Ash – Across The Ocean

Ash

Ash are coming back for another lap around the country to celebrate the release of their sixth album Kablammo which was crowd funded making the process even more satisfying. Across The Ocean spoke to drummer Rick McMurray about the album tour and what lies ahead for the band given that it is the twentieth anniversary of their infamous debut 1977.

ash-promo

It is great that you’re coming back so soon after the 1977 classic album tour.

Yeah, that was a fun tour and that was our biggest Australian tour since 2001. I think it’s the same six run of shows playing all the major cities. It’s nice coming back with a fresh new album to do. As much fun as it was to do 1977 shows, set list wise you’re kind of constricted playing the album in its entirety and whatever you do after that. Sometimes it does not flow like your normal live set would. It is great to be able to get out there and play some new songs and show people what we do there.

What is in store for Australian fans on this tour? A few surprises?

Um, we enjoy playing all the old hits and we’ve never been a band that would shy away from that side of things like Radiohead. We love the energy we get off the crowd and that gives us a buzz. Obviously having a new album as well, the reaction it has been getting from the fans is right up there with 1977 and Free All Angels which were like bench marks for what we wanted to do with this record. It was probably our most guitar album since Meltdown and more on the poppy side so it fits well with the bulk of the hits we feel we can get away without playing. It fits in the set really nicely so it definitely is a good buzz for us to have that reaction to new material after being around for twenty or so years.

Was it a conscious decision to go back to the album format after a period of focusing on singles?

Yeah, it was announced when we released our previous album back in 2007 that we were not going to do an album again. It felt like we needed to be proactive about how we were releasing stuff. We felt we needed to reflect how people were buying music and people were going and cherry picking tracks off iTunes going with their favourite songs as opposed to downloading a whole body of work. At that point we felt we wanted to move with the times but I guess we predicted the death of the album, a lot of people did back then, a bit prematurely and as it turns out in the intervening years the album has had a resurgence but from our point of view we decided to do the album thing again with a certain level of trepidation after having made that bold statement. We felt that if we were going to do another album we needed to musically justify it. It was the first time in our career where we looked back at what we had done previously and say we need this album to live up to what we had done in the past. Previously we were always looking forward trying to broaden our sound and experiment by doing new stuff. This is the time where we have to look back at what we had done and try to hit that as our benchmark. It seems like from the reaction we’ve got from our fans that we seemed to achieved that, which is great.

Have you noticed a resurgence in the number of vinyl copies sold?

Definitely, probably the best selling format from a physical point of view. We’ve always been big fans of vinyl. Interestingly in the late nineties the record company wasn’t to fussed in putting out vinyl so we thought if you’re going to we’ll do it ourselves. They were like ok, oh shit, we’ll do it and not miss out on the money. It has always first and foremost thing we worry about and think will this artwork look great on vinyl. It has always been great for us but if you were putting in all that effort in to a format that no one was buying we would still continue to do it because we love it and need to explore the whole download thing. We liked the accessibility by finishing a song and putting it out there two weeks and the charm of the A To Z thing for us. People are continuing to buy vinyl and suddenly it becomes the best selling format so it’s like, right, we need to reassess things.

Do you find it frustrating with the state of the industry and where it is going?

It is frustrating when you consider the price of a CD is almost the same as a vinyl, it’s the same price as buying a round of drinks on a Friday night. How many rounds of drinks does someone buy on average on a Friday night? Whereas, if you said here’s this great album you should buy that then there’s this reaction, how much? There’s a product there but people don’t really want to pay for it and now with Spotify and Apple Music the subscription model has taken off, and there’s nothing you can do about it, but there are still hardcore fans out there that want to buy a physical copy. There’s a lot to be said for having the physical ownership of something as opposed to just streaming something. A physical copy always feels a lot more closer your heart and having that sense of ownership over it. That’s the thing that is missing from the whole download culture. If you can go to the streaming site and just download an artist’s entire catalogue in two minutes, you’ve got that sitting on your computer and you’re thinking I’ll listening to that but you’ll never get around to it because you don’t feel like you own it.

