Ash alive, kicking and geared up for Belfast gig
Downpatrick indie heroes Ash play a sold-out Christmas 'homecoming' gig in Belfast on Sunday. Frontman Tim Wheeler spoke to Scene about releasing the kick-boxing-inspired Kablammo!, their first LP since 2007, and why the trio are still "winging it" after 23 years together
BACK in 2007, Ash's Tim Wheeler announced that the band's fifth studio album, Twilight Of The Innocents, would be their last.
"I believe our new album is the pinnacle of everything we've done thus far, and I'm proud that this will be remembered as our last album," he said, stating that the Co Down-bred trio would concentrate solely on singles in the future.
Eight years later, Wheeler (38) has been forced to eat his words with the release of the sixth Ash LP, Kablammo!
"Yeah I kind of regret saying that," admits the singer/guitarist.
"We honestly thought the days of people buying albums were gone, that everyone was obsessed with single tracks – but because of things like Spotify, which still lays everything out in albums, and more and more people buying vinyl, I'm pleased to see the album didn't die.
"Changing our mind was a big deal for us. We didn't know how it was going to go down. I think Jay Z has made his last album about three times, so there's proof you can go back on what you say about something. Look at the Eagles – they said they'd reform when hell froze over, and they got back together.
"We were a bit nervous about the flack we might get, but the response was really good."
Little wonder: Kablammo! songs such as Cocoon, Let's Ride, Go! Fight! Win! and Machinery are 'classic Ash': energetic and noisy, yet harmonious, melodic and catchy with it.
It might have been a shock when the trio of Wheeler, Mark Hamilton (bass) and Rick McMurray (drums) announced they were no longer going to make albums, but then again, few bands were better suited to concentrating on singles.
Ash already had an arsenal of near-perfect indie pop gems like Kung Fu, Burn Baby Burn, Girl From Mars, Oh Yeah, You Can't Have It All and Goldfinger in their locker long before embarking on the 26 consecutive releases of their A-Z Series which kept them occupied between 2009 and 2010.
But back to Kablammo!, which the New York-based Wheeler reveals was partly inspired by his newfound love of Muay Thai kick-boxing.
"I'm doing a lot of training at the moment," he says.
"I got into it about two years ago, and now I go about four times a week," he explains.
"I had worked with a personal trainer for a few years, and then I met someone who goes to a kick-boxing class near where we have our rehearsal space, which is really handy.
"I don't know if I'll ever fight in an organised fight, but I really enjoy it. I miss the adrenalin rush of being on tour, and kick-boxing isn't a million miles away from playing a show.
"There's a nod to kick-boxing in the album title, and a few songs on the album inspired by it too."
In the time between this album and A-Z, Wheeler stepped outside of Ash for the first time to work on movie soundtracks and last year's acclaimed solo album, Lost Domain.
The latter found him writing about his father's death due to Alzheimer's, and dealing with the aftermath of that. A portion of the proceeds went to Alzheimer's Society, a charity the Ash man has supported for several years.
After so long between albums, he says the next thing on the horizon for Ash is another one, plus yet more soundtracks and another solo record.
"Soundtracks are very liberating, it's a completely different thing – and I also enjoyed making Lost Domain," he enthuses.
"But first I want to do another Ash album."
On the subject of Ash albums, May next year will mark 20 years since the trio released their chart-topping debut LP, 1977.
"It's crazy that album is 20 years old," says Wheeler.
"And we've been playing in the band since we were 15, more than half our lives. It's gone very quickly, but the songs still sound good live.
"So many people that come to see us grew up with that record, and I think because we were a teenage band, we had a lot of teenage fans. 1977 was a very important album for a lot of people."
He might be approaching 40 now, but Wheeler, who has lived in the US for the past nine years, doesn't think he'll ever tire of playing in Ash.
"There's something about when we start playing that makes me feel 15 years old again," he says. "I don't think we'll get bored of it. It hasn't happened after 23 years, so I'm not expecting it to."
In fact, it seems the frontman really doesn't have too much of an idea about what their future might hold – not that he ever did.
"We were always asked where we'd be in five years, and I never had an answer," reveals Wheeler. "I've never thought that far ahead, and if the truth be told, we were winging it."
:: Ash, Sunday December 20, The Empire, Belfast. Tickets are sold out. Kablammo! is out now.