1. Although heartbreaking sadness lies at the core of the lyrics
on Lost Domain, the music is uplifting was this a conscious decision?
"I don't think I thought about it and it wasn't on purpose, but
it might have had something to do with wanting to give some power back
to my Dad you know, because he was in a hopeless situation. Like at
the end of Medicine, it does get quite anthemic and powerful. So, I
think I might have been trying to find a solution for him."
2. Did you feel the need to have some distance between finishing
the long player and releasing it, and what do your family think of the
"I finished it about a year ago actually, and it was very raw at
the time, so it was good to take a break between finishing it and the
release. As for my family, my younger Brother, Pat, he's the one I always
go to for feedback on my songs and he loved it right from the start!
I don't know what my Mum thinks of it, because it was a very hard time
for her... I think out of everyone, she has had the hardest time of
all. I've only played it to her once, but, I think she's supportive
of me doing it."
3. Is there a track that you are particularly proud of?
"I think a couple of them. The opening track, Snow In Nara, because
of the guitar playing and I also love the fact that I made an instrumental
track that was strong enough to open a record with. Just the mood of
it and there's a subtlety in the guitar playing, that I've never quite
found before. Medicine as well, it was such a hard song to write
it's almost prog rock but I got there in the end... it's like
10 minutes (laughing)!"
4. As a songwriter, what do you first listen for in a song and are you
able to enjoy listening to other artists' music without overanalysing
"I definitely analyse other artists' music, because I'm always
interested to see what I can 'pinch' (jokingly + laughing)! There's
several things that I listen for in songs, for example, with Brian Wilson,
I listen to his melodies and chords and then with people like Nick Cave,
Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, I really listen for lyrics and how they're
telling a story. Then, I listen to someone like Jimi Hendrix for his
guitar playing (laughing), and sometimes, if someone has got a beautiful
voice, that will be what I first hear. I guess when I was younger actually,
I mainly listened to the melodies, because with Nirvana, I never had
any idea what Kurt was singing or that there was a message in his songs
you know (laughing)."
5. Would you say that you're a disciplined songwriter and do you consider
songwriting to be a gift, i.e. can you sense inspiration arriving
or the channelling of ideas as some musicians describe it?
"I think once I get back into the swing of it if I haven't
done it for a while I'll usually work at it a lot, like, play
every day and try to write a song every day. So, I do get disciplined,
but that's after months of being completely ill-disciplined (laughing).
I sort of swing between the two. So to get anything done and finished,
I need to be quite strict on myself. As for 'Do I consider songwriting
to be a gift?' Sometimes songs are like a gift, but it's only when you've
been practising a lot that the gifts come. So I think hard work is the
main thing actually."
*I joke that it's a combination of inspiration and perspiration*
"Yeah (laughing), exactly!"
6. Do you hear musical parts in your head when writing + can sounds
suggest lyrical themes and help with the development of melodies etc?
"Yeah, when I'm actually writing a chord sequence, I'm always humming
melodies over it (pausing), it's also fun to record something and then
just jam over that..."
*I ask Tim if he improvises a lot when laying down ideas and if maintaining
the ambience of a room / the leakage of instruments is also
important to him?*
"Yeah, and everything starts with a bit of an improvisational stage.
I lock the melodies down, or the musical parts down, and then it's almost
impossible for me to change them afterwards. It always starts off with
a kind of freeform inspiration or exploration."
7. A number of lyricists including the Manic Street Preachers'
Nicky and Richey have written songs based around an idea that
they initially had for a title. Looking at the tracklisting for Lost
Domain, I was therefore curious to know if any of these tracks were
inspired solely by a title?
"I'm just trying to think. With Medicine, I came up with the hook
line, "Taking my medicine..." as I was writing the chord sequence.
I don't think I knew that I wanted to write a song called Medicine at
the time. But with Vigil, I knew that I wanted to write a song about
the few days we were at Dad's bedside and he was dying. So I knew with
that song, that I had to try and write it to tell that story. Therefore,
there were a few times where I had the idea first... I always find that
you'll write a song, if it's something that you want to say and you
know that it has to be said!"
8. The lyrics on your solo LP are obviously very personal, but I
wondered if over the years, you have noticed any words in your songs
which reoccur or if there are perhaps any words that you love the cadence
"Yeah, I do have a few signature words (laughing). I always like
the imagery of Summer, light and warmth I use that a lot
and I also like stars and dreams (laughing). Sometimes now though, if
I find myself using something too much, I try to cut it out or steer
away from things that I've overdone."
