Irish Rockers Ash Talk Brit Pop, Charlotte Hatherley, Coldplay & A-Z Series (Interview)

Saturday, 17 July 2010 Written by Adam Simpson
Stereoboard Interview With Brit Pop Heroes, Ash.

Stereoboard recently spent some time with Ash bass player Mark Hamilton backstage, prior to their gig at The Duchess in York.

The Irish indie rockers who shot to fame during the 90's with their debut album track 'Girl from Mars', talk to us about the Brit Pop phenomenon, their collaborations and influence on Coldplay's Chris Martin and hooking up with Russell Lissack from Bloc Party. We also talk about the departure of Charlotte Hatherley, their route to survival in the music industry and the A to Z series, which continues with the next release. Carnal Love on August the 2nd.

How was this year’s Glastonbury Festival?

Glastonbury was really good; it was the first time we'd played the John Peel stage so it was great.” Ash are no strangers to Glastonbury, having played the main stage on several occasions before, however their set unfortunately coincided with England’s exit from the World Cup Finals at the hands of Germany, so how did that affect the gig? “We were a little bit concerned because England lost, you could actually feel the atmosphere in the whole festival just dip down a bit and we were concerned that everyone might just fuck off and go home but there was a good crowd there so it was really good.”

How does playing a huge festival compare with an intimate venue like The Duchess tonight?

“You’re still playing the same and playing the same songs and the closeness to the crowd is nice you can feed off the energy from the crowd in a place like this.”

So do the group have a preference?

Well it seems not, Ash just love playing live. And why not? They excel at it. The gig that followed was an amazing set, full of energy and atmosphere.

So how are the band adapting to returning to a 3 piece, since the departure of guitar player, Charlotte Hatherley?

“We're back to being a 4 piece because Russell (Lissack) from Bloc Party is playing with us so since the start of the year we’ve been back as a 4. The last couple of years we were back as a 3 piece which wasn’t a problem, because we started out being a 3 piece so we could revert back to that quite easily but as a 4 piece it gives Tim a bit more freedom because he doesn’t have to do all the lead work and it loosens him up a bit which is good, Bloc Party are on a bit of a hiatus and not really doing anything at the moment so we just called Russell up and asked if he fancied touring with us and he said sure. So he’s with us for the rest of the year anyway or until they decide what they’re doing.”

Ash are reportedly good friends with Coldplay’s Chris Martin and there are stories of the group making a film with Chris, I find out more on these stories.

Chris has known the group for a long time, having been a fan originally. “He said that we made him want to be in a band because he was jealous and he thought that he could do better so we inspired him really. So in some way wer'e responsible for Coldplay.”

The group produced a slasher flick whilst on tour in the USA with Chris, the film is being released on You Tube in small clips. “It came from just touring with him in the States we had a lot of down time and time to kill we had some camcorders and decided we’d make this slasher flick, we shot a couple of hours footage but we never actually completed it so we just edited it down to put on You Tube. There’s one up there at the minute and were gonna put some more on in the next couple of weeks. Chris is a really good actor actually he could easily go into acting if he wanted.” Watch out Hollywood then! Perhaps we will see Chris Martin on the big screen one day.

So how do Ash feel to have been a part of the huge 90’s Brit Pop phenomenon?

Although Ash were more a alternative band, rather than the stereotypical sounds of Brit Pop, they rode the wave of the trend and were very much a part of the genre which propelled the likes of Blur and Oasis to the dizzy heights they enjoyed. “We really didn’t consider ourselves part of it we got lumped into it because it was all Brit and English music, we were really into the American scene, the Seattle grunge bands, that was what we were into, but that said we were a part of it and it was definitely fun at the time.”

How does Mark feel that music has changed over the last couple of decades?

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The indie scene which Ash were inadvertently a part of due to the Brit Pop culture of the 90’s has changed drastically. “I think the music has become lots of little scenes. It’s a generalisation but if you go back 20 years to Brit Pop music there seemed to be a very wide net of what was thrown under that genre and now things have got very scene specific, you’ve got small little scenes for everyone.” The internet has also come along leaps and bounds during Ash’s career. “Music is so easily accessible nowadays. You can download someone’s back catalogue in 20 seconds but it also completely devalues music you can have an iPod full of songs and never listen to half of them, you can collect anything without having any value on it.”

So what was the thinking behind Ash’s A to Z series, a pledge to release a new single on vinyl format, every 2 weeks? 1 single for ever letter of the alphabet.

