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Talking shop with Ash

Published: April, 2007
Source: BBC

Ash, the rock group from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, are marking 15 years together with the release of their sixth studio album, Twilight of the Innocents. Formed while still at school, the band have had four top 10 hits in the UK - including the singles “Oh Yeah” and “Shining Light” - plus two number one albums.

Bassist Mark Hamilton discusses their new direction, turning 30 and how life has changed now he is based in New York.

How excited are you to be unveiling your first new material in three years?
It’s a pretty anxious time just before an album’s released, because we don’t know how it’s going to be received. We did a university tour in February and March and tested it live, and re-introduced ourselves to our fans. It was so much fun - we hadn’t toured in three years and it was brilliant. The reaction was so good and the crowds went mental, and that calmed our nerves a little bit.

The video to your new single, “You Can’t Have it All”, looks like something U2 or the White Stripes might have made.
It wasn’t a big budget on that video, but the director who shot it is Jeff Thomas, a huge friend of ours. He started off as a small video director, and now he’s a big-shot who does CSI, Without a Trace and all these big TV shows. He doesn’t actually have to do music videos any more but he does them because we’re friends. We helped him out in the beginning and now he’s still there for us.

What is different about this new album?
It’s the first time we’ve produced ourselves. There’s no outside influence other than the three of us, so it’s probably the purest representation of what Ash is. There’s not anyone trying to push us in a certain direction, or telling us to do this and that.

You turn 30 this year, along with bandmates Tim Wheeler and Rick McMurray. What is different about your life now compared to a few years ago?
When I was 17, I never thought I’d survive to 30. I thought I’d just drink myself into a grave. Me and Tim lived in London for nine years, and I think we got a little bit stale. It was great when we first moved there but after nine years, you get bored of one place. We moved to New York, and that gave us a whole new lease of life, not just as a band but as people. It was a big inspiration, musically and personally, like a new era dawning.

Does living in New York mean you’re losing touch with Northern Ireland’s music scene?
No. There’s a band called V Formation at the minute, who are really great and sound a bit like the Pixies. We took them out on tour and they’re actually from the same school we went to, but a couple of years younger. They’re very good - if they don’t get signed it’ll be a crime.

Guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, whom you recruited in 1997, left the band last year. How are things different without her?
In the end, she wasn’t completely happy with the direction the music was going. She had her own solo stuff and we were wanting to go back to a three-piece. It just made sense that we went our own way. It’s what needed to happen for everyone involved. With getting back to the three-piece, it’s like we were 15 again, and it felt like we were starting all over again. We had that excitement again.

Where can fans see you next?
We’ve got the Reading and Leeds festivals and the Isle of Wight festival. We’re going to be doing lots of European festivals, and Japan and Australia. Summer’s going to be pretty busy on the festival circuit, and we have shows at Koko in London in the week the album comes out in July. And when the album has been out for a few months, there’ll be a big tour of the whole country.