Ash – the Britpop band who once billed themselves as ‘guaranteed real teenagers’ – are officially all grown up. They celebrate more than 25 years together today with the release of Teenage Wildlife (Infectious/Echo/BMG), which rounds up 36 key tracks.
The band has scored 18 Top 40 hits, including Burn Baby Burn, Goldfinger. Oh Yeah, Girl From Mars and Shining Light. And they have scored seven hit albums, with debut record 1977 Ash’s biggest seller to date, with 443,343 copies sold, according to the Official Charts Company.
Along the way, the Northern Irish band – singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray – also found time to headline Glastonbury, make more Reading Festival appearances than any other band and perform alongside U2 at the Good Friday referendum concert in Belfast in 1998.
To celebrate making it to a quarter century without ever splitting up – although guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, who joined in 1997, left the band in 2006 – and the band’s upcoming UK tour, which starts in Leeds on March 17, frontman and BMG-published songwriter Tim Wheeler sat down with Music Week to talk co-writing, streaming and Shaun The Sheep…
Did you expect Ash to last 25 years?
“Never! No bands last that long without breaking up. I definitely didn’t see myself being a musician past 40 for some reason. We definitely had no game plan.”
How come you’ve never split up?
“We’ve always still loved it. We’re working on new material all the time, which keeps us ever entertained and there’s been any real reason to. We’ve never really fallen out. We used to have studio arguments, creative arguments that would end with one of us stomping out for a few hours, but never anything worse. Charlotte coming and going was a tough time to navigate and there’s been some tough times with labels, things like that over the years, like our second album not doing as well. But we’ve always planned to get through it and never thought of quitting.”
You were still at school when you first found success. Is it weird to be veterans now?
“It is. I don’t feel that way. We’re definitely more professional and experienced and better musicians than we were, but we still like our shows to be fun, energetic affairs. It takes me back to being a teenager as soon as we start playing a lot of those old songs.”
Why do you think your music has endured?
“We built up a really good fanbase in those first 10 years and they’ve sustained us. With being so young, our fans really grew up with us. And I think a lot of the songs have stood the test of time, which means the music is still fresh and relevant, which is cool. I’m very proud of the songs. The last 15 years, some things have connected more than others, but it’s always connected enough to keep the spirit going.”
For your A-Z Series in 2009-10, you dropped a new song every two weeks, basically inventing the way that everyone releases music these days…
“Yeah. I saw with some regret that the album wasn’t the event that it had been before so it was like, ‘We’ve got to find a new way of doing this’. We knew from our manager that some people were talking about subscriptions being a way of replacing CD income, so we did a subscription service – but I guess it needed to happen on a much larger scale. I thought a steady stream of music would be a good answer, but it was quite an exhausting way to work. It would have been a good thing to have done just a few years later, the timing would have been perfect. We gave up on it too early maybe and flipped back to albums, but a lot of our fans are still quite old school so they appreciated us going back to albums.”
What have been the highlights of the 25 years?
“We accidentally headlined Glastonbury! We were the youngest artists to ever do it. It was one of the muddy years, possibly the muddiest. Steve Winwood couldn’t get on site and we were still there – we’d already headlined the second stage on the Friday night, so we had to sober up really quickly and do our thing. They paid us a decent chunk of change to do it, not a full-on headliners fee but it was worth it.”
You’re regarded as one of the best songwriters of your generation. Have you ever been asked to write for other people?
“I got asked a lot about 10 years ago but I steered away from it. If I was going to do that I’d have to really commit myself to it. I tend to like writing for myself. I did do a song with Nick Hodgson and Ilan Eshkeri for a Shaun The Sheep movie. It was called Feels Like Summer, it’s probably my song with the highest views on YouTube!”
Are you a fan of co-writing?
“No, but it doesn’t worry me. I grew up expecting bands to write their own songs so when you listened to something, you knew there was some real, true feeling behind it. Now, there’s this hive mind thing with multiple writer sessions going on. It’s not my style of doing things, but it seems to work for some people. Maybe at some point I might give it a try to see what it would be like. It’s interesting how well it worked for Coldplay, that surprised me.”
What are your future plans?
“We’re getting close to finishing a new album. It’ll probably be out early next year. Working on new stuff is my biggest kick in the band, I love getting something from being an idea to playing it on stage, that whole journey is really important to me. I like going out and playing the old stuff, but working on new shit is my main driver.”
* To read Tim Wheeler’s Hitmakers interview on Burn Baby Burn, see the new issue of Music Week, available now, or click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.