Ash -Space Shot (Loverush UK! Club Mix)
The Noughties, whilst producing some great music also seemed to be a decade in which the hype machine went into overdrive. Obscure bands you’d never heard of suddenly started to appear on the front pages of the music press with taglines such as “saviours of pop” or “the future of music”. Problem was, in their desperation to generate “buzz” and discover the “next big thing”, the press had overlooked the simple fact that a lot of these bands weren’t actually very good. Alas “the next big thing” often found, within the space of a few short months, that their careers were effectively over, killed by the unfair burden of expectation placed upon them. Hype based on nothing more than a nice haircut and well chiselled cheek bones meant that “this weeks T-Shirt” became “next week’s dish cloth” with heart sinking regularity. To achieve longevity during the decade in which the music industries collective arse started to twitch like a rabbit’s nose over file sharing and illegal downloads, it seemed you had to either be very bland and reproduce variations on the same theme or alternatively be Tom Jones. But there are always exceptions to the rule for there still exists a clutch of bands and artists who continue to demonstrate that consistently great song-writing and innovation can transcend the blandness of a music industry unwilling to take risks and forever looking for the “safe bet”.
Downpatrick rockers Ash are one such band which has sustained the sort of longevity that many acts can only dream of in this brave new world of convenience, disposability and instant gratification. They’ve been together since the early 90’s embarking on their first tour (supporting Elastica) whilst still at school. Since then they have gone on to become one of Northern Irelands most successful acts, topping the charts around the world and selling over 8 million records in the process. Given the quality of their recent output, the good news is it looks like they’ll be with us for some time yet!!
During their career the nature of how music is “consumed” by fans has radically changed, due in no small part to the internet, the mp3 and the I-pod. Where as the industry itself adopted a belligerent King Canute style stance, aimlessly threatening anybody found in possession of ears with legal action, Ash sought to develop innovative ways of working within the digital framework. The trio quickly recognised the fact that “the way people listen to music has changed, with the advent of the download the emphasis has reverted to single tracks” and in 2007 they revealed that ‘Twilight of the Innocents’ would be their last album. Instead Ash channelled their creativity into setting up their own label “Atomic Hearts” and a new project, ‘The A-Z Series’ a subscription service consisting of 26 limited edition 7″ vinyl and digital download singles with a new track released every two weeks over the course of a year. This week sees Ash reach the letter “H” in their release schedule with the full on pop splendour that is ‘Space Shot’. It’s an unfeasibly catchy , swirling ,electro, sci-fi pop behemoth which boasts the sort of sky scraper levelling chorus that really should see the band back in the charts and also demonstrates once more, that Ash have a great ear for killer pop hooks.
In between recording, managing a record label, recording songs, arranging tours, shooting videos and changing nappies, one third of Ash Mark Hamilton, found time to talk with us about survival in the digital age, their unreleased “teen-slasher” movie and the Charlotte Hatherley rumour mill!
VP: How did the idea for the A-Z series come about? Didn’t The Wedding Present try something similar a number of years ago on a smaller scale? Was that what inspired the idea ?
MARK: Basically we became a bit disillusioned and uninspired with the traditional album cycle. Our last album, ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’, came out through Warners and they dropped the ball on it after the 2nd single didn’t get play-listed at a particular radio station. After more than a year of writing and recording it, it was a tough pill to swallow… all that work was essentially hinged and dumped on one decision. Tim then came up with the idea of regular download releases rather than a one-off album (that are usually 3 years apart), each track taken on it’s own merit, and then the A-Z Series became a lightbulb moment, ie. 26 fortnights in a year. We were aware of the Wedding Present doing the 12 singles in a year so we wanted to expand on that and do something even more ambitious. 52 weekly songs seemed too much and 12 too little. 26 songs is basically 2 album’s worth of material in 12 months. More than we’ve ever released previously. The A-Z concept is a cool way of tying it all together into a collective body of work.
VP: Given the value for money of a subscription service like The A-Z singles do you think it could be a template for bands to adopt in the digital age? Have you recorded all 26 songs in the series now?
MARK: We’re just about to go back into the studio to finish a bunch of new tracks that will complete the A-Z Series. We do already have enough songs recorded to cover all 26, 44 in total, but we like to record more so we can choose the best and keep the quality up. I think our new model is definitely a great way to work and is great value for the subscribers, £13 for 26 songs as well as a bunch of bonus tracks that we’re sporadically throwing into the mix for free (2 so far and we’re only on G). I wouldn’t be surprised if more people follow our lead and do something similar. Fans hate the wait for albums, they want regular content and we’ve had very positive feedback from our fans about the new approach.
