The release of Ash’s fifth studio album Twilight Of The Innocents saw front man Tim Wheeler vow it would be their last. The following period saw the trio showcasing their famous A-Z series and Wheeler debuting his first solo album, whilst proving their passion for music and joy of collaborating together had never waned. Eight years (and an obvious change of heart) later, the influential Irish outfit produced an exhilarating new album Kablammo! that thrived worldwide in 2015.
Now with a highly anticipated Australian tour on the horizon, Tim Wheeler spoke to us about his favourite front person, bands that inspire Ash’s live performances, and what prompted this new album….
Tim Wheeler: Oh it’s a pleasure, I can’t wait to come to Australia so it’s good to start talking about it.
DC: So next month we see you return to Australia in support of Kablammo! How does it feel to have been able to travel such vast parts of the world these past few decades?
TW: I’m very lucky. I can’t believe we still really get to do it. The first time we came to Australia we were eighteen years old so it’s amazing that 20 years later we’re still a band and still coming to Australia.
DC: What’s your favourite part of playing live shows?
TW: I think the energy release is really amazing. I guess seeing people connect with our music is amazing as well. I get to be really loud [laughs], so yeah it’s a great vibe.
DC: That’s something Ash is known for, having all these dynamic and straight up fun live performances. What can we expect from the Australian tour?
TW: We’ll be playing stuff from Kablammo! but loads of old hits as well. I think we still have the same energy we’ve always had right from the get go, maybe just slightly better musicianship years later on. It’s definitely got emphasis on fast and loud and great tunes.
DC: It’s been eight years since your last album, so it’s been quite a while in the making! What inspired you guys to get back into song writing and have another shot at an album?
TW: We have kept touring quite a lot during the years and we did put out 26 singles in a year in 2010, called the A-Z series, so we were quite productive and did a bit of film sound check work and I did a solo album as well. We were touring every summer with Ash so it kind of got to the point where we were like it’s time to really get some new material in here and freshen everything up, but because we said we wouldn’t make another album for a while we were kind of stressed out a bit thinking well we have to make an absolute killer to justify doing it. We took our time to make sure we had the right songs.
DC: Did you feel a lot of pressure after saying we’re not going to make a new album then coming back into the studio for Kablammo!?
TW: Yeah lots of pressure, self-imposed really. We felt we’d get a lot of flak if it wasn’t a good record. It’s important to us you know, I have to stand up before the record. The ones that we think our fans love the most like 1977 and Free All Angels, we wanted to make a record that can stand up to those
DC: It was quite a gap between releases, how did you avoid losing momentum during this time? You’ve mentioned the A-Z series as one example, what other things just kept you moving?
TW: That’s a good question. I think the fact that we just kept going to new places during that time, like we got to play in China for the first time and we went to Brazil, then went back to Jakarta and Singapore – places that we haven’t been to for a long time. We started touring the states again after a long time of not doing that, even though we’d been based in the states for a long time; we weren’t touring here, we were recording here. I think the live shows has always kept us going as a band.
DC: Where’s somewhere in the world you’ve never toured to before but you would love to?
TW: I’ve never been to Russia, really out of curiosity – we’ve never played there. The only place we’ve played in South America has been Brazil so I’d like to get to Chile and Argentina and those places. I guess we’ve covered most of the rest of it, which is great! I’ll say though Mexican audiences seem amazing and we’ve never been there.
DC: How important do you think it is for artists and bands to have really engaging, dynamic live performances?
TW: I think in rock and roll it’s really one of the biggest things. It really grabbed me as a teenager…I saw Nirvana when I was 15. I love fast, punkish music live and it really shook me up when I was a kid so I still get the same feeling when I go see a great show. I love the sound of loud, blazing guitars. You can listen to records but I think whenever you get to see it live that’s really the best.
DC: I completely agree! You mentioned Nirvana, are there any other bands that influence how you perform today? People who you saw and thought ‘wow, that’s a great show’?
TW: I remember when The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s came out supporting their first album and Karen O was a brilliant performer. I got to see Iggy Pop a few times as well. So I do love an amazing front person like Iggy Pop or Karen O that are great to watch as well.
DC: When you were undertaking the writing and recording process for Kablammo! did you ever stop and consider how certain aspects of it would translate to a live setting?
TW: Yeah definitely! When we did the A-Z series we were experimenting quite a lot, there’s a lot of programming and synths on there so we were trying to find some different sounds, but when we went to play those songs live it was a bit of a jump sort of going back to our older stuff. We wanted this album to be more like our original stuff, that Ash sound we had from the get go, and that was us thinking how it would all work in the live show. We stripped it down to stuff that would sound really good as a three-piece live. There was stuff that was sounding really good in the rehearsal room that we focused on and put on the album.
DC: What was it like for you personally getting back into the studio for Ash?
TW: I’ve been in studios quite a lot doing sound check stuff and the solo record so I didn’t miss being in the studio much. I guess it was different in how I was working with Mark and Rick on Kablammo! so I guess we spent a lot of time rehearsing it and getting songs right so they sounded good just with the three of us playing, and then when it came to recording it, it was actually quite simple and straightforward. We just wanted to write and capture the energy like in our performances, so we had done most of the work when we were shaping the songs.
DC: Is there someone in the band who does most of the song writing, and say someone else does the music, or is it more of a team effort for everything?
TW: I guess I write the most really but I only really half finish my songs before I bring them into the rehearsal room, then we play them and I know which ones are worth finishing and I also at that point know what I need to do to finish them. So then I go away and complete lyrics and maybe sometimes it’s a matter of adding a guitar solo section or a bridge, something like that. The other guys are a real vital part of that process. Our bassist Mark is a really great writer; he brought in the song Dispatch, which a lot of people savour on the record, so he’ll always come in with a couple of killers every time.
DC: And having so many different minds contribute to the one thing makes it a lot stronger, you’ve got people to bounce ideas back and forth with.
TW: Three is a good number – it’s not too many. That’s probably why we’ve lasted so long.
DC: Exactly, not too many cooks in the kitchen!
TW: Yeah it gets crazy! You know [laughs]. I think we know how to get along really well.
DC: Kablammo! has 12 tracks and they vary quite a lot between your classic quick-pace pop rock and you’ve got some slower ballads. Do you have a preference on what kind of song you like to play more?
TW: We definitely like playing the faster stuff live, the more up-tempo things. In the studio I do love making slower numbers but for a show we like to mostly keep it pretty upbeat. There’s definitely chill songs on the album because I think you need that contrast on a record.
DC: Of course, you need a bit of a breather sometimes.
TW: Just to bring the pace down a little bit. But live we tend to just go for it, hell for leather.
DC: Ah, so you need the break more than anyone else?
TW: Yes [laughs], that’s true!
DC: So is there anything that’s quite unique to this Australian tour coming up that differs from past ones?
TW: Hmm I guess last time we came down we were playing 1977 in full. This one will be more of a mix of older stuff and not just focused on 1977 like last time. We definitely mixed it up a bit more with the touring we were doing towards the end of last year. It’ll be our first shows we’re doing in 2016 so we would’ve had a breather. I always think that we’ll keep getting better the longer we keep doing it!
DC: What do you have planned for the rest of 2016 then?
TW: Just before we come to Australia actually we’re going to get together in the studio and start working on some songs I’ve been writing for the last 12 [months], so I think we’ll be starting to shape the new album for the rest of this year. We’ll be doing festivals in the UK. It’s also 1977’s 20th anniversary, which is crazy, so we might do some stuff around that towards the end of this year. Creatively, we’re definitely going to start working on a new record.
Ash’s new album Kablammo! is out now.
* header photo by Alex Lake