ASH: 'Restrictions Are Healthy'

ASH vocalist-guitarist Tim Wheeler and bass player Mark Hamilton discuss the new album, the band's plans for the future and making movies.

ASH: 'Restrictions Are Healthy'
The recent release of Twilight Of The Innocents signals a new beginning for Irish rockers ASH. With the band having also returned to being a three piece again in the wake of the departure of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, and also leaving their native Ireland for the artistic and sonic delights of New York City, Twilight Of the Innocents is set to become the last album the band will release via a record company. The band firmly believe that with the exploding success and power of the internet and in how it's changed the way music is now made, released and consumed by the public at large, the future of it's music and the band itself lies solely in the world of cyberspace. On the band's recent successful tour of Australia - the band were last there in 2003 - Joe Matera sat down with ASH vocalist-guitarist Tim Wheeler and bass player Mark Hamilton to discuss the new album, the band's plans for the future and making movies. Ultimate-Guitar: With the release of Twilight of the Innocents it sees the completion of your record deal. The band has stated that rather than sign with another label it plans to continue releasing material as an online entity? Mark Hamilton: Not just online, we're also going to continue to try and release music on vinyl. And after we've released a certain amount of songs we'll do compilations so people will sort of eventually get the music on CDs. But taking things forward it'll be mostly single tracks with downloadable art. The internet has changed the musical landscape so much, especially in regards to the vitality of even having a record label behind an artist. Tim Wheeler: Yeah and the internet also means you can get stuff out so much quicker so you have that closer contact with your fans as well. You don't need the whole process of going through the record company and the stores to kind of get your music out. And now that we've got our own studio as well, we can make records cheaper as well. When we made this record we discovered that it could sound as good as anything done in a really posh, super expensive studio.
"We're going to continue to try and release music on vinyl."
Let's talk about the new album Twilight of the Innocents is a lot more adventurous in scope than its predecessor Meltdown? Tim: I think a big part of that was having our own studio and not having a record producer involved. Mark: Also because both Tim and I relocated to New York after having being in London for nine years, it influenced the direction of the album and obviously with Charlotte leaving and going her own way as well. So personally for the band it was like a new start. And so getting in the studio it was a like being a new band, we were away from the record company and we were away from management so there was no influence from anywhere else. And with there being no other producer, it was just the three of us in there. Did you find having the freedom to do what you want in the studio created a spontaneous environment where the songs could be written there and then? Tim: Yeah and we also just had a lot more time to dick around with different ideas and different sounds. It was really nice. We have leased the studio and have got it now for five years. So we now have our own space where we can leave our gear in there, walk in at any time we want to and be ready to go. It is such a sweet thing. Also I have learned a lot in how to use recording equipment and adding stuff with computers. The track Polaris was inspired by U2 somewhat? Tim: Yeah I was on holidays and ran into U2 on this beach in this little village in France where I was also staying by chance. We've known U2 for a long time because we've played with them a lot over the years. We've pretty much played on all of their last four album tours and we also did a big political gig in Belfast together back in '98. So anyway I briefly got invited to stay with them in France for a few days. So I was messing around on piano one day and this pretty piano melody popped into my head and recorded it. With Charlotte no longer in the band and one less guitar within the unit, how did you approach your guitar parts for this album? Tim: I definitely had to change my thinking instead of thinking how we were going to balance our two guitar parts. It was a big change having to think that there was one guitar now and that I needed to say everything I wanted to say with just the one guitar part than the two. And it was nice because it meant Mark and I could have a different guitar and bass interaction happening. And because of that, Mark was playing a bit more melodic bass lines to help fill in the gaps. In the mix we really tried tracking the bass loud to help drive the sound a lot more. Mark: I think in the past I could be accused of doing as little as possible (laughs) and not thinking about what I was really playing. But right from the beginning of the writing process for this album, it was kind of like 'okay without the other guitar, the bass should step out a bit more and I need to think about the parts a little more rather than just play the chord roots and chord tones'. Tim: Sometimes I think restrictions are really healthy because it helps to make you think more and become more inventive and really challenge you. Instead of doing another guitar overdub we were like thinking of different sounds and things that we could do live. And we wanted to do stuff where live, where we wouldn't want a guitar to be on tape to play along to. It's kind of become acceptable today for bands to do this and I think it's totally cool but we wouldn't ever be totally into having a guitar in the back ground. We don't mind having a synth or for some songs, the actual orchestral part on tape, but never the main instruments. Mark: With Meltdown it was actually the complete opposite where we worked out everything that we could play as completely as possible like on the album. If you came to see us live we would have sounded exactly as the album sounded like. But on this album we didn't mind adding other stuff like strings and stuff to the mix.
