We’re very excited to welcome a brand new Guitar Tutor to ACM London in the form of Ben Ash – current guitarist with pioneering British grindcore/death metal band Carcass, and formerly of Pig Iron, Desolation and Liquefied Skeleton.
Ben, a former ACM student himself, was teaching guitar and uploading ‘Unsung Guitar Heroes’ videos to YouTube when Napalm Death guitarist Bill Steer came across his tribute to him and asked him to join Carcass. And he’s been touring with them ever since!
So in order to get to know Ben a little better, we thought we’d ask him a few questions about his career so far:
What have been your musical highlights?
My touring career started as a result of posting YouTube videos to promote my private teaching practice and they caught the attention of Carcass’ guitarist, Bill Steer, and vocalist/bass player, Jeff Walker. I did a study of Bill’s playing, thus leading to ‘The Call’ in 2012, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Highlights for me have been travelling the world to far and differing places, such as Japan, Australia, India, Brazil and to pretty much the entire stretch of North and South America, east to west. I’m in an incredibly unique position to do this for a living and every show and tour is a new adventure. Regardless of the size of the venue or destination, my appreciation and respect for the opportunity to perform with this great band is unlimited.
Tell us about your favourite gig that you’ve played?
For pure mass excitement and enormity, that would have to be Loud Park Festival 2013 in Tokyo. On very little sleep and with severe jetlag, this was a wonderful surprise to me and was an incredible show.
But the most emotive and notable show for me was in Paris on the ‘Deathcrusher Tour’ in November last year. It was less than a week after the tragic terrorist attacks in the capital and everyone on the party was noticeably shaken. There were thoughts that the gig would be pulled (as touring acts were cancelling their shows left, right and centre), but everyone wanted to make it happen. It ended up being a sell-out show with stellar performances from everyone, and included an ‘all star’ jam named Absolute Power – a project conceived by Shane Embury of Napalm Death and metal producer Simon Efemey, with members and crew of Napalm Death, Voivod and Obituary performing just as the power was being cut! Despite the sombre undertones due to the attacks, it felt amazing to be part of such an incredible group of people and to not give up (as other bands had) – a sentiment which rang true with the French crowd, making it a very special, unique night.
What’s the worst thing to happen to you while on stage or on tour?
Mexican water! As a rule of thumb, don’t touch it! That goes for salads or anything washed in it too. Apart from that, amps playing up, pedals not working and stage invasions are textbook practice, but what can be a concern is if a show is halted by someone getting hurt in the crowd. Luckily it’s only happened a couple of times and is dealt with pretty quickly and professionally, but it can feel like an eternity on stage. Keeping your cool and settling the crowd down is the key (which Jeff does very well).
Have you got any UK shows coming up?
Not this year, but we will be performing at Knotfest in Mexico on 16th October and we’re going back to the US to tour with Deafheaven in November. Playing the UK is a rare thing for Carcass, but when it happens, it’s usually quite the event. I have fond memories of playing the Kentish Town Forum, which is the closest we’ve ever done to a homecoming gig.
Talk us through your rig. What guitars/pedals are you using at the moment?
Gibson Explorers are my plank of choice in B concert tuning with gauges 11, 16, 22p, 32, 44, 54. It’s notable that one is set with active (81/85 EMGs) and the other (Duncan Distortion/Alnico) with passive pickups. Depending on the backline, it’s good in my opinion to have a mix of guitars for either more signal push (actives) or dynamic range (passive) as it can vary, especially on the festival circuit.
Pedals in my setup are a Morley ‘Bad Horsie’ wah wah (touch responsive, making it very gig friendly), MXR Noise Gate (for clean stop/start sections), Micro Amp (for lead/amp boost) and a Polytuner mounted on Pedaltrain.
For amps, I use the Fender EVH 5150 range. Bill and I mainly use the 50 watt heads, as they fire up harder and are a practical size to transport. We recently played the Summer Breeze festival with the 15 watt range, which was quite impressive considering the size!
Tell us about your new teaching role here at ACM London.
I’m looking to visit both the Guildford and Clapham ACM campuses to do some clinics very soon, and I’m really excited. As my touring schedule is generally quite busy, teaching is ‘as and when’ I’m available. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a tutoring role and I’ve found it to be very gratifying and fulfilling to pass on knowledge to students, and to share the enthusiasm to learn, progress and love – not just on your instrument of choice, but to expand on musical appreciation wherever you might find it.
Do you think touring the world with Carcass has prepared you for the rigours of teaching ACM students?
It’s two very different environments. What I would say is that it has enabled me to put all my own study and graft into practice on a professional level, and to hopefully convey some of that experience to the students. In teaching mode you need to be fresh-faced, well-rested and open to new challenges and ideas, with room to expand on any applied ideas and creativity. To get back into the educational role again is an exciting prospect for me – I’m looking forward to embracing it!
Do you have any advice for new students on how they should approach their course, or what they should be focusing on at this early stage of their career?
If having knowledge is power, then having contacts and being affable is the methodology. You could have the finest musical chops, but if you can’t get on with others and adapt, it’s going to be a slippery slope. The only way you’re truly going to learn from your course is by practical application – so if you get that opportunity to go to that jam night – either depping in for a fellow musician or just getting together with friends for a jam – do it… as you’ll never know where it could lead.
Plus, the most important skill you have aside from all this can be summed up in one word. Listen. Listen to your peers, your teachers, your bands (even the ones you hate)… even jingles on adverts, as you never know when inspiration will strike.
How do you think studying in London will benefit your students?
Firstly, you’re right in the thick of the city. There are shows on every night and you have public transport of all shapes and sizes throughout the hours. It’s a great place to network and integrate into whatever musical scene you wish to follow. It’s all there for the taking – you just need to reach out and grab it.
What’s your impression of ACM so far?
Well, I was a student at ACM back in 1996, in the very early days when it was down in Haydon Place in Guildford. It’s an ever-developing musical practice and the quality of its alumni speaks volumes. It changed my life with the lessons I learnt and the people I met. Without it, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. If you want to keep rocking and stay inspired, go to ACM!
Join us at ACM
If you’d like to be a student at ACM and receive tuition from amazing musicians like Ben, please call our Admissions Team on 01483 500 841 or visit www.acm.ac.uk/open-days/ to book a place on an ACM Open Day today.