The stalwarts of indie, Ash's biography is close in length to 'War and Peace'! Having been together for nearly twenty years, they have experienced changes of line ups, seen Britpop come and go and have seen a complete change in the way people listen to music. We caught up with them back stage at Benicassim Festival to chat about the secret behind their longevity, their inventive way of combatting changes in the industry and how it's apparently more fun to be in Ash than it is to be in Bloc Party!
It might surprise you to hear that Ash are still one of the hardest working bands around. They have been quietly hitting the festival circuit hard, playing all the main festivals both in the UK and abroad and giving their huge fan base a taste of both their new material and the old classics. Although Benicassim has allocated the band an hour for their set, it still doesn't feel long enough for them. ' Even an hour today does seem quite short for us, we have such a big back catalogue, I guess we'll have three or four new songs and then the rest are all hit singles' say drummer Rick McMurray). And they obviously did something right if the reaction of the hoards both Spanish and English fans was anything to go by later that evening. But then Ash are hugely experienced in the world of live performances and have got to know exactly what their fans want over the years. It also means they can relax when they perform and that especially seems to be the case in festivals abroad. 'I think psychologically when you come to Europe it doesn't feel like it's as much pressure. Maybe it's the language barrier but you feel more relaxed' says Rick 'and its more of a relaxed set up as well. In the UK they tend to cram as many bands in as possible, here they stagger the bands, so you can chill out a bit'.
When you're on the road for as long as they have been, it's important that they get that opportunity to chill out. Obviously being friends since school helps but they have also brought in 'new blood' as they call it, to keep things fresh. 'We brought in Rick's younger brother as a roadie and Russell (Lissack) from Block Party as well' explained Mark (Hamilton). Although they were more than happy as a three-piece, bringing in Russell has mixed things up a bit for them and made it more fun. It seems the boys of Ash are hoping to hang onto him for as long as possible. 'A lot of it is in their (Bloc Party's)hands, like what happens with Kele but if he's going to continue with his solo stuff, we're happy to have him and he's having fun' says Mark. 'Russell is saying that he is having more fun than he ever had in Bloc Party!' adds Rick. 'Don't say that, you've just put him in the shit!' laughs Mark, but his presence does seem to have injected a bit of playfulness into the band.
It's not just playing festivals and touring that has kept Ash busy over the last few years. Having released six albums on major labels, the band has now famously said that they won't record another full length album because the way people listen to music has changed so dramatically. 'If you record an album now, people maybe just download two tracks' says singer Tim (Wheeler) 'You work on every single song on an album to make it amazing, so it's just annoying. Sometimes the last track on the album is your best and it doesn't even get heard' he explains. 'When we released our first album, it was a real event but I think generally, for every band the album doesn't really capture people's imaginations any more' adds Rick. So, in an effort to combat these problems Ash have done possibly the most ambitious project of their entire career, they have released their 'A-Z Series', a campaign which involves releasing a new single every two weeks for just about a year (26 singles in total). 'It's just changing the rules and doing things differently' says Tim. So Ash's fans get to have a whole year of continual anticipation and excitement about what the next song is going to be, it's really important to the band that they continue to put their fans first and that's what has allowed them to maintain their hugely loyal fan base. And in an age where you can download thousands of songs at the click of a mouse on bit torrent sites, Ash are aiming to put the value back into music. 'It's that classic thing, if you work for something or pay for it and its limited then it has more value' explains Mark.
So moving with the times and being inventive has helped the band stay successful for nearly twenty years, but there are more reasons than that which have led to the band's longevity. 'Yeah, like fear of the real world!' laughs Rick, 'Fear of nine to five!' agrees Mark. 'We always wanted this to be a full time career, not just something we did for a couple of years. we still love music and it's still such a great buzz getting on the stage every night' says Rick. And their fans will be pleased to know that there are no plans for the band to do anything else other than continue to make the music we love. 'Yes, they'll have to prise the guitars out of our cold dead hands!' laughs Mark.
In fact, even the plans for the rest of the year are pretty full on. The band are playing festivals in the UK, Europe, Japan and Australia and are sharing a couple of shows with their friends 'We Are Scientists'. They are even hoping to head out to South Africa to play with The Parlotones who supported them on their UK tour. Having achieved so much, you'd think the band would be able to relax a bit and that is their aim at the end of the year. However, they have one more aim; 'Our dream is to headline Reading Festival' says Tim. Let's hope they achieve it, if anyone deserves that accolade, its Ash.