VP: Obviously since starting out as a band the whole way people consume music has radically changed. What do you make of it and do you think the “industry” has failed to keep up with technology and attitudes, how do you see it evolving
MARK : The industry really kept it’s head in the sand for so long (regarding downloading) and they’ve been paying of price for the last few years now. The industry has contracted so much, with massive layoffs and there just isn’t the money there used to be. There’s little or no artist development going on and the majors are mostly only signing safe bets, like the reality crap that’s sure fire chart material. Basically it’s tough out there and it’s become all about survival and financial sustainability rather than the glitz and excess that was rampant in the 90’s. It’s still kinda like a new frontier and people are watching to see how the dust settles. We’re taken a very bold and pro-active move with the A-Z Series and I think people are waiting to see how it plays out. The fact you can download an artists entire back-catalogue in seconds from a torrent site has completely devalued music. The reality is that large numbers of people, especially in the net savvy younger generation, will not pay for music. Why would they when it’s so readily available?
VP: How have you been finding running your own label, Atomic Heart Records?
MARK : It’s been a lot of work, especially with all the logistics of releasing 26 vinyls in a year. There have been a few teething problems but we’re working them out as we go along. We also don’t have the finances that a major label has at hand so we have to be a lot more thoughtful on where our own money’s going. It’s also kinda cool because it has put us back into the D.I.Y. mode that we were in when we were releasing our own demos, before we got signed.
VP: When Ash started out as teenagers, did you have any idea of how long you’d be involved in music? Do you think the “teenage you” would believe that you’d still be producing great music some 18 years later?
MARK : We had no idea but we did have a blind self belief and unshakable determination to succeed. In our teenage years we played in some tragic bands that were known as the worst in our town. That sort of ridicule certainly gave us a lot of purpose, to prove people wrong and ultimately flourish. I don’t think the teenage me would think I’d still be alive 18 years later never mind that we’d still be making music! Having witnessed the excess of the 90’s and the ensuing crash of the music industry in the past decade, we’re just happy to have survived so long. We still have a lot of gas in our tank and a lot of goals we still want to achieve.
VP: One of my favourite singer/songwriters Emmy The Great has been involved in Ash a fair bit lately. How did that come about and will she be getting more involved with the band in 2010?
MARK : She’s great and has an awesome voice. She first caught our attention when we heard her cover of ‘Burn Baby Burn’ and when she sang ‘lick my shit’ during the solo that got a quite a laugh. Tim got in contact with her and they’ve played together acoustically for some online videos. She recently joined Tim on stage during our encore in Tunbridge Wells to play our ‘D’ single ‘Tracers’. I believe a recorded version of this is in the works and will be available later this year.
VP: Will the horror movie “Slasher”you produced featuring the likes of Chris Martin and Dave Grohl ever see the light of day? Is it true some of the footage is being used in your next promo video?
MARK : Yes, watch www.ashofficial.com or follow ashofficial on twitter for developments. I doubt very much that the full movie will ever materialize but the footage will see the light of day in some form.
VP: Any truth in the rumour that when making “Slashed” there was a ouija board scene that went a bit wrong ?
MARK : Yes there is truth in that. That happened in a dressing room in LA and it went very wrong. Precise details won’t be expanded upon, real or purely psychosomatic it wasn’t pleasant. The actual footage was wiped from the camera and it’s best forgotten.
VP: What have been your highlights as a band during 2009 ?
MARK : The A-Z tour was a definite highlight and a lot of fun. We got to go to so many strange places and Zennor, the final show in Cornwall, was one of the most fun nights we’ve ever had. Having Belfast’s Panama Kings with us for the whole tour was also a real trip. The day we got the vinyl copies of ‘Return Of White Rabbit’, Atomic Heart’s first release was also a real thrill.
VP: What plans for 2010? Will there be more tours and festival appearances? Any truth in speculation that Charlotte Hatherley may join up with Ash again at some point in the future ?
MARK : After finishing recording in Feb, we’ll be on the road in April / May in the UK to continue promoting the A-Z Series. We’re also currently working out our schedule for the festivals and trips to Japan, Australia, SE Asia and across Europe are on the cards. As for Chaz, I think she’s pretty busy at the moment with her own career. I know that you should never say never, so you never know… : )
VP: What were your favourite albums of 2009?
MARK : I had a baby daughter in 2009 so the only music I really heard was a screaming baby and the insanity of Yo Gabba Gabba! on Nick Jr. I really like the new Muse and Biffy albums, also Humbug was a brave move by the Arctic Monkeys. I changed my mind on The Horrors, they’re quite good really.
VP: Five words to sum up 2009 ?
MARK : Reality-check, Fatherhood, Alphabet, Sustainability, Vision.
“Space Shot” By Ash
“Joy Kicks Darkness” By Ash
“Tracers” By Ash (Acoustic with Emmy The Great)
“Jesus Says” By Ash
“Burn Baby Burn” By Ash