In a Different Place: Interviews with Andy Bell and Mark Gardener of Ride

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By Dave Heaton

PopMatters Associate Music Editor


Andy Bell

Ride

When Ride’s music first spread from their hometown of Oxfordshire, England to the rest of the world, it had that certain something that made some listeners instantly feel like Ride was the best band they’d ever heard. Their song took off like soft jets, using pillows of feedback to float you off into some sort of dreamy netherworld. Ride’s early EPs and their first two albums—1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again—were instant classics to many, including myself. To my ears they still include some of the most beautiful, transporting rock music ever. With 1994’s Carnival of Light, Ride took the 1960s psych-pop sounds that were always lurking under the surface of their music and starkly placed them at the forefront. The result was a still pleasurable album which nonetheless sounded less unique than their earlier recordings. It also was when the inner struggles that often arise when young musicians find quick success started to tear at the band. The fact that Carnival was split into halves, with songs written by singer/guitarist Mark Gardener on Side A and songs written by singer/guitarist Andy Bell on the Side B, is often noted as an outward manifestation of inner turmoil. By the beginning of 1996, the band had come to an end, as Gardener left the group during the recording sessions for what became their final album, Tarantula.

From then until recently, Ride has existed as a fond memory for fans and a reference point for critics. The band’s four members each went their own way. Bell formed a new band, Hurricane #1, which built off of the more straightforward rock sounds of Ride’s last two albums, and in 1999 became the bassist for Oasis, which he remains today. Gardener and Ride drummer Laurence Colbert formed Animalhouse, releasing one album and a couple EPs before splitting. Gardener is now embarking on a solo career, recording new songs and going on a tour of the United States this Spring. Though the members of Ride did play together once, playing a 20-minute improvised jam for a UK TV show near the end of 2001, the chances of them getting back together for real seem awfully slim. In the last couple years, though, fans were given a present in the form of a series of retrospective Ride releases. The big release was the three-CD Ride box set released in the UK by Ignition Records, which includes a “best of” compilation titled Ox4_The Best of Ride, a collection of previously unreleased recordings called Firing Blanks and a live recording of a classic 1992 performance at the Reading Festival. In the US, the best of CD has been released by First Time Records, with a bonus CD featuring five tracks from Firing Blanks In the UK Ignition also released remastered versions of all of Ride’s studio albums, with bonus tracks. If all of these releases excited fans, and may introduce Ride’s music to more listeners, they also seem to have given the members of Ride a chance to publicly come to terms with their past by talking to the press about the band and its legacy.

PopMatters:

The best of Ride CD that was recently released was welcomed with open arms by fans who miss Ride. At the same time, in relative terms it hasn’t been that many years since the group disbanded. Does the retrospective release seem early or late to you? Is this something you’ve been wanting to do for a while, or something you needed to be convinced to do?

Andy Bell:

It seemed like a good idea in 1999 when it was first suggested. It was going to come out on Creation but when the label finished the idea was lost for a while. It took until now to get it sorted, and now you can see Ride records in the shops again which you couldn’t for a while. That¹s what you want as a musician, just to go past that rack and wink at it and go “Alright mate”.

PM:

How did you go about choosing songs for the best-of? Did all of the members have input? Do you think of it as representing the band members’ favorite tracks, the most popular songs, or something in between?

AB:

You know how it works, all the singles go on and then if you haven’t had enough hits the album tracks start slipping in there and then you get into everyone’s particular little points of view. It was a democratic decision, but it wouldn’t have been if I’d have gone in with a list of what I really think is the best of what the band did, because it would have been full of b-sides and album tracks and stuff. You could make your own best of but in the end you know it comes down to a sort of formula.

PM:

This might sound like the selfish griping of an American Ride fan, but I’m wondering why the complete boxed set or even the complete Firing Blanks CD aren’t being released here in the US?

AB:

I don’t know. I thought it was all coming out. That¹s a shame. It’s probably something to do with the war.

