The Return of ASH

Motley’s Claire Fox talks to ASH frontman Tim Wheeler about reliving former glories and how the album isn’t dead after all

10 years ago the world watched in awe as teenage trailblazers the Arctic Monkeys earned cult status with debut single I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, while even now the success of Cavan teens, The Strypes has many speechless.

Should we really be surprised by the success of teen bands though when Northern Irish rockers ASH earned their cult-following in their teenage years and as a result are the soundtrack to numerous Reeling in the Years episodes of the mid-nineties?

With platinum albums, Ivor Novella accolades and sold-out concerts in the bag, lead singer and key songwriter of ASH, Tim Wheeler, can only dream of reliving such glories with new album, Kablammo!

It’s always nice to dream about it, you know those Top 40 singles or Top 20 singles would be nice to have again, sure we’ll see. The main thing is that we love playing and have a great fan base”

Although Kablammo! may not have emulated the chart victories of 1977 or Free All Angels, the positive critical reception has received is what makes Wheeler most satisfied with the band’s latest record. “It’s been really well critically received and fans are loving it too” says Wheeler, in his still devastatingly beautiful Downpatrick accent. “The thing I’m most happy about is that it makes a great live set.”

Combining the vibrancy of the punk pop trio’s early years with a new maturity and added songwriting prowess, Kablammo! is a fantastic follow-up to 2007’s underwhelming, Twilights of Innocence, a fact which Wheeler is acutely aware of.

“Yeah I think you kind of get the best of everything. We were trying to get back to some elements of things we had in the beginning- the simplicity and short energetic songs. We’ve also learned to play a lot better and you can hear that in this record too.”

While 20 years ago Tim wrote about his futile attempts at love and fumbling teenage romances, his songwriting process has progressed a lot since his adolescent years.

“I’ve gotten better in some elements of writing lyrics and my music has improved. I take a little bit more time with it now. The same ideas are still there- strong melodies and good choruses that we like- but as you mature different things take shape like grief and losing my father.”

The loss of his father to Dementia contributed to the 38 year old releasing his first solo album Lost Domain in 2014. With the majority of the tracks on the record dedicated to his late father, it was interesting to hear what the experience was like for him.

“Making the record was quite a painful thing, but actually getting it out there in the world and releasing it that’s when I felt that I completed the process in a way .You know it’s become a more important subject and there’s more and more people with Alzheimer’s in this aging population. I still get a lot of nice messages, so in a way it has definitely been cathartic.”

Stating in 2007 that the “album was dead” due to the onset of downloads and with the release of their iconic A-Z series, a collection of 26 singles, one released each month between 2009 and 2010, it had seemed unlikely another studio album was on the horizon. Miracles do happen however and Wheeler’s Ash did a U-turn finding faith in the album once more.

“We released 26 singles in a year in 2010, so I think that burned us out for a while. It took up so much work, but you know we just started writing songs again and listening to music again and after a while it just started to connect for us.”

“So we realised then that the album wasn’t dead and decided to do another one. And it had to live up to our best ones, so there was a lot of pressure,” laughs Wheeler.

“The album didn’t die away like I thought it would because at the time downloads were really taking over and  single tracks were bigger. But now we’ve got this era of streaming and vinyl albums as well”

While downloading may have been the order of the day ten years ago, now streaming is the service of choice music lover’s use to access their favourite tracks. Admitting that he would of course prefer if people paid for his music, Wheeler is happy if his music is being heard.

“It’s definitely a better alternative to piracy. The only trouble is that there’s not much money coming in from it at all, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Revealing that friendship has been the key to the longevity of ASH and with the band going from strength, when probed on what Wheeler hopes is in store for the next 20 years of ASH, the frontman pauses for a moment.

“Having gone back and made an album, there’s pressure to make another one. It’s strange to have gone back and made one when we said we’d never make another one. The next one will be even more relaxed, so I don’t really have a plan or like having a plan. You just keep winging it and hope for the best.”

ASH play Cork’s Cyrprus Avenue December 18th.