“Ride has been there from the beginning”: An interview with shoegaze pioneer Andy Bell

When it came to the wave of Creation-signed UK bands that helped define shoegaze, setting aside My Bloody Valentine, Ride were the poster boys.

Happily and openly smashing together a slew of noisy UK indie rock stalwarts from the previous decade — besides MBV, there was also fellow Creation veterans the House of Love and the Jesus and Mary Chain — and adding their own genteel harmonies, Ride whipped up a storm of interest via what became the almost requisite series of three EPs leading into an album, the majestic Nowhere. 1991’s Today Forever EP and 1992’s Going Blank Again, along with its own associated singles — their 10-minute instrumental ‘Grasshopper’ remains a hidden favorite of mine to this day — kept it all going, and introduced the band to even bigger crowds in the US than before.

Rather than steer into the dancier side of shoegaze per se, Ride took a turn into rock and roll classicism with 1994’s Carnival of Light, which just pre-empted Britpop’s full-on embrace of the past but found the band outmatched by new Creation signings Oasis. 1996’s Tarantula ended the band on a divisive note, with no live shows to promote the album at all due to a breakup announcement shortly before its release.

Vocalist and guitarist Andy Bell moved from Ride to Hurricane #1 before joining Oasis for nearly a decade and eventually supporting Liam Gallagher for five years in Beady Eye. Bell’s Ride co-founder Mark Gardener, however, pursued a generally quieter career with an emphasis on collaborations and performances amid occasional releases (including a late 1990s band with drummer Loz Colbert called the Animalhouse), while bassist Steve Queralt left professional music to focus on interests and work elsewhere.

With nearly all the original Creation shoegaze stalwarts having made their way back one way or another in recent years, Ride’s own reunion announcement felt almost inevitable on the one hand, right down to the appearance at Coachella, but still honestly surprising on the other — it just never seemed that the original quartet would get back together even if Gardener and Bell did. But it happened, and a couple of days after their first full return performance in Oxford, I had a chance to chat quickly with an effortlessly polite — though I’m sure terribly tired — Bell shortly before their first performance in Los Angeles prior to Coachella. Given that it was at the Roxy Theatre (the site of a memorable 1991 performance on a co-headlining tour with Lush; the show itself was released as a promo CD in America and later on the expanded reissue of Nowhere), that provided the perfect starting point.

Ride are set to headline London’s Field Day on Sunday June 7. For more information and tickets head to the festival’s website.

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“When we started out, we were quite an obvious mix of what was happening right at the time, but we couldn’t help adding our own thing to it.”
Andy Bell, Ride

It is almost 24 to the day since you guys played at the Roxy with Lush. Do you have any particular memories of that first time you played L.A.?

Yeah, it was a great tour, and I do remember the Roxy show. I remember it was one of those where I lost the run of myself, a bit like Oxford last week. I just kind of went mental. But [the Roxy show] was a really great gig. I was sitting here today and immediately remembered me and Mark kind of got that feeling back again, so I think it’ll be good tonight. It was good to come back to a place you’ve got history with.

Every report I read from friends, people I know who attended the Oxford show, they were raving. Did the band and you feel that when you were onstage there?

Absolutely. Obviously, we’d been planning it since before Christmas, so it’s been quite a few months now building up to this point. And to come onstage and play was such a relief. It was all over in a flash, even though it was like an hour and 40 minutes. After the gig, there was loads of people that I’d not seen for years and years — they’d all been there. It was great to see all those faces. I didn’t know they were all there beforehand. I didn’t really know who was going to come apart from a few of my family!

Do you feel like it’s a case of lot of people who were from back then coming in again with the same energy, mixed with a lot of newer fans? Or is it very much more weighted toward one side or the other? It’s very early days, I realize.

It seemed like it was a lot of people that remembered us from back in the ’90s, but I’d like to think that we’re going to get an equal amount of people who have never seen the band. Those are the people I really want to play for. I want to play for people that never got a chance to see us ever, and probably young enough to be in some of the bands that have come along since then, that have a similar kind of sound.

“I do like playing the old stuff.”
Andy Bell, Ride

When you’re performing older material, is it a question of taking yourself back into how you were when you first recorded and played it, or is it a matter of, “Okay, I know this. We know this. Let’s see if we can do something different with it”? How would you see it?

It’s a natural process. I think you put yourself back in the headspace of when you first did it so that you can learn it. You have to. You listen to the record, and get the parts down, and you’re now you in the present day, so whatever you do will be through the filter of all the things that you’ve taken on board between then and now. We do play them a little bit different, but they’re all based on the real version. That’s what the recorded versions are.

Partially because these were the tours I saw you on, I was certainly more familiar with the Nowhere and Going Blank Again material. Do you see this reunion in part as a chance to bring more of the later material, Carnival of Light and so forth, out a bit more?

