Talking guitars with AshPublished: June, 2001
By rights, Ash shouldn’t be here. Thrust into the limelight back in 1995, while still in their teens, it was only a matter of time before the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle took their toll.
Bassist Mark Hamilton ended up in hospital having suffered a nervous breakdown. Drummer Rick McMurray became an alcoholic, famously falling off his drum stool in Vancouver, while singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler took Es in an attempt to cure writer’s block. The recruitment of a second guitarist - Charlotte Hatherley - in 1997, did little to settle the ship, and after another album (1998’s Nu-Clear Sounds) and a marathon world tour, the band looked wrecked.
It’s difficult to assess what might have happened if Ash hadn’t taken a break, but thankfully three years on, the band are back sounding as fresh and vibrant as ever. Their new album, Free All Angels, achieved gold status within a month of its release, and the group have just started out on a monster world tour…
Are you attempting to take touring life a little easier this time round?
Tim Wheeler: It’s still pretty crazy, but it doesn’t seem as manic because we’ve been around the block a few times, so we know what we’re doing better. But we’re still partying. Actually, I had a few too many at the show last night. I was walking along a barrier and I fell off into the pit. But that’s about the worst it’s got so far.
You’re doing an acoustic set for radio today – do you enjoy that?
Tim Wheeler: It’s not me really, I much prefer the proper gigs. But a lot of the album was done on acoustic. In hotel rooms. It was mostly written with hangovers in about five minutes. I got very disciplined and just tried to write a song every day even if it was shit. When you’re writing it you don’t know if it’s going to be great or just average. You need to look back every few days and just assess the situation.
And with Tim still writing most of the material, is Charlotte happy to take a songwriting back seat?
Charlotte Hatherley: I do write a lot of my own stuff. Most of it’s a bit more left-field than the stuff Tim writes. He’s a great pop writer. I tend to mess more with tunings. I’ve written some stuff in open Dm and with the E string dropped to a low A for a really distorted sound - more in line with the Pixies or Guided by Voices. When we were in the States a couple of weeks back, I bought their new GBV album and it’s really great.
Any plans for a solo album, then?
Charlotte Hatherley: Not yet. At the moment I’m happy with my role in the band. Like “Folk Song”, from Nu-Clear Sounds, was Tim’s main riff, but the stuff I wrote over the top was the most satisfying guitar work I’ve done so far. I’ve also co-written a few tracks so far - like “Projects” on Nu-Clear Sounds and “Shark” on the new record - and I’m gaining confidence all the time.
Is Tim’s teenage metal fixation still in place?
Tim Wheeler: Yeah, Iron Maiden and Megadeth, Guns N’Roses… When you’re 12 years old all that metal stuffs kicking around. When I was a bit younger my older brother moved out and left me his tape player and a Thin Lizzy cassette. I loved them. Me and Mark both bought guitars for Christmas [Tim’s first was a Destroyer copy] and started trying to emulate these bands. But it was all too complicated so we started to write our own songs, which were a lot more stripped down, almost punk. Then Nirvana came along a few years later and totally blew our minds. They were like straight ahead, no frills, much more direct than all the metal stuff. I tried to learn all that fret-tapping stuff but I wasn’t that good at it. I couldn’t quite master “Eruption” or anything like that.
Are you a better technical player now?
Tim Wheeler: I’m not great. Er, actually I’m not bad, I’m pretty good. I get by, you know, and I feel like I learn all the time. I’m getting better rhythmically and I only learned finger-picking a couple of years ago, things like that. I’ve learned a lot from other bands who we’ve toured with, like Weezer. That guy (Rivers Cuomo) is an amazing guitarist. They were the inspiration for us getting Charlotte to join the group, because the two guitars in that group work so well together. They’re really worth checking out live to see how they do it.
So, do the duo have any advice for aspiring players?
Tim Wheeler: You’ve just got to be dedicated. But mostly try and do it for fun. You’ve just got to enjoy it
Charlotte Hatherley: I just got in a band really early. When I was 16, I learned so much from those two years being in a band. Going out and playing, doing gigs, gaining confidence. I was still fuckin’ awful when I joined Ash, just terrified. But the more you do it, the more confident you get and the better you become…