Ash has been together for 21 years. (Shanna Fisher)
After spending 21 years fronting Ash, the Irish rock outfit he founded when he was 15-years-old, Tim Wheeler has learned you can never be too sure which songs are going to become hits and which will be misses.
Wheeler, 36, remembers spending six months working on the track "Candy," from the band's 2001 album "Free All Angels." The keyboard-heavy mid-tempo rocker went on to become a minor hit in the U.K., but never achieved what he figured it would.
Contrast that with 1995's "Kung Fu," a Jackie Chan-referencing goof-off he says he wrote in three minutes that went on to become a worldwide hit and acted as the Irish rockers' American breakthrough.
"You never know what might connect with people," says Wheeler, on the phone last week from New York. "You have to keep an open mind, and you have to not get too precious, I suppose."
Ash has learned to not be too precious about the rules of the music industry, as well. Sensing listeners drifting more toward single-based listening and away from albums, the group took on the ambitious "A-Z Series" in 2009-2010, which saw them releasing a new single every two weeks for a year. To get 26 proper singles, "we went berserk for a couple of years," Wheeler says; and since then the band has taken its foot off the gas in terms of recording. But Ash is ready to hit the studio later this year with the plans of releasing a new album in 2014.
"We were using a lot of keyboards and stuff on the 'A-Z Series,' so I could probably see us making a real guitar record, going back to our original sound," Wheeler says. "But I don't want to promise anything, because who knows?"
Ash is performing Wednesday at the Magic Stick Lounge, its first local concert since the mid-'00s. Though the band's Stateside touring has died down since then, Ash never went on a hiatus. The group has kept steadily plugging away over the years.
"It's amazing, we've done 20 years without stopping, and I think we play better than we ever have at the moment," Wheeler says. "Especially our live show, that's something that's always gotten better, I think."
In recent years, Wheeler also has taken time to score a couple of films, "Ashes" and "Spike Island," and in 2011, he recorded a Christmas album with Emmy the Great entitled "This Is Christmas." But Wheeler's — and Ash's — most lasting contribution to music could be the band's 2001 hit "Shining Light."
It's a gorgeous love song with a soaring chorus and a rough, unpolished guitar sound. Author Bret Easton Ellis has said it's his favorite song, and Annie Lennox covered it as one of two new songs on her 2009 greatest hits album, "The Annie Lennox Collection."
"It's aging kind of well," Wheeler says. "I'm really proud of it. I had a feeling it was kind of special when we started playing it and recording it, and it kind of saved our career at a point where we were going through a tough time. It really sort of kicked things off again for us.
"I never thought Annie Lennox would decide all of a sudden that she loves our song and is going to record it," Wheeler says. "That's one of the crazy things you never expect when you write a song. It's rare when one does take on a life of its own, and that's something you never think about when you're writing."
with the Hounds Below and Hawk & Son
8 p.m. Wednesday
Magic Stick Lounge
4140 Woodward, Detroit