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'You're in a Car That's Going Faster and Faster Towards a Wall and it's Really Exciting… Until You Hit the Wall' – Ride's Mark Gardener on Shoegaze, Second Comings, and 'Hitting Heights We've Never Hit Before'

'I've always liked the idea that a band could stand there and just make a noise and that some people will leave the room and other people stay and be like, wow, that's amazing!'

Source: Cal McIntryre

Ride's seventh album, 'Interplay', is released March 29.

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Of all the bright and diverse bands that burst onto the music scene in the late 80s, Ride were unique. On the one hand you had Madchester, on the other Nirvana. There was acid house, there was also Radiohead, the Pixies, Suede, the Manics. And then, coming straight out of leftfield (via the not-so-photogenic end of Oxford) there was Ride.

Fey, floppy-haired, almost obstinately un-popstarry, and possessed of songs that layered swirling, effects pedal-heavy guitars and otherworldly vocals into a densely melodic wall of noise, Ride quickly became figureheads for a new scene the press dubbed, rather unkindly at the time, “shoegaze” – so called thanks to the bands’ (and their fans') habit of, well, gazing at their shoes as they played, or danced.

Formed in 1988 by schoolfriends Mark Gardener and Andy Bell and joined by drummer Loz Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt, they were signed the following year by Creation Records – supposedly on the recommendation of Jim Reid from the Jesus and Mary Chain. In 1990 their debut album Nowhere made No. 11 in the U.K. charts; two years later, follow-up Going Blank Again peaked at No. 5 – with lead single “Leave Them All Behind” reaching No. 9, and marking Creation’s first ever Top 10 single.

And then… events overtook the band. Third album Carnival of Light came out in 1994, and although it shot straight into the charts at No. 5, it seemed the critics had turned. In the two years since their last LP, Britpop had redefined the music scene: suddenly it was all about pogoing mockneys and swaggering Mancs… and the subtleties and angst of Ride’s music apparently no longer fitted the agenda. At the same time, creative tensions between Gardener and Bell were fracturing the band from the inside, and in 1996, even as the U.K. sold itself to the world as “Cool Britannia”, one of Britain’s most interesting, innovative (and frankly, coolest) bands split up.

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ride mark gardener
Source: Sakura/WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Mark Gardener: 'You don't have a divine right to be onstage – you know you have to keep coming back with interesting music.'

Andy Bell would later join Oasis, and Colbert drum with bands including the Jesus and Mary Chain and fellow Oxonians Supergrass, while Gardener devoted himself to solo projects, as well as working on the other side of the production desk, building a studio in Oxfordshire and producing for bands including the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Until, in 2017, something extraordinary happened: Ride released Weather Diaries, their first new album in 21 years. Even more extraordinarily, Weather Diaries was a critical and commercial hit, with a Guardian review declaring the band “shoegaze heroes” and describing Weather Diaries as “an album that strides confidently between garage rock, ambient and even prog.”

Weather Diaries reached No. 11 and was followed by 2019’s This Is Not s Safe Place, which received a four-star rating from Q and made No. 7 in the charts.

All of which brings us to Ride’s seventh studio LP, Interplay – released in the midst of an unlikely, but undoubtedly healthy, shoegaze revival, in which Ride’s early output is once again receiving heavy play by a new generation of angsty, floppy-haired teenagers.

Although, somewhat ironically, Interplay is definitely not a shoegaze album in the traditional sense of the word, it does highlight Ride’s early strengths – especially the musical connection between the four members, and the chemistry between Gardener and Bell. It’s a supremely confident record, assured in its strengths, and not burdened by the band’s past.

On the eve of its release, Q caught up with Gardener in his Oxfordshire studio to talk about the past, present and future… and why Ride still feel they have something to prove.

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ride mark gardener
Source: mega

Mark Gardener in 1990 - fey, floppy-haired, almost obstinately un-popstarry.

Hi Mark. Congratulations on Interplay. It’s a proper album – and sounds like a proper Ride album too, if that makes sense?

Thank, you, I'm especially proud of it because it was the first one we recorded here in my studio. When you create a space like this you hope some work as good as this can come out of it, and so I'm really, really chuffed that it is a big part of the sound.

This is Ride’s seventh album. That’s a lot, right? Do you still get as excited with your seventh as you did with your first, or your fifth, or whatever?

Of course. I mean in some ways maybe even a little more because it gets harder and harder to come together to make these albums when life's pulling you all in different directions. As you get older, life really doesn't get easier, in lots of ways.

And there was lots of adversity that preceded the recording of this record. We’d had the pandemic, which obviously was a nightmare for everybody, but we were also in a horrible legal battle with an ex-manager, so there was a lot of rough stuff that we had to come through to get here. So coming out the other side of that to release your baby into the world and have people start hearing it… I mean, that feels amazing.

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ride andy bell mark gardener
Source: Sakura/WENN/Newscom/The Mega Agency

Ride are built around the twin songwriting talents of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell.

How do you rank it among Ride records?

At the time we were writing and recording I genuinely thought we were hitting some heights that we've never hit before. And even now I still feel like that about some of the tracks for sure, and that makes me really happy, because that was always the aim and always why I thought the reunion was a good thing. I just thought, there's loads more in the tank, you know? The chemistry has always been really good between us and this album vindicates why we did it, really. I think we hit something really good.

