Hot on the heels of his band’s ace new album Islands, Ash singer and guitarist Tim Wheeler chats with GIITTV about The Undertones, their famous A-Z series of 2009 (a new Ash 7″ every two weeks for the whole year!), and re-joining their nineties record label Infectious. And so much more besides!
GIITTV: How does it feel to be ‘Infectious’ again?
Tim Wheeler: Great – first of all, it’s great being on a label again, we self-released our A-Z series in 2009, then our last album was a kind of label services deal from a German label. It’s nice to be on a strong U.K. label again – the guy who signed us when we were seventeen re-signed us last year! It’s great being back with him working again, so far it’s great, I’m really enjoying it.
The new album has been a high-profile release, hasn’t it? It’s everywhere!
Brilliant – it’s nice to have that machine behind us again!
You have The Undertones doing backing vocals on your recent single ‘Buzzkill’. Did you already know the band?
We’ve known Damian (O’Neill Undertones guitarist) since the mid-90s, we’ve done quite a few gigs together and he has joined us to play ‘Teenage Kicks’ quite a few times – we played together on Later…With Jools Holland once with him, that was great. Then I got to know the others too as we did some gigs with them in the last ten years. We did a gig together last November and I was standing at the side of the stage watching them and all the backing vocals I had written for ‘Buzzkill’ were complete rip-offs of various (Undertones) styles, so I thought the best thing would be to ask them to be on it! It’s a compliment and a total rip-off too!
Were you too young to ever see That Petrol Emotion? (The band formed by O’Neill and his brother John in 1983 following the break-up of The Undertones)
I think I saw them at a gig in 1993, a festival in Tipperary, I think that would have been towards the end. I am glad we got to see the reformed Undertones and it would be fun to see the Petrols again too.
What do you think now of the A-Z series? Do you look back on that with fondness?
Kind of, yes, an incredible amount of work, it was our first self-release project and it was so massive. I guess it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, I think people had a hard time getting their head around what we were doing at the time, and I think it was a little bit ahead of its time. But it was great breaking away from albums just for a bit, I enjoyed that.
You didn’t have to worry about the album format, and there were some really good tracks in that series…
Thanks – yes it gave us a load of freedom to experiment…there’s some stuff on the new album that if we hadn’t gone off and done the A-Z and all those experiments, we’re kind of seeing the benefit now because we can play in all different styles and it kind of works, I think.
When you look back over Ash’s career, which era holds the fondest memories?
Oh, that’s pretty hard! I guess they all capture different times, they are all very distinct times of my life and were all great adventures in their own way. I really enjoyed the times with Charlotte (Hatherley) in the band, that was a lot of fun and to have a second guitar…especially when she first joined, some of those tours were brilliant as well, even though we were touring an album that didn’t click in Nuclear Sounds, that was a really cool time.
That was quite a brave album at the time…
Yeah, we could have just done another big pop album. I think we really wanted to go somewhere different, we wanted something that was quite abrasive. I really like that. There a quite a lot of ballads on it as well that are really interesting.
Putting out ‘Numbskull’ as a single was quite brave too!
Yeah, and the video and everything!
Do you ever see a time that Charlotte might appear in the band’s again?
I think she’s very into doing her solo career, and I think she has built a solid identity as a solo artist, so I’m not too sure she would be into it, but there are times when she gets up and plays with us, she was onstage with us in London a couple of years ago, a Free All Angels show. It’s always awesome when she’s around and when it works out for us to play together, but I’m not sure it would happen full time. We’d like to do some recording again some time, she’s not just a great guitarist and vocalist, but she’s great on keyboards as well.
Any favourites from Charlotte’s solo career?
Yeah, ‘Behave’ was an unbelievable single, and (album) Grey Will Fade. There was a couple of tracks that we did attempt as Ash, but she then did them on her solo record. I thought ‘Bastardo’ was a very fun single as well.
Are there any current bands out there that you are enjoying?
I heard Shame the other day and they sounded amazing. Great guitar band. There seems to be a guitar resurgence at the moment, a lot of good new bands. Another great band I saw at the start of the year was Starcrawlers, they are phenomenal live, brilliant.
Who did you enjoy supporting in the early days, and who did you enjoy supporting Ash?
Well we turned down most support slots early on, we turned down stuff like Bon Joni and Oasis wanted us for Knebworth and we didn’t do that! Pearl Jam! We turned down loads of great gigs that looking back we probably should have done, but we did Pop Will Eat Itself really early on, and Elastica when they were breaking and we were absolutely brand new. I got two weeks off school to do that one! And Weezer on the Pinkerton tour for six weeks in the States, that was brilliant.
And bands who supported Ash?
Interpol very early for us in New York and Snow Patrol toured with us a lot. 60 Ft Dolls back in the day as well, they were brilliant. China Drum were great as well.
Your Christmas album is always a favourite in our house (Tim made an album This Is Christmas with Emmy The Great in 2011)…
That was awesome yes, I’m real proud of that as well, it’s cool it comes back every year!
Do you think Ash would ever make a Christmas record?
I’ve never really thought about it, the Christmas record I made with Emma, we got snowed in one time and started writing songs for a laugh, that’s how the album came about. But I think having done a Christmas album, I don’t feel the need to do another. I won’t say ‘no’ because you never know.
If you had to pick your favourite three albums and singles of all time, what would they be?
It really depends on my mood, but I think Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, Live And Dangerous by Thin Lizzy and Nevermind by Nirvana. Singles…maybe ‘Live And Let Die’ by Wings, ‘God Only Knows’ by The Beach Boys or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana.
Islands is out now on Infectious Records.
Ash tour in the Autumn and also play a selection of festivals:
5th LEEDS Live At Leeds festival
6th DORSET Teddy Rocks Festival
26th BELFAST BBC Biggest Weekend festival
30th BROOKLYN, NY Baby’s All Right
10th CORNWALL Boardmasters
11th LISTOWEL Revival Festival
17th CHELMSFORD Rize Festival
18th DURHAM Hardwick Live Festival
15th BOSTON, MA Brighton Music Hall
17th TORONTO, ON The Velvet Underground
19th CHICAGO, IL Schubas
21st LOS ANGELES, CA The Echo
22nd SAN FRANCISCO, CA Swedish American Hall
16th SHEFFIELD Leadmill
17th GLASGOW O2 ABC
19th BRISTOL SWX
20th BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
21st NORWICH Waterfront
23rd MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
24th LONDON O2 Forum