One of our favourite bands from the ‘90s, unduly grouped into the ‘alternative’ camp of fuzzy guitars and succulent melodies of the time, will be headlining the inaugural Good Vibes Festival in KL this month. Ash might have a simple band name, but the power-pop trio who were once No.2 on Q Magazine’s 50 Bands To See Before You Die list, are no short on surprises (collaborations with Chris Martin and We Are Scientists) and hit singles (just think ‘Girl from Mars’, ‘Jack Names the Planets’, ‘Kung Fu’, ‘Oh Yeah’, ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Burn Baby Burn’, ‘Candy’, ‘Orpheus’, etc). JUICE got on the phone with frontman Tim Wheeler to find out what they’ve been up to and how to keep yourself from sucking as you get older…
With the A-Z Series, Ash is no longer releasing albums. Was the decision to only release singles more of a marketing tactic than an artistic choice?
Actually no, it was a big artistic twist, because I felt at the time that if we made another album, we’d be not challenging ourselves, repeating ourselves as well. It just seemed like our albums weren’t getting as much notice compared to singles. And we thought it would be really fun to take on the challenge to come up with a great song every two weeks. I wanted to be free of the idea of every song having to work together with a theme or an album. I’ve quite an eclectic taste in music so I kind of wanted explore different styles. There were certain times where we had good songs that we couldn’t put on record because it didn’t have a certain style. I wanted to be free of that thinking. Just to see what it would be like. I think it’s really important to keep trying new things. To challenge yourself, that’s why we’ve been around so long, I think.
Was the decision to ask ex-guitarist Charlotte Hatherley to leave the band a unanimous one? Will Bloc Party’s guitarist Russell Lissack play for the show in Malaysia?
No, we’ll just be a 3-piece band. He played with us for about a year and half then he had to go back to Bloc Party because they were starting up again. It will just be the three of us original lads. Yeah, it was unanimous, we sorta wanted to go back to being a 3-piece at the time. But we’re still close to Charlotte and we occasionally play together. There’s no like, bad blood. We’re pretty rocking as three-piece these days too.
Do you think that Smashing Pumpkins should bring back their old members or are the new ones doing the band justice?
I don’t know, ‘cause I haven’t seen them play. But all I know is that Jimmy Chamberlin is such a big part of the sound, you know, the drums. It’s sort of debatable, a lot of people say that Billy Corgan played all the guitars and the bass on a lot of the records anyway, but I don’t know. I think Jimmy Chamberlin’s got such a crazy sound, such a style that it’s hard to mimic… The new drummer, he would be a really f**king amazing drummer if he fills his shoes, so I’m intrigued. I’m looking forward to see them, I hope it’s good.
You’re a huge fan of Star Wars. What influences your writing and have you ever considering doing a sci-fi novel?
[laughs] Yeah, that’s a good idea! I don’t really read that many sci-fi novels. I love sci-fi TV and films, but if I’d write a book, it should be a sci-fi book, right? I like sci-fi records like Pixie and David Bowie so yeah, I think it’s a good idea. I’m gonna try it!
Ash was reportedly nearly bankrupt towards the late ‘90s. How does a band go bankrupt? Do you mean, like, emotionally?
[laughs] I think we had like a thousand pounds left in our account at one point, our collective funds. As a business, we were kinda running low, we were on the edge. But no long after that we came back and had another hit single and did really well.
Would you ever consider yourself a guitar hero based on the fact that your axe of choice is a Flying V?
Yeah, I guess purely based on the fact that no one was playing them when I started. They were kind of out of fashion when I played it again. I think I did a part in bringing it back, and I think that makes me a guitar hero [laughs]. Also, I used to set mine on fire, which was really good.
We saw that on YouTube too. That was really cool!
Kinda scary, too (laughs).