There seem to be two levels of Ash awareness among music listeners in the United States: 1) Those aware of the band’s 20+ year legacy (even though all three members are under 40 years old) and their on-going run of global hits, 2) People who simply haven’t heard of the band.
For readers from category #2, Ash’s second album “1977” yielded big hits in 1996 like “Girl From Mars” and “Kung Fu,” ultimately selling over two million albums. From there came other accomplishments like “Shining Light” winning 2002’s Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song, “Clones” being the first-ever licensed music to be used in anything “Star Wars”-related, and a 2011 “best of” compilation in which almost every song was a charting single with a music video.
In the mid-2000s, two-thirds of the Northern Ireland-bred trio became New Yorkers. In addition to frontman Tim Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton becoming permanent residents, the band opened up Atomic Heart Studios, a proper recording studio on West 28th Street. Atomic Heart is where Ash’s new album “Kablammo!” – their first full-length album in eight years, aside from their “A To Z” collection of singles in 2010 – was recorded.
Drummer Rick McMurray, the lone non-New Yorker of Ash, took time for some Q&A in advance of Ash’s local gigs at Rough Trade on June 3rd and Terminal 5 (supporting the recently-reunited Ride) on June 4th.
What do you wish more people knew about Ash?
Ash’s Rick McMurray: I wish they knew how great the new album is! It’s right up there with our most celebrated releases.
Ash is known as a band from Northern Ireland, yet two of you have been New York-based for nearly a decade. Do you think there will be a point in which you ever identify as being “a band from New York?”
R: I don’t think people back home would let that happen. Besides, I live in Scotland so it’s not entirely true.
How did the decision come about to be a relatively New York-based as a band with your Atomic Heart Studio and label operations being based here?
R: It just happened at the end of a U.S. tour; both Tim and Mark decided they were both staying.
Is it true that the first Wu-Tang Clan album was recorded where Atomic Heart Studios is?
R: It is and we have their carving in the door frame to prove it.
When there’s downtime, what are some of the places you like to frequent in New York?
R: I’m usually to be found walking up 7th Avenue to Steve Maxwell’s vintage drum shop (723 7th Avenue). My downtime is minimal as the studio work is quite intensive. I like to make the most of Atomic Heart when I’m there. We can usually be found bar-hopping in Greenpoint late at night.
“Kablammo!” is your first full-length in eight years, aside from the “A-Z Series,” which was practically a double album. Was “Kablammo!” consciously a return to form from earlier albums in the Ash catalog?
R: It’s the first time we’ve really looked back at our catalogue and tried to make an album that stands up to our career highlights. I think taking a break from the album format gave us a perspective on our past.
How would you describe the sound of “Kablammo!” to someone only familiar with your hits?
R: It’s the sonics of “Meltdown” mixed with the songwriting of “Free All Angels.”
The “Star Wars” references within Ash songs and imagery seem to be light these days, yet a “Star Wars” movie is nearing release. What’s your position on this?
R: Well, with the second Trilogy, the bar was set pretty low, so it’s bound to be a return to better form.
I first became aware of your band through MTV’s “120 Minutes” in 1996 when the “Goldfinger” video was aired, and that was almost 20 years ago. To what do you attribute being together for so many years?
R: I think our friendship is intertwined with the band. And our ups and downs with the band have bonded us ever closer. We are family. I got all my sisters with me.
Is there anything your band hasn’t yet accomplished which it still hopes to?
R: These days, continuing to make a living out of the bands seems like an accomplishment, but we are always aiming high. Every time we write a song, we want it to be heard by as many people as possible on stages all over the world.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
R: Put your apple core in the food bin. Oh wait! I’m not at home right now! (laughs)
by Darren Paltrowitz