Ash on new album Race the Night and Belfast gigs

David Roy speaks to Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray about the new Ash album, Race the Night, and the Downpatrick-bred trio's upcoming Irish shows – including an unplugged show at Oh Yeah tonight and a return to the Ulster Hall in December...

Ash (l-r): Rick McMurray, Tim Wheeler and Mark Hamilton. Picture by Steve Gullick
Ash (l-r): Rick McMurray, Tim Wheeler and Mark Hamilton. Picture by Steve Gullick Ash (l-r): Rick McMurray, Tim Wheeler and Mark Hamilton. Picture by Steve Gullick

IT'S now been five long years since the last Ash album, Islands, and while 2022 found the Co Down indie rockers making up for time lost to Covid with a 30th anniversary tour promoting their 'best of' compilation, Teenage Wildlife, the trio are excited to finally be releasing another collection of brand new songs in the form of Race the Night.

Originally planned to appear hot on the heels of Islands and at one point teased as their 'most schizophrenic record ever', the band had a new album done and ready to go just as the pandemic hit: however, with enforced down-time now on their hands, Tim (vocals/guitars), Mark (bass) and Rick (drums/vocals) were able to keep working on new material right through the lockdowns and beyond.

The result was a complete re-think, which saw much of the planned album shelved in favour of newer songs and a more cohesive overall sound – one that plays to the band's strengths as seasoned purveyors of catchy/crunchy guitar-powered anthems.

To date, fans have been treated to five advance tasters of Race the Night in the form of its soaring synth-assisted indie pop title track, the heavy rock thump of Like a God, Crashed out Wasted's slow-building, epic guitar solo-equipped ode to excess, the wistful indie rock of Usual Places and the sweeping, bittersweet romance of the first ever Ash duet, Oslo (feat Démira).

"The feedback so far from the first few tracks has been great, so I can't wait for people to hear the rest of it," enthuses frontman Tim of the new record, released today via Fierce Panda.

Ash. Picture by Steve Gullick
Ash. Picture by Steve Gullick Ash. Picture by Steve Gullick

"Especially because there was such a long process of making this one, it's just really exciting that people will finally get to hear it."

With any luck, Race the Night will be the start of more regular instalments of long-playing Ash action, something the band – who infamously denounced the album format back in 2007 only to re-embrace it eight years later in the wake of their mammoth '26 singles in a row' A-Z campaign – have been keen to organise for a good while now, as Rick explains.

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"We'd had a plan since we went back to doing albums after A-Z to try to just get stuff out on a really consistent basis," says the Edinburgh-based drummer.

"But I think, because that got scuppered by the whole Covid thing, and then the Teenage Wildlife thing as well, it felt like, 'OK, we can take our time with this one'.

"And then we've got a lot of stuff that's in the bank that we can come back with, very soon. So that's kind of the plan – and, hopefully, this time nothing will get in our way."

Race the Night is released today
Race the Night is released today Race the Night is released today

Indeed, the songs which were shelved from the first version of Race the Night are reportedly much more synthesizer-orientated – you can hear hints of what might have been on the title track, and indeed reflected in the album's 80s-tastic, DeLorean-adorned artwork – a side of the Ash sound previously explored on tracks like Return of White Rabbit and Confessions in The Pool, as opposed to the more guitar-heavy sound of the record that's just gone on sale.

"It's kind of fun to know that this album has got, like, an evil twin, which is just around the corner and in a completely different style," offers Mark, who divides his time between living in Blyth in north-east England and the US these days.

Ash. Picture by Steve Gullick
Ash. Picture by Steve Gullick Ash. Picture by Steve Gullick

"I always get a bit bored if I stick to one kind of genre while I'm writing," offers Tim, who was attempting a series of '10 song challenges' during the making of Race the Night, where he'd attempt to finish writing 10 new tunes in one day.

"I'd always be experimenting a bit with writing some electronic and acoustic things alongside the rock stuff. So I think that's why we ended up so many different kinds of songs.

"But it was kind of good to whittle it down and find that there was a really good body of 'rock' stuff there."

"Whenever Tim's got like 70 different songs and we've gotta listen through and decide which ones are the best, that process is quite daunting," says Mark of their album-making process.

"Also, sometimes there might be like little parts of one song which are like, 'OK, we need to hold on to that, maybe it can work with someone else later on'. That's a really fun part of it all."

While reviewers might claim that Race the Night is the sound of Ash returning to their sonic roots (see also 2001's chart-topping Free All Angels and 2015's Kablammo!), the extended writing and recording process really was a blast from the past in a more literal way, which saw the band return to the north to work on their newest songs as a trio for the first time since their early days – in a venue named for one of their most famous hits, no less.

"After the pandemic, we came over to the Oh Yeah centre in Belfast to rehearse," reveals Tim, who recently relocated from New York to London and became a father for the first time.

"It was a good kind of meeting ground, because we didn't have a studio in New York anymore, which is where we would have done all our stuff for years.

"It was a really good vibe being in there and kicking the songs into shape, so it's gonna be nice to return on Friday on release day knowing that a bunch of the songs were 'born' there."

Indeed, this evening finds Ash kicking off a run of acoustic, record shop 'in-stores' with an HMV-backed performance and Q&A at Oh Yeah in Belfast prior to embarking on their upcoming co-headline tour with English indie rockers The Subways in October.

These unplugged shows will double up as vital rehearsal for the tour proper, as Tim explains.

"We've been playing Race the Night at the summer festivals and it's being going down really well, but we haven't really had any rehearsal time to kick the other songs into shape," says the guitar-wielding Co Down man, who really shows off his 'chops' on several of the album's key moments.

"We didn't want to start the tour and not be able to play them to their full potential."

With a full slate of Irish dates scheduled for later in the year, Ash should be well on-top of their latest material by the time they reach their end of year grand finale at Belfast's Ulster Hall in December – a venue they've filled many times over the past 25 years, including last year's sold-out, 30th anniversary-marking pre-Christmas homecoming.

According to Tim, it seems the band are already looking forward to trying to out-do their 2022 performance.

"Oh, big time," he enthuses.

"It was such a regular occurrence in the old days to finish our year of touring at the Ulster Hall. So it's brilliant to be able to do it two years in a row – the 30th anniversary show was just epic. We're going to have to really go for it to top that one, I think."

Race the Night is out now. Ash play the Ulster Hall in Belfast on December 19, tickets via ticketmaster.ie. For full tour dates and special album bundles, see ashofficial.com.