Ash's Tim Wheeler on looking back, Led Zeppelin, and learning every note of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird

Ash studio portrait
(Image credit: Steve Gullick)

More than three decades since the Northern Irish band’s formation, Ash guitarist and vocalist Tim Wheeler previews a nine-date tour to promote their hard-rocking eighth studio album Crashed Out Wasted.


The pandemic exerted a strong influence on what is Ash’s first album in five years. 

That’s true, though we started it before everything was locked down. The separation was a bit difficult, and when the three of us got back together to play again there was such a great buzz. That excitement really rubbed off on the album. It was completed quite a while ago but we decided not to rush it out, maybe to wait until the world was a bit more settled. 

Your label’s biography reveals that during lockdown you spent some time learning every note of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. 

Ha ha, yeah. I did do that – the sheer non-stop widdling of Free Bird. I played a shit-ton of guitar during the pandemic. 

Did that Skynyrd appreciation rub off on the album’s epic moment, Crashed Out Wasted? 

That song has got a three-minute guitar solo, so yeah it did. There are a few other [influences]… maybe The Number Of The Beast [by Iron Maiden], things that I had always wanted to play, so I took the time to figure them out.

You’ve also referenced the album’s song Like A God to Led Zeppelin, and suggested it might even inspire a circle pit. 

Rick [McMurray, drums] is our biggest Led Zeppelin fan. He’s a John Bonham nut. That one has got a pretty tasty riff. It had a long, extended outro which we ended up chopping off and using as a separate song [Like A God (Reprise)] to end the album. 

It’s a slick, melodic and powerful record. What might the teenaged, punky Ash of 1992 have made of its sophistication? 

That’s a great question. I’m not really sure how the younger version of myself might have viewed it, but I’m sure I’d be impressed by the musicianship. It probably wouldn’t have been my cup of tea back then, but it’s certainly my cup of tea now [laughs]. 

What made you choose the Dutch singer Démira as a duet partner on the ballad Oslo? 

I met Démira in New York, she was part of my circle of songwriting friends. We’d get together once a week and take a day to write as many songs as they could. I was blown away by her voice. Like me, Démira was a European living in New York, and as soon as I wrote Oslo I heard it as a duet. I was thrilled that she wanted to be a part of it.

Who is the song Peanut Brain about? 

I wrote it at a time when I was thinking a lot about Donald Trump. Another song, Braindead, also came from that same time. It’s been so nice having a break from him, and I’m praying he won’t come back. 

The tour is billed as Ash Vs The Subways, which maybe implies a competitive edge between the band and co-headliners The Subways? 

No. We just thought the ‘versus’ thing looked cool on the adverts. The two bands are very much on the same page. They’re big Ash fans, and I’ve been into The Subways since they started [in 2002]. The only competition I can imagine is that they’re so good live that they’ll keep us on our toes. 

Back in 2009 Ash played a UK tour that consisted of 26 alphabetical dates, from Aldershot to Zennor. A great, gimmicky idea on paper but how practical was the reality of it all? 

Our booking agent said it was the hardest tour he’d ever put together and it presented some challenges. It was a fun, crazy tour. Maybe I’d do it again.

Race The Night is out now on Fierce Panda. Ash’s European tour dates begin in Bedford on September 29. For full dates and tickets, visit Ash's website.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.