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INTERVIEW – Rick McMurray, ASH

| 30 August 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Ash released their debut full length album 1977 almost twenty years ago, in 1996, and is currently touring playing the full album from start to finish. I got drummer Rick McMurray on the phone to talk about the album, the less successful follow-up Nu-Clear Sounds, their recent exciting A-Z SINGLES project, and their tour.

Ash 01

100% ROCK: G’day Rick – thanks for your time today mate

Rick: Hey how’re you doing buddy, you alright?

100% ROCK: Yeah man, all good. You’re on tour at the moment in the UK, is that right?

Rick: Yeah we just got a day off in Exeter. [The tour has] been going really good, we’ve been doing festivals at the weekend and our own club shows during the week to fill in the gaps.

100% ROCK: Excellent! And you must be looking forward to coming to Australia?

Rick: Yeah, can’t wait for it – it’s great! I think it’s gonna be our biggest Australian tour we’ve done probably for ten years. It gets a touch expensive touring there, so it’s going to be great getting back and spending a bit more time in the country.

100% ROCK: Yeah – we’re on the West Coast in Perth so it’ll be good to have you over this side of the country

Rick: Oh yeah – the last time we were there was probably the Free All Angels album or something like that!

100% ROCK: Loooong time ago! And of course you’ll be playing the whole of 1977 which is really exciting!

Rick: Yeah. It’s something like an 18 year old album now. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it that way, and we had the reissue package a few years ago. It’s fun, doing a really different set, and a couple of years ago now we did a couple of Free All Angels tenth anniversary shows, and we had Charlotte [Hatherley] back in the band for those. It’s a very sort of different thing playing the whole of one album – like, with our live shows they definitely sort of like, I guess the material we lean towards is the more energetic stuff, and the albums are a different sort of base, I guess. It ebbs and flows a bit more. It gets down to more the sort of content we would normally shy away from normally. So it doesn’t really feel like a normal set! It’s a challenge, but `it’s also really fun. I get the impression that the audiences kind of listen a lot more when you’re doing that show, they’re really sort of absorbing it, whereas if we’re doing a regular show there’s people really just going off to it. Following the rise and fall of the album a little more…

100% ROCK:…And everyone has their obscure favourites, all the die-hard fans, so it’s great to hear some songs you wouldn’t normally hear in an Ash set!

Rick: Yeah, absolutely. It’s fun going back – we were doing rehearsal the other day, just to get a bit of a refresher, and there were a couple of songs where the chord sequences are really weird – what were we thinking when we wrote this? It really puts you back into the studio when we were writing and recording the album as well, so we’re just getting back into that headspace a bit.

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100% ROCK: So 18 years later, what makes that album so special to your fans?

Rick: I dunno – I guess you’d have to ask them! It feels special to us because it was a great moment in time for the band, I guess it was the year we were writing that album and kept getting half prepared to go into the studio, ‘cos it was our first time going in to make a record. So we were doing a lot of writing in the studio. I guess the six months before we started recording it, the second half of 1995, we released Girl From Mars and it was our first Top twenty single. And ever since then we couldn’t get away without playing that song in our set! Even to this day, that single really sort of set us up for the record and … it was a really exciting period for the band, and we really couldn’t wait to record the album. We started off with Goldfinger, that was our first top ten single as well and then the album came out and made number one. So it was a really special time for us. And for our fans as well, I guess a lot of our fans are of a similar age group, so they were especially close to the band because of that. And as we’ve stuck with it as a career, people really have the feeling of growing up along with the band, being able to relate to the band as well.

100% ROCK: You mentioned age then and being around the same age as your audience – you were all still teenagers when the album hit and was a really big success, and it’s pretty well publicised what happened next: you toured incessantly for a couple of years, things got a bit dark with the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll thing. Do you feel you guys were supported and looked after adequately for a bunch of young guys, or did you want to go off and push things to the limit?

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Rick: Ummmm. It’s tough… obviously we were getting advice from certain people about lifestyle stuff. But you don’t really take any heed of that – you just enjoy yourself. If everything’s being given to you on a plate you just go ‘well, I’ll have a bit of that’. Yeah, why not? But yeah, I think it’s probably ‘cos we weren’t really prepared for the extended touring cycle, if you like – that was a real eye opener for us. We released the album and you’re on tour for the best part of a year, or we’d be gone on the road even longer. So it was just like, we sort of finished a tour, or towards the end of a tour and they’d say ‘right there’s another tour coming up’, and we had no idea – it just kept on happening! So we just kept on going – we’ll go to America, we’ll go to Europe, we’ll go to Australia and Japan, oh, then we’re going back to America again. And we were all, well, ‘I feel like a bit of a break now’ and then it just keeps piling up. We were making a documentary at the time which finally got released as part of our Best Of Album – was it last year or the year before that came out on Warners? And this documentary that we never released because it was just a bonus, you can actually see how tired we all were and how hard we were trying to get to grips with that. There’s a bit in there, I think from we actually were in Australia, where our manager just gets the news of this new American tour, and we ask ‘how long’s it for?’ and he says ‘ten weeks’ and you can sort of see us going [strained voice] ‘oh… good…’ [laughs] You can tell what’s going on, that we were actually thinking ‘I just wanna go home for a couple of weeks’ y’know?!

