Currently in Texas for South By Southwest, drummer Rick McMurray of Ash checked in this week via email in advance of the Northern Ireland trio’s St. Patrick’s Day show this Sunday at Lincoln Hall for a chat about the U.S. release of the band’s ambitious A-Z Series project…
In 2007, following the release of their sixth studio album, Northern Ireland alternative trio Ash became one of the first major artists to announce that they were abandoning the traditional full album method of music distribution, opting instead to focus on the release of singles via the internet.
Only in their mid-teens when the band began in the early nineties, the members of Ash were still in their early thirties in 2007 having come of age alongside the internet, giving them the unique ability to see where music distribution was headed despite having worked within the major label system for so long.
Ash dreamt up an ambitious idea that challenged convention and began in May of 2009 with the release of the single “Return of White Rabbitt.” From there, the band went on to release a new single every two weeks, eventually culminating in twenty-six singles released online which came to be dubbed the A-Z Series.
That series finally saw U.S. release this past November and following fall tour dates in support of Weezer, Ash returns to the U.S. for a handful of shows including a stop at South By Southwest and a St. Patrick’s Day performance this Sunday at Lincoln Hall.
Drummer and founding member Rick McMurray checked in this week via email from somewhere in Texas…
Q. In 2012, Ash celebrated its 20th anniversary… making it through the major label boom of the nineties and into the current era of industry upheaval. What does a number like that mean to the band?
Rick McMurray: It feels great to reach that landmark and to have been continually recording and touring as a band for all that time. Not many bands survive for that long; especially in the current climate! It’s great to have come through it all and still be friends and still love what we do. It’s more than friendship at this point; it’s more like family.
Q. Over the past twenty years, to say the music industry has changed a bit would be quite the understatement. What would you say has been the biggest change you’ve experienced?
RM: I’m sure everyone says it but it’s the worldwide web. For better or worse its changed every facet of how this business operates. In many ways its given bands great tools to find their audience but its given the audience ways of not paying so it’s a real double-edged sword. As a band, we’ve tried to embrace it from its earliest days and tried to evolve with it because it’s out of the box and there’s no going back. I think you have to embrace change rather than kick against it.
Q. The A-Z series was finally released in the U.S. this past November and the concept of the project marked a drastic departure from the typical album release format. Can you explain a bit about the idea behind recording and releasing new music in this singles oriented manner? Would you consider the new approach a success?
RM: Again this comes from trying to embrace everything the internet offers in terms of recording and releasing. At the time, single consumption had gone through the roof while albums just weren’t the same big event as they used to be. We saw the opportunity to have some fun with the way the band operated. We’d always loved the period before we dropped 1977 (our first full length album) when we released a string of singles which really changed the perception of the band and we thought we could recapture that sense of excitement when fans and media had no idea what we’d be coming up with next. It also gave us the opportunity to release songs really soon after they’d been written and recorded, instead of having to sit on ideas for up to two years as we found happened when writing albums.
It was met with a little skepticism but once we got rolling with it the fans really embraced it; getting a new Ash single every two weeks became like a little ritual everyone was involved in and I know it was sorely missed by many when it ended.
It was a massive challenge for us in terms of the volume of material but also in terms of standard. Each track being a single, it really had to live up to that title. I think we managed it but it was the hardest we worked for any project. I think we can be quite sadistic as a band in terms of the presurre we pile on ourselves sometimes. Maybe we should go see a dominatrix instead. It would be cheaper!
Q. Any new music in the works for Ash and if so has there been any consideration given to the manner of release this time around (album, singles, etc.)?
RM: It’s on our horizon for sure. I think we’ll start work by the summer. How we release it is anybody’s guess. As a concept, A-Z will be hard to beat.
Q. Well your appearance Sunday in Chicago at Lincoln Hall actually comes as the band works its way to Austin, Texas and South By Southwest. As Ash’s first appearance at SXSW in seven years, how does it feel being back there? Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to at this year’s festival?
RM: I’m in a van on our way there as I type (after the first show of the year in Dallas with The View). It’s great to be getting out into the middle of America after so many years. There was a time when I doubted whether we would do it again but it’s great to feel the love that’s still here for us and the States definitely figures in future touring plans once we have new material out. We’re really appreciating the love we’re getting back here and I just want to say thanks for waiting for us. We love it!
Q. Sunday night, Ash performs here in Chicago at Lincoln Hall. What can fans expect at Sunday’s show?
RM: Sunday being St. Patrick’s day, it’s gonna be some fun with his burial town’s favorite sons! Expect a few sentimental moments/songs as well as a bunch of great Ash tunes; some A-Z, some more familiar to our Chicago fans! See you there!
(Details on Sunday’s show at Lincoln Hall after the jump)
*** This interview was conducted by Jim Ryan
Please feel free to join the conversation via Facebook in the comments section below and sign up for email alerts via the form below. Thanks!
Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
__________________________________________________ Live at Lincoln Hall
2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
St. Patrick’s Day
________________________________________________________Sunday, March 17, 2013
Also performing: California Wives
Click HERE to purchase tickets