Interview: Ash get ready for RockNess 2012
Northern Irish rockers Ash get ready for their only Scottish festival of the year
Famous for the instantly catchy pop rock of tracks like ‘Kung Fu’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’ and ‘Girl From Mars’ Ash formed as teenagers in Northern Ireland back in 1992. Juggling homework with gigs and recording sessions they released the instant smash 1977 in 1996. Now 20 years into their career The List catches up with drummer Rick McMurray before RockNess, their only Scottish festival show of 2012.
You’re famous for coming out of Northern Ireland but you live in Scotland now don’t you?
I’ve been in Edinburgh for about seven years now. None of us live there any more, with Tim [Wheeler] and Mark [Hamilton] in New York and I ended up in Edinburgh, it’s a great place.
How would you describe Ash’s music in your own words?
Eclectic, melodic, guitar driven pop music.
What appealed to you about rock music?
When I was really young, about nine or ten, I started getting into music and from a very young age I got pretty obsessed with it really. I was one of those kids who spent every spare moment playing guitar or drums. I had just turned 16 when I joined the band and from that point on music has been my life really. It’s the same now I always have a pair of drumsticks in my hands.
Do you think that your age when you started out gave the music a freshness?
When you listen back to the very early stuff there’s a very youthful naivety to it, at the time we thought we were really cool. I think you can hear an energy in our music and that is something we have retained throughout our career. People of our age who have released as many albums as we have you’d have thought would have mellowed but we’re still playing really up tempo, energetic stuff at the minute and I think we always will.
Lots of teenagers are in bands but not many are actually signed and get to release an album. What do you think it was about Ash that took you to the next level?
Around 95 when we released [single] ‘Girl From Mars’ and we were getting in the charts, I think we always took it really seriously and wondered how we could get a record deal. We had the ambition but didn’t have any clue about the music industry. Once we got a record deal we were taken very seriously but ‘Girl From Mars’ and getting on Top of the Pops proved how serious we were about it to family and friends who thought we’d probably do it for a couple of years then go back to real life. 20 years later and we’re still waiting for that.
Are you doing anything special to celebrate your 20th anniversary as a band?
It was always one of our goals to make this what we did for our lives, and we’ve managed to achieve that. It feels like we’ve really achieved that getting to 20 years as a band. We’ve got a gig on 17th June at the Garage in London and we’re taking over the whole venue, there are a few rooms in there so we’ll play a few sets and make it a day long thing and that’ll be pretty cool. Really looking forward to that.
In 2007 you decided not to release any more albums. Why was that and what did you do instead to get your music out there?
After we released our last album on our contract with Warner’s we announced that we wouldn’t do any more albums and we had this idea of releasing stuff as singles as it seemed that was how people were consuming music. We really enjoyed doing it at the beginning of the band, before we’d released our debut album we did a whole string of singles, it was a really exciting period for the band, we felt we could surprise people and change their perceptions of the band.
So that was something we really wanted to get back to and what we did was released 26 singles over the course of the year, one every two weeks, entitled the A-Z Series, one for every letter of the alphabet. That was a pretty ambitious project that we carved out for ourselves, when we first discussed it we talked about one single a month but we pretty quickly realised that it had already been done by The Wedding Present, so we decided we’d do two a month then two more which gave us 26 which tied in nicely with the A-Z concept. I think it took, from starting that project to actually releasing all the singles, three years of our lives. It was a massive creative chunk of time. The whole reason for doing it was to keep things flexible, if we came up with a great idea we could go into the studio and release it really quickly. We found with albums when you write a song it could be two to three years before it sees the light of day which can be frustrating because you have a really good idea and get really excited by it and you just want to get it out there and with downloads you can be that spontaneous and we felt the album format was quite restrictive.
How do you plan to release any new material now?
Good question. At the time we were so consumed with doing this A-Z we didn’t really think about where we’d go after that. I don’t think any of us could face doing an A-Z part two, it was such a big challenge I don’t really know how we’re going to follow it up. It’ll stand on its own as a crazy idea we had, so answers on a postcard.
Looking forward to RockNess?
This weekend coming up is our first gig of the year which is how quiet we’ve been after wrapping up the A-Z stuff last year. So we can’t wait to get out there, rehearsals start tomorrow and RockNess, can’t wait for that one actually. We’ve heard a lot about it over the years and this will be our first appearance there. And with this being our only Scottish festival this year and with me living in Edinburgh it’s no bad thing and also there’s a good possibility my daughter will be coming along, she’ll be one year and one day old so it’ll be her first festival.
Do you enjoy playing festivals?
We have such a back catalogue the set list picks itself. I think we’ve got a reputation as a really good festival band, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing or how well we’re known at the festival I think we manage to put a smile on people’s faces and get into the spirit of what we’re doing. I love doing festivals it’s a real blast.
What have Ash got planned for the rest of the summer?
We’re going to China for the first time at the end of June and South Korea, a few summer festivals and our 20th anniversary gig on June 17th. Once we get the festivals over we’ll get back in the studio and start working on new material and work out how we’re going to release the new stuff. Definitely expect new material next year.
Do you enjoy playing new places like China?
It’s always great to get somewhere new. Last year we did a gig in Brazil and it’s great getting to a new place, it’s a bizarre feeling like being a new band even though we’ve got six albums to choose material from and all this history, but you’re going to somewhere as a new band if you haven’t played there before. It’s always a buzz. I just love playing, the longer we do this the more I enjoy it. As you go on the music becomes more and more important whereas in the early days it was all a bit crazy.
Ash play RockNess, 8-10 Jun.