Tim Wheeler
Lost Domain / UK Tour
November 2014
Interview: Steve Bateman

"You can trace the roots of Tim Wheeler’s extraordinary first solo album, Lost Domain, back to when he was a boy in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. His father, George, would come home from work and unwind by playing the family piano, singing songs to Tim and his three siblings. That’s what originally made Tim want to take up the piano. Which led him to the guitar, which in turn led to the formation of a band, Ash, with two school friends. Before Tim even turned 21, Ash had enjoyed a Number One album and become the youngest act to headline Glastonbury Festival. George took to visiting record shops and putting Ash’s albums at the front of the racks. “He was almost embarrassingly proud of me,” says Tim now. Tim left Northern Ireland ­ first for London, then for New York ­ but his tight bond with the father more than 40 years his senior remained. “My dad was such a smart and principled man,” he says. “And he was always there for me. We were super close.” Not surprisingly then, George’s rapid descent into dementia knocked his son sideways. “He’d always been such a together man,” says Tim. “It was bewildering to see him with Alzheimer’s. This extremely rational person, starting to see things that weren’t there and becoming very paranoid. It was awful watching him deteriorate.” After six desperate months in a dementia ward, George passed away in 2011, with his devastated wife and children at his bedside. Afterwards, hit by waves of emotion, Tim attempted to deal with his grief the only way he could: by writing about it. “I was trying to process what had happened,” he says. “In a way, despite what it’s about, this album was quite easy to write, because I felt I needed to write it.”


Lost Domain, then, is an album in which Tim battles to come to terms with his loss. Over 11 songs, the record charts his father’s slide into illness, his death and the tumultuous effect that it had on Tim, his life, and his relationships. “I realised it would take a full album to get across all that I wanted to say,” he says. But while this is a brutally open and sometimes stark record, it’s not a maudlin one. In fact, throughout the album, moments of joy and hope shine amidst the heartache and sorrow. As in Vigil, an enormously touching song which documents George’s final moments, but also celebrates the strength and closeness of Tim’s family. “It was a really hard time,” he says. “But it was a beautiful time as well.” The music, too, is less sparse than you might imagine for an introspective solo record. Emboldened by his celebrated recent soundtrack work ­ most notably for Mat Whitecross’s Ashes film and Fleming TV series ­ this is some of the richest and most accomplished music that the Ivor Novello­winning musician has made. “There are really big emotions in this record,” he says. “So at times I knew I wanted the music to feel really big too.” And so it does. String sections, horns and electronics all combine to add to Lost Domain’s emotional wallop. Indeed, the two instrumental tracks ­ bluesy opener Snow In Nara and the jazz­tinged, 5/4­signatured Vapour ­ are among its most affecting moments. But perhaps the most moving song of all is the album’s epic centrepiece, Medicine. “I started that one day when I’d been to visit my dad in hospital, and seen him in a way I’d never seen him before. A year later I ended up spending three or four days in my apartment, hardly leaving the place, trying to get down that whole experience onto the page. It was quite a painful song to write.” The result is a 10­minute soundtrack to a harrowing hospital drama that plays in your head. The song is built around the same repeated chord sequence, but with a sonic mood which swings wildly, in time with that of George. The string arranger’s assistant wept when she first read the lyrics.

Although Ash are very much still a going concern ­ they’ve toured Asia and North America this year and new material is in the pipeline for 2015 ­ Lost Domain was always going to be a solo record. “Rick and Mark have been very supportive,” says Tim. “I think they understood that this was something I needed to do by myself.” Tim recorded the album at his own expense in Ash’s New York studio. He played almost everything, roping in musician friends when he needed a hand: Andy Burrows (ex­Razorlight) and Fred Aspelin (Alberta Cross) each played some drums; Ilan Eshkeri and Oliver Kraus helped with the string and brass arrangements which were performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra; Leanne Macomber from Ejecta and Neon Indian sang; and Moon Hooch’s Wenzl McGowen played saxophone after they met on the New York subway. There’s even a sample of Tim’s dad’s piano playing in Medicine. Now, Tim is ready to put the album out there to the world with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Alzheimer’s Society. “I do feel a bit nervous about it being released, because it is very bare and open,” he says. “But I think it’s something that everyone will relate to, and hopefully find some beauty in.” Certainly, Lost Domain is an album of rare power and heart. The work of a richly talented songwriter and musician, putting everything into a record that means so much to him, and which he couldn’t help but make. Whatever the album’s reception, simply making it has clearly been worthwhile for Tim. “It’s definitely helped me understand what I went through,” he says. “I’m glad I documented it. It was a very cathartic process. And I hope my dad would’ve been touched by it.” That much is a given. No doubt many others will be too." OFFICIAL BIOG

Ahead of the release of Tim Wheeler's debut solo album and UK Tour in early November, I was fortuitous enough to have the opportunity to speak to him over the telephone during his short promo trip to England. As an interviewee, Tim was wonderful company and very personable, listening intently to all of my questions and giving considered and thoughtful answers about his overwhelming love for music and songwriting, which with Lost Domain, has resulted in an indescribably beautiful, sensitive and touching tribute to his late Father..

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

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 record?
"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 it?

"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 of?
"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 I’d try and sing the song after I’d 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 with?

"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 (laughing)!"

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 history!*

A very special thanks to Tim, and to Amanda @ Freeman PR, for all of their time and help.




"You Are Not Alone"

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?