18th Jan2010

History Lesson: Mark Gardener and Ride

by Todd

Few bands did more to revolutionize the alternative music scene more than Ride. Their contributions to Creation Records output were critical (you’re welcome, Mr. Shields) and their music was massive in England, the U.S. and the world. They were perhaps the best of the original “shoegaze” bands and their influence on rock music continues to be felt. Guitarist and singer Mark Gardener was one of the key songwriters of the band and he took some time out from his busy schedule to talk with us. With his current solo album, These Beautiful Ghosts and his production work, he continues to create compelling music.

TDOA: We did an interview with Alan McGee a few weeks ago where he waxed poetic about his love of Ride. Can you talk about your experiences with Alan and how he helped you?

MG: We first got to know Alan before we had signed to Creation as he followed Ride around for a few shows and talked to us after every show when we were on an early support tour with the Soup Dragons in 1989. It was early days for the Creation label at that time and we quickly realized that Alan was a man that was as passionate and ambitious about music and making his label work , along with the bands that were on his label, as we were about making music and Ride work. Creation and Alan Mcgee was the perfect home for Ride. I quickly became very close to Alan and even now. Not that we’re not in touch so much, he is still like family to me. Lots has been made of the partying that happened with Alan, Creation and the bands and for sure we had a fair few monumental nights together celebrating our ongoing successes but I also remember many nights where I would just be hanging out with Alan at his flat in London and talking with him and listening to loads of records from his massive record collection. So he helped me in loads of ways and turned me on to lots of great music which in many cases would inspire and help drive the creative process within Ride. I was very happy and proud that we we’re the first Creation act to start hitting the charts and that money made by Ride helped pay the studio bill run up by Kevin making My Bloody Valentines “Loveless” album !

TDOA: Given your disdain for the “shoegaze” label, do you regret being on Creation given the number of “shoegaze” bands or do you just think the press is lazy when it comes to labeling a band?

MG: I never held any real “disdain” for the “shoegaze” label and certainly do not regret being on Creation. The great bands on Creation that have stood the test of time and did not have to jump around on stage and go into ego overdrive like Bono or someone like that did not have to do anything other than play their music because in the end that was what it was all about and as far as I was concerned, the music did the talking and still does. At the time when a few lazy English journo’s started trying to knock us down with this tag we were playing sell out shows on world tours, selling lots of records and very focused on the creative process. (We were) enjoying and making what we believed to be great records. I was having the time of my life so when you return back to the UK and realize that a few journo’s are calling you shoegazers you tend not to get too bothered about that. The press had to sell papers and mags to survive and we had to sell records so I’ve never thought that much about why the press has to always try and put labels on bands.

TDOA: At that time it was common for bands to release a series of EP’s before releasing an album. Did you feel a lot of pressure with the release of those EP’s or were you at a point where you knew the band was going to succeed?

MG: We, along with the Valentines and a few others were the first bands to release EP’s instead of singles because creatively with Creation we did exactly what we wanted to, so there was certainly no pressure on us to release EP’s. At that time we did not expect our EP’s to start getting into the charts and for sure in a commercial sense it would have been much easier and better for the label if we were just releasing one song on a single seven-inch vinyl taken from an upcoming album as most other bands we’re doing at that time. It worked well for us because firstly we were doing something different to the norm and for the fans buying the records they had four strong tracks to listen to rather than a stand out single track and a dodgy b side. We also liked the fact that the people and DJ’s could make their own mind up as to what was their favorite track on the EP and even put the song titles on the artwork in circles as to avoid any song looking like it was the first and the lead track on the EP. The John Peels of the world at that time really got this and would end up playing all the tracks where as the more daytime radio DJ’s at that time were totally confused by this and we’re not sure what track to play as it required them to actually have some thought in the process rather than just being spoon fed one song to play. We did in the end make a few single 7 inch vinyls just for the radio with one track to help save the confusion for some .

TDOA: Can you tell us about the songwriting process for songs like Chelsea Girl? Obviously there were a lot of ‘layers’ in your songs and I wonder if those songs started with one guitar part and were built from there. Or did the band sort of “jam” while rehearsing and come up with songs?

MG: Some songs started from one of our initial ideas or a guitar line and some came from jams. I think Chelsea Girl was a combination of both of these processes. The song writing process with Ride was forever changing from song to song, Andy and I were always coming in with song ideas and Steve and Loz were also a big part of helping to create the songs and sound around these ideas. Some songs were also started and written as a result of Steve playing a bass line or Loz playing a groove and beats, but I guess in the end it would be Andy and I together and separately pulling lyrics together.