*I remark that in the past, Suede's Brett Anderson favoured themes of
doomed romance, city sleaze and seedy glamour. Whereas one of his contemporaries,
Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, even went as far as to title his lyrics book 'Mother,
Brother, Lover' as he has a penchant for these words*
"Yeah (laughing) and I think there comes a point for any songwriter,
where you'd be slaughtered for recycling lyrical ideas, although it
is sometimes nice to revisit old themes."
9. Do you think of words and music as interdependent?
"I think they give strength to each other. It's like with films,
moving images can become so much more powerful when they're put together
with music. And so with a song, lyrics that might not seem overly profound,
when you put an amazing chord change behind them, all of a sudden, they
can sound like they have so much meaning! So, I think words and music
can embellish each other."
10. What was the first song that you learnt all the words to off-by-heart?
"It was probably a novelty record like Star Trekkin' by The Firm
(laughing). It just had so many crazy lyrics to it, that I definitely
remember learning that one off-by-heart!"
11. Speaking about Suede prior to their reformation in 2010, Brett
Anderson said, I'd write and then Id try and sing the song
after Id written it. Now I know to write to my own voice.
Is this similar for you, to be able to use / deliver words and make
a lyric's meter scan exactly as you intend to?
"I think I've become more wary of how words rhyme and I'm sort
of conscious of how many syllables I have in a line. I try not to use
words that don't sound right syllabically (laughing). Like sometimes
with the Manics who you mentioned earlier James has to
shoehorn really long words into their songs. That's a bit of a bugbear
for me and you do have to make a lot of sacrifices, so that it's poetic.
So, I guess I am conscious of how I sing words and I'm quite particular
about that now."
12. Would you say that you write linearly or can tracks start anywhere,
and is it important to you to have unexpected twists or surprises in
your compositions, such as with Medicine?
"Let me see (thinking)... I guess I do write in a linear fashion,
because I try to find a starting point and keep going until I've said
most of what I need to say. When I wrote Medicine, I was trying to 'capture'
a lot of different moods that my Dad was going through and so I was
dramatically trying to change the song, and because there was these
big mood shifts, I could move chunks of the song around to wherever
I wanted. So, it was quite hard to edit together. But, I guess that's
different because it's an epic kind of song, compared to a more simply
structured pop song."
13. Paul Weller has talked of how he now sometimes writes lyrics
to experimental mood-pieces that he's previously composed beforehand.
But, have you noticed a development in your songwriting over the years
/ learnt many interesting methods or sonic 'tricks'?
"I've explored longer songs as I've gone along and then I've explored
more complex song structures. But, for me to sometimes get back into
doing something simple, I have to change instruments. For example, I
got a ukulele last year and by playing on that I was able to write 3
chord songs again, like really simple chord sequences. Which I just
kind of find impossible to do when I'm writing on a guitar nowadays,
because I've kind of done everything on that."
*I mention that I think Paul McCartney was inspired in a similar way
by using a ukulele, which then led to him writing Dance Tonight*
"Yeah, and I often think to myself, that I would never have written
something this simple on guitar (laughing)! It's good, and that's one
of my 'tricks' to get back to simplicity when you want to."
14. On a similar note, when asked about never showboating in The Smiths
with his skilful guitar playing, Johnny Marr said, You have to
be appropriate to the song serve the bigger picture. Is
this something that you take into consideration?
"I guess because I spend a lot of time in Ash and we're a three-piece,
when I'm singing, the guitar playing behind the vocal can't be too complex.
The only chance I get to showboat (laughing), is the solos, which I'm
quite happy to showboat on (laughs heartily)! It's different with Johnny,
because when he was in The Smiths, he could purely focus on playing
the guitar. It's funny that you should mention him though, because one
of the bonus tracks on Lost Domain, actually has Johnny Marr playing
guitar on it!"
15. What was the first studio recording that you were really pleased
"The first studio recording that I was really pleased with, I think,
were some of the demos I did with Ash in the Summer of '92. Because
we did one demo, Solar Happy, which had 6 songs and it wasn't that good
(laughing). It was like a bunch of old songs mostly leftover from our
old band and we were trying to find a new sound, and then not too long
later, we went back in and did a demo called Shed, which had Jack Names
The Planets on it. That kind of nailed our new sound and our new style,
so I remember being really happy with that."
