Here is part two of our interview with Tim Wheeler from Ash. Visit part one here.
Randomville: This one is from Judith Millar from Ireland. Her question is: “As a band you all appear to get on so well, have any of the three of you ever had a serious falling out over the years?”
Tim Wheeler: Yeah we’re like brothers. We get on very fair and are really good mates. Usually at times I used to argue a lot with Mark in the studio, that’s the only real arguing we’ve ever done though. One time I worked all night on something and Mark came in the morning and didn’t like the style of it at all and I’d get mad at him for two days but after a time like that we work really well and we don’t really argue much anymore. Whenever we go into the studio now everything clicks and we just don’t give time for things like that.
Rick (McMurray) is just Rick and is really easy going. He can get into a bad mood sometimes but we never really argue. There was one time when our label wanted us to do four singles for each single. This was during Nu-clear Sounds and what the labels were doing at the time was releasing two editions of a single. We really didn’t want to do it and Rick seriously put his foot down. We then went into record B-sides but Rick went home. He wasn’t mad at us though, just the label. I think I played drums on “Radiation” and our friend Danny played drums on “Dancing On the Moon.”
Randomville: Would you ever say that you take jabs at people when you’re mad?
Tim Wheeler: Not me but when Rick gets mad at me and Mark (Hamilton) he’ll do something that really bugs us. Whenever he wears his contact lenses and we’re in the studio or dressing room he’ll take them out, put them into the plastic holders with the eye solution, and place them next to our food. (Laughs) For some real reason it really grosses me out and it grosses Mark out as well.
Randomville: It is a bit gross, its eye fluid by your food!
Tim Wheeler: Yeah! (Laughs) Sometimes he’ll get to it quick because he knows it pisses us off but other times I think he does it on purpose. Oh, one thing that weirds Rick out is when we go to the beach and somebody is sun bathing and smoking a cigarette. When we saw that one he was trying to quit at the minute (Rick) but he was really grossed out by that and thought the guy was disgusting.
Randomville: (Laughing) What?
Tim Wheeler: Yeah! (Laughs) He smokes but he says he’d never smoke while sunbathing but yep, as you can see, we’re bro’s. (Laughs)
Randomville: The next question is from Nicole Paraskeva from Manchester. Her question is: “What are your top five A-Z songs and why?”
Tim Wheeler: Wow. I’d put “Arcadia” at number one. I was really happy with it, especially the reaction.
Randomville: I think what makes that track so strong is that it’s a great representation at how big of sticklers you and Claudius (sound engineer of Atomic Hearts Studios) are to quality when it comes to producing.
Tim Wheeler: Yeah definitely. Claudius is an excellent engineer and the sounds we did for “Arcadia…” we really experimented a lot during the whole series. With that track I feel there’s a really fresh sound to it, especially because we double tracked the piano. There’s a real piano and a synth piano. It’s a piano with syntax in it that’s usually used for those wonky konk sounds you hear in westerns. They put tax on the hammers so instead of pad hitting the strings it’s more of a hard metal hitting them inside the piano; it creates this tacking sound.
Tim Wheeler: Phew!
Randomville: How did “Sky Burial” actually come about?
Tim Wheeler: I was listening to a lot of seventies German rock. I like dance of Khan. We did a festival and this singer named Khan came and he did this thing where he gets together with whatever musicians are around and just jams and play for an hour. I got to play with him and it re-kindled my love for live seventies German music. I just couldn’t get out of my head how I would love to do a long instrumental for the series and then I came up with that riff one night and it expanded from there. It was a big task to make it into a full time. My sister had recently read a book called Sky Burial and I just kept thinking it’d be a good title. I’ve played so many guitars for the series so I really wanted to put in a lot of guitar ideas I had into this song.
Randomville: Next time you play NYC that has to be the encore track!
Tim Wheeler: Yeah! We were worried how it would go down live but people really liked it.
Randomville: The people who we interviewed for ““Carnal Love” didn’t have anything to ask so we got another fan to ask a question. This one comes from another Florida fan named Emma Sherwood. She really digs you guys and wants to know “What song did you have the most fun writing and recording?”
