When Ash first hit the UK charts in 1995 with their LP '1977', the three ambitious schoolboys from Northern Ireland were promptly hailed as the next big thing.

Officially forming in 1992, the trio first came to light with their EP 'Trailer'. Their break-through singles 'Kung Fu', 'Girl From Mars' and 'Angel Interceptor' saw them edge into public consciousness and towards the top ten of the UK singles charts and within the year, Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray's debut album - named after their year of birth - had reached number one.

With their boyish good looks winning the hearts of female fans and their own brand of edgy pop rock dazzling critics and serious music fans alike, the trio were determined to continue to challenge and stretch themselves.

In a bid to change their sound, frontman Tim drafted in 18-year-old punk rocker Charlotte Hatherley - then performing with girl group Nightnurse - as an extra guitarist in 1997.

Re-branded as a foursome, Ash went from strength to strength, securing another top ten album with 'Nu-Clear Sounds' in 1998 and topping the album charts once again in 2001 with their five times multiplatinum-selling album 'Free All Angels'.

However, the pressure of almost instantaneous success had already taken its toll on the band. Despite charting fifth, 'Nu-Clear Sounds' struggled to compete with their earlier success and the album received some critical reviews.

Consequentially, in 1999, a 22-year-old Tim disappeared from the media spotlight for several months before reappearing in New York to record a sex-fuelled and bloodied music video for the limited-edition record 'Numbskull'. Unsurprisingly, the risqué promotional clip - featuring scenes of the singer naked in a bath with a sex toy - was banned.

As pressure mounted, Ash battled near-bankruptcy and retreated to Tim's parents' garage in Northern Ireland - their original school-day rehearsal space - to work on their third LP, fearing it would be their last.

But after focussing their energies on the commercial pop which first made them famous, Ash were once again back on top in 2001 with the album 'Free All Angels', making the most of their resurgence with a greatest hits collection, 'Intergalactic Sonic 7's' the following year. Again opting for an experimental take on their next record, 'Meltdown' was released in 2004 and while its heavier sound was a hit with the group's dedicated fan base in the UK, it failed to win over their American or European followers.

Eight years on and craving individuality, the band have promised another relaunch. After asking Charlotte - who was working on solo projects - to leave so they could return to their roots and record as a trio once again, Ash vowed their 2007 LP, 'Twilight of the Innocents', would be their last conventional album.

Instead, Tim says they are determined to "embrace modern technology" and try their hands at a sound completely different from what they became known for. They want to be unrecognisable.

From October, Ash will release 26 singles - one a fortnight - for 12 months. With recordings of the 'A to Z' collection well underway, the band are delighted with their latest challenge.

BANG Showbiz spoke to Tim and bassist Mark about craving diversity, starting afresh and almost burning out.

Q. You've given up on "conventional album releases" but are still offering out new music - how will it work?

Tim Wheeler: Well, we're releasing 26 singles from later this year. It'll be a new single every two weeks for a whole year. They'll be available for download through a subscription on our website and we also want to release them on vinyl too. We've released every single we've ever released on vinyl, and we can't very well give up now. We're giving up on CDs though.

Q. Why did you decide to do something so different?

TW: We want a challenge. We've got to a time when it's OK to go off in a new direction. We want to do something completely different with the new album and really challenge ourselves. We've been writing and recording for a year and a half in New York where Mark and I live.

Q. How does it feel to perform live in front of your fans after time off?

TW: Well we've released a few albums since the 90s, but it's nice to be back singing live at festivals and seeing so many people singing along to our music. It's pretty great. We've got some really hardcore fans and we've always tried to make our songs diverse. Even from the second album really, we decided we wanted to do something different for each record. Sometimes it comes out well, sometimes it doesn't... but you've got to keep things fresh. We're really busy at the moment. We've performed a show in Norway and then flew over to England the same next morning to sing at the Hop Farm Festival in Kent. We're flying all over the place for shows right now.

Q. When do you plan to start releasing your new records?

TW: We've got a taster track coming out first, it's called 'Return of White Rabbit' and it's going to be a sort of free prequel to get people interested in the album. It's up on our website already and then the real thing starts in a few months. But the album won't just be on the website. We know we need to embrace modern technology and branch out. So they'll be available on iTunes and Spotify too. I can't get over how good Spotify is, it's amazing. It's changed everything.

Q. How do you prepare for the release of 26 singles?

TW: Well it's taken a year and a half of working really hard. We've needed the time off to concentrate on this. So far we've already recorded 44 tracks and we're going to do more as well, because we're experimenting a lot. About half of them are at the quality we feel we need them to be. When we're releasing that many songs in a year, we need to be pleased with them and we need to keep people interested. We'll probably have done about 55 or so by October.