Maybe later on, but not now. We are drawing off the first EP and the first two albums, and there’s one other song, which is (Tarantula’s) ‘Black Nite Crash’, currently in the set. But we have more tours booked than just this initial run, so I’m thinking that after we’ve done the festivals and gotten into more of the autumn, if we get on tour again in the autumn, then it’d be good to try and put out few different ones, maybe later ones, just mix it up a little bit and try and give people a few more varied songs they might not have expected to hear, you know?

When the announcement came out about the reunion, part of me was going, “Oh, really cool,” and part of me almost immediately associated it, if only because you were on the same label back then, with Slowdive’s reunion. Did you happen to catch any of their shows, and did you take note of the response? Because my sense of those Slowdive shows is they were so well-received and that there was almost a real hunger for it – ‘the time is now, and you can be really appreciated.’

I didn’t get a chance to catch them yet on this reunion trail, but I definitely hope to. And I guess you could say there was some kind of connection there, because it was [Spanish festival] Primavera that put them on. That was their first announced gig the year before, and then, here you go, this year, it’s us. Primavera were the first to announce that we were playing, so Primavera’s got a lot of credit to take — I think on My Bloody Valentine as well, if I’ve got that right. They put the Valentines, they put Slowdive, and then they put Ride, so there is definitely a connection there.

A whole bunch of Spanish Creation fans from ’90, ’91 who grew up and ran a music festival. I can see that.

Yeah, they’re about the right age, aren’t they?

There was such an impression at the time, almost a romantic grouping, especially from where I sat out here on the West Coast. It wasn’t quite the sense that all the Creation bands at that time were all living together in a house and all palling around, but it theoretically helped. If you found out about one Creation band, you found out about all the rest, but at the same time almost grouped you all together, when that didn’t really apply. Do you think that in the end you were able to come up with your own particular claim on a sound, a feeling? Or do you think that sometimes it got a little lost in an association that might not have always been there?

I don’t know. That’s something that can only really be answered in the minds that experienced all those bands back in that period. But from my point of view, we did definitely listen to all the bands around, and we were feeding that, so we were being influenced by, for example, Spacemen 3, feeding that back into a new song, and then releasing it. It instantly fed into those things — the House of Love, the Valentines, even The Smiths, just all the stuff that we liked, feeding it straight back into our music, and literally giving it back to our audience. In a way, when we started out, we were quite an obvious mix of what was happening right at the time, but we couldn’t help adding our own thing to it, and that’s, I think, why it’s lasted and kept its appeal. I guess there is something to it, more than we even realized.

Stepping aside briefly to talk about where you are as a musician and a songwriter: obviously right now your attention is on Ride. Do you see this as just another strand for the work you do in general, whether it’s woodshedding at home or trying new things out or thinking to introduce things in, or is it something like, “Let’s concentrate on this very separately for a while”?

Before the Ride reunion was mooted, I was already starting to do little bits and pieces, like starting to do soundtrack work, and I started thinking about putting some music up of my own, which I’ve started doing as well. I started uploading tunes to SoundCloud. So now Ride’s going, that’s obviously taking the lion’s share of the time really now, but I’m still going to keep my finger in the other side as well, and keep it all going. I like being really busy and I like the fact that if I’m on the Ride tour and I have downtime, I can be doing stuff, useful stuff, in my hotel room, either writing songs or just some of that, some making music or whatever I feel like doing, I can do. These days, you know, it’s possible.

“When ‘Seagull’ kicked in, the adrenaline took over, and I don’t remember much about the rest of the gig.”
Andy Bell, Ride

In terms of rehearsing, did you find that it was very easy to lock into a groove pretty quickly? Or did it take time to warm up to feeling yourself out as four individual musicians coming together again?

I would say it was astonishingly quick to fall back into the Ride chemistry together. Actually learning the songs has taken a bit more time, but just the fact that we were playing together and it sounded like Ride was instant, and that’s been quite surprising, how quick it was. What’s taken the most time is practical questions. Ride has been there from the beginning, and the main thing we’ve been working on since then is — almost the logistics of playing the songs, plus the way I would want it as well.

Speaking about the songs you specifically wrote and are rehearsing and playing, do you have a particular favorite, or do you think, “They’re all good in their own right”?

I look on them all as being part of one thing. I’m thinking of Nowhere and Going Blank Again mainly now, and the first EP. All the lyrics come from the same kind of mentality, and they’re all from that same person. I wouldn’t say I’m detached from it, but I have to just accept that we are performing these songs with lyrics I probably wouldn’t write now. But I think I’ve got a lot of respect for the music as it stands and I wouldn’t want to change anything, you know? It’s a weird one. I’m not really sure how I feel about it, but I do like playing the old stuff.

With that in mind, based only on the one show so far, what was the song that you performed at Oxford that gave you the biggest rush right when you kicked into it?

‘Seagull’ was the one, because we started the set with ‘Polar Bear’, which is quite identical. Mark’s idea was to start with a really psychedelic one that was grander, and then come in with a more typical opener second, which was ‘Seagull’, and when ‘Seagull’ kicked in, the adrenaline took over, and I don’t remember much about the rest of the gig. But yeah, that was definitely a good moment!



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