Tim Wheeler on the new Ash album and BBC Biggest Weekend in Belfast gig
Veteran Downpatrick indie rockers Ash release their new album Islands next week. David Roy spoke to guitarist/frontman Tim Wheeler about making their seventh record and their upcoming appearance at BBC Music's The Biggest Weekend in Belfast
ASH'S new album, Islands, comes out next Friday. Are you excited?
Oh my God, yeah, I'm so excited! We finished it pretty much around Christmas, so it's been a long time to wait – but I'm kind of used to that by now. It's a nice feeling once you finish an album but it's kind of annoying just waiting to find out how the fans react to it. I'm hoping they're gonna like it!
You've released two singles from Islands so far, the punky/sweary Buzzkill and the catchy/crunchy Annabel. Both seem like obvious Ash singles – what can you tell us about those songs?
As soon as we first rehearsed Annabel, we were pretty much like "this is a single" right away. It was one of the early songs that came together for the album so we knew we were off to a good start.
With Buzzkill, I wasn't taking it seriously at all when I wrote it – I was mostly just trying to make my friends laugh, really. When I first played it I had my head in my hands a bit – but then everyone said it was great and I was like "oh". So that was a pleasant surprise, and then I kind of 'got it' myself.
Now I'm gonna want to play it twice at each gig coming up because I love it so much.
How did Damien O'Neill and Mickey Bradley from The Undertones end up singing backing vocals on Buzzkill?
There was an Alzheimer's charity gig in Bushmills last year around the time we were finishing Buzzkill. I was watching The Undertones from the side of the stage and I realised that the backing vocal parts I'd written for Buzzkill were in a very similar vein to some of The Undertones' call and response backing vocals – I realised that I'd been trying to copy them, pretty much.
So then I was like, "Well, I should just ask them to be on it". I emailed Damien and he was well up for it, so him and Mickey did it on a day off from tour. John O'Neill [Undertones rhythm guitarist/songwriter] was actually the man at the controls who recorded them, which was really cool too. They're the best guys, they're brilliant.
The last Ash record Kablammo! saw you returning to your 'power trio' roots after the more experimental approach of the A-Z series of singles. How would you describe the overall sound of Islands by comparison?
There are definitely some tracks that are like Kablammo! or early Ash stuff like Annabelle and Buzzkill – but then there are definitely other songs that sound like nothing we've ever done before, like [funk/soul rocker] Did Your Love Burn Out?
I do have quite broad tastes in music and during the A-Z period we learned that we could play in quite a lot of different styles, so I can't help myself when I'm writing – other styles do start to creep in.
But I don't think any of it will be too far a stretch for our fans. It all sounds good in the rehearsal room, which is usually a good test for us – so it should sound good live too.
You've re-signed to your old record label Infectious for this album. What's it like to be working with Korda Marshall [Infectious founder and former Warner Music big cheese] and co again?
It's pretty cool. I think this is my third time on Infectious; our first three albums were on it and then my Christmas album [with Emmy The Great] was on it and now Ash are back on it.
It's amazing that Infectious has survived for so long – it just won't die. Korda signed us when we were 17 so it's great to be working with him again. And we're actually back working with our old manager Tav [Stephen Taverner] again as well.
Infectious have our back catalogue too, so we've got plans over the coming years to reissue certain things on vinyl that are no longer available.
Last year Mark [Hamilton, Ash bassist] mentioned that you were planning to release two albums this year – is that still going to happen?
No, we didn't get that far unfortunately. But we've got the songs for the next one pretty much mostly written and we've started recording them, so we've kind of made decent headway.
We were actually writing it while we were recording Islands, which was kind of an unusual situation, so we already know we've got another great album of tunes.
But it may not really come out until this time next year, or even later in the year. It kind of depends on the label's schedule. I'm sort of hoping to get it finished by the end of this year in between all the touring, if we can.
Are you looking forward to appearing at BBC Music's The Biggest Weekend in Belfast?
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm glad that we're gonna be around on the Friday too – it's another really great line-up with Beck and The Breeders, and we're also going to be playing our own instore at HMV Belfast that evening as well.
It's fantastic to be involved and be a Northern Irish band representing on the bill in Belfast.
:: Ash play the BBC Music's The Biggest Weekend in Belfast on Saturday May 26, tickets available via BBC.co.uk/biggestweekend. Access to their in-store at HMV Belfast on Friday May 25 at 5.30pm will be granted with purchases of Islands on the day. Islands is released on May 18.
GIVEAWAY: BBC MUSIC'S THE BIGGEST WEEKEND IN BELFAST – TICKETS UP FOR GRABS
WE HAVE five pairs of tickets for both days of the BBC Music Biggest Weekend in Belfast on Friday May 25 and Saturday May 26 to give away, courtesy of the BBC.
For the chance to get a pair of tickets for the day of your choice, send your name, address and daytime telephone number to firstname.lastname@example.org, putting 'Biggest Weekend competition' in the subject line followed by the day you want tickets for – either 'Friday' or 'Saturday'.
Usual Irish News competition rules apply, one entry per reader, closing date for entries is Thursday May 17. For tickets and full line-up information see BBC.co.uk/biggestweekend.