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| 9 February 2016 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Ash Rick McMurray 02

Irish rock heroes Ash bring their hyper-melodic, heavy riffing tunes back to Australia this March for a five-date tour in support of their latest album Kablammo!, taking in the major capital cities. SHANE PINNEGAR pinned down drummer Rick McMurray for a chat about the band’s past, present and future.

Friday 11th March – MELBOURNE Corner Hotel
Saturday 12th March – SYDNEY Max Watt’s
Wednesday 16th March – BRISBANE The Triffid
Friday 18th March – ADELAIDE The Gov
Saturday 19th March – PERTH The Rosemount

It’s a snowy day in England when I get Rick McMurray, drummer for Ash, on the line, but he’s not envious of our scorching 35 degree Celsius day in Perth.

“Okay, that is a little bit much for me,” he cringes. “Somewhere in the middle is probably better.”

Luckily for him, the weather will be far more pleasant by the time the band hit our shores in mid-March.

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it as well. It has been a few years since we were there, I guess it was two years ago, two and a half years ago, that was the 1977 show, which was great, real fun to do – but it is always nice to get there with a new album. I guess that tour really sort of set us up to do the same thing over again, but with new records.”

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Does that mean they will be playing most of Kablammo!, their sixth and most recent studio album?

“Yes, we are playing quite a bit of it,” McMurray reveals. “It is one of those things that we found with the A-Z tour that we did before that – which was a great project to do – but it was ultimately fun and live it maybe didn’t translate as well as it could have. I guess with 26 singles, we were only doing three, possibly four songs [live].

“With the Kablammo! stuff, I think we really thought about it in the studio. We were like; we want to do an album that is going to sit really well with the stuff off 1977 or Free All Angels, which makes up a lot of the show. We felt that we needed to get stuff that is going to sit well with that.

“You know when you go and see a band who has been around for a while,” the drummer continues, “and they play some of their new stuff and everyone is just waiting for the old hits? It really felt like the opposite of that. It felt like the energy of the new stuff really carried through, and we didn’t feel like there was any glitch in the set, which is what we set out to do with the record and it is a pretty good feeling that we are getting that reaction.

“We usually plan to play about six [new] songs a night, then a lot of the old hits as well, which is a pretty varied set. It is definitely one to look forward to: we have not toured an album like this in Australia since, I think, probably Free All Angels actually.”

Having done the 1977 tour, during which Ash played their debut album in its entirety to fervent reaction, did that cause them to aim for that sort of songwriting again when they went into the studio to record Kablammo!?

“We kind of had a feeling that’s where we wanted to go with it,” he ponders. “In the end I think we pushed some [songs] quite far from a musical point of view. We experimented a lot, and felt like we wanted to make a guitar record again. That was kind of like where our head space was at that point, so that’s what we did.

“I guess, as well, having said that we weren’t going to do another album and then to go back to it as well… we definitely had a lot of pressure in terms of, we really felt musically we’ve got to justify what we are doing here. There is no point coming back to the album format and not having it live up to our most loved work. That definitely gave us our benchmark and gave us a good pressure in the studio. We were like; is it as good as 1977 or Free All Angels? That is very much how the album came about.”

Backstage portrait photos at Splendour in the Grass for Faster Louder. Woodfordia, Queensland 2010.

Backstage portrait photos at Splendour in the Grass for Faster Louder. Woodfordia, Queensland 2010.

Having sworn off making a traditional studio album ever again after 2007’s Twilight Of The Innocents, tried their hand at releasing one new single a fortnight for an entire year to their A-Z program subscribers, and revisited their earlier breakthrough albums on tour, when Ash did decide to change their collective minds and record again they opted to go for a crowd funding model to finance the record.

“Yes, we did,” confirms McMurray. “That was something we really enjoyed during the A-Z stuff. Because we were doing it like a subscription thing and it felt like the fans were very close to what we are doing – that was something that we wanted to carry forward in the crowd funding thing as well. It sort of just gave us the opportunity to start to take our time with it. Tim [Wheeler – guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter] was doing a solo record. He finished it before we did [Kablammo!], but as [his] release date kept getting knocked back, it gave us a lot of time to work on the crowd funding thing. It definitely helped with that.

“We had people [who helped fund the record] down in the studio who were doing strings and stuff like that, and people getting involved in backing vocals, hand claps and stuff like that. It was real fun thing to do. People got a real buzz out of it and we enjoyed that side of it as well. Again, that was the pressure, when people have given you that investment, and that sort of faith in the band as well, you are like, ‘shit, okay, we’d better deliver here.’”

Taking it straight to the people – the fans – and having them finance your album independently of a record label is a very punk business model, but it is fraught with no little danger: one crowd funding campaign that doesn’t meet the target and all of a sudden your bubble burst. McMurray agrees that it is a bit daunting in that respect.

“Absolutely yes. I guess with the A-Z thing we got a hardcore fan base, that kind of knew that we delivered on that. But I think for any band it is definitely good pressure to have. I think pressures are good. It is definitely a good thing for artists to work under. That definitely gets results. It certainly works for us anyway.”

McMurray goes on to explain that they pretty much started the new material from scratch rather than fell back on old demos and the like.

