After ten years of Ash, transition, evolution and tenacity are the buzzwords currently infecting their world. Back in 1994 there stood a loose trio of precociously young students juggling A-level revision with a promo tour of L.A. Fame was in with its feet up demanding tea on tap even then.
Today stands a new band shaped by an arduous and eventful eight months on the sanity testing straight roads of the USA, travelling together in a tiny van whilst tinkering with and refining the sound that had helped them sell over a million records. The tide of change has also seen Ash expanded to a powerful four-piece, a live DJ come and go and the band having their bass player exorcised…as you do.
The quartets fifth album, 'Meltdown', has just been released high into the charts having seen the band harden their pop-rock formula and apparently invest in Spinal Tap's amps, with download only single, 'Clones', proving their heaviest moment to date.
Out on a mammoth tour of the UK, Soul Shine cornered guitarist Charlotte Hatherley in the band dressing room at the Portsmouth Guildhall to chat about the new record, solo escapades and being old in your 20's.
Despite the modest surroundings, Charlotte Hatherley is obviously special. Taking time to pose for photos and speak to all comers she exudes a certain rock-star coolness that has no prima-donna traces. In the nu-Rock 'n' Roll climate of arrogance and elusion, her demeanor is a fresh reminder of the normality and vivacity so nearly extinguished in music at the minute.
That isn't to say she doesn't indulge in some star luxuries though, in fact mid way through our conversation a whole half tray of sandwiches is delivered to her… rock and/or roll! Giggling at the decidedly 'royal' treatment, she explains: "Prior to 'Meltdown' we went back to being a support band and traveling around the US in a van – hardly rock indulgence! It was the first time I'd ever done that and it just had the feel of kinda going back to a gang mentality. We did that for eight months". "Being in America for so long definitely affected 'Meltdown', we played with heavier bands and so did a heavier set every night as a support band trying to impress people. I guess it made us step it up".
Following the huge commercial comeback of 'Free All Angels' and the 'Intergalactic Sonic 7s' singles collection, Charlotte appears very aware that 'Meltdown' could have proved another difficult opus for the band, industry pressures to deliver knowingly leading to sub-standard rush releases and stinging criticism. Indeed, after the acclaim of breakthrough record '1977', the band endured what Charlotte herself describes as a 'definite low period', punctuated only by her 1997 introduction as rhythm guitarist surely.
The lukewarm reception to the 'Nu-Clear Sounds' album saw many critics writing Ash off as a spent force, the evolution in sound condemned as a poor career move. The truth is that they produced a reasonably strong album, unfairly assessed perhaps on poor singles choices. " 'Free All Angels' was a bit of a victory, coming back in at number one, but it made people wonder what Ash was going to do next". Charlotte speaks here as if she too was wondering what was next for the band, speaking as an outsider, a curiosity that occurs throughout our meeting. "After we released the singles collection, I think Ash felt that a point had been reached where we could happily look back and move on to try something different, which is what we did with Meltdown".
The 'Meltdown album is the culmination of ten years, seemingly extracting the favoured aspects of previous efforts and their live stage presence and amalgamating them into a pop-rock master class. The only real criticism is perhaps a lack of diversity in the formula; a point Charlotte quickly leaps on.
"I think we confuse people as we'll do heavy songs and then something like 'Candy' which is really different. So for this album it's just far more consistent". Though there is an undeniable pride emanating as she speaks off the new tunes, there is a constant underlying feeling of the songs being Ash's and not her own, perhaps not really part of her. With a solo release imminent, is this a dent in the armour for Ash? "There is nothing worse than feeling creatively stifled. I felt like rather saying to the guys 'Hey I've got thirty songs lets play them all' I wouldn't muscle in on the way that Ash write. If anything the solo record is for the best so I went off and did it on my own in my spare time."
"I've always wanted to do it and get it out my system but never had the time or motivation, but after the long tour of America I really did think, Fuck, I'm going to do it now or never get round to it. I just couldn't sit on it anymore and will certainly do another one".
As much as she exclaims it is a sideline to Ash, you can't help wondering if perhaps a full time solo career is the future for Charlotte. If the writing chances aren't there in Ash; why the hell not?
Her album, 'Grey Will Fade' demonstrates that she has fantastic songwriting ability, blending the harmonies of The Beach Boys with the vocal stylings of Blondie. Just how long can someone with such talent be content as what detractors might call a glorified session musician? The cracks are showing but Charlotte is adament all is fine. "We've always got challenges, and we're not bored yet. We're not finished by any means, even if the band is over ten and we're still in our twenties. Hmm, that's quite random".
And with that she's gone. Look for Charlotte Hatherley; her August release 'Grey Will Fade' is now in stores.
Writer: Dave Hardwick