From Nowhere To Everywhere: Ride Interviewed

As Ride prepare to headline The Quietus' main stage at Field Day 2015 they talk to Joe Clay about all that's transpired since they decided to reform

There have been many dissenting voices bemoaning the recent spate of band reunions, but you wouldn’t have found any of them crammed into the upstairs of Oxford’s O2 Academy (formerly The Zodiac) on Easter Sunday, as local heroes Ride – Andy Bell, Mark Gardener, Steve Queralt and Loz Colbert – prepared to perform together live for the first time in 20 years. Like their fellow (also recently reformed) shoegaze pioneers Slowdive, Ride feel like a band with unfinished business. Their first life ended in acrimony and exhaustion in 1996, with close friendships in tatters. With Ride, the hatchet was buried fairly swiftly and the band have been on good terms for years (even performing together in 2001 for a Channel 4 documentary about Sonic Youth), but getting back together now is far more than an exercise in nostalgia. Their legacy is strong – like Slowdive they have become more influential in their absence then they ever were when they were a going concern when, after a meteoric rise, they found themselves vilified in the press for various reasons – mostly spurious, some justified.

When they released their first EP in January 1990, Ride were adopted into the mainstream with dizzying speed – big enough to score Top 40 hits (the first for Creation Records) just 12 months after forming. They became pin-ups, gracing countless music press front covers, and showed the UK indie scene that it was possible to make the leap from critical adulation to mainstream appeal without compromising their art. Their debut album, Nowhere, is often cited as one of the most influential of the 1990s, laying down the blueprint for the shoegaze sound. In five short years, Ride conquered the charts (their second album, Going Blank Again, went top five in the UK) and toured the world, signing an American recording deal with the legendary US music industry mogul Seymour Stein (the man who signed Madonna). They created and redefined a whole genre of music, reframing pop music in a noise context, but despite all this, the story of Ride’s rapid ascent and dramatic fall from grace is often forgotten, swallowed up in the years bookended by baggy and Madchester, and the Britpop explosion and grunge.

Now Ride come again, and they deserve this second chance to remind everyone why they should be regarded as influential trailblazers. For the fans, and the band members themselves, this is more than just a trip down memory lane. Watching them that night in Oxford, and the myriad of online footage from the subsequent dates in America, the overriding feeling is of a band not just reformed but completely reborn – they sound better now than they ever did in their pomp. Having seen Mark Gardener play countless acoustic gigs to half-empty pub backrooms, watching him stamp on the pedals and play these songs with his old friends to a rapturous crowd was a joy. His beaming smile and general demeanour suggested that he felt the same way. Similarly, Andy Bell playing bass for Oasis always felt like watching Paul Scholes play centre back. He may have got back on the six-string with Beady Eye, but it still felt like he was slumming it. And Loz Colbert (“the Keith Moon of shoegaze” © Nat Cramp) and Steve Queralt (dub reggae’s loss was shoegaze’s gain) are still one of the all-time great rhythm sections. This is what they are supposed to be doing. Effortlessly cool all over again.

When Ride initially announced they were reforming it was a run of dates in the UK and Europe (including Field Day and Primavera) that were supposed to mark their re-entry to the fray, but once news they were back became public, the organisers of Coachella wanted them on board, so a West Coast US tour was subsequently put together. That means that any UK fans that didn’t get a ticket for the Oxford gig have had to watch their beloved band’s second coming from afar. But with that initial run of UK dates now imminent, I caught up with the band (minus Loz) in a North London pub to talk about being back together, that recent US tour, how YouTube and Twitter have transformed the live experience and what to expect from the forthcoming gigs.

Andy Bell: These were the original dates we scheduled to start with. Then we had the American stuff put in, so it still feels like we haven’t really launched properly. The time I’ll really feel like that will be Barrowlands (Glasgow, May 23). This is the gig where, on the day that we announced it all, people got on the phone and bought tickets straight away.

It’s good in a way, because anyone who got those tickets are going to get the best of you. You’ve gone to America, and got warmed up…

Steve Queralt: It’s a relief for us really, because we know it all works. It sounded good and we’re reasonably match fit.

AB: It definitely ironed out a few creases, that’s for sure. We came out to do the encore in Oxford, and we were going to do ‘Leave Them All Behind’. So we had a sample of the organ intro, and we were going to start that and then walk on. The sound guy pressed the button and it was coming out of the monitors, but it wasn’t coming out the front. We could hear it, but no one was cheering and we were like, "Fucking hell! I though this tune was bigger than this!"

Mark Gardener: I suppose the anxiety that I started to feel was the whole brave new world order, that anything you do is filmed and put online for the world.

I watched your Coachella set in my pyjamas at 7am on my phone, lying in bed with my kids.

SQ: It’s mad, isn’t it? The encore was on YouTube before we’d even finished.

AB: I like that. I’ve watched enough YouTube videos now that the whole thing of the bad quality and bad sound gives it a charm that makes it seem better than it was in a way. It’s almost like the worse quality the better.

