In 1996, shortly after completing their fourth album, Tarantula, the Oxford band Ride announced their split. From their earliest releases, Ride had effortlessly blended experimental axe noise with melodic Byrds-ish hooks and wistful songwriting. This rapidly earned them near-universal acclaim, with one journalist heralding Ride as “England’s Greatest Guitar Hopes.”
Unfortunately, by the mid-’90s the press had spurned the acts they’d labeled “shoegaze” in favor of championing the nostalgic, meat-and-potatoes indie rock of Britpop. Shoegaze—textural, androgynous, ambiguous, melancholic and sensual as it was—became caricatured as haughty and pompous in the bold new era of wacky Supergrass videos and Damien Hirst pulling his penis out in London restaurants.
To be fair, Ride had also suffered internal strife. This was perhaps best exemplified on the band’s penultimate record, Carnival Of Light, on which the compositions of chief songwriters Andy Bell and Mark Gardener were segregated to separate sides of the LP. After Ride’s split, Bell formed Hurricane #1 and subsequently performed in a later Oasis line-up and then Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye. Gardener, meanwhile, worked with The Animalhouse and on various solo and collaborative endeavors, and made a sideways move into production and mixing.
Since Britpop’s own star waned, shoegaze’s credibility has risen from the flames like a floppy headed phoenix clutching a large rack of distortion pedals in its singed claws. Younger international shoegazers emerged: U.S. groups such as a Sunny Day In Glasgow, for instance, plus Russia’s Pinkshinyultrablast and a host of South American acts. In 2013, the hermetic My Bloody Valentine finally released their long-awaited third album. Recent years have also seen the reappearance of Slowdive, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Swervedriver.
With band relations long reconciled, the cultural climate back on their side, and Beady Eye no longer a going concern, now is the perfect moment for Ride’s return. You’d be wrong to think that the quartet’s new material merely strives to replicate past glories, however. Produced by the DJ Erol Alkan, Weather Diaries is far from self-derivative. To sumptuous effect, the album is brimming with freshly disorientating sounds and ripened songwriting which draws from later life experiences, modern cross-genre influences and contemporary technology.
Speaking from his Oxford studio, Mark Gardener ruminated on reformations, rivalries and recordings.
VMP: How nervous are you about releasing Ride’s first album for 21 years?
Mark Gardener: There is a bit of anxiety. Nostalgia is such a powerful beast and it’s always going to be hard for people to give it a chance because people get attached to what they’ve known over the years, and that’s fine. But there’s more excitement. We’re pretty hard on ourselves. It’s passed the filter test, which is us. It’s making us feel good and I’ve been driving around listening to the album and really enjoying it. There’s relief as well because it’s been a while in the making.
We’re releasing a record at a time when people need lots of music and fun because there’s a hell of a lot of shit going on. There’s lots of really good music on the radio at the moment and there are some really good bands around. Maybe that’s what happens. Sometimes the landscape gets rough, politically and more generally, and then people need art a lot more. They need those things to take their minds away from the Donald Trumps and Theresa Mays of the world.
Where would you rank it among Ride’s previous albums?
I see it, strangely, as a follow-on from Going Blank Again (1992). Every band says their new album is better than anything they’ve done but in many ways this one is. Carnival Of Light went a bit left-and-right between me and Andy. Tarantula was just a break-up, car-crash record as far as we’re concerned. We had the benefit of hindsight coming back to do this one. We felt that how we worked together as a group during the Going Blank Again period was the way that we played to our strengths, so we had that in mind when recording this record. At the same time, we don’t want repeat ourselves.
“Sometimes the landscape gets rough, politically and more generally, and then people need art a lot more. They need those things to take their minds away from the Donald Trumps and Theresa Mays of the world.”
This might be my favorite Ride record.
I think that. Quite a lot of art and music is built on pain and difficult periods and maybe we’ve all had that. We’ve been kicked around by life and all that stuff you have when the bubble of being in a band has burst. You can really harness power from that. I think we managed that with this record. It’s like a new debut for us. We’re better singers now. We’re better players. As Steve Lamacq put it, Loz [Colbert, drums] and Steve [Queralt, bass] haven’t run out of puff. There’s still the edge there. We’ve got a sort of soul now. I don’t mean like Otis Redding soul. Just a soul that happens when you’ve got older and been kicked around and which wasn’t there when you were 20 and stoned and just going “wahey.”
