Out Of The Blue: Ash frontman Tim Wheeler talks Star Wars, opening for Ride tonight, and this unexpected new album
When Ash announced in 2007 that Twilight of the Innocents was going to be their last album, many fans of the Irish rockers thought it might be nearing the end of the line for the band who delivered such pop brilliance as “Girl From Mars,” “Goldfinger” and “Jesus Says.”
Fears were alleviated when the impressively earnest A-Z Series was launched, which saw Ash dropping a new track every two weeks for a total of 26 songs over the period of one year. Last week, having gone back on their word in the best way possible, the group released a new album titled Kablammo! which is reminiscent of some of their catchiest moments in a catalog that began two decades ago.
Tonight, one of the most anticipated concerts of the year takes place in New York City at Terminal 5 where a reunited Ride will perform. That Ash has been tapped to open makes it all that much sweeter. Vanyaland caught up with frontman Tim Wheeler before the show to talk about the crucial issues: the new Star Wars films, the story behind the hidden track puke-fest “Sick Party” on the band’s 1977 and a bit about the new record.
Michael Christopher: I want to talk about the new album, but first I need to get your opinion on the most important subject: what do you think about the new Star Wars films being made?[Laughs] I’m excited actually; the end of that recent trailer seeing Harrison Ford and Chewbacca — that was amazing. They definitely lowered the bar with the last films, so I think these have a chance to be really great.
Are you worried that the market might get oversaturated with the standalone films?
I don’t know, yeah, I guess there’s a hunger there for them so I guess it just depends on the body of it. What’s the angle for the standalone ones?
I think they’re definitely going to do a Boba Fett one, an origin story, which I’d be excited about.
Oh yeah, I would be, too. Boba Fett was badass, with such an enigmatic appearance. I think that would be really cool.
And I know that Ewan McGregor has expressed a deep interest in doing something, maybe about his years on Tattooine while watching over Luke from a distance.
Yeah, ok. I think there’s room for it to be really good because as long as they get the right directors and the right stories… as long as they’re better than the Jar Jar Binks stuff, that’d be great.
You told me last time we talked, “Empire would be my favorite, then A New Hope, then Return of the Jedi, and then maybe the last two, and the one with Jar Jar Binks — I really lost interest with that one.”[Laughs] Yeah. We actually played the wrap party for The Phantom Menace. We knew Ewan McGregor at the time because he had done some voiceover work for Teenage Wildlife, which was a tour film that we made. He got us into the party and we got to play at it. It was a really cool experience, but then we were disappointed by the actual movie in the end.
Ok, let’s talk Kablammo! This wasn’t supposed to happen; do you regret saying Twilight of the Innocents was going to be the final Ash record?
I thought that people might be a bit more pissed off at us for changing our minds, but nobody seems to care. I think I remember our tour manager at the time when we announced it at the Isle of Wight Festival he was like, “What the fuck are you guys doing?” [Laughs] But I’m really happy we went for it and did the singles series, 26 songs in a year. I think we really pushed and challenged ourselves too.
The A-Z Series was a really ambitious undertaking. If you had done it on a smaller scale, let’s say you did 10 songs instead of the 26, do you think you might have continued to do that, or are you happy going back to the full album?
Hmmm…I think we wanted to take on a ridiculous challenge, and we had our own studio so we could actually go in and do that and make it good quality. I don’t know; maybe we would’ve chosen an easier timeframe, like a song every month. But I also think we needed it to get out of that album, tour, album, tour cycle. We needed to shake it up a bit.
You went through PledgeMusic for Kablammo!, which many other artists have done — is that the future, or is it another transitory mechanism until some sort of structure is finally settled on across the board?
I think it kind of works quite well; I can see us definitely doing it again. It’s sort of where you can have a deal and still do Pledge and it can sit alongside streaming and it’s a good way to pay for getting the record made. That’s what we used it for – we didn’t use it for any extra money or anything. It kind of took the pressure off of us and the fans got a kick out of it. We didn’t have anything really challenging to do; we didn’t go around to people’s houses and cook them food or anything.
People would come down to the studio and things like that, which was already easy. The thing that was most popular I think people just wanted a signed version of the album and people were excited to be named executive producers on the album. It kind of brings your fans into it in a cool way.
