A huge part of the alternative explosion in the ‘90s, and representing Northern Ireland in the whole Britpop movement, Ash were undoubtedly one of the most exciting acts of the ‘90s and ‘00s. After a stint in the wilderness during their ‘singles-only’ period (more on that later), they returned this year with their impressive new album Kablammo!. Now they’re touring again, swinging by Glasgow on the 6th December, and we were lucky enough to catch up with drummer Rick McMurray for a chat…
Could you start by telling our young audience about your new album and the process of getting it made?
Well the new album, Kablammo!, which came out in May this year, is our first proper album since 2007. We’d decided to announce that we weren’t going to do any more albums… obviously we turned our back on that one… [laughs] we felt in 2007 that the way people were buying music was moving toward single tracks, so we released 26 singles in one year! But with reflection, and the resurgence of vinyl, we felt like it was a good time to go back to the album.
With that in mind we felt a little bit under pressure to deliver something that was up there with our best albums, so we were looking back towards our more successful and loved albums, 1977 and Free All Angels, which became the touchstones for the process. Everything had to live up to that quality.
I think things like the 26 singles show you’re a band that’s willing to experiment though, and I think people really connect with that…
Yeah, we’ve always wanted to push the boundaries in terms of creativity… I guess the things that the record companies and the industry was worried about, we tried to see them as an opportunity to change things up, because you can’t really continue ignoring the changes that happen out there. You’ve got to embrace it and use it to your advantage, really.
Do you find that the way you have to promote your albums is different now?
Yeah, it’s a totally different, and we’re probably not the best at engaging on the social media side of things! But I guess it puts more onus on the band to self promote. And there’s limited outlets out there you know, it’s kind of nuts that 20 years ago, those record stores where you’d see those Ash singles don’t even exist any more. But in their place the culture of the record store has kind of come back.
On this tour we’ve seen some cool places, like down in Portsmouth there’s Pie and Vinyl, which show how record stores have diversified into more of a social hub, kind of like they used to be back in the day for hardcore collectors. So it’s cool to see independent stores thriving. Inspiring for bands as well, because they’re using creative methods to bring people in.
How crucial would you say the live scene still is?
Oh it’s massively crucial. The way record sales are, you’ve just got to go out and play live, and gig. We’ve been doing it for long enough, we’ve always loved it, it’s a big part of the band.
Have you found the audiences are changing?
You don’t get a good view of the audience if you’re the drummer! But you can definitely try to work out which album people got into the band by the age difference!
And obviously you’re coming up to Glasgow, have you had good touring experiences here before?
Actually I live in Edinburgh so I’m always over in Glasgow. I think I’ve probably had five times as many shows there as Edinburgh, it’s much more of a music capital. I remember the first time we played there after I moved to Edinburgh, we did a gig at QMU and after about five songs Tim was like “yeah, Rick’s Scottish now, he’s moved to Edinburgh” and I was just like “oh no” because I knew what was coming: just a mad “BOO!” But yeah, Glasgow’s always fun so I’m looking forward to it.
For anyone who hasn’t seen your live shows before, can you tell them what they can expect from it?
I guess if you know our records and haven’t seen us live I think you’ll be surprised, we’re definitely more of a rock-y proposition. Obviously as a three-piece it’s very stripped down and raw, so definitely more of a rock show, but also with our catalogue, we’re trying to play a lot of new stuff but there’s definitely a bunch of songs in there we can’t get away without playing these days – and we’re more than happy to play the old hits!
Glad to hear it! Some of our young audience might be looking to get into music, do you have any advice for them?
Yeah, don’t do it! Don’t expect to make any money! [Laughs] I think you will need a passion for what you’re doing these days, if you think you’re going to make a career out of it you’re probably going to be disappointed. I don’t know how bands survive these days, I’ve read a few articles about bands who you think are doing reasonably well, and they’re still doing day jobs. There’s been massive changes since we started out, but I think one thing that remains true is that the song is the most important thing, if you can let that shine through then song writing is always gonna be valuable.
Five classic albums every young person should listen to… GO!
Oh man. OK then… We’ll start with Nirvana then, who were a huge gateway into the alternative world for us, got to choose Nevermind there though. Can’t be overstated how much that changed our musical out look when we were kids. We were sort of like metal kids before that, and that blew everything out of the water and showed us what integrity and honesty and passion in music was.
Leading on from that, we got into bands like The Stooges and The Pixies. Doolittle is one of my favourite all-time records, not a bad track on it. If you don’t know your Pixies… it’s the key to the alternative explosion, in my view they fuelled that whole thing.
What else? Queens of the Stone Age, from a drumming point of view, like, I think some of Dave Grohl’s best work is there and he’s a huge hero of mine. So Song’s From The Death and Like Clockwork. Hard to choose, but we’ll go Songs for the Deaf.
Two more records… Abba, Gold! [Laughs] We all grew up when our parents were really into Abba and in terms of pop melodies their arrangement are untouchable, they’re amazing. And a bit of Black Sabbath, why not, Paranoid.
Their latest album Kablammo! is available to buy now.