Mark Hamilton: That's the good thing about it as well, even when we reach October and start releasing them, we still have the duration of the year to continue the work as well. It's nice not to have the added pressure of an album release date.

Q. Ash have disappeared from the music scene several times over the years. Do you have any regrets about this?

TW: It was really important for us to have a break and to give us the chance to recharge.

MH: When we were touring before, we did about 20 months straight.

TW: We just burn out when we're on tour, we run out of ideas because you're not living a real life... you need that sometimes. It's just a chance to refresh and think about everything.

Q. How difficult has it been to continue making music for almost twenty years?

TW: The music industry is a notoriously difficult industry to survive in. So you have to be tough, you know? Especially nowadays, everything is being turned on its head. But I think people still need music, so if you're resilient and keep going you can do well. For me, making music for a living is my dream. I'm always really impressed with U2. I think the kind of career they've had is amazing. The way they keep reinventing themselves and the way they still seem driven. I think that's amazing. We've been able to play with them a couple of times and I just watching their shows, it's like the masterclass.

Q. 17 years after you first got together, do you still feel like a rockstar?

TW: Yes and no really. When you get out and walk on stage. When you first hear that big cheer, it's amazing. But living in New York is very anonymous. I like just getting out and being a normal person. I don't walk around in feather boas and stuff like that.

By Rachel Jones

When Ash first hit the UK charts in 1995 with their LP '1977', the three ambitious schoolboys from Northern Ireland were promptly hailed as the next big thing.

Officially forming in 1992, the trio first came to light with their EP 'Trailer'. Their break-through singles 'Kung Fu', 'Girl From Mars' and 'Angel Interceptor' saw them edge into public consciousness and towards the top ten of the UK singles charts and within the year, Tim Wheeler, Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray's debut album - named after their year of birth - had reached number one.

With their boyish good looks winning the hearts of female fans and their own brand of edgy pop rock dazzling critics and serious music fans alike, the trio were determined to continue to challenge and stretch themselves.

In a bid to change their sound, frontman Tim drafted in 18-year-old punk rocker Charlotte Hatherley - then performing with girl group Nightnurse - as an extra guitarist in 1997.

Re-branded as a foursome, Ash went from strength to strength, securing another top ten album with 'Nu-Clear Sounds' in 1998 and topping the album charts once again in 2001 with their five times multiplatinum-selling album 'Free All Angels'.

However, the pressure of almost instantaneous success had already taken its toll on the band. Despite charting fifth, 'Nu-Clear Sounds' struggled to compete with their earlier success and the album received some critical reviews.

Consequentially, in 1999, a 22-year-old Tim disappeared from the media spotlight for several months before reappearing in New York to record a sex-fuelled and bloodied music video for the limited-edition record 'Numbskull'. Unsurprisingly, the risqué promotional clip - featuring scenes of the singer naked in a bath with a sex toy - was banned.

As pressure mounted, Ash battled near-bankruptcy and retreated to Tim's parents' garage in Northern Ireland - their original school-day rehearsal space - to work on their third LP, fearing it would be their last.

But after focussing their energies on the commercial pop which first made them famous, Ash were once again back on top in 2001 with the album 'Free All Angels', making the most of their resurgence with a greatest hits collection, 'Intergalactic Sonic 7's' the following year. Again opting for an experimental take on their next record, 'Meltdown' was released in 2004 and while its heavier sound was a hit with the group's dedicated fan base in the UK, it failed to win over their American or European followers.

Eight years on and craving individuality, the band have promised another relaunch. After asking Charlotte - who was working on solo projects - to leave so they could return to their roots and record as a trio once again, Ash vowed their 2007 LP, 'Twilight of the Innocents', would be their last conventional album.

Instead, Tim says they are determined to "embrace modern technology" and try their hands at a sound completely different from what they became known for. They want to be unrecognisable.

From October, Ash will release 26 singles - one a fortnight - for 12 months. With recordings of the 'A to Z' collection well underway, the band are delighted with their latest challenge.

BANG Showbiz spoke to Tim and bassist Mark about craving diversity, starting afresh and almost burning out.

Q. You've given up on "conventional album releases" but are still offering out new music - how will it work?

Tim Wheeler: Well, we're releasing 26 singles from later this year. It'll be a new single every two weeks for a whole year. They'll be available for download through a subscription on our website and we also want to release them on vinyl too. We've released every single we've ever released on vinyl, and we can't very well give up now. We're giving up on CDs though.

Q. Why did you decide to do something so different?

TW: We want a challenge. We've got to a time when it's OK to go off in a new direction. We want to do something completely different with the new album and really challenge ourselves. We've been writing and recording for a year and a half in New York where Mark and I live.


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