RIDE: GET US OUT OF HERE
illustration by abraham jay torres
The quintessential shoegaze band Ride has returned twenty years after their untimely break-up with their impressive new release Weather Diaries. For fans, this album is as if the band never stopped playing—it sounds solid and mature, yet steeped in all the best qualities of the band you remember so fondly. I talked with co-founder Mark Gardener about Ride’s return, Ride’s past and—something that no one expected to discuss in 2017—Ride’s future. Ride performs at Hollywood Forever on Fri., Sept. 29, and Sat., Sept. 30, at the Music Tastes Good festival. This interview by Tiffany Anders.
I absolutely love the new album. To me, it’s like some of the best 90s Ride records without having missed all those years. When and why did you reform?
Mark Gardener (guitar/vocals): It was a sort of gradual feeling that was happening. We’d all been friends for such a long time that it wasn’t like strangers coming back together. Through the years, we’ve always got together. Obviously, I went around playing quite a lot of other shows and I never got away from that question. I always got hounded by people: ‘Would Ride ever play again?’ We were completely aware of the interest on social media. Even in our absence, the people playing our music had been growing and growing. That in itself makes you realize if we played again … we’d be playing to an audience! Which would be better than coming back and playing for nobody, which wouldn’t be too much fun! That was a big spur-on, the people. And also Ride obviously ended in such a strange way. What made Ride great—like Creation Records, our label we were on—was the same thing that made it crash at some point. I think it was always gonna crash. In the interim, I was probably the one out of all of us who asked the question … maybe, in 2013, when Andy was very much still doing what he was doing. I mean, asking like, ‘What do you actually think about it?’ Like I’ve put my hat in the ring now: ‘I’ve love to do this again.’ I was the one who originally probably walked in 1996 and it was probably my duty to ask that this time. When everybody felt we’d love to do it again, it made a lot of sense, really. We were also really aware we were getting great offers from festivals—the main one was Primavera, who seem to be good at sort of sniffing out these things that could happen. And without getting morbid, as I’ve got older, you lose family … you become very aware we’re not immortal! I probably thought I was immortal when I was in my early 20s! And honestly personally it would’ve bothered me for the rest of my days if we didn’t come to play together again. That was my original family, in a way. There’s nothing like your first band. I’ve loved all the collaborations and all the work I’ve done in the industry, but nothing ever felt and would ever feel like Ride. So … lots of combined factors really! And hence come 2015 I think … I remember having a meeting with Andy saying, ‘Do you think we should just do this?’ And we did it!
So what led to making a new record?
Mark Gardener: As soon as we walked back in a room together to start rehearsing old stuff for the reunion tour, we started playing new things. That’s how Ride was—whenever we got in a room together, that’s how many songs came about. We’d jam and see … you create lots of new things. The chemistry was so strong the first time around and if anything it’s even more so now. We were on to it straight away, but we didn’t say anything about it to the public because we wanted to give ourselves that time to be creating a record without pressure. So we didn’t talk about that—we just played our reunion show, which we enjoyed and which was very inspirational. But always in the background we were writing. We always knew the real reason to get back together and make it real … it’s about what you do now, not what you’ve done in the past. That was really important. From my point of view, if we were gonna come back together it wasn’t just to celebrate the past—which was nice to do for a little while! It was all about making an album, one we felt was relevant to now and to us now and the times now. That’s what real great artwork does.
It’s interesting to hear your new album—it sounds so seamless. Like right where you would’ve left off. And it doesn’t sound forced. It’s like what would’ve been the next chapter.
Mark Gardener: I think you’re right. It was maybe a more natural successor to a period like Going Blank Again—we definitely got a bit more out there, especially Tarantula, which was a bit of a break-up record, which wasn’t a really a good time for the band. In life you have a lot of hindsight, but it’s too late to do anything about it. But thank goodness we’ve had the benefit of hindsight and we’ve totally understood when we were enjoying it the most and when we were probably working the best between us and playing to our strengths. Which really was to me Going Blank Again—to me, this is the natural successor to that record in a way. The way we worked—obviously nothing to do with subject matter! We didn’t want to become a pastiche of what we did. Every record we made back then was so different, but it was not because we said, ‘Oh, let’s make a different album.’ It’s just a journey. It’s just the way it worked. We were changing rapidly as people back then. And the amount of changes we’ve gone through as individuals, when you bring that together now … no one’s interested in repeating themselves.
It doesn’t sound that way. You’re always afraid when you hear a band has reformed and is gonna do a record.
