To commemorate 20 years since the release of their incredible, number one debut, 1977, Northern Irish rockers Ash are back with a special run of shows at which the album will be played in its entirety and in sequence.
Here Karen Anne Overton talks to lead singer Tim Wheeler about lost idols, legends, and explains why the internet might not be so bad for the music industry after all…
It’s 20 years since 1977 came out, how does that feel?
It’s just so surreal. It doesn’t feel like 20 years at all! We did a show for the Northern Irish Music Awards recently, and we were given the ‘Legends Award’ which is a kind of lifetime achievement honour. So that brought back a lot of memories.
Mark, Rick and yourself all went to school together and it’s quite remarkable for a band to survive that long, what’s your secret to avoiding implosion?
I think that’s why we’ve survived because we’ve been together so long. We’ve also gone through really hard times together which has strengthened us as well because we know we can get through anything. All of us still get a kick out of playing live and have great fans and great support, so that helps!
Culturally we’re having a bit of a nineties moment. As an artist do you prefer to look back or forward?
It’s nice to do a bit of nostalgia every now and again, like touring this album. But I can stomach it because I know we’re working on a new record right now and I never really want to be just a retro band, we’re always going forward. To me the new music is as important, and sometimes it’s tough because we have such a strong back catalogue and it’s hard to get people to check out the new stuff. But that’s the challenge we have, to make new songs that are strong enough to make into the set to replace the old ones.
Your studio is in New York, is that where you’re based now and how does working over there differ?
Our studio is in Chelsea, Manhattan. It’s where Wu Tang made their first album, which is an absolute classic, and I love to think about that when I’m there. It’s a very creative city and you’re just surrounded by creative people everywhere. I’ve always found it really inspiring and I’ve always loved New York music: Velvet Underground, The Ramones... they just love art here.
The industry has changed so much since then, has the internet hailed the death of the ‘music scene’?
I guess different genres have different scenes, like what young kids listen to now... I don’t completely know! maybe the internet has allowed things to be more diverse. There were some very strong taste-makers back in the day - radio and the press and MTV - and it was heads of those channels who decided everything and had the power to make someone famous. Nowadays it’s a bit more random and you can get exposure just from being on a Spotify playlist. Of course, it’s different to how it was when we got famous but there are benefits. the internet is a worldwide thing and you can reach people everywhere, and you couldn’t do that before.
We’ve lost a few icons this year, did any one in particular hit you harder than the others?
Bowie was the worst one for me. He was such a lovely guy. I met him a few times and loved him so much. I was so shocked because I thought he would have another ten years, and he left with such a creative statement [in final album, Blackstar] which made it all the more poignant and difficult to accept. I’m a massive fan of Prince and Leonard Cohen as well… It’s been a really rough year!
You’re working on a new album, what can we expect?
It’s picking up from our last album, Kablammo! and the plan is just to make a record that sounds brilliant when we play it live. There is something different in the song
writing, and it’s hard to put my finger on... I think it’s slightly less rocky in some
parts, and even has influences of punk, but it’s too early to say right now. It’s going to be really exciting!
n Ash are playing the following UK dates: December 10, Roundhouse, London; December 11, Ritz, Manchester; December 12, Rock City, Nottingham.
For further information and tickets go to www.ash-official.com/shows/