How does touring now compare to what it was like first time round?

MG: I’m loving all the geeky things like the monitoring. This is the first time I’ve done Ride shows and been able to hear Andy’s singing really well and me singing – that was always the trade-off back in the day. You knew you wouldn’t be able to hear the vocals very well. I think we actually did pretty well, and mostly we were in tune. Now it’s so much better. I can relax because I can hear everything properly – the performance can grow and come up another level. There’s not that battle any more, especially at festivals. That’s just technical shit, but it does make a difference. I know Andy’s experienced all that before, but I’ve never had it.

Having you been partying hard post gig, or now you’re older and wiser, do you leave a bit more in the tank?

AB: Bit of both really. You can’t help having a couple of beers when it’s a good gig. Apart from Loz, who’s got a terrible heroin habit.

[Everyone laughs, because he hasn’t – Legal Ed]

MG: Of course, you’re buzzing after shows like that.

So you didn’t hit Haight Ashbury and go and score some acid?

AB: I did hit Haight, but I went to Amoeba Music for a slightly different drug – the hit of vinyl. I got the Jodorowsky soundtracks to El Topo and The Holy Mountain.

MG: I was definitely far more present than I’ve ever felt at these Ride shows. In the past I’d have been really stoned or whatever. But it would be completely ridiculous to be totally off your head to come and do this. You want to do what you do and do it really well. It means a lot to me to be able to do that. It also brings up the anxiety levels a bit! Being able to feel all of it…

At Oxford, you were on another level to what I can remember from Ride Mk1. In terms of performance and the sound…

AB: That’s really cool. Hopefully that’s along the same lines as me seeing the Stone Roses again. I’m always banging on about the bloody Roses, but that’s how I felt when I saw them. They’d gone up a level.

MG: That’s what I’ve said in a few interviews – the challenge is how do we get this up to that next level? And with the sort of gigs we’re being offered now, it needs to be. Lots of little things make a big difference.

I know a lot of people are against bands reforming, but I feel like people will get to see the best of Ride this time. You’re older, wiser, more experienced, better musicians – with an improved level of performance and better technology, you get a chance to really show people how good you can be. I feel like there is a lot of unfinished business for Ride – there is a reason for you to get back together.

MG: Imagine how shit it would be if you came out and did it and it didn’t sound anything like it should.

SQ: That’s why going to California was so good. It was reassuring as lots of people told us that we sounded really good. That’s a massive weight off our shoulders.

And then you can go into the UK and Europe dates full of confidence. So what can people expect from these gigs?

AB: It was good to do a few shows and try a few things out. Coming into the UK tour, we know now what’s going to be good – the set order and how we play it. It will probably be a more muscular, aggressive set than we’ve been doing. Instead of coming in in first gear, we’re going to go straight in. You have to – you can’t walk on stage at Barrowlands and not have it. You judge it from the audience, and you have to deliver what they want.

MG: The general shape of the set we’ve got really works. We know that having road tested it. It bodes well.

I’ve always loved the live version of ‘Nowhere’. It’s a monster. You opened with a 16-minute version of that in San Diego (at Humphrey’s Concerts By the Bay).

SQ: We promised ourselves we would do that at some point.

AB: But that was something that would only really work in California. It wouldn’t work in Glasgow.

SQ: It’s either San Diego or Mars.

MG: It was a bizarre show. It’s one of the loveliest settings I’ve ever played in. You’ve got the water there and there’s people on kayaks and yachts and boats. It’s a wild setting. It just seemed the right place for ‘Nowhere’.

SQ: There were all these holiday chalets around the perimeter of the venue. Some of them were just people on holiday and they were wondering what the hell was going on!

MG: People were slamming their shutters and looking really angry… Then there were others who’d booked knowing we were going to be playing there who were dancing on their balconies.

You played ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ as part of the encore in San Francisco, which is something you used to do in the very early days. Are there going to be any other surprises?

AB: I’d like to feel that every gig is going to have something about it… whether that’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ or something else. There will be something every night that makes it a bit special. But we really need to start learning some more of the old songs to make that happen.

MG: It’s getting harder to surprise people though, because the minute you finish playing the set list is up on social media.

SQ: It was quite disheartening actually – we played in Oxford and then two days later we did LA and someone on Twitter commented, "Oh, they played the same set."

MG: It was our second gig!

People are bored already…!

AB: In Oxford we played everything we had. Everything we’d rehearsed. The stuff we’ve added since then, we’ve rehearsed on the hoof. So that’s where we are. We’re up to date. But there are certain songs we can do out of the blue and pull off, so I’m up for that. I think we pulled off ‘Nowhere’, and there are others like that. Leave it with us, we’ll try and keep surprising you.

MG: It’s nice really – there was always something about us before that we were flying by the seat of our pants. But when you’re confident with the main structure you can get that feeling of spontaneity back again.

