Ash man Tim Wheeler on Irish gigs, Snow Patrol supporting duties and facial fuzz
Ash leader Tim Wheeler talks to David Roy about rounding off a hectic year with a trio of Irish dates next week, what 2019 has in store for the band and why he's looking a bit hairier than usual
IT'S been a very good year for Ash: having re-signed to their original record label Infectious, their latest album Islands saw the Downpatrick indie rock trio back in the top 20 album chart for the first time in over a decade, with its singles Buzzkill and Annabel receiving regular radio play.
The band kicked off a hectic six months of touring with a main stage appearance at the BBC's Biggest Weekend festival in Belfast and, having now rocked their way right around the world, Tim Wheeler (vocals/guitars), Mark Hamilton (bass) and Rick McMurray (drums) are now looking forward to rounding off a busy year with a trio of Irish dates next week.
"This year has been great," enthuses Wheeler. "The album went top 20 which was our first time in the charts for a while, so that was was brilliant. And the Biggest Weekend was amazing too. That was one of our first shows of the year and also one of the best.
"Since then we've been to Japan twice for a festival and tour, done an Australian tour and also played in Bali and Bangkok. We toured the US in September, the UK in October and we're in the middle of our European tour, which has been brilliant fun.
"I can't wait to get back to Ireland though. It's brilliant to be finishing in Belfast too – we won't be jet lagged this Christmas, which is nice."
He adds: "So we've been all over the shop and we've been loving it. Things are definitely going up for us, which is great."
Indeed, when we spoke prior to the release of Islands, the Ash frontman and chief songwriter was already enthusing about getting started on the recording of a cache of new songs for the next Ash LP.
However, it seems that the trio – who celebrated their 25th anniversary last year – have been so busy enjoying the success of Islands that little actual progress has been made on this new material.
"Frustratingly, we haven't really been able to do that much work [on the album] for the past five or six months because of the sheer amount of touring," confirms Wheeler.
"So everything is kind of half-finished at the moment and just waiting to be picked up when we get back in January. But I've also got the urge to do a bit more writing and see what kind of new stuff might come out as well – because a lot of the stuff we're working on is almost old at this point.
"I'm trying not to listen to [the demos] too much just to keep them fresh."
Already in the Ash diary for 2019 is an appearance at Snow Patrol's huge Ward Park 3 mini festival in Bangor on May 25. Gary Lightbody and co have supported Ash at various gigs over the years, and the Down act are looking forward to returning the favour as part of Snow Patrol's 25th anniversary celebrations.
"That's amazing," Wheeler enthuses of the event, which will also feature homegrown acts including Brand New Friend (who will be opening for Ash on their imminent Irish dates) Foy Vance, Soak, Jealous of The Birds, Kit Philippa and Roe.
"I love that it's like an all northern Irish bill. I've got to tip my hat to Snow Patrol, they've always been amazing at supporting new northern Irish music.
"It's brilliant that they are getting everyone up on that big stage. It's going to be a great day. I don't think there's ever been anything quite like it so we're glad to be part of it."
The Ash man is also proud of his own band's role in paving the way for the likes of Brand New Friend to break out of Northern Ireland and on to the wider music scene.
"We did some shows with them over the summer," he comments of the up-and-coming Castlerock/Belfast indie popsters, who released their debut LP, Seatbelts For Aeroplanes, on Xtra Mile Recordings earlier this year.
"They're such a sweet band and they're brilliant live as well. They're winning people's hearts everywhere they go."
2019 will mark the 21st anniversary of Ash's divisive second LP, Nu-Clear Sounds – "I think that album's actually ageing really nicely, even though it was kind of a troubled one at the time. We've been doing a few more songs from it recently," says Wheeler – along with the 25th anniversary of their debut mini album, Trailer.
With godfathers of northern Irish alternative rock Therapy? also gearing up for some special shows to celebrate their 30th anniversary next year, the Ash frontman would love to share the same bill as their own musical forerunners at some stage, especially on home turf.
"Hats off to Therapy?, they were such an inspiration for us, seeing how they broke out of Northern Ireland and just showing us it could be done when we were starting out," he enthuses.
"They were always very helpful to us when we were getting going, so I can't wait for those celebrations."
Eagle-eyed Ash fans will have noticed that Wheeler has been sporting an impressive moustache recently, the fruit of a successful Movember sponsorship campaign which saw him raise over £1,000 for the cancer charity.
Interestingly, we're now two full weeks past the designated 'shave day' when most Movember men gladly part company with their face furniture – yet Wheeler's Magnum P.I.-esque soup strainer is still very much intact.
Could the Ash 'tache be here to stay, and what effect might it have on their new material?
"Haha, I dunno!," he laughs.
"It might act like antennae for picking up good ideas. I think I probably will shave it before I do any writing – although my brother really wants me to keep it until Christmas. We'll see if it lasts that long though.
"I was really happy that I got a lot of great support from our fans – some people love it, but I think there are an equal amount of fans who would pay for me to shave it off as well. It seems to be about a 50/50 split.
"Someone was trying to encourage me to go Salvidor Dali the other day – so we'll see!"
:: Ash, December 18, Cyprus Avenue, Cork / December 19, The Academy, Dublin / December 20, The Limelight, Belfast. Tickets via Ticketmaster.ie