May 7, 2018 Interview – Tim Wheeler of Ash
Coming together in the early 1990s, Northern Ireland’s Ash scored a number 1 album in the UK charts relatively quickly in 1996 with the release of 1977. Launched in the limelight, they would go on to become an international success with the release of 2001’s Free All Angels, and since have been one of the most active bands in Alternative Rock.
Now over 20 years into the game, the 3-piece band continue to produce music that is uniquely their own – combining Pop sensibility with a Rock and Punk edge. Always and forever about the song, Ash look to keep the momentum going, preparing to release their new studio album, Islands, on Friday, May 18th. Their seventh overall full-length record, where will the clever, infectious songwriting of Ash take audiences next? Here to answer some of those questions, Lead Singer, Guitarist, Engineer, and Lead Songwriter, Tim Wheeler, sat down to talk about the work behind Islands, traveling the world in a Rock-n-Roll band, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Ash has been established for over 25 years now. In that time, the band has attained platinum success, toured the world, and been a mainstay on the Alternative Rock scene. First, tell us, what has the ride been like for you and the band?
Tim Wheeler – It’s been amazing. It’s amazing to still be in it really. It kind of took off like a rocket when we were 17 years old. I am glad we got around 10 years of experiencing the music industry the way it was in those days at a time when labels were nurturing and developing bands. We definitely benefited from that. I guess we were lucky to be established before everything went digital. We were lucky to be able to survive that whole transition. We were able to get out and tour around the world – we have fans in Australia, Japan, and The States as well. It has been an interesting ride for sure.
CrypticRock.com – It has been an extensive ride too. The band’s sound has always centered around a strong sense of melody and catchy vocals. As a songwriter, are these two important elements for you?
Tim Wheeler – Yes, definitely. They are really the starting points for me. When I start writing a song, if it doesn’t really have those ingredients, I will abandon it. They always have to be very melodic – that is the kind of music I really like and want to make. If it works well on an acoustic guitar, the song translates well when we are going full blast.
CrypticRock.com – That is true, if a song sounds good with just an unplugged guitar and vocal, it will sound solid once all the instruments join in. As stated, Ash has had their share of international success, and in 2002, you toured North America with Coldplay in support of 2001’s Free All Angels. For many Americas, this was an introduction to Ash. Do you feel that album cycle and tour opened a lot of doors for the band in The States?
Tim Wheeler – I think so, I think that really helped us. We did a lot of opening slots that year as well, we toured with Moby, David Bowie, Saves The Day, and Dashboard Confessional that year. All four of those tours got us in front of different kind of audiences as well. I think that was a real important year for us.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, it really was a focal point for you guys early on. The band is set to release their seventh studio album, entitled Islands, out May 18th. What was the writing and recording process like this time around?
Tim Wheeler – It came together quite easily. The songs were good from the start. It was the first time we just recorded the exact amount of songs we needed. In the past we would try and record 16 songs for an album, because we weren’t sure how certain songs would turn out. This time we felt these 12 songs go together really well and we don’t really need to do anymore. We had a confidence in the material right from the start. I think it is a really cool batch. I wrote quite a lot of it when I was traveling to various different islands – I went to Japan, also New York, off the coast of Spain, and an island off of Ireland called Lambay. Then we recorded in a studio in Manhattan, that is an island as well. That is why we call it Islands.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool. It is a strong collection of songs. It retains the classic Ash guitar and lyrical styling. Your lyrics, through the years, have come across as personal, storytelling, but sometimes tongue-in-cheek a bit. What served as your inspiration this go around?
Tim Wheeler – I guess it was the genuine heartbreak. I went through a breakup before I started writing the record – I guess a lot of the songs came out of that. I am also a storyteller, so I guess I do embellish things. Some of the raw feelings were real. It’s a horrible thing to go through, but it is always good for songs. (Laughs) That is the origin of it, I was just trying to make sense of what I was going through at the time. That is probably another reason it was written quite quickly, it is very cathartic to turn those kind of feelings into songs.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, they say the best art comes out of adversity. If everything is good, what is there to write about? (Laughs)
Tim Wheeler – (Laughs) That’s so true. You have to really start using your imagination if everything is really good.
CrypticRock.com – Ash has always remained consistent with putting out material through the years. Additionally, you have collaborated with many others. Do you enjoy outside collaborations?
Tim Wheeler – Yes, it’s always fun and your learn a lot from stepping outside your comfort zone. After all these years in Ash, we really have our way of working and our general approach to things doesn’t change that much. It’s cool when you go out and work with someone else, you pick up new tricks or ways of looking at things. It can be a lot of fun! I also made a solo album once and that was quite a challenge because I didn’t have my usual team of people to give me feedback. I learned a lot from that as well.
CrypticRock.com – You certainly can expand your horizons when you work with outside people. When you work with the same people for so long, you can build a comfort zone, which is wonderful, but sometimes it is good to go outside that as well.
Tim Wheeler – Completely. I did some work on a few soundtracks as well, which was really cool, because that was a much freer way of thinking. Instead of thinking about a 3-4 minute song format, it really expanded the way I thought about music.