"When we made this record we discovered that it could sound as good as anything done in a super expensive studio."
So do you have another guitarist on tour for the live shows? Tim: No we are still remaining a three piece. We knew we didn't want to get anyone else in the band because since we've got such a tight relationship it'd hard for anyone else to come onboard. There was speculation that the real reason Charlotte left was due to the fact her solo album proved to be success and because of it, the band felt interfered with its goals towards achieving success over in the States? Tim: I think if you're in a band you have to be completely focused on that one thing than anything else. And we've been doing this since we were 15. So when Charlotte started doing her solo stuff it just felt like a little bit undermining though we actually encouraged her to do it at the time. But we found that she was a bit more into her solo stuff than the band. And I think that when that happens, it is the best time to part ways. Let's talk gear. Tim what did you use guitar and amp wise for the album? Tim: My principal guitar is an original 1960 Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty fitted with three PAF pickups that sounds amazing. I have a great effects rig that is comprised of a lot of boutique pedals such as Love Tone and Way Huge. When it came to amps, I used a lot of old amp heads, like a 70s Hi-Watt, an Orange and a 60s Vox. On the recording I tended to split my signal into a Triple Rectifier and some vintage amp like either a Vox or the Hi-Watt which I found made the sound really big. About half of the album is tracked live though when you listen to it, I can't really tell the difference between the stuff we did live and the stuff we didn't. And on this album I really took it one step further where I also got into different mikes and preamps where I really thought about what mikes we were going to be used. And these days where you can buy all these boutique preamps which are like copies of old Neve desks and things like that, you can really hone in on your sound a lot more. Mark, what about your bass gear? Mark: I used two basses; one was an early 70s Fender Jazz bass of which half the album was done with while the other half was done with a Gibson Thunderbird. For some strange reason there was this buzz in the studio with the Thunderbird, whenever we were using distortion and stuff you couldn't really hear it but if we were using any of the clean stuff you could really hear the humming. We had at least anywhere up to three different bass amps running such as an Ampeg STV-2, and an old Ampeg B15 combo and then those went to a signal that had about five or six bass channels going on each song.
"On this album we didn't mind adding other stuff like strings and stuff to the mix."
Do you have any leftover material from the album recording sessions? Tim: There are two other songs that we'll release from those sessions as B-sides. Mark: All up we had about thirty songs demoed and once we went into the studio we just honed in on 14 songs. There was a bunch of other stuff that will probably be used for another five or six B sides that are comprised of other tracks from those demos. It's well known amongst fans that the band has made a spoof horror movie called Slashed that features Chris Martin from Coldplay. It has remained unreleased to date though it is rumoured to finally be seeing the light of day on You Tube? Tim: The horror movie was put together while we were on the Free All Angels tour between 2001 and 2003. We were touring America and doing a lot of supports so we made this movie but we never got to finish it and that is the reason why we never released the whole thing. It's like two thirds complete at the moment but we're thinking of taking the best bits from it like some of the cool scenes and putting it out on You Tube. I hear there's also a long forgotten film documenting the band on tour in their early days? Tim: Yeah that movie - Teenage Wildlife - remains unreleased as we didn't want our parents to see it. It is just a road movie we made when we were 17 and touring behind the 1977 album and just as Charlotte had come into the band. It's just shows all of us totally fucked up and that was part of the reason why we didn't, and want to, show our parents 2007 Joe Matera
Listen to ASH members (photo) greeting at this location.
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      It is just a road movie we made when we were 17 and touring behind the 1977 album and just as Charlotte had come into the band. Its just shows all of us totally ****ed up and that was part of the reason why we didnt, and want to, show our parents
      Images flashing!!!!
      Rock on Ash \m/ Great to be hearing from them after such a long time, I was hoping they'd be okay after Charlotte left. And lol@ the road movie