Mark Gardener: ‘Oh no!’ I’m the same! I’m a music enthusiast as well. I totally agree with you. I don’t wanna mention names but most of the time it’s pretty awful. Face it—it doesn’t end up good! You can kid yourself quite easily in bands, but you’re not gonna kid your audience. People can hear if the chemistry’s good. A lot of people don’t get that. ‘Yeah, we’re gonna be good!’ People know. You can hear it. I just felt deep down that as soon as we came back in the room … even before we reformed, I knew the chemistry was always gonna be strong between us. For me, it was all about the challenge of coming back and making a new record. That’s what frightened me and inspired me. More so to me than even playing reunion shows. They were great and they helped us create a time and place and put some funds in our bank so we could actually make the record we wanted to make. And that’s what we’ve done.
It’s got both things that are important for a reunion record: it sounds like you, but it sounds like you’ve grown.
Mark Gardener: It would have been bad otherwise! It makes things more soulful, in a way. With all the stuff you’ve been through … we hadn’t been through that much when we’d made our first record. You write about what’s going on at that time. The first time you leave home, your life goes into complete freefall. And we also write about what’s going on outside of us which are pretty dark strange times—obviously it’s colored some of this record, without getting too political about things. But how can you not write about some of the stuff and try and shine some light on what’s going on?
Kevin Shields said if he thought of one band that summed up shoegaze, it was Slowdive. And J Mascis—who asked the question—said, ‘If I had to define grunge it’d be Mudhoney.’ Do you have any band you think sums up shoegaze for you?
Mark Gardener: For shoegaze? I’d agree and say Slowdive as well. In a way … yeah! Not in a way to put them down. I love that band and always will. It’s not a put down in any way. But I suppose maybe because it’s slower and they’re not moving around so much? The music was quite float-y in that way? It’s a tricky one! For me, they sort of transcended any definition. But I get the link.
To me, it’s My Bloody Valentine.
Mark Gardener: In the sense of creators, I’d say My Bloody Valentine had a big effect that on anyone that were sort of lumped in with the shoegaze movement, including ourselves. They had a big effect on us. Slowdive didn’t in that way—they were just a band I thought was really great at what they did. That’s not a really good answer, is it? I never think about things in genres. I love My Bloody Valentine, same with Cocteau Twins, Slowdive … Sigur Ros, bands like that! Icelandic—coming from somewhere completely different, but at the same time with atmospheric beautiful sounds. I never really worry if it’s this or that or the other. I loved Nirvana, I thought they were great! There’s always great bands. I mentioned krautrock earlier with Can and Neu!—just great.
There’s that great song on the new album with a krautrock vibe—‘Rocket Silver Symphony,’ which I love.
Mark Gardener: We always loved that whole Neu! and Can and even ‘Chelsea Girl’ started off sounding much more like a Neu! track. Which slowly got a little more rocked out with the Ride machine. Neu! have always been … it’s that hypnotic thing. You get into a trance state. That’s why I love people like Bonobo now. That’s obviously a different genre in a lot of ways, but there’s a link there. He was a fan of Ride back in the day and I love what he’s done—it’s not like what we’re doing but what I can relate to is that slightly hypnotic atmospheric thing. I love that in music! I heard a track which is interesting … I played that tribute to Nick Drake with an orchestra, the Color Bars Experience—a chamber orchestra from France. A tribute to Nick Drake. I did that with Eric [Pulido] from Midlake and Erol Alkan had done a remix of that [Midlake] track ‘Roscoe’ as a Beyond The Wizards Sleeve remix. I was thinking ‘Why do I love that track so much?’ I love that song anyway, and I love the original version, but Erol’s mix takes it to another level because it captures that hypnotic thing with what the piano does. Beautiful. That hypnotic thing for me is the line I hear, rather than whatever shoegaze is.
Erol recorded your album?
Mark Gardener: He produced it with us. Erol is very contemporary and a major concern to me was I wanted—we all did—wanted to make a record that sounded like it was released in 2017, not 1991 or whatever. Erol was great for that. The devil’s in the details—a little more attention to beats and stuff like that. We all love electronic music. So it creeps through in a nice sort of way. We didn’t wanna do the crass dance-crossover thing that was going on with people in the 90s. But there’s something we love there in the atmosphere. I love Boards of Canada, artists like that. That definitely plays its part.
It’s artfully done. I feel like lately people go a little crazy with the electronics, and that’s going to sound dated and weird in a little bit!
Mark Gardener: It’s just about what’s good for the song. It could be electronic or a guitar sound or whatever. You don’t wanna worry about the rules because in some ways there are no rules. That’s what keeps it interesting.
How did you feel about ‘shoegaze’? And your part in creating it?
