Taken from Uncut’s September 2019 issue
It’s been five years since Ride reformed, and according to guitarist and vocalist Mark Gardener, the creative energies sparked by this momentous event are as strong as ever. “When you still have the creative magic, you can just come back and create good music, and I think that’s what’s happened,” he explains. “We could just enjoy the Ride thing again, which is a hell of a thing to be inside.”
The quartet have met up to discuss the brand-new This Is Not A Safe Place LP – their very fine follow-up to 2017’s reunion album, Weather Diaries. They’re also taking Uncut through all the records they’ve produced during their career, including 1990’s shoegaze classic Nowhere, which gave their engineer a nervous breakdown and angered a Del Amitri-loving next-door neighbour, and the controversial West Coast detour, Carnival Of Light. Along the way, the band discuss their lost “ambient reggae” tunes, hanging out with Public Enemy and their disastrous cover of “Windmills Of Your Mind”, which traumatised producer George Drakoulias.
“We were just too shit to play it,” remembers bassist Steve Queralt. “George was tearing his bushy hair out! And then for some reason afterwards he didn’t want to do the album with us…”
This American compilation neatly collects their first two EPs, “Ride” and “Play”
ANDY BELL [vocals/guitars]: The first EP was done in Union Street in Oxford, which was a small basement studio that we saved up for. I think we were there for a couple of hours one afternoon. It turned into a hostel in the evening – we came back from getting something to eat and there was a girl with a backpack in the studio.
STEVE QUERALT: At that time, we had no interest from anyone other than Cally Calloman at Warners. He was a great guy, but there was no point putting us out on a major label – the audience would have thought they were being conned. But during this time we had a support tour with The Soup Dragons, and Alan McGee came along to all three shows – at the final show he said he wanted to put our record out on Creation. It was a no-brainer, it was everything we could have possibly dreamed of. Cally was gracious enough to say, “Go with Alan.”
MARK GARDENER: With Creation we had more support, so we were able to get out of Oxford to record “Play”. It was done at Blackwing Studios in London, but we recorded in a similar way to the first one, all live and then a few overdubs. At that point we had no idea that this was something we could make a living from. It just felt great. We were experiencing lots of firsts in life, and it was great having an outlet for our confusion.
BELL: The engineer at Blackwing, Ken, was brilliant – when you fast-forward a DAT it skips through like a tremolo thing, and he was like, “This is what we’re gonna do, fast forward through it and that’ll be the track.” “Right… Ken, take a break!”
The debut album, a psych-shoegaze classic and Ride’s noisiest effort
BELL: Before Nowhere, me and Mark both got these rack effects units, Roland GP16s. They became a really big part of the Ride sound. You could programme in really complicated multi-effects for one song and then just turn it on with one switch. Towards the end of recording we knew the deadline was coming, so in the last three days we worked days and nights. The engineer, Marc Waterman, had a nervous breakdown. He’s great, but we did push him quite hard. I remember we all stayed in the same flat…
QUERALT: It was in a mews in Paddington. We got back late one night and put a load of music on. Later, we were then woken up at six in the morning by some City guy we’d obviously kept awake. The music he’d chosen to annoy us – and he did really well – was Del Amitri!
GARDENER: The hours just got crazy. It all added to that dark, alienated feeling that I think permeated through Nowhere. We just tried to make the best of it, being guided by instincts. But it was good times, for sure.
LOZ COLBERT [drums]: It was a live sound in the studio, but maybe a bit too live. We needed someone to contain it.
BELL: After Marc left, Alan Moulder came in to mix Nowhere. He said he couldn’t work out which was the bass drum and which was the snare when he pulled the tapes up! So he did a good job of rescuing it. It ended up with its own sound, but it wasn’t intentional exactly.
GOING BLANK AGAIN
The kaleidoscopic second album. A free-flowing triumph, incorporating many different styles. Towering lead-off single “Leave Them All Behind” gave them their highest Top 10 hit
BELL: This was written and recorded in a residential studio in Chipping Norton. We had six weeks there, with catering and a big keg so we could drink draft beer at will from a big free barrel. There was this big bowl of eggs that really concerned me, because it was like, “How do you know when these eggs are going off?” No, it didn’t affect my performance too much!
GARDENER: This was one of the most enjoyable recording processes we’ve had. We weren’t locked away in a dark London studio, and we were only 25 minutes from Oxford too, so I could go and buy pot! We felt confident about where the band was going. I remember going up to bed with the “Time Machine” instrumental on a cassette just going round and round, and putting words down to it there and then. It was a fresh, reactive way of working.