16. As a producer yourself, when in the studio and with each new session,
do you like to always try something different with production techniques
+ are you decisive in your decision-making?
"Yeah, I LOVE production work I'm addicted to it (laughing)
and I always want to get new bits of gear you know, and try new methods.
The thing I've been doing recently, is 'The 20 Song Challenge', where
you try and write 20 songs in 12 hours (laughing)! I can only ever get
as far as 7, 8 or 9, but I've got some great stuff out of doing that...
Justin from The Vaccines told me about it. But yeah, I'm always trying
to find new methods. With decision-making, sometimes you keep working
on things even though it's done (laughing) and you put too many overdubs
and things like that on it. Usually, I try to strip things away and
keep it quite simple if I can. You have to make brutal decisions as
you go along."
*I ask Tim if he has preferred conditions / lighting to record in*
"Not really, just a quiet place where you can feel unselfconscious,
because if there were too many people around, I wouldn't be able to
relax. So yeah, I think just to have my own space and somewhere that
I can sing badly out-of-tune (laughing), or play lots of wrong chords
in the search to find something good. You know, some natural daylight
would be nice, because we haven't opened the window in our New York
studio (Atomic Heart) for years. But, I'm quite happy in a dark cave
17. A number of Lost Domain songs feature spine-tingling strings, so
can you tell us more about how these were arranged, and also, I wondered
if there are any orchestral tracks that send a shiver down your spine?
"Well, I did a few soundtracks with Ilan Eshkeri and he did the
string arrangements. Sometimes, I had a melody in mind for example
with Vigil but he had these great ideas for textures, he's amazing!
So, a lot of the time I would leave him to do his thing. It's kind of
better, because he comes up with parts that I would never have thought
of and it was so nice that he was a part of the process. With orchestral
tracks that send a shiver down my spine, Beethoven obviously (laughing),
it has a lot of beautiful melodic moments and I've always been in love
with John Barry's music like the James Bond arrangements
they're amazing! Beautiful melodies and beautiful chords."
18. As your solo songs are almost like diary entries cataloguing
your feelings even conversational in tone at times from
some of the songwriters that you admire, are there any sentimental tracks
that you find particularly moving?
"I've always loved Van Morrison, like his travelogues and all of
Astral Weeks. Leonard Cohen as well, he's definitely a lot more poetic,
but you kind of feel that he's telling you a real story from his life
a lot of the time."
19. Can you reveal any news about new Ash material, and after the 'A-Z
Series' of singles, will you be returning to the album format?
"Yeah, we will be returning to the album format. We've been doing
a lot of recording this year actually and we're pretty close to finishing
the record, so I feel like they'll be a new Ash album in Spring next
year. I think when I get back home after touring my record in November,
we'll get stuck in and finish it. We've got a lot of stuff tracked and
it's sounding really good! In terms of how it will sound, we're trying
to get the three-piece sound down on the record really well and we're
trying not to do too many overdubs. I think we're sort of picking the
songs that sound really good with just the three of us playing in a
room. So hopefully, we can actually stick to that and finish the record
without being tempted to overdub too much, because I want to have a
bit of space in there. There's a song called Cocoon, but I don't want
to give too many titles away just yet (laughing)!"
20. Lastly, are you looking forward to playing Lost Domain live?
"Yeah, I am, and I'm meeting up with the guys who will be in the
band in the next couple of days. I think Russell Lissack is going to
play guitar, Carl Dalemo who used to be in Razorlight is playing bass
and I've got a friend, Chris McComish, playing drums so it will
be a 4-piece band. I'll be switching between piano and guitar, so it
will be interesting (laughing)!"
*After our interview has finished, I thank Tim for his time and explain
how his press officer, Amanda, very kindly sent me an advance digital
version of Lost Domain the day before our chat, which I tell him I think
is a stunning piece of work and Tim is really chuffed to hear. I also
mention that coincidentally, I received my limited edition 'Cassette
Store Day' Ash A-Z compilation tape, Letters From Alphabet City, this
morning and he asks me if I'm a big record collector, which I am! :)
It was an absolute joy speaking to Tim who is such a lovely and
friendly guy and I wish him all the best with promoting and touring
his solo debut album! R*E*P*E*A*T's Editor, Rosey, also reliably informs
me that Ash are the most interviewed band in the publication's 20-year
A very special thanks to Tim, and to Amanda @ Freeman
PR, for all of their time and help.
"You Are Not Alone"