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January 24, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Ash brings stadium-sized sound to tiny Tractor | Concert preview


Northern Irishmen Ash have been making music together since 1992. They’ll play Seattle Monday. Photo by Karen McBride.

From sensation to slump to comeback story, Northern Ireland’s Ash has lived many lives since forming in 1992. Remarkably, frontman Tim Wheeler, bass player Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray are still only in their mid-30s. The band kicks off its first U.S. tour in nine years Monday at Ballard’s Tractor Tavern.

Like many groups, Ash began in a small-town garage.

“We were trying to play metal,” Hamilton remembers. “Then, Nirvana came along and showed us you didn’t have to be technically amazing to play your songs. We loosened up, stuck to the melodies, didn’t think about solos as much… just bashed it out.”

Their timing was excellent. Following Nirvana’s left-field success, record execs combed the world’s regional scenes for the Next Big Thing, throwing bands against the wall and seeing which stuck.

Unlike most, Ash stuck.

Its turbo-charged 1996 debut “1977” — named for the members’ shared birth year, and the release of their favorite movie, “Star Wars” — charted at Number One in the U.K.

Yet by 1998, the alternative-rock stations that championed early singles “Goldfinger” (listen) and “Girl From Mars” (listen) had moved on to nü-metal and trip-hop, and dark, druggy follow-up “Nu-Clear Sounds” missed the mark.

“It was a flop,” Hamilton says bluntly. “We had to rebound.”

With 2001’s poppier “Free All Angels,” they did, and subsequent full-lengths solidified Ash’s career-artist standing.

For its latest, 2009’s “A-Z Series,” the trio reshuffled the deck, rolling out 26 singles — one per week, for six months — in lieu of another studio album.

Aesthetically, the collection hearkens back to Ash’s garage-band days — home-recorded, self-released, and commemorated, Hamilton explains, “with a tour of small cities and towns that don’t usually have a lot of live music.”

Stylistically, though, club-ready numbers like “Return of White Rabbit” (listen) recalibrate the band’s guitar-oriented template for the electronic music generation — while traditional material like the soaring “Dionysian Urge” (listen) reminds listeners how it got here.

Discussing influences, Hamilton calls Philadelphia pop absurdists Ween a favorite for their refusal to commit to one sound.

“They’d take genres to whatever extremes they could, and, like them, we’re not scared or self-conscious of trying new things.”

The thick-accented bassist credits Ash’s early breakthrough, and youth itself — they were 15 when they made their first demos — for its continued vitality.

“Had it not taken off, we might have all found ourselves at university, and that would’ve been it. By starting young, we were able to develop a bond, and a sound.

“We were hellbent on our own mission back then, and no matter what anyone would’ve said, we wouldn’t have listened, but whatever. We’re still chugging along.”

Ash, Deaf Havana, Vendetta Red
8 p.m. Monday at The Tractor Tavern, 5213 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle; $15 (206-789-3599 or

Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: alternative, rock, Tractor Tavern


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