CrypticRock.com – That is a different experience. Ash has pretty much remained a 3-piece band, yes there was a time when you were a 4-piece, but you have stuck to a 3-piece most of the time. Is that something that is important to the band, to be a 3-piece?
Tim Wheeler – It’s great because of the simplicity of communication. It’s kind of the perfect number for a band really. If you want to make a decision, normally if 2 out of 3 what to go a certain way, that is kind of the way we will go. There are not too many people to make decisions. It’s always an easy number for commitment, all 3 of us know we are fully committed to this. Once you start getting into bigger numbers with a band, there are people with lesser roles, everyone has to carry their weight in a 3-piece.
The only thing is it can be a bit constraintive live, where all 3 of us are working full-time every second of the concert. You don’t really get any breathing space when you are a 3-piece. I guess that limitation is also a benefit because it gives you a sound and style. Sometimes it would be nice and you wish, it would be great if you had a second guitarist, more backing vocals, some keyboards live, etc. I think we are very locked in when we play because we have been playing together for so many years. There are pros and cons, but I think it is a big part of our identity.
CrypticRock.com – Ash has always been a great live band with a lot of energy. There have been select dates announced in support of Islands. Can we expect more shows to be announced?
Tim Wheeler – There will definitely be more. There are the UK dates, we haven’t announced any European dates, but I am pretty sure we are going to be doing that. I am pretty sure we will be going to Australia and Japan early next year. Hopefully, if the US dates go well, we can add another run and go more places. I think as far as this year, these will remain the US shows, but it would be nice to do more next year.
CrypticRock.com – That is something to look forward. You mentioned Australia and Japan tours, those are pretty lengthy trips. What is it like traveling that far to play shows?
Tim Wheeler – It’s pretty cool! Normally the jetlag is pretty extreme when you are travelling that far. The biggest challenge is just trying to deal with being exhausted, lack of sleep, and still doing a good show. I love going to those places because they are really cool countries. If I can, I always try and stay a bit longer just to make the most of it. Sometimes when we go there, we are in Japan for around 2 days and then we go off to Australia. It can be hectic sometimes. When you are playing Australia, you are doing a show and you are going to the airport at 6 AM the next morning to get to the next city. That is because you have to fly, because in Australia the distances are kind of far to drive most of the time. Not much sleep happens in Australia.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, it sounds exhausting, but it is great to travel abroad and experience these places.
Tim Wheeler – Yes, that is one of my favorite things about being in a band, I have gotten to see the world. I love it. Touring Europe is amazing to be in a different city in a different country every day, it’s amazing.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and there are distinct differences everywhere you go. Yes, people on a whole are similar, but you pick up on cultural differences everywhere you go.
Tim Wheeler – Definitely, even in The States as well, you can find a big difference state to state.
CrypticRock.com – Very true. Ash’s music is a mix of styles. You can hear Rock, Alternative, Pop, and Punk. That in mind, what are some of your personal musical influences?
Tim Wheeler – Those are all my kind of favorite musical styles when we were forming the band. I love the energy of Rock, Punk, and Alternative Rock, but I really do love the melodies of Pop music. I especially like the melodies of classic Pop like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I guess I listen to a diverse mix of music.
If it’s a good melody and the lyrics are telling an interesting story, I am pretty open to it really. I love electric guitars, I grew up loving Heavy Metal as well, so I do love a bit of guitar virtuoso here and there. Some people I listen to because I love their lyrics and voice. People like Leonard Cohen, the poetry in his music and his songwriting is amazing. I guess I listen to different things for different reasons.
CrypticRock.com – There is something to be taken from different types of music, you just need to have an open mind. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan, what are some of your favorites in those genres.
Tim Wheeler – I guess my favorite is The Exorcist (1973). I recently saw The Quiet Place and enjoyed that. Also, Aliens (1986) is one of my favorite Sci-Fi/Horror films. I still have never seen The Evil Dead (1981). I really need to, especially since the band is called Ash. (Laughs)
5.17.18 Kingston The Hippodrome
5.22.18 Birmingham HMV (5:30pm – Free Entry)
5.23.18 Leeds HMV (5:30pm – Free Entry)
5.24.18 Manchester Arndale HMV (5:30pm – Free Entry)
5.25.18 Belfast HMV (5:30pm – Free Entry)
5.26.18 Belfast BBC Music Biggest Weekend
5.30.18 Brooklyn NY Baby’s All Right
8.10.18 Cornwall Boardmasters
8.11.18 Listowel Revival Festival
8.17.18 Chelmsford Rize Festival
8.18.18 Durham Hardwick Live Festival
9.15.18 Boston MA Brighton Music Hall
9.17.18 Toronto ON The Velvet Underground
9.19.18 Chicago IL Schubas Tavern
9.21.18 Los Angeles CA The Echo
9.22.18 San Francisco CA Swedish American Hall
10.16.18 Sheffield Leadmill
10.17.18 Glasgow O2 ABC
10.19.18 Bristol SWX
10.20.18 Birmingham O2 Institute
10.21.18 Norwich Waterfront
10.23.18 Manchester O2 Ritz
10.24.18 London O2 Forum Kentish Town
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