It only feels like yesterday that a trio of Northern Irish sixth-formers called Ash were setting the world alight with their Jack Names The Planets, Petrol and Uncle Pat singles. It’s 10 years since vocalist / guitarist / songwriter Tim Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray got going. In that time they’ve augmented their line-up with one equally talented Charlotte Hatherley, created a seemingly never-ending stream of hit singles, and just recently released their best album to date – the very “rawk!” Meltdown.
musicOMH caught up with Messrs Wheeler & co. to find out what it’s like being one of the few bands who have grown up in tandem with their audience.
“We were just exhausted from success, touring and stuff… We were at a low ebb… So I think we decided to look really deep inside ourselves to make that record and it came out as a very dark thing. It’s a really good record still, especially if you are feeling that way… At least it got rid a lot of the Busted-style comparisons – in Germany they were marketing us as a boy band!”
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler is talking about the band’s well-documented “dark” period around the release of the Nu-Clear Sounds album in 1998. The thought of Ash being confused with a boy band is a pretty astonishing one, particularly since Charlotte Hatherley had been in the band for a whole year by then. And she’s very much a woman…
“In Germany they were marketing us as a boy band!” – Ash frontman Tim Wheeler on their bizarre Teutonic promotion prior to the Nu-Clear Sounds album
Sitting in a dodgy but infamous rock pub in London’s Islington area, Wheeler, Hatherley, Mark Hamilton and musicOMH proceed to discuss the whys and wherefores behind the existence of boy bands, a conversation in which Hatherley reveals she doesn’t mind Busted but finds spin-offs like McFly “objectionable”. She also admits to having been a bit of a teenybopper in her youth. Not so the chaps, as Mark explains: “We grew up with stuff like Iron Maiden and Megadeth. We have got a really broad interest in music, probably from ABBA to Black Sabbath and everything in between.”
It is this love of heavy metal, combined with an ever-present penchant for pop choruses, that has culminated in Ash finally realising their true sound in Meltdown. Unsurprisingly, the fact that they had been relentlessly touring the US after 2001’s Free All Angels also had something to do with the beefier production.
“Over there we were listening to so much rock radio and we were quite influenced by that,” says Tim. “We always wanted to work in America and have an American producer so we got Nick (Raskulinecz – System Of A Down, Soil). All the reviews that have come out have mentioned Foo Fighters and others who are are our favourite bands, so that’s great.”
“We have got a really broad interest in music, probably from ABBA to Black Sabbath” – Bassist Mark Hamilton explains the origins of Ash’s metal-meets-pop sound on Meltdown
It’s not just Ash’s music that has become heavier. Lyrically, Wheeler has moved on many light years from the sci-fi love of Girl From Mars and Angel Interceptor: “Well I felt like we could really do something different you know? Having the compilation a few years ago (Intergalactic Sonic 7″s) really gave us a chance to look back at the things we’ve done. Meltdown is darker, lyrically. Some of it has been inspired by the peace marches that went on last year. Everyone was feeling a lot of frustration at the government – that’s why we put it down in a song, and we were really inspired to make our voice heard.” So much so, that on recent trips to the US, they’ve been welcomed with open arms: “Yeah, a lot of Americans feel we represent them. They are not all like that [warmongers] there; many of them are anti-Bush.”
If there are enough people of this ilk to make John Kerry win the forthcoming election, then he will be the third US President to have sat in the Oval Office since Ash started on their road to fame. So just what is it that has led to their longevity, compared, say, with the Symposiums of this world? Tim reckons it’s all to do with shooting high: “We’ve always wanted to get better. We’ve never accepted that this is the finishing point. We’ve never said that this is the best we’re going to get. We always seem to develop and we have really maintained our enthusiasm too – we still love this as much we ever have.”
Words which, for the legions of fans who’ve gone through their teenage years, young adulthood and late ’20s at precisely the same time as the members of Ash, will come as a welcome relief, particularly in light of Charlotte Hatherley’s new solo album. Ash to still be rocking people’s pop-tinged socks off in two Presidents’ time? As a talented young Northern Irish chap once said, Oh Yeah…