I think that in the circumstances for any band there’s gonna be a massive change and I don’t think anything can prepare you for that and if you’re a teenager you’re not gonna listen to a single word [of advice] anyway!

100% ROCK: One of the most appealing things about the album 1977 is it’s really bright, catchy, it has that innocence to it – with all the mayhem that was going on on tour and the fatigue you all felt at the time, did the songs change for you guys – did they evolve to a darker place?

Rick: Erm… I don’t think so. You can sort of forget about all that stuff and go and do the gig onstage. That’s kind of the release every night, more than having to get to places, it makes you remember why you’re there – it’s the other 23 hours of the day that drive you mad and send you to the dark side! [chuckles] I guess, yeah I don’t think anything changed song wise, but as the tours went on the tempos of everything just got faster and faster. By the end of that year our shows were just pretty ferocious, ‘cos we were just falling apart.

Ash 03

100% ROCK: Well follow-up album Nu-Clear Sounds was certainly a lot darker and it wasn’t received as well as 1977. Do you think people have embraced that album a bit more with the passage f time?

Rick: Yeah [hesitantly] I mean, there’s a lot of hardcore fans that absolutely love it, we do get that often. But on this tour we’ve not played anything off that album – I do like it though, there’re some great songs on there. That’s the one record from the really sort of dark period that in the previous couple of years people were really sort of catching up with us. We found that to a certain extent we weren’t happy with the way we were presented in a lot of the places we toured. It’s almost like [certain] people were trying to make a big deal out of the fact that we were teenagers, know what I mean? Almost trying to make it into some big teenypop thing, so a lot of what we wanted to do with the next record was to prove we were a great band and to be taken seriously. And it was a tough process, I think a lot of people were expecting something like 1977, but we were keen to do something completely different so yeah, I think we were pretty bored with a lot of things. Yeah it was a pretty stressful time for everyone.

100% ROCK: So a big rock n’ roll ‘Fuck You’ to everyone, hey?

Rick: Yeah, kind of…

100% ROCK: You mentioned that you did Free All Angels a couple of times a couple of years ago with Charlotte back in the band for those gigs. Are you touring now as a three or a four piece, because I have read that a lot of the 4 piece stuff, you didn’t want to do as a three piece?

Rick: Yeah, these days it’s sorta like, we’ve done the four piece thing with Charlotte for a long time, then we went back to a three piece. For the A-Z stuff we had Russell Lissack from Bloc Party, he was playing with us, then when he went off with them we went back to a three piece. We’ve had so many different changes – from a three piece, then Charlotte came back in for the Free All Angels thing, then back to a three piece – we’re pretty happy doing it any way, really. You know, if anyone’s available as a second guitarist then we’ll change things up a bit, but it’s kind of fun doing it either way. It was great playing with Charlotte again, it really brought us back to that period, it was great for however long she was back – it sounded great, like right back when she joined the band, and then going back to a three piece it’s kinda like – well, this is kinda cool too, y’know. If there’s anyone we happen to pick up along the way then we’ll bring them, but I think we’ll be doing these 1977 shows as a three piece for sure!

100% ROCK: A few years ago you turned your back on the whole traditional album cycle thing, and instead you did the A-Z Singles project, releasing a single every two weeks for a year. Was that project… Obviously it was stressful – that’s a lot of pressure to put on a band to come up with quality constantly for a year. Did you guys feel that pressure pretty hard?

Rick: Yeah, we did, yeah. I think we decided we’re not gonna do an album for that whole campaign, so we’ll put out a single every month. But then it was like ‘oh hang on Wedding Present did that in 1990 or 91!’ So we’re gonna have to top that. What if we do one a week? No way, that’s just insane! So then it was ‘what if we do one every other week?’… so that’s 26 – there’s 26 letters in the alphabet… cool! We’ve got a vehicle for a new way of releasing – all we’ve got to do is write 26 singles – oh shit! There was a few times where we felt like we’d bitten off more than we could chew, but at the same time we wanted to push ourselves and find a new way of doing things. So we really did shake everything up and like, it’s very different from doing a whole album where you’re trying very hard to get everything to sit nicely together. With the single thing it was really a case of ‘right, what can we do next?’ How can we make this radically different from the previous one. I think there was a few, a minor percentage of our fanbase, seemed to be a little bit sceptical – y’know ‘Ash aren’t gonna do a new album, I’m so sad”. But after a few weeks it was more ‘wow this is great, we get new stuff from Ash every other week in our inbox’ so they really embraced it and by the end of it we had people saying ‘Oh my God, like, what am I gonna do – it’s become such a part of my life over the past year and I’m gonna be lost without it!’

