Category: Archive

Ash on the upswing with U.S. tour

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Huge fans of the movies since childhood, vocalist/guitarist Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton even named Ash’s debut album, “1977,” after the year the movie was released.
What followed was much like things do in the entertainment business — their people contacted his people and soon a visit to George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch followed.
When Wheeler spoke to the Irish Echo last week, the band had played the evening before the launch party of the new “Star Wars” video game, “Republic Commando,” for which Ash’s song “Clones,” from the new album “Meltdown,” is the theme song. It is the first time that Lucas has used any music from a band on anything “Star Wars” related.
“Some good things happened last year,” he said wistfully, regarding the Jedi synergy and the regrouping of seminal American band the Pixies, which Ash opened for on tour.
“It was definitely a good year for childhood influences,” he said, laughing.
Truth be told, Ash have been enjoying a few good years. After falling out of favor with critics over their second release, “Nu Clear Sounds,” which was panned for being too inaccessible for their fan base, they stormed back with 2002’s “Free All Angels.” And almost immediately after “Meltdown” was released in Europe last year, they were welcomed back into the fold with rave reviews.
That said, getting a U.S. release of “Meltdown” became one of the top priorities for Ash as well, and thanks to what Wheeler figured is the band’s “fourth or so” U.S. record deal in their 10-year history, it is being released on March 8 on Record Collection, a California-based label.
“Meltdown” was intentionally produced to be tighter and heavier, suited for American ears, Wheeler admits, and said the band’s recording process as a whole was “a pilgrimage in search of a sound.”
Wheeler, Hamilton, drummer Rick McMurray and guitarist Charlotte Hatherley headed to California, where the change of scenery worked for fellow countrymen The Thrills.
Fans of the County Down-bred band should not fear, however, as “Meltdown” is about as far from sunny melodies as they could get — think more Sunset Strip and gritty rock clubs.
“Meltdown” was recorded over four months in Sound City Studios in Hollywood at the end of 2003 with producer Nick Rasculinecz at the helm.
“A lot of our favorite records are American,” said Wheeler, who reasoned that if it worked for his heroes, it could work for Ash.
“We recorded where Nirvana made ‘Nevermind,’ ” he said, still awed. “I mean, we grew up with that stuff!”
The band is heading out on a two-month U.S. tour this month, kicking off March 9 in Philadelphia, to promote the new release, and Wheeler is especially excited.
“We’re prepared to tour our asses off,” he said. “I’d love to be massive, I admit it.”
No strangers to the touring circuit, Ash still faces a long road to make a dent on notoriously insular American radio.
“I can’t blame anyone, you’ve got great music,” Wheeler said. “But at a certain time you look across the ocean, like during the British invasion, and even for great bands like Led Zeppelin.”
Not that Wheeler remembers the ’60s. At the tender age of 27, he and his bandmates are an odd mix, having started out young and still have been through the industry wringer.
“I’m quite amazed we’re still at it,” Wheeler said. “We know what we’re doing. I could maybe write songs in my sleep, but I wouldn’t want to.”
Wheeler said the writing process for “Meltdown” came fairly easily to him.
“For this album I wrote maybe a couple of hundred songs,” he said. “I only finish the good ones.”
Another part of their new sound is guitarist Hatherley, who caused a near media riot when she joined the band in 1997, soon after they first stormed the Irish and UK music scene.
“Charlotte is, I think, one of the great female icons of rock,” Wheeler said. “It took a while for everyone to calm down about it, but she can rock out with the boys and look good while doing it.”
While he’s excited for the tour, Wheeler is also looking forward to taking a much-needed break. Ash has been promoting “Meltdown” for a year, and he is looking for more inspiration.
“I want to take some time off after the U.S. tour,” he said. “We sort of took a year off after the second album. I’d like to come back really fresh like that again.”
It was during that time when Wheeler found himself in New York City during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The upcoming holiday reminded Wheeler how he found himself in hot water for dismissing his Downpatrick hometown parade as “rubbish.”
Local Irish politicians were among those calling for his head when Wheeler said that the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade was the best he’d seen.
This might not have been a problem, he said, but St. Patrick is buried in Downpatrick and the annual parade is a huge event.
“I was homesick, and really proud, watching this huge parade for this fella who was buried in my hometown . . . ” he said. “I know better now. New York’s is bigger, but I’m not saying it’s better!”

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