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Ash have always been one of Britain’s best rock bands and since their chronologically confused debut album ‘1977’ was released in 1996 they have been at the forefront of the Brit-rock pack. Riding the initial ‘Britpop’ tag with a musical style spattered with power-pop, punk, grunge and hard rock they have constantly developed, winning hearts and minds, on the way to the top with a bevy of catchy and epic hits on a handful of Top 20 albums.
It is the power of their single’s output that pushed the historic decision to opt out of releasing albums in the traditional sense after fifth album ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’, with them, in future, releasing only single tracks regularly in digital format. Ash, seeing the changes in the way music is purchased decided to ride the tide of change instead of sinking in the apparent physical-release sales slump.
Drummer Rick McMurray explains the bands departure from tradition: “The industry has been going this way for a long time so with this new album being the last on our contract anyway we are going to look to release singles only in format form and even 7-inches. We feel like it’s more up-to-date releasing single tracks whereas in the past you only release a couple of songs in a few years. We always found it frustrating waiting around for the next record to be released so this way we can release a song when we want.”
As well as being their last ‘Innocents’ is a very different type of Ash record, being the first to be self-produced by the band themselves, with front-man Tim Wheeler at the helm. Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton relocated to New York City after eight years in London and stumbling across some unwanted space in Manhattan, Wheeler believed he had found the perfect place to build their own studio and start work.
“We found our own studio in New York in around 2005/06 where we began work on the fifth album. I was living in Belfast at the time so had to relocate to America with the rest of the band but was used to it as before I had been in and around London all the time anyway. With the new studio we were able to produce the album ourselves which was a lot of hard work,” explained McMurray.
With guitarist Charlotte Hatherley leaving the band in 2006 to pursue her blossoming solo-career, the band were forced to revert back to the original three-piece line-up.
“We had already done the whole three-piece thing before but it was still a challenge to get back into writing new material with one guitar but it gave us more space and was an exciting challenge as well.”
“I’ve had a listen to her (Charlotte’s) new stuff on Myspace and yeah I like it. I’ve always liked her music; she always had a way of writing more quirky stuff which was really good.”
But how has this band-regression affected the sound: “I think our music is very different to our older stuff I mean if you listen to something like ‘Jack names The Planets’ we sound like a totally different band. We still have the band traits like the melody and certainly the energy but we definitely have changed quite a bit.”
Since the heady pop-punk tunes which appeared on first EP ‘Trailer’ (which features the brilliant and aforementioned ‘Jack Names The Planets’) the band seem to have developed and matured over the years and tracks such as new single rock ballad ‘Polaris’ show this.
Back in March/February the band debuted tracks off their new album on a mass university tour, reaffirming themselves as a top act with a new generation of students: “We did about five or six songs a night of new material which people generally stand back for but I think the new album live was appreciated especially by the hardcore Ash fans. Then obviously we play the old hits too which I love to see the crowd going mad for.”
“The tour was really good it was such a buzz for us that it sold out in a few hours too. We did a couple of secret shows in New York before but the tour was our first official live performances back as a three-piece and it was exciting getting back to playing live as that three-piece.”
This live warm-up has helped them get back on top form as a live act for a summer of festival action - an arena that Ash are more than familiar with. So much so they once played twice in one weekend at Glastonbury in 1997 filling in a headline slot at the last minute.
The band rekindle their love affair with Reading Festival this year as they play the Carling Weekend headlining the Radio 1/NME stage, also hitting the stage at festivals in London, Japan and South Korea before heading out on a full UK tour in October.
The band are once again winning fans through their explosive live shows, their popularity highlighted by a recent five-night residency at Camden’s Koko due to overwhelming demand to see the rejuvenated three-piece back in action.
Twilight Of The Innocents may be Ash’s ‘last album’, but thankfully Ash are far from on their last legs.