Ash’s Tim Wheeler shines in face of changing music industry 

click to enlarge Ash
  • courtesy photo
  • Tim Wheeler of Northern Ireland’s Ash is doing well with his own studio in New York City.

It was odd, Northern Irish rocker Tim Wheeler noticed, how an artist makes an album in virtual seclusion, then releases it uncertain of its sales. A poor reception is bad enough. But a good reception?

Even worse, says the Ash bandleader, 37, who plays in The City today.

“Because you get filled with confidence, and that’s when you want to keep on recording,” Wheeler says.

Wanting to get feedback as he worked, he initiated a $20 yearlong subscription model with a new song every two weeks — now repackaged as Ash’s “The Complete A-Z Series,” featuring 27 singles, 20 bonus tracks, and a covers EP, “Little Infinity.”

In the process, he also started collecting recording equipment on eBay, which he shipped from London to an old hip-hop studio called the Firehouse that he purchased in Manhattan, N.Y.

He rechristened the building Atomic Heart and launched his own imprint, also dubbed Atomic Heart, to release any spontaneous future Ash sessions. He permanently relocated to New York, as well.

“I’d always dreamed of having a studio, so it’s great to finally have a home base,” says the self-producing guitarist-vocalist, who shares his space with popular engineer Claudius Mittendorfer.

“You need one nowadays because I foresaw a time when we would be working without a label,” Wheeler says. “And I wanted to be able to keep making new music, no matter what.”

He even declared that Ash would never release another album proper again.

“Now, I kind of regret saying never because we’re currently working on new material, and I don’t know what format it’ll take,” he says. “But the industry keeps on changing — every four months it’s completely different.”

Subscribers were delighted with “A–Z,” Wheeler reports, because they were bombarded with free extra cuts, plus surprise Ash takes on David Bowie’s “Teenage Wildlife” and ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love On Me.” He also has stayed busy with side projects, including collaborations with his now-ex-girlfriend Emma-Lee “Emmy the Great” Moss and composing string-based film scores for “Spike Island,” the Ian Fleming TV docudrama “Fleming” and Ray Winstone’s “Ashes.”

When Wheeler first noticed CD sales dropping dramatically in 2004, he was worried. Now, he’s quite confident.

“It’s amazing to take what was your main source of income out of the whole equation, and still be able to make a living at this,” he says. “So I feel very, very lucky.”

IF YOU GO

Ash

Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.

When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $15 to $17

Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.snagtickets.com

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Tom Lanham

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