Tim Wheeler: “Kung Fu” was great fun because it was totally spontaneous and we thought it’d be just a B-side so it really was us just having a laugh but then it became a single and we recorded that while we were on break from high school. I really loved the recording of “Twilight,” especially flying over to LA for a day to oversee the recording of the strings and that was at Capitol studios. Frank Sinatra used to record there and it was a great experience. I didn’t even stay the night; I went for the day and left the same evening.
Randomville: That sounds quite hectic!
Tim Wheeler: Yeah it was right around the holidays and I had only a couple of days; I was planning a trip back to Ireland so I did it before I went.
Randomville: How does it feel to see people play strings on a track you wrote?
Tim Wheeler: We had strings for “Oh Yeah” and standing in the room with the orchestra and hearing it live, seeing people play chords that you yourself wrote is a serious hair-standing-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling. It’s amazing. I have to give props to recording “Free All Angels.” That was one of the best times of my life. We went to this mansion in Spain and recorded it there.
Randomville: I thought the album was recorded in London?
Tim Wheeler: A bit of it was in Tom Marsden’s studio in England. We mostly mixed it in England though and the majority of it was recorded in Spain. I think I can honestly say it was the best time of Me, Rick, Mark, and Charlotte’s (Hatherley) lives, even for our producer as well.
Randomville: Did you learn any Spanish while you were there?
Tim Wheeler: Actually no not really. (Laughs) I know a little bit to get around but we always went to this bar where these English guys were working. They were crazy but we ended up interacting with them more than any Spanish people. We were in this town that was like a rich yachting place. The studio was a mansion in the mountains. It had a real Russian mafia vibe, a very weird scene.
Randomville: This one is from Graham Pancott and he asks: “How long do you anticipate Ash continuing, given that all of you guys are now well into your 30s. Also is there an upper age limit where you think you can lose your credibility by continuing in a band?”
Tim Wheeler: I think you just keep getting better. There is something about Rock n’ Roll being youthful but I saw The Rolling Stones a while back and it was incredible. I think it’s just indefinite we’ll continue, as long as we’re having fun. I don’t think we can ever stop being creative, especially when it comes to music.
Randomville: The next one is from Michael Chernucha and his question is: “What is the first and most important item you take with you onto the tour bus? And thanks for being so hospitable backstage at the derby gig last year!”
Tim Wheeler: Anytime! (Laughs) It’s always fun to hang out with fans after shows. I’d say my laptop because when you’re on tour it’s like your only link up to the world and your friends. I do a lot of skyping and emailing; I don’t’ do Facebook though because it seems so addicting. I had to give up computer games because they seriously stopped me from working. I have my laptop with me even in the studio as well and you can do a lot of cool recording stuff with a laptop even on the road. It’s also wicked that it has a DVD player also!
Randomville: I remember when you guys toured with The Bravery, they recorded their whole first album on a laptop.
Tim Wheeler: Yeah! It was amazing.
Randomville: I think a lot of bands should take note of that because if you really want to make it you have to show you can just do it, and making a record on your own like that just shows a lot of drive in my opinion.
Tim Wheeler: Yeah definitely, that’s all you have to do. You can keep your recording budget low and when recording an album sometimes it can cost like $250,000 and you probably will never make that back (Laughs).
Randomville: (Laughing) Speaking of recording and gear I remember one time I looked up the synth that you use, I saw the specs on an interview you did for some gear magazine and the synth alone is worth 60 grand!
Tim Wheeler: Which one? The CS850? I got it for way cheaper, I was really lucky on the deal I got for it. The best part about it is that it allows me to do Blade Runner sounds with it.
Randomville: Do you think you might go guitar or gear shopping anytime soon?
Tim Wheeler: Probably not. I think I have everything I need now as far as guitars go. I have a pretty mean arsenal!
Randomville: I remember the last time I talked to Chad Peck; we talked about your black Les Paul for about twenty minutes.
Tim Wheeler: I think Chad’s actually held and played it before.
Randomville: That lucky bastard! That guitar is beautiful.
Tim Wheeler: Yeah it never leaves the studio. I’ve performed every Ash song on it (since I’ve got it). I actually really want an SG with a tremolo bar. I’d buy a new one rather than add it onto the one I have because it would cause the guitar to go out of tune more often.
Tim Wheeler: Really? No way! That’s brilliant.
