Charlotte Hatherley doesn’t want to talk about Ash. It’s understandable, really. She left the band three and a half years ago, and yet it’s still all some people want to talk to her about. That’s probably because she was always such an enigma, the ice maiden of British rock. Even though she has gone on to record and release her second and third solo albums as well as becoming a thoroughly reputable touring guitarist for the likes of Bryan Ferry and Bat For Lashes, after almost a decade with the band, it appears to still smart that they asked her to leave.

But the split was expected. Hatherley had already released her début solo album Grey Will Fade while with Ash and her band mates had been initially supportive of her solo career. However, cracks emerged during the recording of 2004’s Meltdown album, which signalled a return to the band’s punk rock roots. Hatherley was unhappy with the big American rock sound the band had turned to, and eventually, early in 2006, the other three members of the band asked her to leave, citing their desire to return to their early days as a trio as the main reason for the break.

Leaving Ash

Hatherley tentatively explains: “I realised there was a massive world out there, that was the moment I realised I’d quite like to leave. It was their world, their life, I didn’t have that attachment to it. It was a natural progression and a relief, you don’t think you can function outside of the band, you put yourself in an uncomfortable position. It’s important to push yourself. I had to learn how to deal with life.”

Despite her politeness and friendliness, Hatherley is a shy and apparently uncomfortable interviewee. Although my questions are not too testing, she often umms and ahhs before offering an answer. She talks about her own record label, Little Sister Records, intelligently dissecting why the music business is in such trouble. She speaks candidly of her decision to release her latest album, New Worlds, independently rather than signing a deal, pointing out that “it’s not really worth it unless there’s money involved.” But for the much of the interview, she seems unwilling to open up.

The new Kate Bush?

She laughs when I bring up the comparison people often make of her – calling her the new Kate Bush. “Obviously that’s amazing and I’d never compare myself to Kate Bush. I don’t really care who people compare me to, it doesn’t interest me. I think what I do is very me… I don’t think it works when you try and emulate someone.”

Of her influences Hatherley speaks passionately of Bowie, of the way he constantly reinvents himself, of his theatrical influences, of the way he creates characters and personas for his performances, seemingly uncaring of what the critics or the general public will think. But also, surprisingly, she is big on 80’s acts like XTC, Television and Talking Heads. And since leaving Ash she has broadened her musical spectrum.

“Every person I’ve worked with I’ve learned from. Bat For Lashes’ theatrical stage performance. Ash was a different thing. Bryan Ferry had a real aesthetic look, he’s a real style icon.”

File sharing

When I bring up the file sharing debate that was dominating the news at the time of our interview, she is erudite and intelligent.

“It’s quite bleak in so many ways. Amazing music will suffer. Only rich kids will be able to afford to make music, as a hobby. There’s so many BRIT school middle class artists already.

“There’s no way bands can survive. But cutting off internet connections isn’t the answer. Attitudes need to change. Kids don’t realise they’re stealing from artists. The frustrating thing is the record companies should have dealt with a long time ago so there would be an easier transition.”

And Hatherley obviously feels very strongly about the way record companies treat their artists. It will be very interesting to see if she decides to sign anyone to Little Sister Records, or whether she decides to keep it for her own releases.

“Labels don’t know what the fuck they’re dealing with. Fuck the labels – it’s the artists that need to make money. I’m all for fucking record labels. I don’t expect to make any money from record sales. The only way is to tour. I’ve been touring for 12 years, I don’t want to do it any more but I have to. I can sell records directly from my website. But I can’t make living from that. Ash will always have the touring. I can make money by playing with other people.”

Moving on

Hatherley was preparing to set off on tour with Bat For Lashes when we spoke, continuing the endless cycle of releasing music and then touring it incessantly, the life she has lived since her teens. She turned thirty earlier this year and agrees that she would like to try other things than music, perhaps art, in good time. “I’m open to ideas,” she says.

And there’s a sad tinge to her voice as she admits: “I’ve been doing it for so long I kind of have to carry on.”

This article was written for TMM.