Ash’s Nu-Clear MeltdownPublished: March, 2001
It’s two hours before one of the UK’s biggest rock bands, Ash, take to the stage of the Sugarmill in Hanley, and backstage is anything but rock ‘n’ roll debauchery…
Charlotte and Rick have nipped off to a nearby pub, Tim is talking sound levels with resident techies, and Mark is lounging on a beat-up old sofa, sipping Lucozade and waxing lyrical about the joys of shopping for toys in the city centre.
“Got some vintage Transformers stuff… there’s some great wee collectibles shops around.”
It’s no wonder the band are taking it easy - they’ve been holed up in an LA studio (where Nirvana did Nevermind) for four months recording their new album Meltdown which hits the shelves in May.
With the recent upsurge in British rock music, the chart success of the Darkness, Muse, and Lost Prophets, are Ash keen to jump in and ‘hang 10’ on the same wave, or ride their own tide into shore?
“Things come in cycles - fashion comes in cycles,” says Mark philosophically.
“There’s always been elements of rock in Ash - we try and stay away from fashionable stuff, because it tends to go out of fashion just as quick - we just keep doing our own thing.”
“I think we’ve stood the test of time effectively - so many of those bands from our era don’t exist anymore, and every so often you’ll hear of another one who’ve split up cos things haven’t gone well for them.”
But Ash themselves know the feeling of falling out of favour. After the springboard that was their debut album 1977, they fell victim to the sophomore slump, Nu-Clear Sounds bombed - if you pardon the pun - beyond all recognition.
So, on the verge of another major LP release, is the anxiety setting in yet?
“But all the reactions (to Meltdown) have been good. Everyone who’s talked to us say, ‘Wow! It is heavier!’.”
“That’s important, because a lot of times before an album comes out and it’s hyped up, bands can say anything but when it’s released it’s not as extreme as they said it would be.”
If the first single “Clones” (available only via downloads) is anything to go by, it’s time to believe the hype!
A muscular throbbing riff, propelled by Rick McMurray’s thunderous drumming, tears the arms off “Envy” (their last single release), and bludgeons it to death with the wet end.
With with Foo Fighters and QOTSA producer Nick Rasculinecz on the knobs, the cynical amongst us would say it’s a full blooded attempt to capture the American market - but Mark and the band will tell you it’s a direction that they were always heading in.
“When we were 11 and first started getting into music - it was all metal. We were into Iron Maiden and Megadeth, with their crazy guitar solos.”
“There’s a lot of out of control solos - molten guitar - on the record so, yeah, there’s a strong metal influence. Tim’s vocals are always gonna sound the same - the vocal melodies are still there - it’s just got more of a solid backbone.”
The band have been candid about the fact that the 11 date UK club tour (of which tonight at the Sugarmill is one) is just a chance to air their new material in front of a hardcore audience, firstly to gauge reaction, and then to see what works best in a live capacity. It’s the start of 18 months of solid mileage that the band have to put in.
“It’s the start of a long adventure,” says Mark wide-eyed, “Which could extend even longer depending on how it goes in America.”
“We’re not doing as many festival dates this year, we’re not hitting Glastonbury, V or Reading, this year ’cos we’ve done them all every year, for the past 5 years.”
“We want to do our own bigger shows - maybe get out into arenas later in the year, so by not doing the festivals it’ll help boost the demand for tickets that way.”
So yet again, you find another British band wanting to ‘do a Bush’ and crack America - and, with a harder rock sound, Ash may just have found the blend. But, if not, there’s always the Linkin Park formula…
“We’ve never really ventured into the rap metal side of stuff,” Mark muses. “But you never say never (pauses)… No I can’t really actually see us EVER doing that!”
By Matt Lee