Interview Tim Wheeler: Taking On The Pixies

We grab a few minutes to chat with Wheeler, courtesy of the JD Set.

There’s that scene in Purple Rain, you know the one, where Prince runs in late to a rehearsal with The Revolution, throws on his guitar and immediately cracks on with a slice of pop perfection. And everyone knows that’s an impossibility, I don’t care how talented you are, all band rehearsals are destined to be shambolic, noodling affairs, where the guitarist spends twenty minutes practising his new ‘hopping from one foot to the other’ technique, whilst the drummer works on their best impression of Animal from the Muppets, with each band member seemingly playing a different song at the same time. All the while, everyone tries their best to ignore the smell of mould radiating from the walls and the sound of some heavy metal band below thrashing their way through some terrible Sabbath cover emanating through the floorboards.

But Tim Wheeler appears to have not received this memo. Instead, he is literally introduced to the other members of his new supergroup (The Crookes), right in front of us as the rehearsal begins. There is no mouldy stench, rather an altogether more civilised mix of pringles, carrot sticks and humus. Still, this has the makings of a terrible idea, surely? After all, you can’t just rock up and rock out if you’ve not so much as met before.

Fortunately, we’re not re-enacting that scene from the Oliver Stone Doors movie, where Jim Morrison wonders in and announces he’s got some lyrics and Ray Manzarek starts playing ‘Light My Fire’ right there on the spot, it’s nothing that unbelievable. Newly acquainted they may be, but everyone involved knows the songs that they’re rehearsing already. For Wheeler has put together some of his favourite bands to play a night of some of his personal hero’s greatest hits, and is going to charm us all with a night of Pixies covers, all bought to your eardrums courtesy of the JD Set.

Luckily for us, before all this kicks off and we’re subjected to what by rights should be terribly under rehearsed versions of ‘Wave of Mutilation’ and ‘Here Comes Your Man’, but which instead turn out to be straight outta the aforementioned Prince school of implausible brilliance, we grab a few minutes to chat to Wheeler, whilst he still has a voice left.

So, obvious question first, what inspired your choice of artist for this evening?
I always loved the Pixies so much, and I was asked to do the show and I could pick any band, and any album, I wanted. So I guess, there’s a big stack of stuff I really loved, but they’re probably the band with the most great songs, you know. That I can think of, anyway, who are still roughly contemporary. I didn’t want to go back to the sixties or seventies, so I kind of went back to the late eighties and arrived in the mid nineties, and then thought it would be good to team that up with bands of now.

Was there anyone other artist you were tempted by, or was it a foregone conclusion?
I was thinking about Nirvana, and I do love Nirvana too, but vocally there’s probably a bit more versatility with the Pixies. Kurt’s really hard shoes to step into. Frank Black’s really hard shoes to step into too, but I think he has as much talking as he does screaming, and as much normal singing too, whereas Kurt’s full blasting so… and I guess he’s a little more sacred, because he’s dead. Ash have done a Nirvana cover before, we did ‘Blew’, you realise as you’re doing it that it’s not as hard as you thought it would be. It’s just for fun, and it’s going to be one night and it’s going to be a real laugh. People are always going to be precious about stuff too, you’ve got expect that.

It works both ways though, wasn’t there a bit of an outcry when Annie Lennox covered ‘Shining Light’?
A lot of our fans are funny about that, but for me, it was like hearing one of our songs from a different perspective for the first time, so it was really cool. And she’s a legend!

One of your JD Set guests for the night is Emmy The Great – didn’t she also cover ‘Burn Baby Burn’ as a b-side?
Yeah! I did listen to her cover, and I thought it was funny because she interjected some really cheeky lyrics in there, and I thought it was really cool. I couldn’t tell if she was taking the piss out of us or if it was affectionate. But either way, it was really cool. That’s one of the great things about her. But you know, we’re always psyched when people cover us. I think most musicians are really insecure, so it’s the ego boost more than the royalties that means more.

You know, Frank Black’s been taking on a producer’s role lately (having produced the last Art Brut album and their forthcoming release), any temptation to work with him and find out what he thinks about your homage?
Is he? That’s amazing, that’s a really good idea! I don’t know though, I think I’d be too intimidated to work with him. I’ve met him a few times, and I think he’s a bit of a shy guy and I’ve always felt a bit intimidated meeting him, so we’ve never really had a great meeting of minds, you know. I’ve no idea of what he thinks about what we’re doing with the JD Set. Thinking about it, maybe he’d just be happy? You never know…

So whilst you’re busy putting together this night, what’s next for Ash? Having said you’re not releasing any more albums, does that mean there’s a full stop there?
We’re taking a break at the moment, because it’s only been a couple of months really since we finished our singles compiliation, so we’re just sitting back and taking a brain rest until the summer, when we’ll be playing some festivals, and then we’ll think about what to do creatively after that. It was really fun, what we just did. We’re not doing any of the big festivals this time, because we did the big ones last year – T in the Park, Reading, Leeds, Glastonbury, Bennicassim, Fuji Rock, so all I know is it won’t be any of those ones. So we’re looking at some of the smaller festivals.

Like Jersey Live? When you played there on your A-Z tour, you really smashed it, apparently?
That’d be great! I’d love to do that, we had a brilliant show in Jersey! We played their Halloween night last year, and it was fucking amazing. So if anyone from Jersey Live is listening…

Finally, if you could create any supergroup, living or dead, to do a night of Ash covers, who’d you have in your dream team?
Ooh, definitely Grohl playing drums… I’d love that. And Russell from Bloc Party…

No, no, you can’t have Russell, he’s already playing with Ash these days!
Yeah, that is cheating, but he knows the songs! Okay, I’d have Freddie Mercury on vocals, that’d be hilarious to hear that. And someone like Mick Ronson, who played with Bowie in the Spiders from Mars, and… maybe JJ Burnel from The Stranglers? No, no, who’s got a really dirty bassline? Let’s have the Nirvana rhythm section! So, Dave and Krist from Nirvana, Mick Ronson on guitar and Freddie Mercury on vocals. Actually, that sounds terrible, this is a horrible idea. Let’s stop it right now!

Tim Wheeler, along with Emmy The Great, And So I Watch You From Afar, Ma Mentor and The Crookes will pay tribute to The Pixies at the JD Set on the 24th March 2011 at XOYO.

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