With two new albums out, UK band Ride make waves on our shores for the first time in 25 years. Here’s my chat with Mark Gardener
“The truth can get in the way of a good story,” Mark Gardener says from his OX4 Sound studios in Oxford, where the songwriter-cum-producer helps emerging bands on their own musical journeys. Gardener is one half of the songwriting duo behind iconic band Ride, who, in the early 1990s, swept fans up in a wave of atmospheric fuzzy guitar riffs and dreamy vocals that earned them a following worldwide. Billed as frontrunners of the shoegaze sound, while also dabbling in Britpop, they released three successful albums. By their fourth, Tarantula, tensions were building between the two principal songwriters, Gardener and childhood friend Andy Bell, and the band fell apart. Bell went on to form Hurricane No. 1 and played bass for Oasis. Gardener formed the Animalhouse and later moved to France.
“The story was that me and Andy had this enormous falling out, but the reality is quite boring in a way,” says Gardener. “The bubble burst and actually Ride was never a career band at that point. The car was always going to smash into a wall. That’s the kind of band it was and that’s what made it exciting.”
Far from being enemies, the band members – including Steve Queralt and Loz Colbert – kept in touch over the years. “These were people I went to school with and, without sounding too Spinal Tap about it, the people you went to school with are like your brothers in a way,” Gardener says. “It’s sort of family. Family at some point need to throw everything in the air and fall out and do all of that, but then you soon come back together. The thing is that we’ve always stayed in contact. We’ve played solo shows together in the interim when Ride were not together. I did solo shows and stayed with Andy, who was living in Sweden. He was touring with Oasis. I became the studio guy. I lived in France for four years. It was good all through the period when Ride were not playing. So for us for to be back in a room and playing felt totally right and natural. We didn’t have to bury too much.”
It was a series of reunion shows in 2014 that got the band back together. Those shows lead to jam sessions and the band found their creative spark once more. In 2017 they released Weather Diaries, their first new album in 21 years. This year they’ve added another to the catalogue, This Is Not A Safe Place, which they are now taking on the road, with shows in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. It’s their first tour of Australia in 25 years.
The shows are as much a trip, down memory lane or elsewhere, for the band as for the audience – even if those memories are as fuzzy as the guitars. The early days of Ride were messy and fun. Gigs could be as chaotic as they were wonderful. Sometimes Andy and Mark’s vocal would be lost in the wall of sound, which Gardener describes as a “total racket”. They’d come off stage reverberating as much as their instruments. Now they’re masters of their art. While these days they might be consummate musicians rather than enthusiastic free-fall experimenters, their aesthetic, much to their fans delight, remains true.
And that’s because the band mates are tuned in to each other, says Gardener. “Chemistry is really transparent and if it’s not there, people can hear it straightaway,” he says. “You learn to trust each other more than you did back in the day and you learn there’s a power in letting go. From the early days we’ve grown up a lot, I guess. We’re more consistent as people. Therefore the shows are more consistent and better. We’ve still got the energy. We still keep ourselves pretty fit as we’re getting on. That sort of challenge to keep the edge is really important for us. That’s the whole point if you’re going to come back and do this, you’ve got to make it better.”