Ben Ash – "I was too nice to be a 'bad boy', but too bad to be a normal guy."
It's very strange, but I still remember hearing 'Phantom of the Opera' by Iron Maiden on a Lucozade advert and at the same time really digging the Jive Bunny and the master mixers mash-ups of old 1950's rock n roll.
My mum was the person who encouraged me to listen to music, we used to watch Top of the Pops together and I remember loving everything about it. My first exposure to death metal was hearing Cannibal Corpse on the movie Ace Ventura and being really into it. As a teenager, Mum used to go to car boot sales and pick up a selection of death metal tapes and bring them home for me. Unknowing to her, selections like 'The End Complete (Obituaty), 'Spiritual Healing' (Death) and 'Symphonies of Sickness' (Carcass) were amongst the selection and all classics.
On the strength of the opening Riff to 'Live Wire' by Motley Crüe, I wanted to play guitar, so much so that my first book I ever bought was '25 great Van Halen Guitar Solo's', not the songs, just the solos. I had no idea what a chord was because all I wanted to play was solos!
My Grandad Jim Ash (RIP) enrolled me at a music college, which is where I met Bruce. After graduating with a Higher Diploma, I was on my own, painfully naïve and didn't realise that now was the time to put the work in. I ended up working in a garden centre, and also working at an off-licence and various other retail jobs and I felt like I had no direction. I found it difficult to understand why I was not yet successful so I started to make YouTube video's to promote myself as a tutor. One of the topics was 'Unsung Guitar Heroes' who were not in the spotlight and putting my spin on what made them great in my opinion.
During this period, Jeff Walker (vocals/bass player for Carcass) saw one of my videos that I had made on Bill (Steer, guitarist for the band).The band was going through a line-up change, and looking for a new guitarist. They got in contact with me and I played with them a few times in rehearsals. After a while, I realised I had got the gig, even though no one actually told me directly.
So, I was now playing shows across the UK and America to crowds of 15,000+ people and the first year was truly stunning. However, the rock n roll lifestyle came at a price. My friends back at home were no longer inviting me to events because of my new behavior. I was too nice to be a 'bad boy', but too bad to be a normal guy. I soon realised that I was drinking too much and my health was suffering. I developed a severe case of Alopecia through stress, as well as other health issues leading to me being truly unhappy. I also realised that even though I was there in body, my mind was elsewhere, meaning that I was not actually in the room.
Due to these issues and others, after 5 years, I decided to leave Carcass for my own well being. I decided to come away from the touring circuit to get back into an education role after contacting Bruce who informed me about the developments of what is now WaterBear | the College of Music and focus on study, as well as individual music projects. I had no other band to go to so this was a massive decision. This had done a full circle – I came into a massive band from nothing and I'd left a massive band back to nothing. I needed to regroup and rebuild myself and karma was to be on my side after the storm.
Halfway through the course another gig came up, with Norwegian Black Metal band Satyricon. At this point, I'd decided that I'd been there and got the T-shirt with touring and was trying to change my life. The universe had other ideas. I was invited back to the touring cycle with another well-established extreme metal band that was of the same generation as Carcass but from a different genre. In between gigs and rehearsals I worked on finishing up my Masters dissertations, which was very challenging, but without it, I doubt I would have taken the gig (or any other for that matter) due to my fractured mindset.
But here I am now, I have got my health back, finished my Masters, played main support to Slayer with BOTH Carcass and Satyricon. What next? With more balanced experiences under my belt, I am going to pursue practicing as a current musician, not a 'has been'. I feel very fortunate that despite the ups and downs I traveled the world, met/worked with some of my childhood heroes and with a firm foot forward in the future. As I say to everybody, keep rocking, stay inspired, be safe and never be afraid.