Northern Ireland’s indie legends ASH finally return down under and are in the country for a headline tour. Inspired by Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Pixies they are known worldwide for their energetic and incredibly fun live shows that continue to delight fans. Ash are truly a band that no matter how many times you have seen you can never get bored of seeing. This year ASH released their seventh studio album, Islands. Pound-for-pound, it’s also the strongest, most exhilarating long player of ASH’s career, an album which reaffirms the trio’s status as one of the most idiosyncratic and singularly thrilling guitar bands. Drummer Rick McMurray speaks with Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about the album and Australian tour.
Another Australian tour for Ash, I think we would be happy to adopt you as our own?
Nice, I think we would be happy with that. We’re looking forward to getting down there and we’ve got the new album Islands so I originally thought we would be having November off but suddenly a couple of months ago the Australian tour came in so it was a good way to avoid the move in to winter.
How was the UK tour you have just finished?
It’s been fantastic and we’ve really pushed this album which is huge for us having been around for twenty five years on our seventh full length studio album. We had to drastically restructure the set and its working really well going down well with the fans. So far there haven’t been too many complaints about too many new songs. It is a pretty good feeling for us to be able to do that at this stage of our career.
Have you been happy with the fan reaction to Islands?
Yeah, I think with the previous album as well I think it was the first time where we sat down and made a record, looking back at high points of our career, and to live up to that especially after we said we weren’t going to do any more albums back in 2007, to go back to that format we felt a lot of pressure, that was received really well. The songs for Islands came together really quickly and we had one writing session and out of that eleven of twelve tracks were put in place. It was like wow, we have an album here!
There was one song towards the end True Story which was sort of tacked on and was a perfect song to tie it together. There really wasn’t much thought, it felt like a whirlwind with how the album came together. It wasn’t until after we had finished where we were thinking wow how would this sit with fans. Lyrically, I think that’s what holds the whole thing together and something we haven’t had in our career before. I think it wasn’t until the week that we released it where we had those thoughts about what will the fans think about this one. It was a great reaction and people were saying that this is even better than the last album and right up there with 1977 and Free All Angels, so we can’t really ask for more.
Is that a significant mind shift going from not making albums back to making albums?
To go back to that format we definitely felt a lot of pressure but with Island we had already been through that and the fans have received that well. It probably wasn’t on our minds that much on the Islands record to be honest. It felt like something that came together really quickly and naturally which is something that probably hasn’t happened before.
Was it intentional that Islands would be so personal lyrically?
It was difficult for Tim to see this album and was quite uncomfortable with the idea of doing that sort of record but on the same hand it was something quite different for us. I think it was more a lyrical cohesive statement than anything we had done before. We encouraged him down that road even though he was quite uncomfortable with it. I get the impression that he has made his peace with it. From his point of view the song True Story was written after the rest of the songs and wanted his side of the story stand out rather than poor me. If you didn’t focus on the lyrics you might miss out on the fact that there are a few tongue in cheek moments like Buzzkill which is so over the top and almost comic relief in amongst some very personal songs. It is an interesting place to go at this point in our career.
Is it true that Tim wrote the album on a number of different islands around the world?
Yeah, yeah, when we finished up the recording for Kablammo! we did an Australian and Japanese tour a couple of years ago and he stayed on for a couple of days and had his guitar with him. He was on these islands off the south coast of Japan, Naoshima I think, which has been transformed in to this sculpture park and he found that really inspiring. That was the start of writing songs for this album and he did go to a few different places such as Mallorca and our studio is based in Manhattan which is on an island as well. He had this thought that most of these songs were written on islands and maybe we could use this as a title. The question was asked whether this was a bit obvious but it does metaphorically ties in to the subject matter with two people splitting up and becoming their own separate islands. Also, it probably was the first time we had any idea about album titles before we even had finished the music.
How was it teaming up with The Undertones on Buzzkill?
That was cool, just as Tim was finishing up the album he had a gig up in Bushmills and ended up watching them thinking that the backing vocals in Buzzkill are total rip off of The Undertones style. A little bit of flattery convinced them to do it and it is the closest we get to The Undertones on this album, it is quite a homage. We played a couple of gigs with them and Damian played a show recently with us in London. It was fun doing Buzzkill and Teenage Kicks with them. It was such an honour to play with them, total legends.
What is next for Ash?
We’ll be finished most of the touring for Islands by the end of the year and we already have recorded fifteen songs for the next record, so we’re well under way with it. Now it will depend on record company schedules and things like that. We would love to get it out next year but the record company has bought our whole back catalogue so there is a lot to think about in terms of that. There’s definitely going to be more Ash stuff happening next year but they are still still conversations we have to have but there will be a flurry of activity next year and the following year.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Ash on the following dates, tickets from