COLBERT: There was a lovely routine and rhythm to it that just went on day after day after day. Everyone had space. It was a great studio, and it was nice working with Alan [Moulder, producer]. We had big charts up on the wall, “Things To Do”. I loved all that!
GARDENER: With “Leave Them All Behind”, we were mucking around with chopping up this Hammond recording, and it worked really well with the way the song evolved through jamming. Lyrically, I was inspired by our first American tour.
QUERALT: It felt like we’d almost established ourselves so that there were no rules to follow – we didn’t have to do a ’gazy album, we didn’t have to have the guitars up full.
BELL: We absolutely weren’t going to do that. We had all these tracks that were conceptual, like “Motorway Madness”, which was like “Drive Blind”’s noisy bit part two. We did some Abbey Road-style medley things and some of it got used at the beginning of “OX4”. There was “King Bullshit”, this ambient reggae thing with an AR Kane vibe that ended up as a part of “Time Machine”. They were all tracks that had their own qualities but we ended up squashing loads of them together. It was all based on the Beatles model: it felt like we had to progress, and make our albums all develop from the last one. That’s why we ended up painting ourselves into a corner.
READING FESTIVAL 1992
A stellar live set from the group at the peak of their powers. Originally released as part of the OX4 boxset
GARDENER: I never felt like we were a cool band, but at Reading in 1992 we pulled off a major show on the main stage. It felt like a big moment for the band.
COLBERT: Public Enemy were big heroes of mine, and it was such an honour to be on that bill with them. I offered Chuck D our CD backstage, and he was like, “Thanks, I’ll probably sample some of that shit.” I was thinking, ‘Yeah, great, Public Enemy sampling us!’ After a few years, I realised that it probably just went in the bin.
BELL: We weren’t cool by this stage at all. We were cool in 1990, I think, and possibly 1991, but grunge was already coming then. We were followers of that scene, that pre-grunge American psychedelic rock. Some of that mid-’80s American psychedelic rock, like Screaming Trees, even REM. Sonic Youth and the Valentines would be the two mighty pillars of the temple of rip-offs that we made! Whenever you try and copy something it always comes out different. We’re rubbish at copying.
COLBERT: It’s our biggest strength.
CARNIVAL OF LIGHT
This step away from shoegaze was brave, but fatally harmed the band’s momentum
GARDENER: I felt like we were a great live band, but we didn’t really capture that on record. So I thought someone like George Drakoulias might be able to help with that.
BELL: So we went very West Coast American and ditched a lot of the things that were good about the band, because we felt like we couldn’t repeat ourselves. That was a mistake, because there’s a whole universe within the initial sound we had, we could have taken that a lot of different ways.
QUERALT: George Drakoulias said, “I’ve got a great cover for you guys, ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’, and we were like, “OK…”
BELL: He found it quite frustrating by day four of us trying to learn it… It was supposed to be an example of teaching us how to write a song – he said ours were too linear. So we ended up recording with John Leckie in Cornwall and Oxford instead. He’s a very interesting character, quite strange in a really cool way.
QUERALT: We recorded at Sawmills in Cornwall, quite cut off from the rest of the world. We’d come down in the morning and John would put some music on, stuff we’d never heard, Alice Coltrane, say.
BELL: This would have been the imperial period if we’d made an amazing record! The recording felt imperial, sitting on thrones on a lake getting photographed, having multiple recording sessions at The Manor and Abbey Road and everywhere else we went.
GARDENER: I was expecting the press to knock us down after building us up. Some people are still really annoyed that we don’t play much from that record now, though.
The swansong, with the group pursuing a louder, punchier sound influenced by ’60s rock and prevailing Britpop sounds
GARDENER: Things weren’t going well. I felt completely marginalised to the point where I didn’t even know what my role was. The band just fragmented. I didn’t feel like we were playing to our strengths, and I didn’t get that record – I couldn’t even tell you the tracklisting!
BELL: Oasis came on the scene when we were about to release Carnival…, and it made it seem out of date immediately. We were courting a cleaner sound, and they came out sounding like the Pistols and the Mary Chain, but with great tunes. Carnival… misfired, and we didn’t get to do a world tour with it. So Tarantula was conceived as, “Right, come on, we’ve been too indulgent, let’s get some of that energy that’s been going around, let’s play in a room together, let’s do songs that are more compact.” But the songwriting wasn’t there, especially on my side, and that let it down. We tried our best.
