Following the release of their 2007 album Twilight of the Innocents, alt-rock trio Ash announced that they were disillusioned with the conventional album as a format and they would be looking to release music in new ways in future.
And good to their word, their next project was the ambitious A-Z series, which saw them release a song every two weeks from October 2009 to October 2010.
While those songs were pulled together in a pair of compilations, Ash had since gone into hibernation. Frontman Tim Wheeler released a solo album, Lost Domain, in 2014, but otherwise all was quiet from the Ash camp.
So, a few eyebrows were raised when the Northern Irish group announced a new album, Kablammo! late last year.
And a week today, they return to Portsmouth to play a Reading and Leeds Festival warm-up at The Wedgewood Rooms.
Drummer Rick McMurray spoke to The Guide the day after returning from Japan, where the band had played at the Fuji Rock Festival.
‘We’ve just about recovered,’ he says. ‘It was brilliant, probably one of the best gigs of the year.
‘It’s five years for me since I’ve been there, but I think Ash were last there in 2011 when I took some time off when my first daughter was born a few weeks before that, so a good friend of ours, Alan Lynn stood in for me.
‘It was amazing to be back. It’s the fifth or sixth time we’ve done Fuji. We started going to Japan back in 1995 about a month after Girl From Mars came out, and it was just crazy – it was one of those most surreal experiences we’d ever had. Hundreds of Japanese fans camping out in the hotels. It was like Beatlemania there for a bit.
‘It really does feel like home for us there.’
We’ve always been forward looking, looking for new sounds, and I think this is first time we’ve turned around and looked back and said: “This is what we’ve got to live up to”Rick McMurray, Ash’s drummer
And they’re also looking forward to returning to The Wedge, which they last played early on in the A-Z campaign.
‘We’ve been doing the Wedgewood Rooms for years, and we’ve done it a few times as a festival warm-up.
‘We’ve always had a good time there and we love it as a venue – we’ve had alot of fun in there over the years.
‘It’s a warm-up for Reading too, which is going to be our ninth time playing there, so that’s always felt like a bit of a spiritual home for us too. I think the vibes will be very good at The Wedge, knowing what we’ve got coming up.’
It seems the new material is already going down well – the band have consciously been looking at their commercial peaks for inspiration.
‘We’ve played quite a lot of it live, compared to what we did on the A-Z tour where we did about three songs a night – we’ve been doing about seven or eight songs every night.
‘It feels like it’s been really accepted by the fans, and they’re telling us it’s our best album since (2001’s) Free All Angels. I think Free All Angels and (1996’s debut album) 1977 were the big touchstones for this record.
‘Because we said we weren’t going to do any more albums and then we decided we would, we were very conscious that we had to do something that would live up to our most celebrated work.
‘There was definitely a pressure we felt creatively this time which drove us on.
‘With the A-Z thing we were pushing ourselves quite a lot, we were pushing things soundwise from what we did originally, so we wanted to come back to making a record where we could play a lot of it live.
‘We’ve definitely done something right, because we’re still playing [classic singles] Oh Yeah, Girl From Mars, Burn Baby Burn, Shining Light, but these songs are standing alongside them.
‘People are going for them as much as they’re going for those songs.’
Ash have always had a winning way of combining massive choruses with a thrilling noise to create a series of perfect pop moments – check out their singles compilation, Intergalactic Sonic 7s for proof. They’ve racked up 18 top 40 hits.
‘To do what we started out doing, but trying to make it stand up quality wise with those big hits, it’s the first time we’ve looked at our back catalogue.
‘We’ve always been forward-looking, looking for new sounds, and I think this is the first time we’ve turned around and looked back and said: “This is what we’ve got to live up to”.’
The new album was written and recorded in a series of quick bursts in their own studio in New York, where Tim and bassist Mark Hamilton now live – Rick’s home is in Edinburgh.
‘I think we recorded about half of what we had, and picked the tracklisting from those, so there are a few things we’ve already got in the bag which we’ll have to figure out what to do with.
‘We might put out a mini album, but we might want to get on with the next album.
‘I think we feel we’ve kind of hung around enough and we want to get lots of stuff out there. We had lots of fun in the studio creating this album so we want to keep it rolling on.’
So how did that album title come about?
‘We were casting around a few vague ideas of what we wanted to do. Suddenly Tim sent an e-mail saying I think I’ve got the album title: Kablammo! And I was like, erm, okay...
‘It took me a little while for me to come around to it, but after a couple of days, I was like you know what, it makes total sense.
‘It’s eight years since our last full-length album, it’s intentionally a bit throwaway, so it’s a bit tongue in cheek.
‘We didn’t want something super-serious – it’s bang, we’re back! You’re either going to love or hate this title, and we don’t care.’
... the album title’s origins
it’s a line from the Beer Baron episode of The Simpsons where Homer is creating illegal booze in his basement, and he’s trying to cover the noise by going “Kablammo!” when Marge asks what’s going on.
I was out a few weeks ago for my 40th birthday. and I was like, that’s it for the summer. It’s a case of picking your battles these days. You get to that age where you have to do these things before a day off.
It’s tough, you do get diehard fans who want specific songs, so when you do play those songs, you realise it is just those diehard fans and everyone else is like give us the hits!
Ash are at The Wedgewood Rooms on Friday, August 28, doors open 8pm. Check wedgewood-rooms.co.uk for ticket availability. They also play an acoustic instore at Pie & Vinyl in Castle Road, Southsea, from 6.15pm, Check pieandvinyl.co.uk for details.