PM:

You were quite young when Ride started. What role do you think your lack of experience with the music industry and with being in a band had on both the life and the eventual end of Ride?

AB:

It had a lot to do with it. It was a good and bad thing. At that age you are inexperienced and over-confident, that¹s why we were good, but its also why we were bad, and why we split up so easily.

PM:

Going Blank Again, probably my favorite Ride album, had a more diverse sound from Nowhere and the EPs before it, yet the change was fairly subtle, not a huge shift. What can you tell me about the writing and recording of that album, in particular about the extent to which you were trying to diversify your sound?

AB:

Its my favourite too. We were just extending our reach of people to rip off, I mean, be influenced by. It was our first time with a real producer, Alan Moulder, and our first time in a posh residential studio (Chipping Norton Studio in Oxford). It was written in the studio, a lot of it.

PM:

Carnival of Light seemed especially influenced by the mid-to-late 1960s. Was that deliberate, something you were aware of at the time? How much was Ride’s music in general affected by the music of the ‘60s?

AB:

It was a bloody shock when I first heard the Beatles, Floyd and the Byrds, after Carnival of Light came out, I can tell you… it was just the influences coming out again, but I didn’t realise how much it would change the sound. After that Ride’s sound became kind of normal.

PM:

It seems like Carnival of Light and Tarantula often get overshadowed by the stories behind the making of them: of tension within the band, etc. Are you able to separate out the music from what was going on personally for the four of you—are those albums you’re still able to look fondly on, even if the times were tougher?

AB:

I really like Mark’s side of Carnival of Light. I don¹t like my side except for “Rolling Thunder”, or any of Tarantula except “Black Nite Crash”. Not for the times, more for the music. But what I say is, you’re no one until you¹ve made an album that¹s complete pants.

PM:

In retrospect, does the “shoegazing” tag that Ride was labeled with by the press have any meaning for you? Does that word seem apt in any way, or just another meaningless categorization tool? What was your reaction to it when you first heard it?

AB:

My first reaction was like, this is another boring tag. These days…that’s pretty much still my reaction.

PM:

To what extent did the media hype and gossip surrounding Ride, especially in the British press, prepare you for being in Oasis, considering how much coverage seems to be given to every squabble the Gallagher brothers have?

AB:

Oasis is tabloid and Ride never were. Once you get used to that big difference, it’s no big change, the press turn up and now and again you’re obliged to talk to them. It’s not pleasant but it’s one of the facts of life, like nappies.

PM:

Musically what you were moving toward with Carnival of Light, Tarantula and Hurricane #1 strikes me as increasingly more similar to the sort of music Oasis was doing ... did it feel at all inevitable or logical for you to join Oasis, or was it still a huge change? I take it you were a big Oasis fan before joining; had their music influenced your own songwriting?

AB:

It came right out of the blue, but then I had been a big fan since I first heard them. I guess you can see the logic, I’m sure they had an inkling that I would play bass like a bandit, just from the cheeky look in my eyes.

PM:

The most recent Oasis album included a song that you wrote. Is writing a song here and there enough of a songwriting outlet for you or do you ever consider doing a solo recordings of some sort?

AB:

I definitely write less songs now than I used to. The ones that don¹t get used by Oasis go into a little pile of tapes, and one day that pile will probably be big enough to make something out of. I just hope it happens before my hair falls out.

* * * *

PM:

First off, I’ve heard that you’re starting a solo career. What are your songs sounding like these days? When do you think you might be releasing something?

Mark Gardener:

All work in progress at the moment. A few of the tracks are older tracks that have been around for a while and we’re writing a new batch at the moment. They sound like Mark Gardener, naked. Releasing hopefully this year. We’re talking to companies at the moment.

PM:

In March and April you’re doing a tour of the US: what will that be like? When was the last time you toured the US (did Animalhouse play in the US at all)?

