Live @ Bristol Carling Academy
June 1, 2004

Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

"Revolution, we're the solution, we're gonna take it to the overload." The opening line from the new Ash album, Meltdown, couldn't be more apt, as the band have finally produced the full-on rock record, they've always hinted at.

Preceding the LP, and to back-up Tim's declaration that Meltdown would "Tear your face off", Ash released their heaviest song to date, on February 25, 2004, as a download-only single. Clones, was hard + loud, and certainly confirmed that Charlotte, Mark, Rick and Tim, had turned it up to 11!

Meltdown, has been described as "the sound of a band at ease with themselves, and having fun," which is perhaps due to its live feel and rawer vibe. But with Ash's trademark melodies firmly intact, it is Rick's relentless (new style) drumming - the key element in the grittier / riff-driven songs - that has taken the band's original punk-pop blueprint, to whole another level.

Tonight's gig, is similarly confident and explosive. Complete with a dark / back-lit stage, both the mood and sound of the set have been carefully intertwined, and would enrapture any rock music fan. The hits, as always, are excellent - but the new songs, including Meltdown, Evil Eye, Clones, Renegade Cavalcade, Starcross'd, Vampire Love and Orpheus, show how comfortably and effortlessly, Ash have matured into an exhilarating rock band.

As a devoted fan for many, many years, and with this being Ash's 10th Anniversary in the Music Industry, I had the privilege of interviewing Rick, onboard the band's large gold tour bus, earlier that afternoon. In discussing the band's accomplishments, it's clear that Ash aren't willing to rest on their laurels, and that they are as desirous in 2004, as they were 1994!

Ash have come a long way, but just as Vampire Love closes Meltdown, "It's not the end…"


1. Congratulations on your 10th Anniversar1. Congratulations on your 10th Anniversary in the Music Industry. Looking back at everything you have achieved so far, how does it feel to be a part of Ash in 2004?
"Yeah, it's great! For me, being in Ash has got better and better all of the time, it's like the more we do, the more comfortable we get with it. We've had our ups and downs you know, but all the downs have made us stronger."

2. Has the band surpassed your expectations, or do you still have many more goals left?
"I think the answer is yes to both of those questions. When we started out, we really didn't have a clue - we had ambition, but no idea how to realise it, we didn't know how to go about getting a deal or anything. I think if we hadn't been snapped up when we were, we probably would've split up, because we were getting really frustrated with not getting anywhere. But yeah, we've still got a lot of ambitions - we've had the #1 album and obviously the next thing, would be a #1 single, that would be great! It's tough to get that, but we could headline a festival, maybe Reading one year. We'd also like to spread our level of success in the UK, to other places in the World as well - so there's still a lot to achieve I think."

3. How does it feel to be regarded as elder statesmen of Indie, even though you're still a young band?
"It's kind of weird (laughing). On the one hand, we've been around for a hell of a long time, longer than most bands survive, yet at the same time, we're kind of around the same age as bands like Coldplay. But The Darkness and Franz Ferdinand, who are both on they're first big album, are probably older than us, so it's bizarre."

4. You recently returned to Downpatrick, for a homecoming show and to visit your old school. How did it go?
"Going back to school was nuts, we sort of walked in, met the select few in the classes, and saw old teachers and stuff. Then the bell went and the classes changed, and 200 to 300 kids swamped us looking for autographs. A few things have changed, but when we opened up the doors and walked into the school, the smell was just like total deja-vu - this was the first time we'd been back in 10 years! The gig was amazing, 400 people crammed into this tiny little room at The Arts Centre. It was a great homecoming, because again, the last time we played there was 10 years ago, just before we got signed as well. Afterwards, we went out and had a few jars in the local bar, where we used to drink, had a lock-in in there, and played a few more songs - which was actually more fun than the gig, I really enjoyed that! I think that one night, finished at about 6am or something."

5. Some of your dreams have come true this year - you were joined onstage by Brian Robertson (Thin Lizzy guitarist) + you also visited the Skywalker Ranch. What are your memories of these events?
"Well having Brian Robertson onstage, was absolutely amazing - we did The Boys Are Back In Town… rock 'n' roll is not dead yet! He's been going for years, he's been through it all with Thin Lizzy, and he still dresses like a rocker - he's got big drainpipe jeans, that are the tightest pair of jeans ever, and I think he's just an amazing guitarist! Doing that on St. Patrick's night as well - there were a few Irish people down the front in tears (laughing), it was great! Then going to the big Skywalker Ranch was pretty cool, I don't even remember much of it, we were just sort of in and out again quite quickly. You'd probably have to have a few visits to take it all in, as there's so much there, but it's really impressive. The best bit, was this one cabinet with stuff from all of the Indiana Jones films, loads of props etc., which was amazing. The reason we went there, is that we've been asked to contribute a song, to a new Star Wars video game. But it's kind of funny, because when the press got wind of us going to the Skywalker Ranch, it was completely blown out of proportion. One of the Sunday Papers said something like, "Ash are going to be in the new Star Wars film." Good rumour though (laughing)."