Yeah I think once we got going with it we started to really embrace it. It was definitely a lot of pressure but it was also a lot of fun – a really fun thing to do.

Ash 04

100% ROCK: So was the exercise a success, artistically and financially?

Rick: Yeah definitely artistically – financially I’m not so sure. We spent so much time in the studio recording, and of course no record company would touch it, so we had to spend a lot of our own money as well. It was a bit scary, but it was balanced out with the touring. I don’t think we could ever do a project of that magnitude again, but I think it was a great thing to do, for the time as well specially. I just find that record companies are like, you’ve got this massive crisis in your industry – what do you wanna do about it? Right, well, I guess we’ll just keep doing exactly the same thing we’ve been doing forever…! So we didn’t feel happy with that – we felt we needed to find a new model. I mean, if your album leaked in those days you’d be totally fucked. So if you’re releasing stuff on this basis no-one’s gonna hear it beforehand, just have your fans subscribed to it so we’re getting the money… It’s a lot to ask from your fans as well, to get the money up front but at the same time that was a kick in the ass. And because we said it was going to be a single every couple of weeks, they had to be single quality. So yeah, it was a tough project, and I think it was tough for a lot of people to get their heads around in the beginning, and it may not have been the most financially sensible thing we’ve done, but I’m still really proud of what we did, and what we set out to do. We set the bar high and I feel that we achieved that.

100% ROCK: Absolutely. Ash have always been a singles band, really, haven’t you – even in the early days there were heaps of singles and b-sides. You could have had four or five more albums with all the singles and b-sides…

Rick: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something we sort of got a reputation for. It probably goes back to the year before 1977, we released King Fu, Girl From Mars, Angel Interceptor and Goldfinger, it was a really great period for the band, because every few months we’d release a new single. King Fu’s probably a little more punky and it could’ve been off Trailer, but Girl From Mars is very different from anything we’d released, then Angel Interceptor is sort of in a similar vein to that and Goldfinger, I think that really changed people’s perception of the band as well, which was exciting for us to be sort of working with stuff and seeing how people reacted to it. And that fed right back into the writing of the album and I think a lot of the thinking then was to try and catch the excitement of those early days.

100% ROCK: And apparently you have a few new songs at least demo’d? Have you discussed what sort of format they’re going to be released in?

Rick: No, not really. I think this time round we’re going to spend – apart from the summer touring we’re doing – just a long time in the studio. We’re aiming at writing about 30 songs, get them recorded and then sort of figure out how we’re gonna release it, whether it’s gonna be single tracks or maybe EP’s. I think we’re kinda wanting the music to lead us this time, rather than sort of have a concept and try and write it [as we go] and live up to it. Let the music do the talking this time, I guess. Whatever feels more natural I guess, whatever feels the best way to do it. We were discussing if maybe we could release 3 or 4 EPs a year.

100% ROCK: With the industry the way it is, no-one really knows what’s going to work now, so I think you really have to plough your own field and see what works for each individual artist.

Rick: Yeah.

100% ROCK: Looking back on twenty years of Ash, what are your strongest emotions?

Rick: Errrr… is drunkenness an emotion? [laughs]

100% ROCK: It is some nights.

Rick: Yeah it was last night! I’ve actually been on the wagon pretty much since Ash turned twenty, apart from a few nights. It’s been a pretty great twenty years y’know. If you’d told my 17 year old self that I’d still be doing this at twice that age, I would have been, I guess, quite surprised really. I just look around and think, I’m still living the dream – getting pretty close to forty, playing in a band, you can’t really ask for much more than that you know. I think we all sort of thought, we hoped this band would be a long term thing and not just something where we’d do a couple of albums and then get back to real life or whatever. This IS real life – and that’s pretty fucking amazing you know.

There’s a hundred thousand kids out there with guitars and drumkits, and we’ve not just put out an album but been able to maintain that over twenty years. There’s this feeling that we’re really sort of privileged, and a lot of that is down to our fans. It’s AMAZING that we’re coming back to Australia to do 1977 – it’s I guess 17 years later and we’re about to do one of our biggest tours of Australia ever. I feel amazingly privileged so thanks to all our fans, and to everyone in Perth – thanks for making my dreams come true, y’know!

100% ROCK: Thanks for your time Rick, have a great tour!



Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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