Your new material is influenced by William Basinski.
When we first got back together to rehearse, we just ended up mucking around in the studio and playing each other stuff and Basinski came up. That video of the Twin Towers slowly decaying was a big one for us so it definitely has an influence, and a direct influence on the instrumental track “Integration Tape.” But it’s not a Basinski concept album or anything. Steve, who initially worked in a record shop, is always hunting for music so he was always feeding the band with interesting, left-field music and that continues. I’ve listened to more electronic music for the last few years but that doesn’t mean you suddenly sound like Boards Of Canada. We’re all into loads of different stuff.
You can hear that coming through.
Who wants to be one-dimensional? We don’t feel like that as people. I know we get tagged with “shoegaze” and “psych rock.” That’s all fine. There could be a new tag coming for what we do now. Who knows? We do always have a “Ride” thing that happens when me and Andy sing and there are certain elements that will carry through but I don’t think any of us want to repeat ourselves in any way. We just want to make it interesting for us and then maybe it’ll stand a chance of being interesting for the people coming to see us. If they can hear new things, that is, and not just keep asking for “Vapour Trail!” Ha.
Do you feel a sense of rivalry toward other reformed shoegazers?
You mean Slowdive?
And Swervedriver, My Bloody Valentine…
I don’t know the new Valentine’s record very well but I’ve always respected them and Kevin [Shields] is a top guy. I always thought Slowdive really had something. They took a lot of criticism back in the day. Their new song that keeps coming on the radio is great. Bizarrely, it reminds me of China Crisis. And I actually really liked China Crisis. There are a lot of good bands around now and if you’re going to come back and do this again you’ve got to be bloody good or else it’s not going to happen. I suppose I would like our album to chart and do as well as Slowdive’s did. Or else it will be a bit, “Oh, shit.” So there’s a little rivalry in that way.
“Shoegaze” was a dirty word in the press for a while. Are you aware of it having become gradually cool again?
It certainly seems to be a genre now, whereas it was a criticism before. When we first heard it, we’d been touring the world and having a great, very rock ’n’ roll time, everything we’d dreamt about doing. We came back to England and the press were suddenly calling us shoegazers and we had to deal with that. I guess krautrock wasn’t an endearing term to Can and Neu! but they made amazing music. That whole Britpop thing was always going to fall on its arse because it got too aligned with fashion. And it always bothers me when people start waving flags, unless it’s a football match. It was like, what’s going on here? “We’re gonna go and conquer America.” Well you’re not quite The Beatles and The Stones, are you?
You just get used to Ride being talked about and then shoegaze gets mentioned. One thing which did bother me about it was the idea that we didn’t care or we weren’t passionate about what we were doing. The notion that you just stand there, looking down. That pissed me off because actually we were really passionate about what we were doing. Okay, we weren’t U2 or Queen and we weren’t into using their tricks on stage. But at the same time, we made a good noise and we really meant it and that’s ultimately why it’s worked and stood some test of time.
“There are a lot of good bands around now and if you’re going to come back and do this again you’ve got to be bloody good or else it’s not going to happen.”
Are there any bands you’d like to see reform?
You see, this is my hypocrisy. I almost think it’s a bad idea because people come back and they’re not as good as they were. I hope we’re the exception to the rule. I suppose the only one I’d like would be The Smiths. I’d just love to see them. It’s so unlikely. You never know. I did an album with Robin Guthrie, and Cocteau Twins were another incredible band. People talk about the Valentines but Robin had a lot to do with inventing that beautiful ethereal sound with guitars. That will probably never happen either. It probably doesn’t need to. I don’t go to so many gigs now. I see bands when we play festivals. Slowdive are in town tonight but I don’t think I can go because I’m looking after our 3-year-old. I just love listening to the records and it doesn’t concern me whether people are together or not anymore.
Do you think Oasis will reform?
Ha ha. I have absolutely no idea. Andy might have more idea on that one. I just listened to Liam’s new song and it did sound very Oasis but I suppose it always will because he’s got that great distinctive voice. I thought the first couple of Oasis albums were great, I liked their vibe and I like them as people. We sort of knew them before it all went off. I’ve got absolutely nothing against Oasis. It was a bit of an odd one but I wasn’t surprised when Andy became part of it because they were the real deal back then. I think the first thing Liam ever said to me was, “We’ve got fuckin’ ‘OX4’ on our answer phone.” So that was good to know. We passed the Liam test!