Ash Flow

Irish rockers plug into the electronica-powered Area 2 tour.

AREA 2 TOUR

FEATURING ASH, DAVID BOWIE, MOBY, BUSTA RHYMES, AND OTHERS

Gorge, 628-0888, $63

4 p.m. Fri., Aug. 16

Excluding the not-bald/not-short half of the Moby/David Bowie-hosted Area 2 tour, Ireland's Ash is the only act on the bill that could genuinely be termed "a rock band." But that doesn't seem to worry group frontman Tim Wheeler.

"I actually prefer it," says the 25-year-old, whose current tourmates include a slew of DJs and electronic artists. "I think our music is universally appealing because it's just good songs, so, hopefully, people will dig on that. I like the eclectic nature of it as well. It's more of a European thing, having such a diverse bill, really."

On Ash's latest album, Free All Angels, Wheeler does nick a few samples of his own—he admits affection for both Dr. Dre and laptop computer programs—but keeps enough of the Buzzcocks-meets-Beach-Boys vibe of earlier Ash efforts to appease the band's rockist audience.

Angels—ironically enough, released on the dance-oriented Kinetic imprint in the U.S.—marks the band's third American label in as many albums. Despite producing three excellent discs in a row—starting with 1996's 1977—Ash has yet to make a serious dent in the U.S. market.

"At DreamWorks [which released 1998's Nu-Clear Sounds], we started talking about making Free All Angels," recalls Wheeler. "Someone sat us down and played us a Papa Roach video, saying, 'Look, this is what's happening in America. I don't know if you should even bother concentrating over here.' So that's what we were up against, really."

Nu-Clear Sounds was a darker (albeit terrific) rock album, owing as much to the Velvets and Stooges as to Brian Wilson and the Ramones. "It was sort of like Lou Reed following Transformer with Berlin . . . or shooting yourself in the foot," laughs Wheeler. "I think we exorcised all our demons on that one!" Coming after the power pop of 1977, the disc was a critical and commercial failure in the U.K. as well, nearly destroying the band's career. Fortunately, Free All Angels—released in Europe last year—has managed to put Wheeler and crew back at the top of the British charts, thanks to a succession of hit singles.

"It was a hard fight," the singer acknowledges. "I actually think it's much harder trying to make a comeback than being a new band—trying to get that attention for the first time. So it was a bit tough. But it's also very satisfying, especially when you realize that all our contemporaries—all those Britpop bands—almost none of them exist anymore. I think that kinda says something."

The intention behind Free All Angels was to make a "summer album" like those from the golden rock days of yore. "We set out to make a real 'feel good' album," explains Wheeler. "Most of the British music when we went in to start recording was very melancholic and downbeat and depressing. So we really wanted to be the opposite of all that." Indeed, one track, "Pacific Palisades," even name-checks all things Beach Boys, including the Wilson brothers and, er, Sharon Tate.

"I'd read about Dennis Wilson hanging out with Charles Manson and all that. So that's about the darker side of the Beach Boys music, really. I'm a big Brian Wilson fan, of course."

Ask Wheeler his other songwriting influences beyond Brian, and he's quick to reply: "Oh, obviously I grew up with the Beatles. That's just ingrained in me—that whole great pop sensibility with all that amazing energy. And I love the Rolling Stones. And Kurt Cobain. And Teenage Fanclub. Basically just anyone with energy and good melodies."

Which may or may not explain the recent 100th issue cover of the British rock magazine MOJO, on which Wheeler— flipping the bird at the camera and sporting an "I Hate the Beatles" T-shirt—was sandwiched between Sir Paul McCartney and the Rev. Al Green.

"It was a bit of a joke on the part of MOJO, really," Wheeler laughs. "Because you know, all those photos were shot separately over a few months and then spliced together. And yeah, so they put me right beside Paul!"

He laughs harder. "He must've been like, 'Who the fuck is this young whippersnapper?' The shirt was meant to be ironic. But you know, I heard that Al Green was more pissed off about being between me and Lemmy [who also greeted the photographer with a middle finger salute] than Paul was about being beside me."

Which—to use Wheeler's earlier parlance—kinda says something as well.

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