6. With Meltdown, you wanted to make a "more coherent record" from start to end?
"Yeah, I think in the past, most of our records have been a real eclectic bunch of songs, which is cool, as it kind of runs the gamut of all the stuff we do. But with Meltdown, we wanted it to have more direction and impact, so you know where you stand with it - it is a rock record."

7. Is it true, that this was your easiest record to make, that it was very organic the way the album came together?
"Again yeah, I think in the past, the writing process for records has always been a difficult time. I guess the most difficult, was when we were doing Nu-Clear Sounds, but on Free All Angels, we took a long time to get that right - we made sure we prepared and we demoed like 30 songs for it, which must have taken at least 9 months. But this time around, we got into the rehearsal studio and Tim brought all of his ideas, and within 4 or 5 days, we banged together like 10 songs. Then we just went and demoed those, and a few weeks later we did it again, so out of those 20 songs, we had the whole album done really quickly. I think our confidence was just really high on this record, we were really enjoying it."

8. Touring the USA in 2002 / 2003, obviously influenced the recording of Meltdown. How did you decide on hiring Nick Raskulinecz to produce the album?
"We were doing the demos, and some guy was working next door with the Gang Of Four, I think. Tim got chatting to him, and this guy was saying "I've just heard some of the new Killing Joke record, Dave Grohl's playing drums and it's the best drum sound I've ever heard in my life - you should check out the producer, Nick Raskulinecz." Then, a few weeks later, our A&R man at the record company, sent through a list of all these producers as long as your arm, and we spotted Nick's name. We're obviously into the Foo Fighters and their last album sounded pretty cool, so we scheduled a meeting with him, in the middle of our American Tour, in 2003. We had no days off on tour, so we were like fuck it, let's have a couple of meetings with producers and fly to the next gig, get the record company to pay for the flights. We all had hangovers after the L.A. show, and Nick came bouncing in saying "Oh man, the demo of that song Clones is fucking amazing!" He was so enthusiastic, asking us what bands we were into, and when we mentioned Nirvana, he said "Let's go record at the studio where Nirvana made Nevermind." We were kind of blown away by his enthusiasm, so it was like all right, let's give him a shot, and he turned out to be really good. A little less drinking this time (laughing), but it was definitely the most fun I've had making a record, it was really relaxed. In the past, we'd always been living in a residential studio, so this time, we just had a bit of space to get excited about it. After we'd finished a day's work, we could sit and have a couple of beers, and say "That was good today, I can't wait to get in tomorrow," and then we were just pumped up for it the next day."

9. What was it like recording @ Sound City Studio, Van Nuys, CA - where Nirvana made Nevermind?
"It was one of those things, it was like great, we're going to record there - you're really excited about it, but then you get there and you're like it's cool, and within 2 or 3 days, it's just a studio you know. On the way in, you can at least walk past the platinum disc on the wall, take a photograph of that and forget about it, but it's cool."

10. Would you agree, that your drums have given Meltdown its power?
"Yeah, I think my drumming style has changed quite a bit, it's a lot more to the fore on this record, and it's mixed a lot higher. Meltdown has been mixed more like a rock record, so the drums are louder."

11. Although this is Ash's heaviest release to date, was it important to the band, that you retain your trademark melodies?
"That's the thing, no matter what we write really, the music can change from songs like Candy, to songs like Clones, but it'll still always have Tim's melodies, because at the end of the day, that's what music is, it's about the melodies. You can back it up with a bit more power obviously, but it's always going to be recognisable as Ash, which is cool."

12. Is it true, that after listening to Intergalactic Sonic 7"s, Tim "couldn't believe how personal most of the songs were" - so he wanted to broaden his subject matter on Meltdown?
"Yeah, in the past, you'd always been able to tell how Tim was feeling, at that period in his life, by listening to the album or b-sides, or lyrics that he'd written while we were on the road - you could always kind of gauge that. But with this record (pausing), he's been with the same girlfriend for a long time, so there are a couple of fucking hardcore songs on it, but he's writing from his imagination and from past experience, rather than from this point in time, which makes things a bit more universal. Clones is just a bit of a rant really, it can be applied to a lot of things. I think we were doing an interview in Germany, and this guy was saying "So is Clones about all of these Boy Bands, that they're all the same, they're all clones?" We were like it could be (laughing), but not specifically, it can be applied to a lot of situations, like disappointment and being let down you know."

13. As well as contributing more backing vocals to Meltdown, Charlotte also recorded her debut solo album Grey Will Fade. Can you tell us more about this?
"It's all of these songs Charlotte's written, since she joined the band - some of her stuff doesn't quite fit in. Her music is bit more left-field than Ash, she's into more XTC which I can't see working with Ash, but she just wanted to do it, to get it out of her system. I think it's cool that she's done it, it sounds really good. A few people are like "Is she going to leave Ash?" - but no, she just wanted to get all of these songs off her chest, and to get them out there. I don't think Charlotte wants the pressure of being the front-person, she just wants to play guitar."

