Liverpool's Andy Ash has been quietly turning out a stream of percussion-heavy house music in various styles for over a decade. Harold Heath finds out more…
Andy Ash has released his percussion-heavy take on house music on labels including Still Love For Music, On The Prowl and People Must Jam, as well as dropping a well-received EP on Delusions of Grandeur last year. He makes a broad range of house music, sometimes delving into disco and downtempo chuggers as well as deep house and more techno-influenced jams.
This month, he returns to Delusions Of Grandeur with a superb dancefloor-targeted three-track EP entitled Unconscious Therapy. So we took the opportunity to quiz him about his production style.
First off, how has lockdown been treating you?
“Despite everything, it’s been okay thanks – I actually work in education so I’ve been pretty busy the whole time. I’ve really enjoyed working from home a lot more. Saying that, like most people, I’m looking forward to being able to go out and meet friends again and to travel beyond a few miles of where I live!”
You’ve kept a reasonably low profile over the last decade, so for any readers who might not be familiar with your work, tell us who you are and what you do!
“Well, it’s pretty simple really – I make music and paint, among other things. I started DJing and producing music around 2000/2001 and have never really looked back. Back then I also used to paint weird characters and paste them up in places, I stopped doing that for quite a while but then just felt the urge to paint again several years ago. I was also lucky enough for some labels to put their faith in me fairly early on and had some music out on Still Love4Music back in 2008, which really kicked things off for me.”
Have you deliberately kept a low profile – letting the music do the talking?
“Ha! Good question – I’m not really sure, to be honest. I tend to just go with the flow and see what happens. But I’ve certainly never had the desire to get heavily into self-promotion or anything like that.
“I understand why people do it, but for me it’s important that my output makes people want to look and listen, and it’s up to me to put the work in to making something of quality that people think is worth it. I think too often now, the quality of music is judged simply by its popularity. For example, do record sales directly relate to quality? Or is there something more than that? For me, there is…”
You make a broad range of house music, from low-tempo disco jams to deep house to acid house and beyond. But there’s something that underpins all of it, some kind of essence of Andy Ash – could you put what it is into words?
“Not really! I guess it probably comes down to my methods of production. Although I have obviously learned a lot over the past 10-15 years, there are likely to be stylistic things about the way I go about creating and arranging sounds that remain as a constant.
“It probably also reflects my tastes in music. I buy a lot of records and my collection is pretty broad-ranging – from obscure jazz to techno and beyond.”
You’ve done a similar thing on the latest Delusions of Grandeur EP – it features three quite different sounding tracks. Was that deliberate or just how things turned out?
“I would say it's partly deliberate but also partly an outcome of going with the flow. I enjoy listening to and buying records that have some variety, and the same goes for DJs as well. But it’s important that there is a sort of thread that connects the tracks on a record as well – something that makes them fit together. It doesn’t always turn out like that, of course – it’s not the easiest thing to achieve. But I'm really happy with this latest release on Delusions. Jamie who runs the label is also great to work with, and really supportive with helping put tracks together.
“I would also add that I make loads of different music – everything from hip-hop to house, and then just weird stuff. This is almost like practice for me, an exercise in creativity, and this probably filters through to my releases in some way.”
And talking of being deliberate – how much of your productions are the result of deliberate planning and how much do ‘happy accidents’ play a part?
“I very rarely plan what I am going to make, so I guess ‘happy accidents’ is a fairly good description! It’s often a process of playing around – just playing with sounds and feelings until it moves me in some way. In fact, I often find that when I do try to plan something, it just comes out a bit flat.
“You do have to be careful though. There’s something I’ve heard of called ‘the Ikea effect’ that I’m sure other producers can relate to. It basically refers to the idea that if you’ve invested time into making something, you will struggle more to judge its quality. Like flat- pack furniture. I often get over-excited right when I have just made something, so I now put it away and listen to it in a week, a month, etc. Just to sort of double-check myself.”
How did you hook up with Delusions of Grandeur originally?
“I'd been through a long period of not releasing anything, and not wanting to release anything. Then I just sort of got the urge again and asked Ben Sun to put me in touch with them, which he kindly did, so we just went from there really. I've been a huge fan of the label since it started – I have a large section of my collection which are all DOG releases. I’m so happy to be a part of it now – it’s a big deal for me!”
You did your own artwork for this release, is that right?
“Yes. The music and art are just other ways of expressing myself really. For me, painting and music are much deeper modes of expression and I just enjoy it.”
And tell us about the tracks on the new EP, what were you aiming for?
“I wanted to make some deeper, more stripped-back stuff, which I guess two of the tracks are. As a DJ, there are certain records that I've never stopped playing: they’re not ‘big’ records, just ones that are a pleasure to play. I guess I was aiming for that sort of thing. I’ll let others be the judge as to whether I achieved that! But I’m really pleased with it… I’m just looking forward to being able to play/hear it on a big soundsystem now!”
Moving on to your productions more generally, one of their defining features is the intricate percussion. Tell us a bit about that…
“Erm... I like beats?! I sometimes think I’m guilty of over-using drums in my productions actually. Saying that, the intricacy comes from me really wanting to create a flow to my tracks – it’s so easy nowadays to make a four-beat loop and just use that in and out for a whole track.
“That’s simple. A robot could do it. So I'm looking for a sound with the drums that is a response to the flow and arrangement of the track in a human way. Trying to find the right place between a danceable groove and keeping it interesting. I don’t measure beats and bars or anything like that. It’s actually something I am exploring more and more now. I feel I should add that I definitely don’t always get it right, though!”
How do you feel about your back catalogue when you look back at your work from the last 10 years?
“Mixed feelings, ha ha! I look back and rediscover tracks I made years ago that I’m still really pleased with. Equally, there are some which I can hear obvious production errors, or that I just don’t think I should have put out really. I guess that’s just a part of progressing as a producer – you learn from your mistakes.”
What one piece of studio equipment could you not live without?
“This is a weird answer, but my record collection! I use a lot of samples in my music, therefore I would consider my music collection as the most vital part of my studio. It’s almost a library of inspiration and ‘sample-able’ sounds. Without out it I would really struggle! Second to that, it would be the Juno 106 which is such a versatile synth.”
Is there anything in your studio that you really don’t get on with but keep because it sounds great?
“Not really. The closest thing to that would be my Korg Poly-800 – I find it really hard to program. Mark E often posts videos of himself using it and I’m always really jealous of how easy he makes it look!”
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you wish I had?
“I don’t think so. Not unless you want to talk about the philosophy of education, ha ha!”
Erm… perhaps later! So last question, then: what plans do you have for the coming year?
“I guess it depends on when/how things open up again. I really want to do some sort of exhibition of my paintings and maybe integrate music into the mix somehow. Not sure yet. And more music of course!”
Words: Harold Heath
Andy Ash’s Unconscious Therapy EP is available now on Bandcamp