“Well it goes back to devaluing music it’s all gonna be distributed digitally anyway and once it’s out there it’s out there people will file share it anyway so it’s all about bringing out a release and then a couple of weeks later another.” The series has also been gratefully accepted by fans and the group realise that it is a good way to stay in peoples mind. “You can go on tour for a year and a half and no one will know where you are unless you come and see it, but for the most part it looks like you write your album for the best part of a year and that cycle can take 3 years you know, from the time the materials released and if the album doesn’t do well its 3 years of your life lost.” It’s a very modern way of thinking, taken from the way people access other media, such as podcasts. “Releasing music gradually and constantly and give people this constant anticipation. If you’re looking forward to something, you can always put a value on that anticipation so giving your fans that every 2 weeks gives them something to look forward to and keeps them engaged, it keeps them in contact with the website.”

So how well has the series worked so far, now that the group are half way through the series?

“The fans who have subscribed to it on the website love it, they think it’s the best thing we’ve done, they’ve got way more music then they would have on a record release, we’ve recorded like 4 albums worth of music in 2 years, we're doing it on our own in our own studio, so there’s probably a lot of people who probably don’t even know we're doing it, but that’s just down to the way we're releasing it, our own way for ourselves .”

Without a big label behind them now to fund promotion the group see this way of doing things as a way to stay in touch with their army of fans and to survive as musicians. The music industry is dying a death right now unless you’re a top 40 pop act and that isn’t sustainable. Every year you hear of record labels slashing half their staff, but we're lucky enough that we’ve got a fan base behind us and we’ve had that build up over the years. I don’t know how any new band survive, the money that was in the industry, during the years of Brit Pop, there was a lot of excess going on and it’s just not there anymore, so bands have to go more independent and find ways of doing things different and its harder it’s a tougher slog, but in a way that’s good, it focuses you.”

With that in mind what advice would Ash give a new band?

Mark tells me that groups have to work hard and use everything they can to their advantage. “You have to be completely motivated but you gotta use the internet to your advantage and find a way to use every avenue possible and constantly play live. I think the most important thing now is getting an agent so you can tour and not just play their local vicinity. They can build up a good following within that area but beyond that nobody knows what they’re doing and because there’s not the investment from record companies so you need to get an agent and not just play your local vicinity but play further afield and get out there and do what you gotta do to make a name for yourself. But once you’ve got the following behind you then people are more likely to sign rather than people taking a chance on a couple of songs which companies in the past may have done, but now they need to see a lot more progress.”

What does Mark feel has been the key to Ash’s longevity in the music business?

Mark highlights hard work, constant touring and getting along as a group to be the main reasons as well as being happy with the music you are producing and being prepared to alter things. “We get out there and constantly tour people refer to us as a singles band and I guess we’ve tried to re invent the wheel a little bit and try and do different things. The whole A to Z as well, we're not trying to make a cohesive album, it’s a collection of songs that we can take in any direction we want just trying to keep things interesting and not repeating yourself it doesn’t always work, that’s fine, you gotta keep pleasing yourself as well plus the fact you gotta get on with each other as well, lots of bands egos get out of control and that’s when things start falling apart. But because the 3 of us all went to school together and we knew each other since children, egos getting out of control wasn’t really possible because "we’d just be like, fuck off" you know what I mean? Because it wasn’t like a bunch of people who came together and formed a band we knew each other completely we might as well be like a second family.”

How does the new Ash sound compare to the original sound?

“We’re definitely more experimental. There’s a lot more synths and stuff in the music now, part of that came from going back to being a 3 piece for a while because we thought we can’t replicate the 2 guitar sounds on stage so we put all the electronic sounds there and you can replicate that on stage. So the sound is there but in a different way, so whenever we're in the studio there’s a lot of that stuff going on, trying out different sounds and plus because we’ve got our own studio in the States we can do this. Because making electronic music takes a lot longer than sitting on your arse and playing guitars, it’s a lot more time consuming and because we’ve got our own studio we can do that. If you’re hiring a studio, you’re looking at the clock and the costs and you probably don’t have that freedom, but we can do that now.”

With many festivals, tours and records under their belt what has been the high point for Mark?

Reading Festivals, we’ve always had amazing gigs there. We never really get too nervous about shows but there’s something about Reading that has us on the edge so we're looking forward to doing that this year and I think we might be going for the record for the amount of times someone’s played at Reading. That would be a great achievement.”

The A to Z series kicks off again on the 2nd August with the release of the groups next single, Carnal Love.




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