Interview with Tim Wheeler - 3rd Oct 2006

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Mr Timothy Wheeler is called upon in the studio in NYC to give us the very latest news on the recording of Ash's new album, taken from

Hello Tim. So the first gig back went well?

Yeah. I was the most nervous, but it was a huge relief to do it. It was a big psychological milestone to get through having not played for a year and playing new songs.

What was the biggest source of nerves?

I think the gap since the last gig. And then wondering how songs would translate as a three-piece. I wasn't worried about the older songs, but there were a couple of more recent ones that we weren't sure about. But we proved to ourselves that we can do it. The stuff off Meltdown sounds really cool as a three-piece - it has that extra space.

And you've got another gig planned already?

Yeah, we're doing a show next Thursday at a free party for Spin magazine. It's at the Annex, a little place down in the lower East side in New York. I'm really looking forward to it.

What have you been doing since the gig?

We've just been in recording mode ever since, getting down loads of backing tracks.

Is it going well?

It's going really good, yeah. We've done 13. There's just a couple more to do and a couple that we're going to redo.

Wow, that's pretty good going.

Yeah, we've been flying through stuff - averaging a song a day, or a day and a half. Rick's here until October 10th, so we're hoping to get it all done by then. And then I'll start doing vocals.

Have you stuck with the idea of recording the songs together as a band?

Yeah. There's a couple that we built up separately, just cos it's cool late at night to open the doors of our building and use the ambience from the hall for the drums, which makes them sound really huge. To do that, we can't really record at the same time. But most of the other stuff, we've been tracking together. The songs really suits that. We want it to feel quite organic and not over-produced like a lot of records these days.

How many times would you play the song in recording it?

It kind of depends. Maybe like ten takes.

Would you expect the tenth take to be the best?

Certain takes get really good in different sections. And sometimes we'll take breaks and then just hone in on certain sections and play that section loads. Normally after we do that, we go back to playing the whole song and it feels really good.

When we hear a song on the CD, would that be bits taken from different takes?

Yeah, we'll edit together the best versions of various sections.

What makes for the best take? What are you looking for?

You're just listening for when everyone's locked in together to a really good groove and playing really well.

Would you mouth the words at this point?

Well, I guess I'm hearing them in my head as I'm playing. But normally I'm focusing on my guitar trying to get the tightest, best guitar I can get.

Do you stand up or sit down?

A bit of both for me. But Mark's always sitting. We sit and play in the control room with Claudius, our engineer. And Rick's playing in the drum room. We've got long cables going out to our guitar and bass amps which are in different rooms.

Does Claudius have a tambourine so he can join in?

Er, no. He's just sitting there, listening and making sure the sounds are good.

Is he basically twiddling more complicated versions of the bass and treble knob?

Yeah. And using compressors and making sure the mic positioning is right - cos that makes a big difference to the sounds.

So it's coming together?

Yeah, it's starting to shape up. It's got a really good sound to it. Claudius is such a good engineer. And I guess I've become a real geek for audio equipment and sounds. We'll have templates for sounds we like - we'll reference CDs and listen to them before we start recording, to help decide what kind of vibes we're going for or a particular sound we want.

Can you tell us any vibes you're going for on this album?

There's a song called Saskia which we wanted to have a cold, East European kind of feel. So we were listening to a lot of the Bowie records that he did with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti. We really like a lot of his drum sounds from that time. And Iggy Pop's The Idiot too. They were using this piece of gear back then called the Eventide Harmonizer. I've picked up one of those now - you can make these weird drum sounds with it. So we start with reference points like that and then we always end up somewhere that's influenced by that, but not quite the same - like our own original version of it.

Then mixing comes after the vocals?

Yeah. And sometimes I might decide to totally change the guitar sound for the last chorus, or something like that. So a lot of overdubs come later - keyboard ideas, things like that. It's good to finish a song to a certain point, leave it for a while to think about it and then come back to it.

For the vocal takes, will you just stand in a room on your own?

Yeah, I normally do the whole thing myself. I'll be in the control room and just press record. I'll do a load of takes and then edit from those, until it comes out like the way I hear it in my head.

Have you made any progress on the album title?

We talked about it a couple of weeks ago. We've one idea, but it's not definite yet. I'm so wrapped up in tracking mode at the moment. I'm not even thinking about the vocals, I'm just focused on getting the band sound. I haven't been able to think about anything really. As soon as I get up, I come to the studio and work till 2am. Then I'll go home and come in the next day again. So we're in the studio around 12 hours a day.

Crikey. Do you have days off?

We took last weekend off. But we'll keep it to one day off a week from now on.

It sounds like a lot of work.

Yeah. Everything takes longer than you think. Especially because we've got this perfectionist viewpoint. You're trying to make something really good, and nowadays the way you can edit things with computers, you can go incredibly deep into trying to make it perfect. It's hard to let go. We made our first two records on tape and you were a lot more limited to what you could do. In a way, I think that was a good thing.

Can recording be a frustrating process?

Well I think the more records you make, the more patience you get with the whole thing. You sort of have a vision of where you want to get to and you'll do whatever it takes to get there. And you learn that it takes very patient people to do that.

Have the label heard much of the new stuff?

Yeah, our A&R guy James has been over quite a lot in the last couple of weeks. He's starting to get his head around the songs and he's picking out his favourites. I think he's been reporting back to the label very positively.

Are they talking about a release date?

Yeah, I think next spring, maybe in May.

May the 4th be with you!

Ha! I like that. Is May 4th a Monday?

No, it's a Friday.

Oh. Maybe not then.

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