COLBERT: Tarantula was us squashed into a room in London, really intense, and we didn’t know if people liked us any more. I shaved my head, which was symbolic – all the floppy stuff had gone.
QUERALT: Drum and bass and trip-hop had arrived too, and I think the relationships in the band had got a bit intense. Technically, Tarantula sounds like a good album and I think we played well on it, but maybe the songs weren’t quite strong enough.
COMING UP FOR AIR
A one-day reunion for Channel 4 results in this nimble and epic jam
BELL: I remember getting a phone call from our ex-manager, saying, “This thing has come up, it’s to do with Ride. There’s this programme on Channel 4 called Pioneers…” And I was like, “Oh!” And his next line was, “…it’s about Sonic Youth. They want you to do the music for it.” But we said yes. I think they filmed us rehearsing and recorded it, but we also recorded it with a four-track, and that’s Coming Up For Air, 40 minutes of jamming. So we thought it would be cool to put it out.
COLBERT: The clue’s in the title really. Everyone was busy doing their own thing and it was just a nice break and then back to what we were doing.
BELL: It was a nice day out and I think it shows there wasn’t any bad blood. Once the band broke up, within a few months everyone had taken a deep breath and got over it. We liked the idea of Holger Czukay going through hours of jamming and editing it together to get something like “Mother Sky” out of it, which is just amazing.
GARDENER: I was lost in the medieval world of France then, living in the middle of a walnut orchard, letting nature do its healing, so it was nice to dip in and play with the guys again. After a while you realise that these people are going to be massive parts of your life, and that you’re always going to be known as part of Ride.
COLBERT: Typical Ride to do it without any songs, just turn up and jam. That’s kind of what kicked it all off for us originally, so it’s wonderful that everyone had the bravery to turn up with no plan whatsoever.
A fantastic return, 21 years after Tarantula, with Ride working with mercurial producer Erol Alkan
QUERALT: We’d had a year of playing together live, we were comfortable with each other, and so we thought, ‘We have to make more music.’ Everyone was demoing at home.
COLBERT: This was very much worked on and refined, in a brilliant way, which felt great. That’s the one thing we never felt that we’d had a chance to achieve, a really, really good studio album, even Going Blank Again. But with this one we really had the time, it was great.
QUERALT: Erol was amazing. I only knew him as a DJ, but he was totally hands-on. He’s a complete music head, too. It’s not just about electronic music, there’s no genre he doesn’t know anything about.
COLBERT: As soon as he was in the room, the momentum just went right up. We had a few days without him, but when he was there we were so much more productive. He was such an integral part of the record.
GARDENER: You have to live underground not to be affected by politics now and what goes on, it’s just crazy, so it did reflect on what was happening at the time – lyrics like “Lannoy Point” reflect my depression about the Brexit referendum, and “White Sands” was definitely about the experience of coming back together and making music with your buddies.
BELL: We’ve learnt what our strengths are, and the value of playing to your strengths. Once you know that, you can be adventurous and work to the limits of it.
THIS IS NOT A SAFE PLACE
Ride pick up where they left off, crafting this more compact, focused effort, again with Erol Alkan behind the desk
COLBERT: With Weather Diaries, we really did try a lot of things, so we got a lot out of our system. For this album, which I think is one of the best things we’ve done, we really did cut to the chase for what we’re good at, what we’re comfortable with, so maybe we had more to draw from. It didn’t feel limiting, just more honest and direct.
GARDENER: When you get more comfortable again as a unit, things can naturally get a bit more experimental. When “Future Love” came along we all picked up on that, and I really like “Kill Switch”. “Shadows Behind The Sun” is a very honest one for me.
BELL: This has got a lot more limited palette of sounds, it’s not so much of a kaleidoscopic array of instruments. It’s guitar, bass and drums on every song, and I tended to use the same guitar in the same open tuning. So that limited it.
COLBERT: We finally changed our approach, just to freshen it up, and started with the drums. We’d never really thought about drum sound in the studio, it was always a bit of an afterthought.
BELL: We rehearsed for the album in a studio, and then we were playing music through the night on the studio system, and we realised we were playing a lot of stuff like Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, Nirvana’s In Utero, with that Steve Albini drum sound. We thought that would be great for our drum sound.
GARDENER: It amazes me and surprises me that Ride has carried on in the way it has. We’re not in it for the money. I’ve done building work, and I’d much rather do this! I don’t feel like I’ve done my best thing yet and that’s what drives me to do more. I hope this album carries on what we did with Weather Diaries. The people decide in the end. I’m already starting to think about new things if we ever make another album.