There are so many bands that come and go that you won’t even remember them by the end of the week. Then, there are bands that stand the test of time; this is where you’ll find Wishbone Ash. Even though there have been numerous lineup changes over the years, singer/songwriter Andy Powell has been with the band since the beginning in the late 60’s. What’s even more amazing is that they have never stopped making music. Wishbone Ash released their last album “Elegant Stealth” in 2011, but they are back on the road this year touring the country. Here I talk with Andy about the latest album, the new tour, and the secret to band longevity.
Not many bands can say that they have 20 plus albums. How does it feel to have so many and do you think you guys will make it to a 30th album or even a record following this one?
Well, it's not professional sports here. I'm not tracking the score (laughs). Right now it feels really good to be living the life, producing, creating and why on earth should it stop? I feel we are much more masters of our own destiny these days. Long gone are the days of managers, agents and record labels telling us what we should or should not be doing.
Do you think Wishbone Ash will be like the Rolling Stones who are touring for their 50th anniversary? Do you think you guys will still be playing music in about 10 more years?
I’ve given up thinking about these things; retirement is not on the horizon in the slightest way. We're having too much fun. Music is life. There's no reason why we could not make it 50 years.
With so many albums and so much material to work with, how do you decide which songs you're going to do during shows?
We listen to the fans wishes. We have a very active and vocal community. Also, I listen to what the band tells me. Sometimes, they trawl through old songs and albums and if something catches their ear, then it's likely we could visualize it on stage - not always, but often. That happened recently with the song “Surface to Air.” Muddy Manninen suggested that one, and we are loving playing it on stage. The original band never played it back in the day.
A popular trend for shows seems to be to perform one album in its entirety at a particular show. If you could do that with one of your albums, which would it be?
Well currently on tour, we are playing the entire “Argus” album which seems to go down great. It's quite possible we could take another one like say, “New England.”
What keeps you guys making new music for so long when so many newer bands can't seem to stay together long enough to have three albums?
Innovation. We are healthy band in our outlook, constantly producing new music and recording DVD's, live albums - you name it. We have an excellent work ethic. I insist on this and I keep negative influences out of the mix.
It took two years to write this album. Is the songwriting process usually this long or was this something different for this release?
Well, actually, the songs were written for the most part, very quickly, I mean in a few weeks, and the basic tracks were recorded in 10 days. The vocals were done at my place in Connecticut in under a week. It was the eventual overdubs and mixing that took time. We had to fit things in between our crazy tour schedule.
Did it make the songwriting process any easier or more difficult?
The songs came very quickly. In some cases, like with the song “Man With No Name,” we completely reworked it's direction from an upbeat, almost funk track to a slow, powerful ballad. Leaving time in the production process is very important. We did not always have that luxury back in the day.
At the shows you're doing now, do you see younger people in the crowd? How does that make you feel?
We do - particularly in Germany, for some reason. It feels just great. I love it that young rock audiences are enjoying our material.
You've been with the band since the beginning. How does it feel to witness the group going through so many different formations with the lineup changes over the years?
It's very interesting. You got to play with some great musicians without actually having to join another band, speaking for myself.
Do any of these experiences influence your songwriting in anyway?
If I am working with somebody fresh they will bring their ideas to the table. It's a very democratic band. Sometimes we bring in outside influences- for example on the last album an old friend and guitarist, Pat Mc Manus wrote the song “Can't Go It Alone” which actually sums up what I'm talking about.
The album is great; I really enjoyed the song “Can't go it Alone” because it has this hard edge sound, but it's very organic sounding. It sounds like it's just the band playing their instruments and singing without any sort of technology to make them sound better. How do you feel about the state of today's music relying more and more on technical programs like autotune and protools to perfect sounds? Are you adverse to these types of techniques?
There you have it. The album was recorded very organically. I am not adverse to new technology, in fact I embrace it. It just has to be used judiciously in pursuit of the particular artistic endeavor. That is to say, the song itself.
I like that your music has this sound that is now considered classic rock. Sometimes it sounds like it comes from the 70s era of rock, but it doesn't sound dated, if that makes sense. Was this the sound you were going for? Do you want to take people back to this era and maybe show a younger crowd how music used to be?
We're not a nostalgia act but the roots that we laid down in the 70's go deep and they themselves harkens back to an earlier era. I think we stay true to our roots but we are also not afraid to be completely contemporary when called for. We use vintage guitars and vintage amps and in that way I suppose we are showing people how things used sound but then again, everything is retro in fashion now. It's like all clothing is distressed, jeans, shoes, furniture. It's almost as if our culture believes that what was was more valid than what is. I'll take it though - no worries. We just do what we do.
With all the use of technology in music now, is there any band out there now that you think is really good or that you listen to frequently?
My kids turn me on to bands like MGMT who I like very much. I check out what people like Bonamassa are doing - Black Country Communion and muscle bands like that. To be frank, rock music is not really somewhere that I turn to for inspiration. Half the time I hear that stuff and think we could do it better but that's another story (laughs).
When do you and the other members of the band decide it's time to record a new album? Is it a mutual thing? Does it depend on the number of years since the last album or is it just when you feel like it?
A bit of both really. We like to 'feed the beast' - our fan community at large. After all, as I always say, it's the songs that drive this machine but also we instinctively know when it's time to produce. It's a balance; the road versus the studio and ideally you like a bit of both.
A lot of the songs on this album feel almost like a jam session. There are some lyrics, but most of the songs seem like it’s just instrumental, like you guys were just having such a good time in the studio you kept playing. Was this intentional?
In some ways it was intentional. We wanted to make an album which was a true group effort so we got together in the rehearsal space, an old manor in Normandy, France and we jammed. You can witness all this on the rockumentary “This is Wishbone Ash.”
Some people say when writing songs the music is first and the lyrics are secondary. Would you agree with that?
There's no set pattern with us. It can be lyrics first or it can be music first. What is for sure is that each has to fit right with the other.
What's next for you and Wishbone Ash? Do you guys already have another album planned? What's next after the tour?
We go to some interesting locales for yet more gigs; France, Turkey and Poland where the audiences are rabid for our music, I have to say, and then we'll take some more time out to write. We are already developing new material. The summer usually features festival action for us in far flung places like this year, Croatia and then last year it was Japan. You never know what'll come down the pike.
Wishbone Ash recently made a stop near Chicago in Berwyn, Illinois, but you can still catch them on tour. Their next stop is two dates in Alberta, B.C on March 16 and 19, one which will feature the album “Argus” in its entirety. To keep up with Wishbone Ash or to buy their latest album “Elegant Stealth,” visit their official website.