The last time Belfast rockers Ash came to the States, they didn’t receive much in the way of hospitality. After the lauded 1977, their follow-up, 1999’s Nu-Clear Sounds, turned out to be commercially and critically toxic. The group’s A&R man had left label DreamWorks, and their U.S. tour was limited to a mere three dates. ”It all kind of fell apart,” says lead singer and guitarist Tim Wheeler. ”We’re just amazed we got another chance.”
They certainly took advantage of it. Ash’s hook-drunk new album, Free All Angels — released June 25, one year after its U.K. debut — is a road-trip sing-along must-have. Its overseas success has helped Ash nab a new label (indie Kinetic) and gigs on Moby’s Area 2 fest.
But isn’t going from sharing the stage with U2 in Europe to opening for the Blue Man Group on Area 2 a bit of an ego dimmer? ”We work well when we have to win people over,” says Wheeler, 25, who cofounded the group with bassist Mark Hamilton, 25, in high school (the lineup also includes drummer Rick McMurray, 27, and guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, 22). Playful power-pop singles like ”Kung Fu” made the then-teenage members stars across the pond, but after the lackluster Sounds, they took a break until 2000, when they recorded Angels in Spain.
The result: five hit singles. Still, the real test is whether Angels can fly over here. ”I’ve got our hopes up before, so I’m not gonna do it again,” says Wheeler. ”We’ve missed it [in America], and now we’re just going to enjoy it. We’ll see what we can do.” Spoken with the true pluck of the Irish.