Mark Gardener: I was a bit confused by it all really. I thought what we were doing was obviously really good … Bands like the Cocteau Twins, I loved them and their music and love everything about Cocteau Twins. And I loved everything about My Bloody Valentine. We were definitely influenced by those people when we first started making music. Then there were the bands that Steve in the band kind of made us aware of … And me and Andy at school were quite into the Smiths and mainstream alternative stuff. That’s the whole mix of what we loved, and it came out like Ride. It was weird. Here, of course, it was sort of a putdown from when grunge kicked in: ‘These people aren’t grunge and going mad—they’re looking at their shoes.’ We got lumped with a few bands. It’s the classic way the English press works. They built us up so high, but you knew you’d get the knockdown. That was their way of doing it on the back of the fact that grunge and Nirvana had come in at full pace. We were doing world tours at that point and we’d come back to England and were called ‘shoegaze’ … it was like, ‘Who really cares? That’s the English press up to it again—just as we expected!’ But bizarrely … in time, it has become a genre. To me, it’s very wide open. ‘Krautrock’ isn’t a particularly nice sort of word at describing amazing music that came out of Germany, and ‘shoegaze’ to me is kind of the same. It’s no longer specific about a location—it’s a world thing. It’s a big genre. I think what it means is a bit more experimental—it’s not just straight rock ‘n’ roll. It’s interested in sounds, atmospheres, trying to do something a bit more interesting with that format … and to me that’s alright! The whole challenge is to keep things sounding as interesting and as fresh as possible compared to those who’ve gone before. Loads of bands now say, ‘Oh, we’re shoegaze, we’re psych rock, we’re space rock …’ I dunno. Whatever you do, you know it’s gonna be put in some sort of lazy journalism thing to say it’s part of this or that … and I’m totally fine with that. But to me ultimately, Ride is Ride, and we’ll still do the music. We just make the music we make at that time. It’s Ride music!
When I first heard Nowhere … I grew up in L.A. and I loved it because it sounded very California to me!
Mark Gardener: To be honest … the Byrds and the Beach Boys were definitely an influence to me because that was some of the first music I was played by my uncle. You only get so much sunshine at times with Britain, so in a way you crave it!
I can still picture hearing it as a teenager and really associating it with a California sound. I couldn’t relate to Britpop in the same way at all.
Mark Gardener: Me too! Britpop was maybe a bit more fashionable, a bit more … people thought more about the clothes they were wearing and a bit more about flying the flag, the English invasion and all … to me that’s all well and good but it’s not really music, is it? I’d rather spend a bit more time on actually making the music interesting and good. At that point I was like, ‘Well, what is this? Oh, it’s gonna be the next British invasion?’ And of course it just fell in the ocean! There were some good things—early Oasis I thought was great. That’s the point—I don’t think we were that fashionable, and as a result, we didn’t turn over with fashion or style. It was just … stranger music, which seemed to hang in the air somewhere. And people just kept picking up on it. It’s very honest and it’s just dedicated to the music, rather than a look or a fashion.
It was very much about fashion and being audacious and that was not what was really happening in America. That’s why I think shoegaze made it over here.
Mark Gardener: You’re right—there’s a lot in that. Certainly … you can theorize a lot, and I do. I do think about it! But America was great for us the first time around. It worked! That’s a great thing with America. You go down the road in some places and there are musicians everywhere—the guy playing in the local bars, the women who sing harmonies and it’s bang-on amazing. I think it’s a real tester of bands if you can do something and it can work there. I also think British bands that do get to America and get to tour, it turns them into such better bands every time—something happens. We brought something to America that wasn’t dressed up as anything other than the music we thought was interesting at this time to us, and it caught a lot of ears and a lot of attention. What America gave us back just made the band better. A lot of words and a lot of music was inspired from Americans and being on tour in America—in a way, kind of living out some of those books that we read. That cliché kind of Beat Generation books, which I did read at school and Andy did—On The Road and all that. You’re in those books! That’s really inspiring to English guys. And you know … you put English guys in the desert and lots of interesting things are gonna happen! We don’t have those things in England! That wide open … I love that about America. I love coming to America for that. That Wild West thing. When he was alive, my dad was obsessed with the westerns and the Wild West. One theme I’d say with Ride is always there is escapism—from ‘Chelsea Girl,’ with the line like, ‘Drive me up to London,’ get me out of here! That’s something we’ve always embraced. It is that slightly romantic thing of ‘Get us out of here!’
Hence the name!
Mark Gardener: Exactly! It’s a name that describes movement—exactly.
RIDE ON FRI., SEPT. 29, AT THE MASONIC LODGE AT HOLLYWOOD FOREVER, 6000 SANTA MONICA BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / SOLD OUT / ALL AGES. AND WITH WEEN, OF MONTREAL, JUANA MOLINA AND MORE ON SAT., SEPT. 30, AT THE MUSIC TASTES GOOD FESTIVAL, MARINA GREEN PARK, LONG BEACH. $75-$400 / NOON / ALL AGES. MORE INFORMATION AT MTGLB.CO. RIDE’S THE WEATHER DIARIES IS OUT NOW ON WICHITA. VISIT RIDE AT RIDEOX4.NET.