The musicians in Northern Irish punk-pop trio Ash first played together in 1989, when childhood mates Tim Wheeler and Mark Hamilton received guitars for Christmas and established a metal act named Vietnam. Following a handful of shows, Vietnam adopted the Ash moniker in 1992 and added Rick "Rock" McMurray on drums. The musicians shared a love for the raw British punk of the Buzzcocks and crafted their musical talents to take the Brit-pop scene by storm at the start of the decade. NME was soon swooning over these "teen punkers from Belfast," and by 1994, Ash had signed with Infectious Records and issued the Trailer EP.
Ash's youth was undoubtedly alluring, yet the band's Irish roots exuded a bit of American flair similar to the likes of Pavement and the Lemonheads. Wheeler, Hamilton, and McMurray weren't even out of high school before three of their singles hit the Top Five in the U.K. indie charts. A year later, Ash made their full-length debut with 1977, topping the U.K. album chart, and set their sights on America, having inked a deal with Reprise Records. Named in honor of the year Star Wars was released, 1977 displayed Wheeler and Hamilton's full-fledged love for all things extraterrestrial and science fiction-related; the record also flaunted sharp guitar hooks and exact production work by Owen Morris (Oasis, New Order, Paul Weller). Ash took to headlining major festivals -- T in the Park, Glastonbury, Roskilde, and Reading -- and playing club dates across the globe. In fall 1997, female guitarist Charlotte Hatherley was added to the previously all-male lineup, marking a change in the band's sound and image.
With a new bandmate aboard, Ash matured during the late '90s, as their sound featured heavier guitars and a gritty lyrical shift. The band's sophomore effort, Nu-Clear Sounds (1998), featured the work of Garbage's Butch Vig (Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana) at the mixing board, but it also resulted in mixed reviews. NME turned on the band, criticizing Ash's new sound, calling the band "terrifying ghoulrawk thrashnik, deathcore noiseterror sultans of satanic verse" in August 1998. Harsh words and reviews notwithstanding, Ash forged ahead with Free All Angels (released in April 2001, although it didn't even see a U.S. release until the following summer) and 2005's Meltdown, which marked the band's first stateside release for the Record Collection label. They closed the year supporting U2 on their third world tour and, soon after, Wheeler and Hamilton decided to relocate to New York while the band went on a six-month hiatus. Charlotte Hatherley announced her departure from the band one year later, having logged nearly a decade with the group.
Ash forged ahead as a trio and released Twilight of the Innocents in 2007, claiming that the album would be their last. Interestingly enough, they also assured their fans that they were not breaking up; instead, the group would only release singles in response to consumer trends. Starting in 2009, the band began the A-Z Series, releasing a new single every two weeks until all 26 singles were released. The following year they released A-Z: Vol. 1 -- which compiled singles A through M -- while A-Z: Vol. 2 completed the collection with songs N-Z a few months later. In 2011, to mark the release of their Best of Ash compilation, they were reunited with guitarist Hatherley for a short U.K. tour where they performed fan-favorite Free All Angels in its entirety.
Ash marked their 20th anniversary in 2012 with a sold-out show at the Garage in London, and they released an EP to coincide with the impressive milestone. Titled Little Infinity, the record consisted of cover versions, including the Beach Boys' "Do You Wanna Dance" and ABBA's "Lay All Your Love on Me." They continued their resurgence into 2013 with their first appearance in seven years at industry showcase SXSW in Texas, and they also played a handful of U.S. headline shows. Their busy touring schedule continued with a set of intimate shows in the U.K. before appearing at festivals at home and as far away as the 280 Festival in Jakarta. The trio kicked off 2014 with a string of shows on the West Coast of America before setting sail to perform on the Weezer Cruise. The following year they announced the release of their first full-length studio album since 2007's Twilight of the Innocents, despite their promise that it was their last. Titled Kablammo!, the record appeared in May 2015. Two years later, to mark the 20th anniversary of their debut album, 1977, the trio released Live on Mars: London Astoria 1997, a live album documenting their five-night 1997 residency at London's famed Astoria venue. ~ MacKenzie Wilson