loved the first album but I’m not so keen now, Klaxons I like – they’re good and chaotic. The music’s really full on.”
Yeah, they get on, do it, then p*ss off. They don’t hang about. Kind of a weird audience – all these kids with glow sticks dressed like a Top Of The Pops version of a rave.
“To me they’re just indie-pop. They call it nu-rave but they’re totally an indie band but they just dress up.”
We talk about the prevalence of keyboard players in a lot of the new wave of bands then about backing tapes and the restrictions they impose on freedom to play an extra bar or two.
“People know we’re live because we f*ck up every so often and you just have to start again! In fact, sometimes the moments when we f*ck up onstage are the best because it brings the audience really into it. They see you’re human, which is cool. Sometimes those moments really make a show.”
We talk about the aftershow DJ set the band are going to do at Rios, the local metal venue. Turns out Tim used to have WASP albums back in the day.
“Back then everybody knew about them – the exploding codpiece and all that…. I was pretty proud to see our name on the poster, up, like above WASP (laughs). I keep having these moments. Back when I was a kid I’d have been freaked out to know my band would be on the same poster as WASP! I was at the Kerrang awards and Anthrax were there and I was like… “Holy Shit!””
Do you still get that feeling? That’s a good feeling.
“I guess it’s more like some childhood thing. It’s really weird. I vividly remember moments like that.”
And Tim, himself, will be the focus for starstruck fans in bands in turn, bringing us full circle. Thanks for the time, Tim.
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