You've been going longer since you reformed than you did the first time around. Does that seem weird to you?

In one way, yes of course, but in another it makes a lot of sense. I think it's the nature of us as people and as a band that what made Ride so exciting the first time around also meant it couldn’t last like that. It was a bit like the feeling that you're in a car that’s going faster and faster towards a wall and it’s all really exciting until you hit the wall.

We weren't a career band in any way whatsoever. We never really thought of being in Ride as a “career”. We just enjoyed what was happening at the time, like just trying our best to kind of keep up with it while still trying to make interesting music. And looking back, there’s certain things I think we did pretty well, given what we were all going through… and then other things maybe not so well. I don't have any real regrets about it and now of course I can see that it's good to have had that break to re-appraise everything and come back together again.

When we split first time around we all went on to do very different things. I got heavily into the whole studio world, obviously Andy ended up in Oasis and Loz ended up playing with the Mary Chain… but we all stayed close. And then we all came to realize that actually this thing was growing again, even though we weren’t an active band. Like, it wasn’t going to go away, it's just growing and growing.

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There was an enormous affection for Ride I think, that grew over the years.

It was strange, I remember being in the middle of nowhere in France, just to be right away from everything for a while, and then even there, in the most remote place, I came across a magazine from America and we were on the cover. This is like about five or six years after we'd split. And that made me feel that, okay, we actually did something which has stood the test of time and it's still growing, even in our absence. So then you start to think, well, at some point it would be good to come back to this, right?

Was there a sense of missed opportunity first time around, or have you always been: rock ‘n’ roll is a speeding car, no regrets, no remorse?

Well I mean, maybe if you look at it in a strictly business sense, then we could have kept going and been more of a career band and made more money… but then maybe we’d have actually just been a bit crap.

I don't look at it like that because there’s not much I would change about what happened with Ride the first time around. And I think that what made Ride really exciting, also made it something that we couldn't just keep going.

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Source: mega

'We actually did something which has stood the test of time and it's still growing, even in our absence.'

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I'm fascinated by that idea, because I’ve always thought there's two ways of being in a rock ‘n’ roll band. When you're young, it should be like a mad, wild, out of control ride... And then if you survive that, when you're older and know what you're doing a little more, it should be a bit more considered...

Yeah, well, it's definitely more considered now. We're men rather than boys. We have more muscle, it's more consistent, whereas before we were kind of all over the place. And some of that is because of technical stuff like better monitoring and just being able to hear each other when we play. To be honest, the first time around I don’t think I ever heard anything on stage other than just noise. I certainly don't remember hearing Andy singing, and we do lots of harmonies, so it was just nuts in a way.

Don’t get me wrong, we always were a good band, but we're now a consistently really good band.

Were you conscious of not wanting to just be a heritage act?

Oh God yeah! I didn't want to get back together just to do the heritage thing. Obviously we’ll do Nowhere and Going Blank Again and that’s okay, it’s quite nice to revisit those albums… but they're not records I would deliberately sit down and play at home. I mean I'm too busy for that, I'm always working on new music.

But it's an interesting space to go back to. It's a bit like time travel, even now, when we do play those songs, there's a real freshness about that stuff, and I really do think we did some great things back then. But the really exciting part is representing new music alongside the old songs, because not only does it have to hold its own against music that people might have loved for thirty-odd years now, but also it takes people to new places, including ourselves. That for me, is like a sonic blood transfusion.

Source: Cal McIntryre

Ride: 'We're men rather than boys.'

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Did you find when you got back together, that there was an element of people going, “Oh, Ride, they’re the shoegaze guys…”? I read somewhere that Andy especially didn't like the label. Does it still haunt you? Especially now that there’s this huge shoegaze revival among the Gen Z kids?

To be honest I've never really known what to think about that. Initially I realized that “Shoegazers” was intended as a kind of put down and I sort of got that. But then after a while it wasn’t a put down any more. But then I’ve always liked the idea that a band could stand there and just make a noise and that some people will leave the room and other people stay and be like, wow, that’s amazing! I felt comfortable doing that.

But then that shoegaze label became a genre and then it became a whole movement and I just don't know what to think about it. We didn’t at the time even. I mean, I think the widescreen sound ethic of it, where you're not just sticking to sort of pure three chord rock ‘n’ roll principles and you're experimenting with soundscape ideas… that’s all great – and bands that really ran with that, like Sigur Ros and Cocteau Twins – they’re really great, I love listening to them.

But I think at the same time there are bands that maybe do that thing but don't have actual songs, and I just find that a bit lazy and a bit unimaginative. I think the real test is to still be able to bring things back to an acoustic guitar and a voice and it still sound like a brilliant song.

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Do you still feel like you have something to prove? Like, you know what? Actually Ride were f--king great and, what's more, we still are?

I think there’s always a little bit of that. But really, you don't have that in your mind when you're making new music. It’s when you step back and you think about it, that you realize, you've got to be on your game. You don't have a divine right to be onstage, if you’re making new music you've got to still be really good because otherwise other bands will take your spot. There is that pressure and I think that’s actually really important – you know you have to keep coming back with interesting music.


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