14. Mark still helps with designing Ash's artwork / logos, but you've also collaborated with a tattoo artist. Can you tell us about Tim's phoenix tattoo / Meltdown's sleeve?
"Tim was just getting into tattoos, when we went out to do the album. He was like "I'm gonna get a new tattoo," and Dave Grohl was hanging around a lot, because he's really good friends with Nick. Foo Fighters had just finished a tour, and Tim asked Dave about his tattoos. Dave said, "It's this Irish guy, Rori Keating (, who lives down in San Diego, that's where I go to get mine," so Tim went down there and got the phoenix done, and we were like we should use that for something. Then we talked to Rori, and asked him to come up with a logo run, with the tribal designs that he does - like the Clones logo and the new Ash logo - because Mark was like, we should try and keep it all around that tattoo idea. Rori came up with a few ideas, and Mark went through them with him, saying change this / change that. So we built the artwork around the phoenix tattoo, and then Mark took that and did the fire etc. It's my favourite Ash sleeve, because it's really striking."

15. You are now Festival veterans, and will be playing at many over the summer. If you could choose a fantasy bill, featuring Ash + new and old bands, who would you pick?
"That's a funny thing (laughing), because if we were asked this question in the past, we would always have The Pixies on it - but we're gonna actually be doing Festivals with The Pixies this year! We're also supporting them in Berlin and Paris as well, at their own shows, so that's pretty amazing. But other bands I'd have on, would be Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, original line-up of course - that would keep me more than happy (laughing)."

16. Have your rock 'n' roll lifestyles eased off at all?
"I guess I have a bit, but I still go for it from time to time. Drinking can take it out of you - I found out last week, that I can't really hammer it as much as I used to. I think the older you get, the worse the hangovers get, and the gigs take precedence of course, so you have to keep your habits tempered around that."

17. What happened to the release of the Ash DVD, which was to set to include all of your Promo Videos, and the spoof-horror film Slashed?
"We've always talked about doing the video collection, and I'm sure we will do it at some point, we already talked about it again this year - maybe at Christmas? But as for Slashed, it's kind of difficult because we never got round to finishing it, it's like 2 years old and everyone kind of looks a bit different as well, so the continuity's gone. So I don't know how we're going to finish it, but there are some cool bits in it, it's kind of funny. Maybe we'll get Mark to edit a few little scenes and stuff, and put it up on our Website."

18. Were you pleased with the 2003 C4 Documentary, Ash: Love & Destruction?
"I didn't really know what to think of it, it was an interesting project to be involved in, but it was quite bizarre, I don't know, I'm not sure what to say about that (laughing). I think it's a very difficult thing to pull-off, when you're trying to do something quite different with a band documentary, without slipping into Spinal Tap-isms."

19. The programme featured darker electronic / experimental music, which at the time, was the direction everyone thought Ash were heading in. Is this something that you may return to?
"I think for me, I'm really happy with this album and with the rockier direction, and I would definitely love to do the next album, with the same sort of team and a similar kind of vibe. Tim's quite into experimenting with Pro Tools, and looping stuff up on his laptop, but I think in our heart of hearts, we're just a rock band really."

20. Are you looking forward to touring Meltdown around the World?
"Yeah, we're going to Europe, but we've got to sort out yet another deal in the States, because the record label that Free All Angels came out on, went bankrupt, so we're looking for another deal at the minute. Hopefully, we'll get the record out before the end of the year, but we're definitely up for giving it a shot. On the last album, we got ourselves such a good fan-base, that we could go out there and tour on our own, and make a little bit of money. I think out of all our records, Meltdown's got the sound and has the most potential!"

21. By continuing through good times and bad, Ash have earned a great deal of respect over the last 10 years. This must be very satisfying for you?
"Yeah, it's great - looking back at all of the bands who were coming out at the time, when we released Trailer, none of them are around, so we're sole-survivors from that time. It feels good that we were able to stick it out, as not many bands do. Looking to the next 10 years, you never know what's going to happen, but we'd love to spread the level of success that we have here. We're not one of the biggest bands in the country, but we do really well, so to have that all around the World would be brilliant!"

22. Ash Fact: Is it true, that Girl From Mars was originally called Girl From Ards (a place in Northern Ireland), and was written about a girl, Tim went out with from there?

"No, that's not true at all (laughing), that's a new one on me. Funnily enough, Ards is the Football team that my Dad supports as well, so it could have been. In fact, we should've recorded a version called Girl From Ards, and then we could play that, every time they come out and get beat (laughing)."

23. Lastly, Chips or Cream Buns?

"Chips - I haven't had any for a while, so I'll have to have some tonight (laughing)."

A very special thanks to Rick, Ash, Ian Cheek and Rosey, for all of their time and help.