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Ash interview

16 November 07 words: Michael Simon
We put some questions to the indie rock trio about losing a member, releasing online and being banned from Rock City...

(Ash - Rick, Mark and Tim)

Ash have been on the boil for fifteen years now, and having taken Britpop and the Indie explosion in their stride, things are all change now, having lost a member, acquired a studio and shifted to a more mature frame of mind. After nearly a decade together, Charlotte Hatherley left the band last year, leaving the group in its original form as a three piece and with their own studio the band has decided to turn itself into an online music factory, periodically releasing material which will be unavailable in solid format.
Ash are even involved in some underground cinema involving a blood soaked Chris Martin, which might soon see the light of day through the magic of YouTube. At the end of the day, it’s about keeping the fans happy for Ash. Michael Simon talked to Mark Hamilton at length about the deficit of starry-eyed wonder in the ominously named The Twilight of the Innocents.

So Ash has always had a fairly strong visual image. How much are you involved in that?
If I don’t do the designs myself, I’ll work with the artist. If we see someone and we like the look of their stuff, then we’ll approach them, and we go back and forth until we find something that we really like.

So have you been behind the changing Ash logo over the years?
Yeah, pretty much. Different logos for different years.

Each logo looked like it could have been the band’s permanent logo. Does each logo tie into each album?
Well, I suppose you could read into them, but there’s not too much thinking behind them, it’s just anything that looks good. If you look at the Meltdown one, it is quite obviously metallic, and tribal looking. It had a metal, rock edge that that album had.

Where are you right now then?
We’re sitting inside the Millennium Dome, or the O2 as it’s now called. We’re playing with Snow Patrol today actually.

I heard that you played online hangman with your album title?
It was a good way of teasing the fans because usually you just do a press release and announce the album title, and we thought that was a bit boring. So for three weeks we put up a hangman game, and each week we’d put up a few letters and the fans would do a poll vote on which letter they wanted to choose. It was pretty fun, it got quite a lot of media attention as well. Chris Moyles had all his breakfast listeners going on and trying to get it.

Do you have quite a hands-on approach to the fans then?
Yeah, well we always have. We have that whole DIY ethic and we used to put on our own shows in Belfast. It’s about doing your artwork and putting the album together yourself and everything.

So where did the title Twilight of the Innocents come from?
I think we came up with it in the cab home from the studio one night. It sums up where we’re up to as a band, we’re not this bunch of wide-eyed, young teenagers anymore. We’ve all been on the emotional roller coaster with difficult relationships and that sort of thing. It says what it means.

So are you entering your mature phase now?
Well, The Twilight of the Innocents is the last track on the album and I think it’s what we’re most part of, and it’s the biggest departure musically from anything that we’ve done before. I think the fact that we’ve put it at the end of the album is quite a hint that that’s where we want to continue.

What was it like working on this album?
It was great. Because we made it ourselves and we didn’t have anyone else putting their oar in, we were left to our own devices. Moving to a new country and having our own studio for the first time meant that we were free to experiment with stuff that we might not have had the time to do if we were with a producer and there was a clock ticking, and you only have a month to finish the thing. The three of us just in a little metal box. It was quite daunting at the start, whether we would be able to pull this off, and make a really good job of it.

Is production entirely new to you then?
Well, we’ve always co-produced it with another producers. We had Owen Morris on the first three albums, and then the Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz, and we worked with Elastica’s producer on the first mini-album Trailer. We’ve had quite a wide variety of producers and we’ve sort of learnt all their tricks, so we’ve learnt to do it ourselves.

Does it have more of a personal feel then?
I think it’s most representative of who we are because it doesn’t have someone else’s trade mark sounds on it. With a lot of different albums by different artists producers will have something that you can pick out as something that they’re known for. This is actually the sound of Ash doing Ash.

How does it feel to be a three piece again?
It was actually sort of rejuvenating, because it put us back in the mind frame of when we were starting out. Because it’s been such a long gap since we were a three piece it’s almost put us back there, like going back in time, like we were back in the garage, especially when we were in a new environment in New York. We didn’t even have our own gear to start with and that’s how we started to write the album with a bunch of leftover equipment in the studio. It was actually really fun, because it wasn’t about the sound but about the song, and how the song sounded. That was really good to get the process going.

So are you planning to recruit or to stay the way you are?
It’s working out really well as a three piece, and we’re just learning how to do some backing vocals and stuff. We’ve spent years as a three piece before, so if it works then what’s the problem?

How would you describe your sound?
That’s one of the hardest questions you can ask. I suppose that you can describe particular songs, but trying to sum them all up in one word is impossible. In an overview I’d call it weepy, but each album’s got its different tunes. Lyrically this album is one of our darker albums and its probably more emotional, more personal and introspective, less idealistic
and romantic. In a way it’s more realistic and progressive. Most of the songs on this album are about how love has fucked someone over. There’s a lot less starry eyed wonder and songs about girls. I think this album is more musically accomplished- we’re better at playing and it’s quite varied. It’s quite a weird mix of songs because they’re all so different and in some ways they don’t have the same vibe at all.

I’ve heard that you’re planning to prioritise online releases from now on.
What we said was that we’re not going to release any more albums in the traditional sense. We’re not going to stick to the three year cycle where you disappear, then you tour the album for a year and a half and then you wait six months for the release after the album is finished. We’ve got our own studio so we’re going to release songs online. We could essentially put
out something a month after its been written. We’re also going to continue to release vinyl, and CDs and EPs, and once we’ve got a bunch of music we’ll put it together as a compilation. It’ll just be a more constant stream of releases. It’s about not being stuck in the same regimental release schedule, which is really annoying, and it’s really bad for fans.

It sounds like you put a lot of work into making your fans happy.
You get good feedback and criticism, which is good, and you need to hear what your fans are saying. We do go online and get involved.

I’ve heard that you have friends in high places- like Chris Martin.
Yeah, we’ve known him for years. He was actually an Ash fan before the whole thing got massive.

I’ve heard that you appeared together in a film called Slashed from a few years ago, which has been thoroughly buried.
It’s been locked away in the vaults for quite a while, but I think we might try to get it on YouTube soon. We’re not going to sell it or anything.

I read that Chris was a bit embarrassed about having been running about in his boxer shorts drenched in blood.
Oh, no no. It’s pretty funny- he plays this Sherlock Holmes character. The film was never actually finished though, so we’re just going to put out the scenes that are complete. The project just got out of control. The script was written by a fan, and it got more and more elaborate and we just made it up as we went along. It ended up just imploding.

Are you ever planning to do any collaborations with other artists?
Not really. Chris did backing vocals on a couple of songs and on a cover of a Buzzcocks song we did for Shaun of the Dead. We’ve never done much collaboration work, but now we’ve got our own studio, so maybe we’ll be able to drive some people in there.

Are you looking forwards to the festival season?
We’re doing quite a lot all over the world. We’re only really doing Reading and Leeds in the UK, but we’re going to Norway and Japan, Korea, Australia, Germany and all over Europe.

Are you taking touring easier now?
I don’t think we’ve really changed that much really. Whenever you do something for so long, you get good at it. Everyone knows what they’re doing so you just get on with it.

Apparently you were banned from Rock City for an incident involving the fire extinguishers.
It’s an old story, but we were very drunk and we annoyed the security by wrecking the places and setting off all the fire extinguishers, so we got barred. Since then we’ve made up with them and we’ve been back and played I think four times. It’s all old water under the bridge.

Good stuff! Thanks for your time!

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