‘We had no idea what we were doing’

Ash. Photo: PA Photo/Handout.
Ash. Photo: PA Photo/Handout.

Back in 2007, Ash’s Tim Wheeler announced that the band’s fifth studio album, Twilight Of The Innocents, would be their last.

“I believe our new album is the pinnacle of everything we’ve done thus far, and I’m proud that this will be remembered as our last album,” he said, stating the Northern Ireland trio would concentrate solely on singles from then on.

But now, that’s all changed.

“Yeah I kind of regret saying that,” admits Wheeler, 38, after the band released sixth album, Kablammo!, earlier this year.

“We honestly thought the days of people buying albums were gone, that everyone was obsessed with single tracks, but because of things like Spotify, which still lays everything out in albums, and more and more people buying vinyl, I’m pleased to see the album didn’t die.”

He says he and bandmates Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray were deadly serious with their pledge to boycott albums at the time, and now worries, perhaps only slightly, that fans won’t believe any future declarations.

“Changing our mind was a big deal for us. We didn’t know how it was going to go down. I think Jay Z has made his last album about three times, so there’s proof you can go back on what you say about something. Look at the Eagles - they said they’d reform when hell froze over, and they got back together.”

Indeed they did, and they made a joke out of it, calling the resulting reunion show their Hell Freezes Over tour.

“We were a bit nervous about the flack we might get, but the response was really good,” Wheeler adds.

It’s little surprise the move got a good response from fans. The songs are classic Ash - energetic, aggressive and noisy in the main, but harmonious and melodic.

It might have been disappointing when the band said they were no longer going to make albums, but given Wheeler’s almost supernatural ability to write pop songs, there were few bands better suited to concentrating on singles.

Look at the tracklisting for their 2002 greatest hits, Intergalactic Sonic 7”s, for proof of that; Burn Baby Burn, Envy, Shining Light, Girl From Mars, Oh Yeah, Goldfinger and Sometimes among them, songs most bands would kill to have in their catalogue. Wheeler makes creating them seem effortless.

He talks about the urge he felt to write short, sharp snappy songs for Kablammo!, which he says was - in part - inspired by one of the loves in his life, Muay Thai kick-boxing.

“I’m doing a lot of training at the moment. I got into it about two years ago, and now I go about four times a week,” he explains. “I had worked with a personal trainer for a few years, and then I met someone who goes to a kick-boxing class near where we have our rehearsal space, which is really handy.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever fight in an organised fight, but I really enjoy it,” he adds. “I miss the adrenalin rush of being on tour, and kick-boxing isn’t a million miles away from playing a show. There’s a nod to kick-boxing in the album title, and a few songs on the album inspired by it too.”

In the break between this one and Twilight..., Ash were possibly busier than ever, setting themselves the mammoth task of recording 26 songs as part of an alphabet-themed run of singles. There have also been numerous tours, while Wheeler has worked on a handful of soundtracks - including for Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond and the Shaun The Sheep Movie - plus a solo album, Lost Domain.

The latter found him writing about his father’s death due to Alzheimer’s, and dealing with the aftermath of that. A portion of the proceeds went to Alzheimer’s Society, a charity Wheeler’s supported for several years.

After so long between albums, he says the next thing on the horizon for Ash is another one, plus he wants to work on more soundtracks and another solo album.

“Soundtracks are very liberating, it’s a completely different thing, and I enjoyed making Lost Domain,” he says. “But first I want to do another Ash album.”

In May, it’ll be 20 years since the band released their debut, 1977, so called as it was the year their collective favourite film, Star Wars, was released, and also the year in which two of the band’s three members were born.

“It’s crazy that album is 20 years old,” says Wheeler. “And we’ve been playing in the band since we were 15, more than half our lives.

“It’s gone very quickly, but the songs still sound good live. So many people that come to see us grew up with that record, and I think because we were a teenage band, we had a lot of teenage fans. It was a very important record for a lot of people.”

He might be approaching 40 now, but Wheeler, who has lived in New York for the past nine years, doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of playing in the band.

“There’s something about when we start playing that makes me feel 15 years old again. I don’t think we’ll get bored of it. It hasn’t happened after 23 years, so I’m not expecting it to.

“We were always asked where we’d be in five years, and I never had an answer,” Wheeler continues. “I’ve never thought that far ahead, and if the truth be told, we were winging it.