Following the release of their last studio album ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’ Ash announced they would no longer be releasing albums. The music industry waited to see how Ash would go about releasing music in the future, but little did anyone expect a huge year long project. In August 2009, Ash shocked everyone by announcing they would be releasing a new single every fortnight for a whole year, starting in September 2009. The A-Z series would be a groundbreaking move, never done before, utilising various internet services.
To mark the halfway point in the A-Z series Ash have released the first compilation featuring the first 13 songs along with several bonus tracks. As well as playing a gig at Norwich Waterfront, the band played three acoustic songs at Norwich HMV.
Starting with Dionysian Urge, Tim’s favourite songs at the moment, the trio are joined by Russell from Bloc Party on guitar. Drummer Rick Mcmurray also plays guitar during the acoustic set. Following on from Dionysian Urge, Ash try to pull off one of dancier songs from the A-Z series, Rick and Russell picking up Stylophones and making weird noises to help imitate the recorded version.
The band then play the ‘classic’ Girl From Mars before signing copies of the A-Z Series Volume One.
After finishing the signing, we sat down to discuss the A-Z Series. Conversation started with the reasons behind the A-Z Series.
Mark: We are in a HMV here and we were told the other day that 70% of what they sell is not music, and HMV is the last of the big music store. Music is just dying a death, and what we are trying to do is put some value back into music, even though once something is released everyone can get it digitally for free, at least our fans are getting something different in the lead up to each release. Which they wouldn’t get if we were just releasing another album.
Tim: Putting out our last album, the climate of putting out an album felt different, to any of our previous experiences. The worlds relationship to albums has completely changed. Everything moves so fast and albums seem to disappear so quickly, we felt we needed something a lot more consistent.
Rick: The only thing that gets listened to, or played on the radio is singles. It feels like albums don’t really matter, the same way they used to.
The A-Z Series has brought Ash closer to their fans. Whilst you can buy each single individually, a Subscription is available for just £13, giving fans a new song every fortnight as well as extra free download only available to subscribers.
Tim: This whole thing has cemented our relationship with our fans.
Mark: We have engaged the fans more, and they feel more part of it than ever before.
Tim: The only way we are going to have a future is based on rewarding our fans, and them supporting our music.
Mark: We have the same mentally with our fans as football teams do, we need them to support us. And a subscription of £13 is a fraction of the cost of a football fan going to one match.
This move away from the conventional record label route, has found Ash and their management in complete control of everything to do with their releases, which the band has found rewarding.
Rick: It’s been more stressful but more rewarding. Without the financial backing of a label, if we fuck this up, we fuck ourselves up, but at the same time it’s rewarding before everything is about what we do and not what a record company does. Not in the UK, but it other countries, we have been marketed in the past in way way we weren’t comfortable with.
Tim: It was scary at first, but we have so much more freedom.
Mark: It’s a weird time for the industry as a whole, just making this work and being able to survive is an achievement in itself.
Being in charge of themselves has also given Ash more creative control, allowing them to release material which wouldn’t have previously fitted on to albums.
Tim: In the past we’ve had to leave certain songs off an album, and we’ve felt straight jacketed making an album but this idea gives us complete freedom, and having our own studio meant we have had the opportunity to experience til our hearts content, and try what ever we want. We have found that we can pull off anything musically. Creatively, it’s been an amazing time.
The freedom has allowed Ash to release music which you wouldn’t have expected of them in the past, with more synths used.
Tim: We have managed to carve out a really broad niche for ourselves. A massive niche. When we did Return Of White Rabbit we were really pleased because it didn’t sound like anything we had done before, which is why we wanted to unleash it first, to kinda shock people.
Rick: People aren’t going to get what they expect from us, expect the unexpected.
Tim: The rest of the series is very varied, we have a ten minute instrumental, some more rocking stuff, more guitar solo. Some bonkers electronic stuff as well.
Overall, the band are happy with how the series has gone.
Tim: It’s been amazing. It keeps growing and getting better and better. It seems to be building momentum, and some fans have said it’s the best time to be an Ash fan, which is the biggest compliment we could get.
After the interview, we headed to Norwich waterfront where Ash would play something in between a Best Of and A-Z Series set. Showcasing seven songs from A-Z Series, including an extended ‘Return Of White Rabbit’ which saw the Waterfront turn in to a New York Rave Scene type club, one song from Trailer, six songs from 1977, A Life Less Ordinary, just Projects from Nu-Clear Sounds, 3 songs from Free All Angels, Orpheus from Meltdown and two songs from Twilight Of The Innocents, and a cover of Weezers Only In Dreams.
Despite being around from 16 years, Ash prove that they are still a groundbreaking band, and breathtaking live.