Ash Interview: “Touring the world bonds you together” – Drummer Rick McMurray on rock-star life
Their first album since 2007, Kablamo! is receiving rave reviews and pleasing the fans. Ahead of their Brighton performance at Concorde 2 on 13th December, I spoke to drummer Rick McMurray about the ups and downs of rock star life, the state of the music industry, the Good Friday Agreement and how the band kept it together for over 20 years.
In the late 90’s and early 00’s North Irish Alt-rock band Ash were an unstoppable musical force in the UK with hits including Girl From Mars and Burn Baby Burn.
Inspired by the era’s grunge kings – Nirvana, Mudhoney, The Pixies – then teenagers Richard Wilson McMurray, Timothy Wheeler and Mark Alexander amassed a collection of well crafted pop-punk tunes and, before they knew it, found astronomical fame. “I remember our first Top of the Pops appearance, our parents were at home watching,” Rick reminisces, “But I didn’t really get to see family and friends reaction, from that point on we were either in the studio recording ‘1977’ or on tour permanently.”
Ash once had the world at their feet – The band signed to Warner Records in the US and NASA used ‘Girl From Mars’ as hold music. ‘Kung Fu’ was also picked up by Jackie Chan himself for the title credits to Rumble in the Bronx.
They were, however, arguably stuck in the gap between the end of Brit-pop and the start of Green Day style ‘punk-pop’, making a huge splash when they arrived but eventually losing the hysteria as the new generation they helped emerge, eclipsed the Ulster lads.
After the release of debut ‘1977’ a drunken misdemeanor saw them fall out with their US label and the pressure of fame, life on the road and endless touring eventually took it’s toll. “I think our second album nuclear sounds was like subconsciously putting the brakes on. Lots of bands would have split up around that time but that’s where I think being young was an advantage. We were still in our early 20s and had been through the whole thing.”
The UK has always been home turf but after 22 years of touring the world, Brighton curiously dropped off Ash’s radar. “I remember we did a bit quite early on and then we didn’t play Brigthon for about 18 years. I don’t know why, it’s just one of those weird things. But it’s good being back, we’ve got a few links down there so it’ll be good to catch up with a few people. Love the vibe down there, had a few good nights too.”
‘Kablamo!‘, released to a fanfare of positive reviews, marks eight years since the release of Ash’s last studio album. The album has been widely lauded as their best since the number 1 “Free All Angels”. Described as “stacked with punchy, anthemic indie rockers ****” by The Times they must be thrilled but, as Rick point out, at this point in their career, there’s more to it than a glowing review. “It’s nice to get a nice review but I don’t think you live or die by it these days. In the early days you might take it a little bit more personally.”
‘Free All Angels’ crested the zeitgeist Ash were riding and, as I point out to Rick, happens to be my first Ash album. Listening to ‘Kablamo!’ you can’t help but notice, despite coming almost 15 years later the new record seamlessly blends with the old sound while somehow managing to be fresh and new in 2015. “Funny you mention ‘Free All Angels’; That album and ‘1977’ became a bit of a benchmark for the Kablamo record. After we announced we weren’t going to do anymore albums and then coming back we thought we’ve got to justify this format by making it stand up with our most loved work,” Says Rick. “We can get away with playing some of these songs live. So for us that’s the real vindication. We’ve delivered what’s excited us and what’s excited our fans.
“Usually in the studio you think how can we change things – make it different. This was the first time we looked back at our body of work going in. That was the pressure, having that nervous energy lent something too it as well.”
With so many bands reforming of late, Ash somehow never broke up in the first place, remaining together throughout the highs and lows. “From starting a band at such a young age, I think our friendship and the band are inseparable. I guess having those formative experiences when you’re 18, touring the world and that, really bonds you together. Since then anything that’s happened with the band – the ups and the downs- it just brings you closer together.”
Even the difficult period after the first album tightened those bonds. “At that point we had the energy and the belief to throw everything into it and bounce back with another number 1 album,” says Rick thoughtfully. “I don’t think we could have done that without youth on our side. You know the record company didn’t believe in ‘Shining Light’ but we said it’s the comeback single. We thought fuck it, let’s spend the last of our money go back into the studio and record it and when they heard it they were like – ‘you guys were right’.”
From headlining Glastonbury to sharing a stage with U2 as well as playing the world over, is there a gig that beats all the rest. “We did a gig with U2 for the good friday agreement which was part of the peace process. Looking back on it historically, the politicians at the time thought that really did help swing the vote so it’s amazing to be part of that history. At a personal level though Reading festival’s always been a pretty amazing one for us.”
Ash are playing Concorde 2 | 13th December.