Listen: Tim Wheeler 'Lost Domain' album stream
Tim Wheeler makes his solo debut with 'Lost Domain', a collection of songs chronicling his father's battle with Alzheimer's Disease. It's a serious subject, he tells Lauren Murphy, but it's not necessarily a downbeat album . . .
Tim Wheeler: "While there are songs about loss, they're also about how much I loved my dad"
Many artists peddle what they describe as 'heart-on-sleeve' records, but when you hear Tim Wheeler singing about being in the dementia ward and holding his late dad's hand in the wee hours, it's on another plane of intimacy. Hitherto known as frontman of Downpatrick rockers Ash, Wheeler makes his solo debut with Lost Domain, a collection of songs chronicling his father's battle with Alzheimer's Disease and how it affected his family. Yet while it's a serious subject, but it's not necessarily a downbeat album.
"While there are songs about loss, they're also about how much I loved my dad and celebrating the closeness of my family, too," says Wheeler. "There was strength during that hard time, as well. It's a really complex feeling – so yeah, it can be both sad and powerful and epic and uplifting, too. I've gotten a really good response, even this early on.
"People have been saying that they've been through similar things, losing a parent or someone that they loved and the songs really moved them. It's really nice to hear."
Although some friends gave a hand here and there, Wheeler played almost all of the instruments on the album, which was recorded in his Manhattan studio. "Some of the recordings are actually quite simple, if you take the strings off it; some of them, there's not actually that much going on, but the strings give it a big sound," he says. "I'm pleased to be able to keep things simple. Medicine was bloody complicated, though – I'm trying to figure out how to play it live. That was definitely the hardest I've worked on any song, ever."
Medicine is one of the most personal songs on the album for more than one reason: it features a sample of Wheeler's father playing piano.
"There's a breakdown about two-thirds into the song where you just hear me on piano, and I'm singing about the experience of when they brought a piano into the ward - someone had donated it," he recalls. "My mum was telling me how she'd take dad to sit and play, so the next time I was in to visit him we went and tried to play a bit of music together. It was strange because he couldn't really play any songs anymore, but he was enjoying the sounds that he was making. It was kind of strange ambient music, because we just left the sustain pedal ringing, and we were playing sparse notes. But it was nice to have a moment of musical communication with him, and I recorded it, so I was able to slot it in as a texture."
The album was beginning to coalesce when he participated in a gig in Belfast not long after his dad's passing in 2010. Organised by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, whose own father suffers from the disease, it was in aid of the Alzheimer's Society and a portion of the profits of Lost Domain will also go to the charity.
"Seeing a loved one with Alzheimer's is a very helpless feeling, so I wanted to give something back or do something for the cause," he explains. "I teamed up with Neil and we did the show in the Ulster Hall. It was such a great success, and the Alzheimer's Society was really grateful. Because it's mainly a concern for elderly people, they were happy that younger people were drawing attention to it – even though we're not that young anymore," he laughs. "But anything I can do for them, I really wanted to help in any way."