And that’s the thing; it really makes the fans feel a part of the process and in a way closer to the band.
Yeah, and I don’t know what’s going to happen with selling recorded music. I think the whole Tidal launch was absolutely preposterous because they chose all of the richest musicians. But they’re actually addressing a problem that exists is streaming creates a negligible amount of money, but they just launched it in a terrible way. Hopefully something will change on that side of things, but there needs to be something to benefit up and coming artists.
That’s sort of what was lost in the whole Tidal launch; you have all of these artists who are the top moneymakers in their respective genre, and nobody on a lower financial tier was there.
That’s where they fell down, and it did make them look greedy, unfortunately.
The songs themselves on Kablammo!, many of them have this kind of buoyancy that’s reminiscent of songs like “Oh Yeah” and “Shining Light.” “Machinery” for instance — that could be an outtake from Free All Angels. Was there a conscious effort to get back to that sing-a-long pop sensibility?
Yeah, I think because we were returning to an album and people would be quite critical if it wasn’t any good. We could easily get shutdown for coming back with an album. And also, trying to look back at what fans [liked the most], 1977 and Free All Angels. The thing about those records was I was really focused on the songwriting and wasn’t worried too much about the style. I wanted simplicity and super melodic, upbeat and a good vibe and we sort of took our time of it.
You still manage to shred a bit on guitar…[Laughs]
Songs like “Let’s Ride” and “Go Fight Win,” you really rip it out at points. Were there any points where you wanted to go full-on Meltdown-mode?
I think I was quite satisfied; I didn’t want to overdo the guitars. I think the second half of A-Z was some of my best guitar work so far, but I think there are some pretty good moments on this. A few years ago I was working on my guitar playing quite a lot, and our old manager, every time I’d play a guitar solo on the record would get really mad, but I can’t help it. It’s that early metalhead influence in me. The other person that shares that with me is Rivers [Cuomo] from Weezer; he’s obviously a guy that grew up on metal – it’s funny.
You’re playing with Ride tonight.[Excitedly] Oh yeah.
Had you been a fan of theirs?
Yeah — a huge fan actually. They had been my favorite band when I was 15 or 16. We opened for them in 1994, when they were on the Carnival of Light tour, which was quite a stylistic change. It was cool, I got to see them play in London last weekend, and they only played stuff from Nowhere and Going Blank Again and the EPs. It was phenomenal; it was like the dream set that I would have wanted to see back in the day. So yeah, I fuckin’ love ‘em…they’re really fucking cool.
The last thing I want to ask you about is “Sick Party” [the hidden track] from 1977.[Laughs] Yeah.
I work with a British girl who absolutely hates that portion of the album. She told me that she had to re-record the CD on cassette just so she could leave that part out.
Wow. [Laughs] That’s amazing… that’s a lot of effort for her to go to. [Laughs] Wow. I’m impressed!
So what’s the story behind it, was it just to have a laugh?
I think it was just studio madness. It was our first ever residential recording session in a studio and we were there for six weeks in Monmouth, Wales. I always spend a long time doing my lyrics, and I think the other guys were bored and started to work on this track called “The Scream,” and then I started getting roped into it as well.
We were going through two 24 tracks, reel-to-reel tapes, together so that we could get 48 tracks. So there were like 48 tracks of us screaming, but we sort of got bored with that and started putting other weird shit onto it. I remember the Boo Radleys were in the studio next door and we got them come in and whisper and scream on it.
And then [bassist] Mark [Hamilton] — we were on acid at the time as well — and I remember Mark was like, he started to feel a bit sick, so he said, “Let’s go record this.” So we went out into the courtyard and set up a really expensive mic and…yeah…that was what happened, the “Sick Party” just emerged [Laughs]. And instead of listening to “The Scream,” we ended up listening to this “Sick Party” track. And it was funny that it became this hidden track; people used to say that they’d fall asleep listening to the album and they’d wake up freaking out thinking there was someone in the house and stuff like that. [Laughs]
Yeah. [Laughs] It’s kind of bizarre, but it’s quite amazing for a secret track, it’s pretty well-known.