AB: We can always come back in with ‘Twisterella’. There’s a good variety of Ride songs, but quite a few are just set in stone how they are. The ones that are really fun to play now and then are the freeform ones.

How was it being back together on the road again? How has the dynamic of the band changed?

MG: It was strangely familiar, yet surreal. It seemed weird to think that there was such a long time when we weren’t doing it.

SQ: It was like 20 years disappeared in an instant.

MG: Also what’s nice on the road is there’s a crew as well and I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people. It’s not just the band – there’s lots of other people around too. Plus partners came out for our first few shows and that was great too.

Did any of your kids make it along to any of the shows?

SQ: My son James saw us at Reading when he was three months old. Us and Public Enemy. He doesn’t remember it though. And he came to the Oxford show.

AB: My kids haven’t come yet – I’ve got four kids and none of them have ever seen Ride. I think my daughter, Leia, is going to come to Field Day.

Field Day is the only UK festival Ride are playing. Are you looking forward to it?

MG: That’s the only festival we can play – there’s exclusivity on it, but we can’t wait.

SQ: Of course we were going to headline Glastonbury…

They sent out a fake Glastonbury line-up and you guys were on it and then everyone got very excited. It looked amazing, better than the one they actually announced.

MG. Yeah, I saw that. We’d love to do Glastonbury, it’d be amazing. We’re already thinking about things for next year already.

Once this run of shows is over, is there any chance you’ll start looking at making new music together?

AB: There’s nothing really happening in that department at the moment. What we’re talking about for the future is just doing more shows as that seems to still be the thing. I almost feel like we should be doing a whole world tour – even reaching to South America.

You were big over there weren’t you? And in Japan as well?

AB: I don’t really know whether Ride were very big in South America.

SQ: We are now.

Shoegazing is massive in Argentina.

AB: Yeah, it’s really growing out there. So I want to go to South America, I want to go to Japan; I want to go back to North America and the UK and then all around Europe to all the towns that don’t normally get done. That’s it really. I want to do all that.

So that’s this year and then you’re going to see where you are. You’re not going to give me an exclusive on a new album are you?

SQ. Further down the line we might.

I think people in the UK feel like they’ve been missing out as they’ve been watching all the stuff that going on in America from afar and that’s really built up the anticipation. There’s been lots of stuff online, it’s not the same as actually being there in the flesh.

AB. The kind of gig that we do, it’s a very physical noise. It’s quite a violent sound. It’s not just hearing something, it’s feeling it as well. It’s in the same way the Valentines gets you in the solar plexus.

Yeah, well so far so good.

MG: Oxford was really emotional.

AB: I can’t even remember the gig!

You just went into autopilot.

AB:  No, not really autopilot. I just went into the zone with the music. It had been quite an emotional ride to get back to that spot though and I think I was so overwhelmed when I got onto the stage that I almost had to slap myself with a wet fish for a minute. When I’m in the build-up to dates, I always picture myself at a particular venue. Throughout rehearsals all I could think about was going on stage in Oxford and that was really what it was all about for me. Now I’ve switched to Barrowlands and it’s all about that. I can picture the room; I can picture walking on stage. That’s informing how we think about set lists and things like that.

So what about you Steve? Andy and Mark have obviously been performing lots since the split, but this is your first time back in the game since Ride split. How has it felt for you? I know you’re not the kind of guy to get fazed by stuff, but it must have been emotional.

SQ: I did wonder if I could do it and how terrifying it would actually be. The few minutes before being on stage at Oxford really was… It felt like being on death row, waiting to be taken into the final room.  I remember thinking that if I could get through ‘Polar Bear’ than I’d be okay – but that was absolutely terrifying. I was actually shaking.

I don’t think anyone noticed.

MG: I can totally hear what he’s saying. The solo stuff for me, I felt so naked when I was performing, so for me it was a joy to get away from that. 

Nat from Sonic Cathedral said how great to see you look like you were having a ball.

MG: Yeah that’s what I mean, I’m loving it. I’m glad that that comes across, because I think that at this stage it would be bad if people were reading us wrong.

SQ: I don’t remember playing live being half as much fun as it is now.

Andy, this is probably quite a difficult question to answer, but how does it compare – being in Beady Eye and Oasis, and now going back to Ride?

AB: It’s not that different really. Every band lives or dies by what it does on stage. It’s really about four or five people playing instruments and that’s it. It’s about the chemistry. A band is a product of the people in it and as such they all function in slightly different ways, but then at the same time, they’re all the same. I just feel like me, whatever band I’m in.

But does Ride feel a bit more special?

AB: There is something special about Ride because it’s your first band and you’re first love. You’re going back to something that you were part of at the beginning.

As well as headlining The Quietus main stage at Field Day 2015 on Sunday, June 7th, Ride play the following tour dates:


22nd – Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow

23rd – Albert Hall, Manchester

24th – Roundhouse, London

26th – Paradiso, Amsterdam

27th – 2015 Olympia, Paris

29th – Primavera Sound Festival, Barcelona

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