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Swan-song album glow after pain of “Meltdown”

Published: August, 2007
Source: The West Australian

Fifteen years ago, three Irish boys cooped themselves up in a garage all summer with dilapidated instruments, turned up their amps to head-splitting volume and sparked a teenage revolution.

Little did they know, their lovelorn lyrics about summer flings and a girl from another planet would catapult them into the limelight of Britpop stardom and kick-start a chart-topping career, outrunning most of their languid contemporaries.

Tim Wheeler, Ash’s scribe and soul, opened his high school exam results live on BBC Radio in 1995, the week “Girl From Mars” was released, and that event pretty much set the tone for a decade of madness.

In 2007, Wheeler is a somewhat changed man, and a quiet chat from his New York apartment reflected an increasingly mature and retrospective artist nearing his 30th birthday.

Nonetheless, listening to Wheeler talk about the band’s new and self-proclaimed final album, Twilight of the Innocents, one can almost smell the fervency that set aflame the hearts of Ash fans all those years ago.

“Ash is back and it feels fucking great,” cries Wheeler. “This new album just feels like we’ve returned to what we love and do best, which is to be Ash.”

In fact, Twilight of the Innocents is so typically Ash that even fans could be forgiven for mistaking the opening track, “I Started a Fire”, for a long lost B-side from Ash’s debut magnum opus, 1977.

“It’s funny because when we were recording, our manager walked into the room at one point and said, ‘I’m getting a 1977 feel from this and I like it’,” says Wheeler. “The best thing about this album is that it’s got that kind of classic Ash sound to it but it’s different as well and reflects more about who we are right now.”

Twilight of the Innocents is an album that could easily not have happened. After the portentously titled 2004 LP Meltdown, Ash devolved into a whirlwind of confusion and soul-searching.

Meltdown was an atypical and patently metal release, which Wheeler describes as the band’s chance, for better or worse, to indulge their teenage metal-god fantasies. Inadvertently, it divided both fans and critics, and scepticism mounted over the band’s future.

According to Wheeler, Ash desperately lacked direction and decided on big changes after the Meltdown world tour. In the end, Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton relocated to New York. Equally momentous was last year’s departure of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, who played with Ash for nearly a decade.

“We all went through massive changes and Charlotte leaving was just one of them,” says Wheeler. “Things got pretty dark there for a while. I was living in the most vibrant city in the world but I was deeply introspective.”

“I was very conscious of the fact that Twilight of the Innocents would be a big pressure album so I spent eight hours a day in the studio stressing and experimenting.”

“I’m so glad the album is finally out now and doing well. I realise now there’s still interest in our group. Plus, we’re smart enough to adapt and grow with the times.”

Akin to this desire to evolve in an ever-changing industry is the shocking decree that this will be Ash’s last full-length release.

“We’ve reached the end of our contract and we’re just a bit sick of the frustrating, slow process of albums,” Wheeler says. “We plan to release downloadable singles on a more spontaneous basis to keep everything fresh.”

As such, the end of an era is clearly nigh but should Twilight of the Innocents be considered an epitaph?

“No way man, it’s not the death of Ash,” asserts Wheeler. “Ash 6.0 is here, the future is still coming.”

Interview by Glenn Savage