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Ash Reflect on 20th Anniversary – Exclusive Interview

Shanna Fisher

Over the years, Ash have collected an impressive number of high-profile fans and collaborators. The Northern Irish pop-punk trio has performed with U2 for their nation’s historic Good Friday Agreement, earned the support and mutual admiration of Jackie Chan and landed Ewan McGregor to narrate ‘Teenage Wildlife,’ a film about their early touring days.

This year, Ash celebrate their 20th anniversary with their first U.S. tour in more than five years. The trek follows a covers EP that arrived over the summer and coincides with the release of a special triple-vinyl edition of the ‘A-Z Series,’ a collection of singles they recorded — one every fortnight — throughout 2010.

Ash, who chose their name because it was the shortest word they could find at the beginning of the dictionary, emerged in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, when the band members were just 15. As their career snowballed, frontman Tim Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton relocated to London, and a few years ago, they moved to New York City, home of their Atomic Heart studio, where they wrapped the ‘A-Z Series’ and have played small gigs in recent years.

Last week, they kicked off their 2012 tour with Weezer, and starting today (Nov. 13) they headline a string of East Coast shows that runs through Nov. 26. Diffuser.fm caught up with Wheeler just before the tour.

How will it be getting back into touring mode after such a long hiatus?

Hopefully, once we get started, it’s going to be quite easy. It’s nice to start with the support slot for Weezer. We toured with them in ‘96, when they put out the ‘Pinkerton’ record. They really influenced us when we did that tour with them, the music style of what we’re doing. It’s good to do a proper little run again. I’ve really missed it. Living here but not touring has been strange. The last proper tour was 2007. I think we’ve developed a lot as a live band since that U.S. tour. We’ve done a lot of touring since then in other places, often with different line ups. Russel from Bloc Party played with us. As a three-piece, it’s more challenging. I have to do more as a guitarist. But now I feel a lot more confident than ever about our live show.

With all of these singles to choose from, how will you go about selecting your set list?

It’ll be a mix. There are just certain big songs over the years, so a lot of our set writes itself. People haven’t seen us for a long time, so they’ll want to see the old stuff as well. We like to do stuff that people freak out to the most.

The covers EP you put out a few months ago features a crazy variety of artists: Carly Simon, ABBA, David Bowie … Are you long-time fans of those musicians and these original tracks?

It is quite an eclectic mix … a strange mix. It was all stuff we did as we were working on our singles as little experiments to warm up. Some are songs that have fascinated us for a long time. I quite enjoyed doing them. We’ve always been big ABBA fans. I know they’re not cool, but it was the only record in my parents’ collection that was borderline cool.

Is it hard to believe Ash has been around for 20 years?

It’s been weird. I don’t feel that old. I don’t feel we have 20 years of experience behind us. At this point, I guess I should put on the slippers right now. But we still have so much energy, it’s freaky. I’ve grown a beard recently … I still haven’t got the slippers.

Looking back, what have been your proudest achievements?

The first album — ‘1977’ — how big that was. It was a No. 1 album in the U.K. Then we came back with ‘Free of Angels,’ and that comeback set us up well for the future. That stuff is probably what I’m the most proud of. Once you’re written off, it’s hard to come back, and we really did it. Culturally, one thing we did was the big concert with U2 in Belfast around the Good Friday Agreements. That was something that brought more peace to our country.

There have been a lot of big names and big moments in your history. There is a lot to celebrate … and more to come, right?

Part of me didn’t want to celebrate, because it doesn’t make sense to me that I don’t feel as old as I should. But at the same time, it’s a monumental achievement to be around for this long. In the end, we have to embrace this. It’s nice to look back and celebrate. It’s been a good time and it’s not finished.

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