Northern Irish band Ash formed in Downpatrick in 1992 while its three members were still in secondary school. The band, comprising Tim Wheeler (guitar/vocals), Mark Hamilton (bass) and Rick McMurray (drums), ploughed the usual indie furrows of gigging and releasing demos for a couple of years until their debut album Trailer was released in October 1994. In 1995 the band left school and released their breakthrough singles Kung Fu, Girl from Mars, and Angel Interceptor. The following year saw the release of their album 1977 which elevated the band to ‘Bright New Thing’ status in the UK and beyond. In 1997 their line-up was extended by one guitarist in the form of Charlotte Hatherley whose guitar and backing vocals brought a new depth to the band’s sound. Ash Mk II went on to release two well-received albums, Nu-Clear Sounds and Free All Angels as well as the Intergalactic Sonic 7’s compilation, before deciding to return to a heavier sound with their most recent release Meltdown.
Meltdown was released in Europe last summer but due to problems with their record company in the US the album was only released there in March 2005. This uncertainty has been a regular feature of Ash’s releases stateside and is something which the band now hopes to have solved. Bassist Mark Hamilton explains: “Yeah, Meltdown was released in the States almost a year out of sync with its initial release. Our old US label Kinetic went bankrupt around its original release so it took us a while to sort out a new deal. We signed to Record Collection, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. and have been concentrating most of our touring this year in America. Hopefully things will work out and we can settle there, as every album we’ve released has been on a different label stateside.”
It is particularly appropriate that Ash have secured this new deal for the release of Meltdown, as it is a record particularly suited to the US market. For one thing the album itself was recorded there. “Well it’s pretty well known that the best studios are in America and when we met up with producer Nick Rasculinecz, he was super eager for us to record in California,” explains Mark. “He also practically told us he was doing the album and we had no choice in the matter. His enthusiasm was really refreshing and exciting. He also suggested that we record at Sound City where Nirvana recorded Nevermind. Being huge fans we were like ‘fuck yeah! let’s do it’. The American engineers tend to focus in on the sounds a lot more, so you tend to get sonically superior and better produced albums, as L.A. is full of producers and mixers competing with each other to be the best in the business”.
This change in environment and personnel helped in no small part to shape the sound of Meltdown which was in marked contrast with the more melodic, pop sensibilities of Free All Angels. “Well we’ve always considered ourselves as a rock band and most of our favourite bands and influences came from the States, so we always wanted to make a heavier album. I suppose working with Owen Morris who is basically a left-field pop producer for the past 3 albums had gone as far as it could and we wanted to do something different. It was the perfect time for us to make the change and work with a more ‘Rock’ production team,” says Mark. He adds “Rich Costey who mixed the album is also one of the most in demand engineers on the planet who was a genius to watch work”.
Production aside, it is Ash’s song writing that really marks the band out as something special. It was their ability to fuse the catchiest pop melodies with a harder rock sound that first brought them to the attention of music fans. When asked who their main influences were the answer is unsurprising: “Nirvana was the band that made us want to be a band,” he replies. “They destroyed the ridiculous pantomime metal scene that existed in the ’80s / early ’90s and showed us what proper honest and passionate music was about. We then got into punk rock and realised you didn’t have to be Steve Vai to matter. Three chords played with your heart in it and a tune to kill for was better than any technical show-off wank and they gave us the belief we could do it ourselves. Kurt was a hero; it’s a tragedy what happened.”