Randomville: He wants to know: “What is the one thing you wouldn’t assume we know about the A-Z series? And what is the one thing you have had faith in since starting the A-Z epic?”
Tim Wheeler: Let me see…maybe the creation of “Dare To Dream;” that track has a hundred guitars on it. I spent a full week overdubbing all the guitars, literally sitting there playing one note at a time because I was trying to replicate this sound I heard a guitar orchestra play with a hundred guitars at this plaza. It turned out a bit more subtle than I hoped but it’s still pretty cool.
Randomville: A hundred guitars at a plaza? How did this happen?
Tim Wheeler: I think it’s been done with two hundred guitars before at one time. I wish I knew about it beforehand because I definitely would have volunteered to be a part of it. It really was one of the coolest sounds I’ve ever heard, everyone was playing with perfectly tuned guitars and a very clean tone. So it was like a shimmering drone. It made the whole air vibrate, it was really crazy. The piece I’m referring to was called The Crimson Grail. I highly recommend everyone to check that out.
Randomville: “Dare to Dream” really has a massive tone to it. The guitars even feel as though they’re being orchestrated rather than strummed.
Tim Wheeler: I’m glad that comes across! That’s what I was hoping to do with it! I used different guitars for each harmony with loads of different pick ups for each guitar. I had a bit of a system going there with it. I would record six at once in a row with three different amps. It was so damn crazy.
Randomville: How long did this process take?
Tim Wheeler: It took about four to five days. Just on the guitars. It was quite extreme for a five minute song.
Randomville: Have you ever thought of trying one of those guitars Matthew Bellamy from Muse uses? He has a touch pad infused by the bridge.
Tim Wheeler: Yeah that’s really clever. It’s a chaos pad from Korg I think. He probably was messing about one day and thought about how cool it’d be to have it built into the guitar. That guy who does his guitars is a real genius, Manson guitars I think it is. I saw Them Crooked Vultures this past summer and it was so unreal. But yeah John Paul Jone’s bass guitar is also made by Manson guitars. He has such a weird collection of bass guitars.
Randomville: This one is from Lisa De Jongh from The Netherlands and she wants to know: “‘Sky Burial’ is a song that amazes me! How was it made? And what does the title ‘Sky Burial’ mean exactly?
Tim Wheeler: Well I don’t think I said what “Sky Burial” is. I haven’t read the book yet but the title comes from a ritual which takes place in Tibet in high altitude way above tree lines. It’s impossible to bury people because the earth is too hard and they can’t cremate people because there’s no wood so they prepare the body and leave it at a sacred spot and wait for the vultures to come. And yeah its kind of…gruesome (Laughs). The vultures will eat the bodies, leave the bones and that’s what “Sky Burial” is. It’s funny because the title sounds like such a beautiful thing, “Sky Burial,” but the act of it is quite grotesque.
Randomville: That is really funny. I remember when you guys released the last four titles of The A-Z tracks that everyone was super excited about “Sky Burial” just on the name alone.
Tim Wheeler: I’m glad it lived up to the excitement! It’s such a beautiful and mysterious title and I feel that works so well for an instrumental.
Tim Wheeler: I think we definitely want to tour with them again. We’ve become really good friends and we always hanging out in New York. There’s…well…we actually have been talking about a possible collaboration actually. So you never know. The next thing we release might just be a collaboration. It really is funny you’d ask this question.
Randomville: I can honestly say that both Ash and We Are Scientists are my favorite bands. Seeing you guys play on stage together in Australia was a real light bulb moment.
Tim Wheeler: Yeah I’d really love to tour with them again. It was only two gigs we did in Australia but I think if we toured we’d each have a 45 minute set and than play together for a 45 minute encore.
Randomville: If this is ever to happen it has to happen in the states.
Tim Wheeler: Yeah! (Laughs) We really do need to tour again here, it’s been on our to-do list for quite some time. It’d be so fun to do because it’s weird if you do a co-headlining tour with a band if the time isn’t divided properly. I figured if we were to tour with We Are Scientists we’d be able to divide the time well and it’d be great to add the addition of that encore.
Randomville: I think the definition for that is pretty fucking perfect.
We here at Randomville want to thank you for following us and Ash on this journey. We hope you enjoyed it all, it wouldn’t be possible without you; our readers.