Was the direction and ideas for Kablammo fairly well bedded down before going in to the studio?

A lot was when we first got together and we were fairly nervous about what we wanted to do. We definitely had no idea and a lot of time was spent talking about what we felt was the right thing to do. We wanted to make a pop record and make it a guitar record also making it a three piece thing focusing on making each song sound great in a room where there’s just the three of us playing. Those were the sorts of ideas that came out of the first session. Once we got past the nerves we got on a bit of a roll writing seven or eight songs on the first ten days. That was a real boost going from nothing to having half an album worth of material in a short space of time. It was definitely an exciting time and in that first session we nailed the general idea of where we wanted to go. From there, there was a lot more work to be done but it felt like the vibe we were going for and everything fell in to place after that feeling pretty natural.

There were a lot of comparisons to Free All Angels, was that deliberate or just the way things evolved?

I think it was the pressure we felt going back to the album format. It causes us to look at the Free All Angels period and the 1977 period which are two of the most treasured albums by our fans. To justify going back to that format those were the things that we were looking at plus it was the natural thing for us after the A To Z thing which we tried a lot of experimentation with it felt like the right time to go back to a more guitar based record as well. It was a natural reaction to a lot of where we found ourselves post A To Z. 

It must be hard when everyone will always benchmark you against those two albums?

That was the inspiration in many respects because it was looking back at what we had done which made us up our game. We felt that we needed to make an album at least as good as this. For some artists there may be a sense of pressure for the creative thing but for us we like that pressure to really deliver in those terms and that’s something we really thrive on.

When you talk about pressure was there external pressure from the record company?

No, it was self created pressure. At that point we didn’t have a label and the A To Z was a self released thing. With the Kablammo stuff after a couple of months we decided to do the crowd funded thing for it. There was the pressure of having the fans invest faith in us and we get money off them for album. That was pressure to like get things finished.

Is the crowd funding model something you’re likely to do again?

The fans definitely feel more involved in it and that grew out of the A To Z thing as well. It wasn’t quite crowd funded but a subscription thing where people would pay money up front for the whole thing without really hearing anything. Fans had to have a certain level of faith in us at that point and I guess they felt like we delivered on that enough to again to do the crowd funding for the album. It definitely was fun to do. When you talk about pressure the studio can be a very weird environment and if you don’t have a deadline or anything like that you feel like when is the song going to finish because you can always tinker with it. With crowd funding it’s like all these people are waiting around for this album, it’s like we need to get it down. It’s good pressure to have to help you get over the finish line.

The Kablammo acoustic EP which was put up on the website was great.

Yeah! A lot of the songs were written on the acoustic guitar and the song Cocoon was written the ukulele. It was really simple chords and that sort of things helps the song translate if they sound great recorded really simply then they’ll sound great with the full band.

Cocoon on cassette? Nice novelty hey?

It’s funny because it’s becoming a bit of a thing in the UK and definitely one for collectors. Rough Trade has a cassette section and there’s Cassette Store Day just like Record Store Day it’s a pretty hipster thing. I don’t think I have anything to play a cassette on in my house!

Where to next for Ash?

I think we’ll figure out a time to get together in the studio and start from scratch again. There’s a bunch of songs left over from the Kablammo sessions and I’m not sure what we’ll do with those. I think we’re keener to start with a blank slate and having a fresh new album. Those songs might find a home somewhere but I think the album will be purely all new material. It also is the twentieth anniversary of 1977 this year so we will need to commemorate that some way. There’s still a little bit of touring left to do so it will be a busy year again.

Will there be another commemorative release for 1977?

We’re definitely going to do something whether that’s touring or a new release but its watch this space for now.

Rob Lyon

Rob Lyon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rob Lyon has been writing about all things music for well over ten years in Adelaide clocking up more live shows each year seeing the best going round.

Whether it is rummaging through vinyl at record stores such as Clarity and Title finding hidden gems to scouring the internet to find that album by the next big thing or chasing bands to get that elusive autograph and photo his passion is music all the way.
Rob Lyon

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