Two albums and a live trio in less than two years - Ash Walker isn’t doing things by halves
For an artist who only emerged with his first remix in 2015, London-based rootsical deepsmith Ash Walker has made a series of remarkable bold and prolific moves - releasing 10 singles and two albums in the space of less than two years, as well as putting together his own live trio, all. By anyone’s measure, it’s impressive.
Especially when you consider the quality and immersive allure at play. Multi-instrumentalist Ash cooks up a mystic meze where layers of flavours fuse and notes of dub, reggae, jazz, trip-hop, soul and blues blend and complement each other. Often with the gentle sorcery of his own self-made dub siren and an old Melos echo chamber, and always with the science of his previous career of studio work recording, producing and engineering for others.
You see, while he may have emerged as a solo artist only recently, Ash’s fusions have been building up internally for years. Decades, even. Brought up in a strong musical community, surrounded by soundsystem culture, Ash’s smouldering, cosmic brew has been simmering all his life. Right now - as he releases a vinyl deluxe version of his last album Echo Chamber and prepares for a summer of live gigs with his new trio, including an appearance at London’s Jazz Café - that brew is bubbling over.
So much so, that he’s already working on his third album. Even after two years of consistent output, there’s no sign of Ash slowing down. The way he describes his process and attitude, he’s only warming up. But we’re getting way ahead ourselves here. To catch Ash’s story in any level of detail, we need to track back a little…
Let’s start with the most dominant cornerstone in your music: roots...
"It’s all in my own personal roots... being around The Specials and friends of the family who run Saxon Sound growing up had a big effect on me. The Tubbys, the Jammys, the Bunny Lees. People who sculpted that early Caribbean sound where technology started to take over. That late 70s synchronicity of electronic techniques and studio tools, organic instrumentation and warm analogue sound really captivates and inspires me."
Being around The Specials?! Please elaborate!
"One of my oldest mates’ dad is the drummer. I didn’t really grow up with a father, so he was a role model to me - he was always around for us, always playing killer roots and dub. When The Specials got back together and did a few tours I got involved - I did the first tour helping out, there for moral support. But then on the second tour I was asked to bring some tunes. Felix Hall, Terry’s son, was playing the first tour but he couldn’t do the next one so I stepped in. It was a proper vibe."
That must have been quite a learning experience as a DJ?
"The first few shows were a bit scary - there were so many things that could go wrong! But you quickly learn what the crowd need and want. You got a lot of 9-5ers from the Thatcher era who want to hear the good time ska music that gets them bopping. I definitely learned loads about how to keep them bopping and keeping that hype for the main show going. But I’m learning every day."
Musically, you mean?
"I’m learning and developing in all kinds of ways, all day long! I think realising that this is what I do now, and will be doing for the rest of my life, has helped me improve and get better. Musically and at finding what my sound truly is - where I can take it, how I can take it there. I think it confuses people a little bit at the moment - everyone’s got a different way of describing it."
The major references for me are roots and trip-hop, but I’m guessing you’re too young to have grown up with trip-hop?
"Yeah I was too young for that. Besides hearing the odd Massive Attack song on the radio I wasn’t into it. I can hear the sounds of it myself, though - weirdly I’ve ended up being trip-hoppy without listening to it!"
But then with the roots and soundystems in your life as kid, you were brought up on similar sounds to the trip-hop pioneers…
"Yeah, I had an older soundtrack. My musical upbringing would have been similar to your Daddy Gs and Roni Sizes. I’ve not thought about it like that."
Whatever it is, it’s driven you to create two albums in a relatively short space of time. You were a studio engineer for a long time - was all this music building up inside you while you were working for other people?
"Definitely. I’d been writing all along, but I was doing all this studio working for other people and my friend Zeb, the Deep Heads owner, was saying, ‘Bruv, when are going to do an album for me? Do your own!’. So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got a few things lying around, let’s put it together’.
"Things picked up really naturally from there. I’m working on the third album now with some amazing collaborations. Psychedelic jazz trumpeters, crazy wild Moogs and theremins."
Yeah, we should talk about the psychedelic or mystical element of your sound. Afghanistan is a favourite for me on that tip...
"Mine, too. Afghanistan is a country that’s always amazed me. There’s a deep blues in that tune. I wrote it not long after I’d been to WOMAD and heard a lot Ethio jazz and Senegalese singers and all this stuff I’d never heard before. I wrote it thinking about being in a nice place. I asked myself where I wanted to be and thought, ‘Man, I’d love to be in Afghanistan right now’."
You seem to be in a nice place with your live trio. Represent your band!
"It’s me on keys, samples, melodica and my dub siren and echo chamber. Then there’s my good friend Tim Shackman is on drums, always with a wicked vibe, and Mark Cyril my resident bassist who’s very well-renowned as a session musician.
"And we also have Ezra Lloyd Jackson, who draws live visuals to sound with programs he’s coded so it’s all unique and reacts to what we play. He’s also made a special blend of fragrances we release to set the atmosphere. It’s really exciting, a cool little adventure for us this year with a lot of festival shows and gigs coming up, so yeah, we’re in a really nice place."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Echo Chamber (Deluxe Edition) is out now on Deep Heads. Catch the Ash Walker Trio live this summer at:
Funk & Soul Weekender, Camber Sands (12-14 May)
Bandstand, Hampstead Heath, London (11 June)
Jazz Café, London (26 July)
Secret Garden Party, Cambs (20-23 July)
Green Man festival, Brecon Beacons (17-19 August)