“I think we had pretty much had a clean slate when we moved in. It was probably the longest we’ve been away from the studio, and Tim had done a solo album, so he used a lot of material on that. I remember the first week we got together in the studio. I was like; What have you got? It was a lot of nerves actually, it was kind of weird. We never really had that sort of nervous energy or just … I think everyone was in the frame of mind to just get a few basic ideas in the first week. We don’t need to finish anything, but if we got a sort of a plan of where we are going with this, then that will be good. But then, I think we ended up getting seven or eight songs in that week. That was definitely a good start.”

Having let second guitarist Charlotte Hatherley go in 206 after nine years with the band, they have recruited her or another stand-in for a couple of tours, but McMurray confirms it will be the classic trio line-up of the band which tours Australia.

“Yes, it is the three of us. I think that was definitely another thing that informed the record: it feels that we finally made our peace with the three piece set up. Since Charlotte left the band there was maybe a sense that there was a hole to fill there. That’s when we started experimenting more with different instrumentation. A lot more keyboard and synthy ideas in there and stuff. Especially on the A-Z stuff, but we teamed with Russell from Bloc Party for the A-Z tour – he was in and out [for a while]. We spent a lot of time doing maybe one tour as a four piece and another as a three piece.

“By the end of it we were like, it sounds great with Russell, but it also sounds great as a three piece. We felt like we can do this. Part of the writing process is; if we can make it sound great as a trio just in a room together, that was where we were at with it. We don’t need to over complicate things. You hear that in our [new] record.”

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For a while the band wouldn’t play any material from the four-piece line-up live. Not so nowadays.

“No, we still do a lot – that does sound different. It is probably a little bit more direct, a little bit more in your face. But there is probably maybe one or two songs where the duo guitar thing was pretty key to the whole sound of the song, and we can’t really reproduce that live. But other than that we play a hell of a lot of stuff, especially off Free All Angels and Meltdown.”

McMurray says the new material from Kablammo! is sitting pretty comfortably next to the band’s older tunes.

“Yes, as I said, that was definitely a benchmark for the record,” he declares. “We are definitely getting a great reaction with the new stuff from fans. When you got a band who had been around for 20 years and release a new album, it is a great feeling for that material to be easily accepted alongside the hits.”

Don’t for a moment think that Ash are going to wait another eight years before their next studio album: Wheeler has already stated in interviews that he thinks they will head into the studio later this year for a follow-up to Kablammo!

“Yes, I think so,” confirms McMurray. “We haven’t got together [yet] – we toured right up until Christmas last year. We have to get together again, but I think some time in the next couple of months we will start that process. I think [Wheeler] is probably at home doing a bit of writing as we speak.

“We just feel like we enjoyed the whole Kablammo! experience, we just want to keep that rolling. Before Kablammo! we’d been away for a long time. It feels that we need this record to make up for lost time.”

Some 24 years into their career as a band, Ash have a wealth of material to choose from: six albums, the 26 A-Z singles, as well as a veritable mountain of B-sides and non-album singles. I put McMurray on the spot and ask which are his personal favourites to play live?

“Obviously when you’ve got a new album out it is really exciting getting fresh material in there and that’s cool,” he says thoughtfully. “But we still love playing the old hits. One of my favourite songs to play is Goldfinger. I don’t know, there has always been something about that song that has really been close to me throughout the years. It is a great one for me to play. Yes, as a group we are not one of these bands that make it difficult for the audience. We want to play the stuff that gets the best reaction every night – we never had problem with that. Yes, you can expect to hear the hits and more!”

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I bring up the recent news of both Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead and David Bowie passing away in recent weeks. Ash have been known to play the odd Bowie cover live, and the shock of their loss is shared by McMurray.

“Yes, it has been a rough few weeks for the elder statesmen of music,” he sighs sadly. “I think he was 70 years old [Lemmy had just turned 70, Bowie 69]. These days it’s not really that old. Both in their own way, they just… knowing that their health isn’t great, they just wanted to continue until they dropped, really.

“With Lemmy, it was just to continue to tour. No matter how bad he was, he always wanted to get on stage. He was well documented saying; ‘I want to die on stage.’ Bowie was the other side of the coin, I think. I read something the other day, just a couple of months ago, starting that new record… which turned out to be his swan song. He turned his death into a piece of art. It is just absolutely amazing.”

Is there a favourite song from either artist that McMurray always goes back to?

“Not really,” he admits. “I love the Ziggy Stardust stuff – probably one of my favourite pieces of the band was the Ziggy Farewell Show. [But] there is so much crammed in there, it is almost like there is three or four different bands there in the whole Bowie catalogue that you could have a favourite song from: the Ziggy Stardust years, the Berlin Trilogy, it is almost like, if one artist had done that trilogy and that was all they had done, that would be like, you are [done] for a lifetime just by doing that. He had so many other different sides to him. It is absolutely amazing and I guess from Motorhead we would have to have – it is hard to get away from The Ace Of Spades, which is like a stone cold rock classic.

“I think it helps [fans] to see [that] I don’t think they really looked at themselves,” he said in reaction to the public outpouring of grief from the loss of these two rock icons. “Yes, [Bowie] wrote pop songs, but it was almost like commerciality was more of an afterthought. I think whenever that level of success achieved, he’d always done his own thing.

“Same with Lemmy as well: ‘this is what we do, this is what we do best, and we are going to keep doing it.’ He didn’t really care about the industry side of things. It was just like… I guess it is personal expression over commerciality.”

This story was first published in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 27 January, 2016 issue

Category: Interviews

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