MG:

The last time I toured in the US was 10 years ago with Ride. Looking forward to it, don’t know what it’s gonna be like yet. It’s gonna be pretty stripped down, up front and personal. Animalhouse didn’t tour the US.

PM:

Not counting Andy Bell, what the members of Ride have done since Ride broke up hasn’t received too much media attention. Could you tell me what the other two members (Steve Queralt and Laurence Colbert) are up to these days? Have you all stayed in touch?

MG:

It’s top secret but… Laurence has carried on playing with a few different bands and he was also drumming with Animalhouse. Steve’s an international man of mystery. Not sure what he’s up to. Speak to Loz all the time and Steve some of the time.

PM:

Animalhouse seemed to keep a fairly low profile. Was that a conscious reaction to the media hype surrounding Ride, an attempt to fly under the radar a bit?

MG:

No conscious reactions. We only set out to make one album, two at the most. It was always going to be a studio based project.

PM:

Regarding the brief “reunion” jam session for the Pioneers show in September 2001: How strange was it to be playing with the other members of Ride again? Do you think anything like that will happen again anytime soon?

MG:

It was great to get back in a room together. Great to talk about Sonic Youth, who we all rated as an early influence. It’s not planned to happen any time soon, but who knows.

PM:

Now that you have some distance from the actual experience of being in Ride, is it a time period you look back with fondness on? Even the later years leading to the break-up?

MG:

Yes. The positives remain. It is great to get distance from something that was all-consuming at the time. You can’t see the wood from the trees when you’re in the middle of it. With perspective, I feel great about the whole Ride thing.

PM:

When Ride first came out, your sound struck people as unique. At the time were you conscious of trying to do something different and new, or did you think you were just playing rock and roll?

MG:

We were mainly conscious of trying to do something that we found exciting. The main concerns at that time were to make one hell of a noise and learning to play as individuals and as a band. We didn’t really see it as straight Rock and Roll. We all came out of art college so I guess you could say it was more kind of art rock! Whatever the hell that is.

PM:

When the band first started, what types of music and musicians were you influenced by? How would you describe how those influences changed over the years, and how that affected the band’s sound?

MG:

We liked the noisy bands of the time. When we were at art college we went to see My Bloody Valentine, House of Love, Stone Roses and Sonic Youth. I think these all had a lot of influence on us in the early days as they were great gigs. Influences changed as we discovered more and more music. I guess any music that you love will always be some kind of influence. That’s a hell of a lot of music.

PM:

What effect, if any, do you think media hype, rumors, etc. played in the way the band’s sound evolved? Were you ever conscious of trying not to repeat yourself, or of trying to live up to the “next big thing” hype?

MG:

We had so much so soon that we had to do our growing up in public. This placed a lot of pressure on the band early on. We weren’t that conscious of the hype because we were on the road most of the time or in the studio. It didn’t really have an effect on the band’s sound. We always sounded the way we wanted to sound at that time.

PM:

In choosing songs for OX4_The Best of Ride, was it a matter of weighing your personal favorite songs against the “hits”, the songs that were most popular with fans? Are there any songs that you wish would have made it on there?

MG:

I guess the best of was pretty much based on singles and EPs. I was happy with the final track listing. Of course I have other favourites that didn’t make it but then hopefully more people will buy the albums as a result of hearing the best of.

PM:

How closely does the way that the music press describes Ride’s history and legacy match up with how you personally think about the band and its impact?

MG:

The music press has been so varied. Some great and some not. There’s so much press that i haven’t seen that it’s kind of hard to comment on that.

PM:

What music are you most excited about these days?

MG:

Latest buys have included Beck’s Sea Changes, DJ Shadow, Cinematic Orchestra, Manu Chao, Coldplay. These have all excited me. Oh and of course, Roger Whitaker whistles Vivaldi! (The Four Seasons).

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine ErasingClouds.com, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/ride-030408/