photo by Shanna Fisher
Many people find it hard to believe I’m a sucker stuff like power pop and brit pop. I remember like it was yesterday, it was 1996, I was 14 and totally stoked on the first Superdrag LP. A friend of mine who sat next to me in what was basically “How to use Microsoft Office 101” saw the Superdrag CD in my discman. He commented and we instantly bonded over them, Nirvana, and The Beatles. The next day he came in with a copy of Ash’s 1977 CD. All he said to me was “just wait until you hear track 2.” That song called “Goldfinger,” was not only one of my favorite songs all throughout high school, it’s still a top 50 song for me, easy. I tried to find out everything I could on this Irish trio (and this was sort of pre internet, so 120 mins, mix tapes, and high school friends were all i had to get info from). I thought to myself how any day they were going to be the biggest band, even eclipsing their “brother band” at the time, a little known act called Weezer.
Hell, I remember going to see Angus just to hear an Ash song that was on the soundtrack. Nu-clear sounds came out, and a US version with Butch Vig remixes was what we got. Even with a big name like Vig’s backing the LP, the band unfortunately never made many waves in the US. They rarely toured, and when they did I could never make it for some reason or another. I finally ended up catching Ash in NYC 4 or so years ago, and it was worth the wait.
It’s 2012 now and Ash are doing their first tour in 7 or so years here in the US and are playing DC 9 this Thursday and the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Friday. Not only that, but we also get an American issue of the A-Z series on 3x vinyl, a series that attempted to release a single pretty much every month for 26 months. A huge project, sure, but an undertaking that proved not only Ash’s ambition, but the quality of their songwriting. Time has treated Ash well, and listening back to their catalog one starts to realize the quality of their brand of what at some points could be considered less brit pop (which some labeled them) and more grunge-pop. Their drummer, Rick McMurray was kind enough to answer a few questions on the 1977 reissue, popularity in Tokyo, and Star Wars. Those who are into this new class of guitar heavy pop from Ty Segall, Purling Hiss, Roomrunner and so on should take note: Ash could be your new favorite discovery.
You guys are doing your first US tour in 5 years or so, what has taken so long? How Have the shows been so far?
I think it’s been more like 7 years! We’ve been unlucky with labels here and the Twilight album didn’t get a release. It’s great we’re getting the A-Z stuff out here though. The shows in Florida have been amazing. It’s great to play with Weezer again and their fans gave us a great reception. We start our own shows tomorrow so lets hope they continue in the same vein.
What were the 1977 and Free All Angels shows like? Doing a record in full seems like it actually could be harder in some ways than just doing regular shows. How was teaming back up with Charlotte for the Free All Angels tour?
They were really great; it’s a very different feel cos the flow of our records are quite different from our live shows. You get a real sense of what those records mean to people; I found the response pretty overwhelming. Having Chaz back was great; she just slotted back in so well. It was like the years just dropped away.
I was watching the Teenage Wildlife documentary and one of the things that really stuck with me was how aggressive live you guys were at that time. For me it felt more Punk than Pop during those early days, is that how you remember it?
I think we’ve always been a punk band with pop leanings rather than the other way round and I think that remains true to this day.
Speaking of your age, it was interesting because you guys were old enough to experience bands like Mudhoney, DGC era Sonic Youth, and of course Nirvana, but still young enough to not experience the post-grunge effect or whatever you wanna call it with those bands. It’s almost as if you were one of the few bands to capture a sort of youthful energy they had, without ripping their sounds. The Mudhoney cover is a prime example of that. Do you guys still feel those bands influences in some way even now?
Yeah those bands still remain important touchstones for us. They were the bands that made it possible for us to become musicians.
You announced around Twilight of the Innocents that you were abandoning the LP format and just focusing your energy on singles, hence what we now know as A-Z. Now that this experience of releasing constant singles is over, what did you learn from it? Is it something that we should keep expecting or does the LP format look interesting again?
I think the biggest lesson we’ve learnt is not to use our own money! It was great for us creatively to shake up the process but to be honest we’re a little disappointed it hasn’t led to more bands coming up with their own way of releasing new material. So many people we spoke to were into the idea but haven’t done something similar. As for new material we have to do some writing before we decide on how to release material.
A-Z really does not only a nice job of capturing what you guys have done sonically over the years with songs like “Joy Kicks Darkness” and “Arcadia” but also different types of experiments like “Return of the White Rabbit” and “Binary,” do you think if you stuck with the LP format, some of these songs might not have ever had a chance?
Part of what appealed to us was the chance to experiment musically. Being that we were releasing singles we wanted each one to be a sonic surprise. It was liberating to not have to worry about the overall picture like when you do an album. We could follow our more crazy ideas.
Returning to 1977 the remaster/deluxe edition came out a few years back. Listening back to the record, while the singles were great, some of the understated songs like “Lost In You” and “Innocent Smile” have aged extremely well. Beyond being the power-house singles album it was, what songs really have held up for you?
My personal favorite to revisit was “Let it Flow.” I’d forgotten how fun it was to play. But yeah we could have released “Lost in You” as a single at the time. The record company actually push for it at the time but we felt we’d put out enough singles at that point.
Going back again to the Teenage Wildlife documentary I actually picked that up when I was in Tokyo. Interestingly it seems like Ash is pretty big over there. Why do you think that is? What are some of the best memories you have in Japan.
From our first trip in 1995 we just connected in Japan. I don’t what it is but they’ve really taken us into their hearts there and we love the place. I think we’ve been there over 20 times and no matter how we’ve been received elsewhere they always stuck by us. I missed the last trip when my daughter was born so I can’t wait to get back there; maybe I’ll take the little one too!
In the mid 90s post Nirvana it seemed “alt-rock” or whatever the mainstream media wanted to call it at the time was divided into two camps, the Nirvana wanna be’s and the Smashing Pumpkins wanna be’s. Though I always thought there was, for a moment anyways, a core group of bands that were combining 70s Power pop, Punk, late 80s indie, with splashes here and there of My Bloody Valentine, Bands like you, Superdrag, Nada Surf, That Dog that never got it’s due. One of the common bonds I noticed was an emphasis on pop, do you guys still feel you’re a pop band first and foremost? Do you think because you were citing The Beach Boys and Abba as influences that at the time it made it harder to break out in the US?
Haha! Maybe we should have kept our mouths shut about that! Seriously though, I don’t think it would matter so much. What held us back was exposure. And turning up to MTV still drunk didn’t really help our cause. Like I said earlier, I think we are an alternative band with pop sensibilities. Probably the closest you’d have to Ash in the states is Weezer, although I think they draw more on 50s pop and we’d be more of 60s/70s.
Being an Ash fan in the US is tough as sometimes we get the records here, sometimes we don’t, do you think at least digitally the US might see a re-issue of the catalog?
That might be tough as we’ve gone through so many record companies in the US. I guess if we had a hit here they’d be able to work something out between them. I can live in hope!
Finally what are your thoughts on Disney taking control of the Star Wars franchise?
Lets just see what they deliver, shall we.