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Ash - Tim Wheeler on producing, recording and orchestrating
Last month Ireland's grunge-greats Ash were in Amsterdam for a gig. Metalrage had a short conversation with Tim. Check out what Tim had to say about huge orchestras, Pro Tools, working as a three-piece band. An insight in the recording process of an album that sounds promising by all means.
 
This is held for our webzine called metalrage.com. I understand you've had a history in metal.
 
"Bands like Iron Maiden and Megadeth are what brought us together. I actually met our bass player because he had an Iron Maiden patch on his jacket. It was from Somewhere in Time. It's how we became friends. I don't really follow the world of metal nowadays, bits and pieces here and there aside, it's the classic stuff I still play. Like Reign in Blood and so on.
I just have a wide musical taste. I listen to ABBA or Slayer, I'd listen to anything."
 
Does this influence the sound? It seems Meltdown (their previous record) was one of the rougher albums.
 
"Well that was still quite poppy, but more riff-based. We recorded that one with Nick Raskulinecz. He produces the Foo Fighters but he's a real metal head, he'd play Celtic Frost in the studio and things like that. In some way the sound was defined by his presence, he let us use old amps that gave a real tasty guitar sound. But the songs themselves were a bit more rocking than before when we had written them. And that was before we'd even met him. The inspiration came from what Queens Of The Stone Age were doing, that pop based rock."
 
Now the new record, you were the producer. How did that come about?
 
"We learned so much over the years that we became confident that we could do it ourselves. Working with Nick on Meltdown, I started getting really curious about all the gear in the studio. I started asking him about it and before the end of the session I'd bought my first recording gear. Nick got me hooked. On one of the longer tours, in America, I started learning Pro-Tools. I just started working on my laptop in the van. All in all the whole process of what to do demystified, and we thought: 'Why not give it a shot'?"

Was this really your production?
 
"It was kind of collective, even though I was doing the main stuff, manning the computer and so on. But everything I did I ran across the other guys."
 
Isn't it hard to do that as a group without an external producer on board?
 
"It works for us. The only trouble is that I'm quite a slow methodical worker, everything takes a long time. That's the good thing about having a producer, someone who keeps an eye on the time schedule. But in the end whenever there's a deadline I'll finish whatever needs to be finished. As far as ideas go, the guys really trust me. Even with other producers on previous albums I came up with quite some ideas for overdubs and so on to make the production sound more interesting. Besides that, the other two always come up with ideas, and I'll try them out."
 
Is it tempting to over-use Pro-Tools?
 
"Well it's all Pro-Tools nowadays. But luckily we were around when everything was still recorded on tape, we sort of caught the tail end of that. We know how that whole process works, so we can easily incorporate that in the sound. One of our albums was pro-tooled to death. We quickly learned not to go that far and keep things looser, make it feel more real. And I think with Twilight of the Innocent, we really achieved that."
 
Speaking of 'keeping it real', for the recordings you flew from New York to L.A. just for the orchestral parts for just one day.
 
"Three hours, to be exact. Quite the opposite of Pro-Tools, as it was an old-fashioned recording in one take. It was over that quick because they were all very skilled musicians. Most of the work was beforehand, I put a lot of time in writing the arrangements with Paul Buckmaster, who's an amazing arranger who did a bunch of stuff for Elton John in the seventies, Moonlight Mile by the Rolling Stones, played cello on David Bowie's Space Oddity, and the amazing 12 Monkey's Soundtrack amongst other things. A total genius. We worked over the phone, he'd play some ideas and I'd adapt it. He received the tracks without any strings on them, I'd tell him my ideas and the melody lines I wanted and he filled in the rest according to what was going on, add counterpoints to the vocal melodies and things like that. 
So it was totally prepared by the time we got to the studio. All that happened was Paul Buckmaster walks in, goes through the music with the orchestra and gets everything recorded in almost one take. The orchestra only practised a couple of times, during which he managed to pick up mistakes in the sheet music and getting everyone to replace notes with a pencil. Really cool stuff to witness, especially with the time pressure. In the end the woman who coordinated the whole thing persuaded the entire audience to stay and extra half hour just to get it all right.
Eight hours of flight for a couple of hours in a studio, quite ridiculous (he laughs). There wasn't even a real point for me being there to tell the truth, since it sounded so good. I had total confidence in him."
 
One of the most significant changes Ash has gone through has to be the departure of Charlotte (Hatherley, former second guitar player). Did it affect writing Twilight of the Innocent?
 
"She left before we started writing. And I think she had little influence in writing our previous albums, except a couple of tracks. We split in February, and we managed to find our studio in New York in March, and that's when we started rehearsing the new stuff.
We tried to reflect the tree-piece sound on this album and not do overdubs. But I still got tempted, just to thicken the sound. There's a solo with rhythm guitar playing underneath it. Mark played different bass parts to thicken the sound, and then there's a couple of overdubs. It became a fun challenge we adapted to quite quickly.
It affects the live sound more than the recording situation. But even then there's loads of energy on stage, so no need for an extra guitarist. And I like the idea of a three-piece rocking out, there's something cool about that."
 
The reason the new album is released in July even though you finished it for quite some time now is because the record company wants to release two singles in the UK. But is it still interesting to even release a single in these days of downloading?
 
"Sales are really dying at the moment. I guess people download it for free, and then buy the album. It's weird compared to ten years ago, the amount of sales needed to get in the charts has dropped so much.
We still sell a lot of hardcopies of our albums because our fans still enjoy collecting our stuff. For the younger generation that has really become an alien thing. They'd rather download it as a ringtone and all that stuff.
I think it's a shame the album concept is slowly disappearing. The artwork, the actual disc you put on the shelf, all that will get lost. For Twilight of the Innocent we made a solid collection of songs that really work as an album, something that is getting more rare these days. But on the other hand the whole getting smaller bundles of four tracks as a download is kind of cool, as it's more of an instant thing."

Ash' new album 'Twilight of the Innocents' will be released this July.
Details Written on 2007-05-11
Writer @Lex

Tags: #Ash