‘We don’t feel like we’ve reached all our goals yet’
Interview by Dawn / Photos (29/02/04) by Dawn
Ash, Northern Ireland’s finest purveyors of punk-pop guitar-rock, are back with their sixth album. Record Overplayed sat down for a chat with Rick and Mark in Newcastle during their tour of the UK to promote Twilight of the Innocents.But what was it that made them want to form a band in the first place?
‘I think we were all young and into heavy metal, stuff like that,’ says bassist Mark Hamilton. ‘We used to read Kerrang! - go down to the newsagents first thing before school on a Thursday whenever it came out - and we sort of read through it thinking “These bands have the most wonderful, decadent lifestyle” and we wanted that as well. And you’re living in Northern Ireland with a 9 til 5 job, and living your entire existence like that sounded like a nightmare so that was the great escape. And we weren’t very good at football, so we were never going to be professional footballers and that was our only other way out, to start a band, and that was it really.’
And it may have been back in 1995, but the band still remember their first ever appearance on Top of the Pops when they performed Girl From Mars.
‘We’d left school, it was the week after Glastonbury,’ Mark recalls. ‘I remember it because the news crew from our local television in Northern Ireland were at our parents’ house, filming them watching us on Top of the Pops – getting their reaction.’
Coming back up to date then, the new album is the band’s first since Meltdown in 2004 and making it was a completely different process.
‘Meltdown was definitely a product of the kind of slick West Coast rock production thing,’ says drummer Rick McMurray.
‘There was definitely an influence from the producer, Nick Raskulinecz,’ says Mark.
‘This record was really kind of DIY - do it in your own studios and produce it yourself – so I think it’s got more of a unique sound to it,’ says Rick. ‘Making it was good. It was a very different process for us; Tim and Mark had just moved to America and with going back to the three-piece there were a lot of changes in the band and it was kind of exciting, just seeing where we were going with the writing process. It became quite stressful towards the end because our time management wasn’t very good – we had certain deadlines which we thought were going to be moved but they weren’t. During the last few weeks when we were mixing the record Tim would be singing the track then taking it up to the mixing studio and he just didn’t sleep for about a week.’ He pauses, then finishes with a smile, ‘But the drums were done quite quickly.’
‘And the bass,’ adds Mark.
Guitarist Charlotte Hatherley has now been and gone and her exit had an impact upon how the new album was written.
‘I think when we started writing demos and stuff we were trying not to have any guitar overdubs whatsoever – we filled up any gaps with different sounds,’ says Rick. ‘I guess it changed your bass playing a bit, you were filling in more where it would have been two guitars, so that was a big difference,’ he says to Mark.
Mark nods. ‘We used things like samples and strings and synths where there would have been a second guitar.’
Rick continues: ‘Some of it was synths and then a couple of tracks – Polaris and Twilight of the Innocents – were done by Paul Buckmaster who’s a big string arranger. He’s been mainly working in movie stuff recently but in the seventies he did Moonlight Mile with the Stones and a lot of the Elton John big albums too. Using him was kind of different and he was a bit of a maniac!’
Over a decade on, the inspiration behind the music is still basically the same as it was in the beginning.
Mark explains: ‘Tim writes all the lyrics, but a lot of them are very autobiographical, so it’s all based on life experience. I think in the last few years we’ve all had quite a few big changes - long term relationships and things - so there’s lots of fresh, raw content there for the album.’
‘A lot of raw material,’ agrees Rick.
Are there any songs in the band’s back catalogue which they would be reluctant to play again?
‘Not really,’ says Mark. ‘We still like to go back and play a lot of the old stuff. There’s a couple of B-sides that we just wouldn’t do again but they’re just so obscure you’d never know them.’
‘We’re still trying to work out how to play them,’ smiles Rick. ‘You look back [at old songs] and maybe you would play it a different way, or you’d play it better, but you know there’s something about the recording. Look at 1977 – there’s a certain naive charm to it.’
So which songs do they most enjoy playing live?
Mark answers eagerly: ‘Our current favourite is probably the title track from the new album because it’s very different from what we’ve done in the past –it’s very show-off and grandiose... It makes us feel like gods onstage!’
‘Another one - which we hadn’t been playing until very recently - is Shining Light,’ says Rick. ‘It’s kinda exciting to have that back in the set – that was about an old relationship and Tim didn’t want to play it for a while.’
‘We hadn’t played it for three years,’ says Mark.
‘Yeah, we played it live for the first time in three years on Saturday so it’s back in the set. It’s a firm favourite,’ says Rick.
And the boys still manage to find the time to watch other bands and keep an eye on contemporary music.
‘I think the last band I actually saw playing was The Enemy at Reading,’ muses Rick. ‘Actually no, it was The Subways late the next day, but they were great gigs, especially The Enemy after having a number one album and they already had Reading booked months in advance so they were on quite early in the day.’
’We’ve been doing DJ sets and stuff after the shows,’ says Mark. ‘We’re playing upstairs tonight, so you do have to keep a close eye on what the kids are into. I went to see The Klaxons last week in New York which was fantastic.’
And it’s good to hear that Ash still have the hunger to keep on going for a long while yet.
‘I think we’ve underachieved in a lot of ways,’ says Mark. ‘It’s great to still be doing it after six albums and still touring the world and whatever but we don’t feel satisfied – we don’t feel like we’ve reached all our goals yet.’
‘Obviously a big one for us would be headlining festivals like Reading, because we’ve done Reading seven times now and the only person I can think of who’s probably played it more would be Dave Grohl... and he had to do that in two bands,’ says Rick.
‘We’ve headlined the second stage and we’ve been second and third from top on the main stage but we’ve never had the level of success that you need to be the headliner,’ says Mark. ‘But it’s good that we’ve never just got there because we’ve still got the drive to want to do that.’
So anyone who misinterpreted Tim’s festival announcement about Twilight of the Innocents being Ash’s ‘last album’ can rest assured that there’s no end in sight just yet:
‘We’re going back in the studio in January to start recording again,’ says Mark.
And finally, after years and years of interviews, is there a question which Ash have been dying to be asked but never have been?
‘We should be asked more often why we’re so great,’ says Rick with tongue firmly in cheek.
We immediately oblige by asking him that very question and he replies without so much as a second’s pause:
‘I don’t know. I don’t like to analyse it. It would destroy the magic.’
With huge thanks to Rick, Mark,
Paul and the ever lovely Ian. Visit www.Ash-official.com
for more info.
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