TDOA: Once you went into the studio, were the songs generally finished (aka, had the multitude of layers that we hear on those records) or did Ride tend to add onto the songs while recording? To what extent did Marc Waterman shape the sound of your early work on Nowhere?

MG: Some songs were finished before we went into the studio and some songs were written when we were in the studio. We were our own producers in the sense that we did not have so much creative and song writing input from engineers and mixers at that time. Marc Waterman and Alan Moulder were great guys and great at helping to get the best take and performances and sounds out of us and would stay the course and do whatever it took to get the tracks there with us in the end. Alan Moulder was a great mixer, as once you are so inside a track with your own performance we definitely needed more objective ears to mix the track to it’s full potential. There were not always a multitude of layers on Ride records. Many of the tracks on all of our albums came from live performances in the studio without so many overdubs. We would use some heavy guitar effects especially in the earlier records so that could be creating the sound that you are hearing as “your multitude of layers.”

TDOA: In 2001-2002, there was a lot of speculation that the band would reform due to the Channel 4 project and the box set release. What happened that made all of you decide to go in a different direction?

MG: We just got together to do a jam for a Channel 4 project. This was never about us reforming and neither was the box set release. I guess with a few people around the band at this time they could have thought that we were going to reform but that was not in our minds. Since Ride finished in 1996 there has been outside speculation which is continuing maybe more so now than ever, that Ride will reform. We did the jam and then I think a few weeks later I came back to the UK and did a few interviews with Andy about Ride then I went back to France which is where I was living at that time and I think Andy was soon to be on the road touring with Oasis so our lives were all very different by this point to the way they were when we were all together in Ride. Nothing really happened and there were no decisions made about going in different directions because our lives had naturally already gone in different directions since Ride split up in the first place. There is always ongoing business with Ride so we all try and get together now and then to make the decisions as we always have with Ride together. We all did this last December here in Oxford and had a great night along with having photos taken for the local Oxford music paper “Nightshift” as it is 20 years exactly since we released the first Ride EP. If interested you can see these pictures and read the interview by following this link http://nightshift.oxfordmusic.net/2010/jan.pdf.

TDOA: Did your work with Rinocerose have anything to do with your reported interest in dance music? I like Rinocerose and thought it was an interesting collaboration. Can you talk about how it came about and what became of it?

MG: I’m interested in all types of music so long as it’s good and interesting. After being in a sonic guitar band for years it was refreshing to work with more dance and groove based music. Rinocerose are a very interesting forward looking band who combine many different styles and they’re a great crew so I really enjoyed my collaboration with them and the many concerts and festivals that I sung at with them. It came about mainly as they were Ride fans and I played a solo show in Toulouse and they all came from Montpellier to this show where we all met and then they asked me if I would be interested in collaborating with them. The work is still ongoing as I collaborated with them on their last two records, so I’m always on call if they want me to go and join them for a concert. Again I’ve sung with them at many festivals and concerts around the world and it’s been a great collaboration.

TDOA: Please talk to us about the recording of These Beautiful Ghosts and how it felt to be able to write an record a solo record?

MG: Most of the recording of These Beautiful Ghosts was done between Marcatta Studios in Harlem NYC , Bearsville studios (nr Woodstock) in upstate New York and Dave Fridmanns Tarbox studio in Cassadaga also in upstate New York using some of the Flaming Lips gear that they were kindly, happy for myself and the Goldrush boys to use. Lots of the songs had been written when I was living in isolation in the rural medieval wilds of France and in my house when I returned back to Oxford. At times it was difficult to make and finance the record as I did not have any funding or label involvement for the making of the record. It became a real challenge to get it made and it did leave me in a lot of debt as by the time it was released and licensed to labels in the various territories that it came out in people were downloading and not buying records as they used to. This has made it difficult to follow up with another solo record and to have toured the record as much as I would have liked to. Creatively I was very happy with the record and still enjoy playing the songs with a band along with my ongoing occasional solo performances.

TDOA: To what extent do you think “major labels” caused the demise of the band?
MG: The only major label that I have directly signed to was when I was in The Animalhouse with Sam Williams for one record that we signed to BMG around the year 2000. This was definitely not a good experience of dealing with a label as so many people were moving around between labels and major labels at this time were realizing that the life and sales that they knew were about to drastically change forever.
When Creation had to sell half of its shares to Sony in order to survive, then for sure Creation was never the same again and during the time that Ride were signed to Sire for the world outside of the UK that Creation was looking after then I would say that I had no complaints with Sire at this time and they were a great label to be involved with for a major and certainly did not have anything to do with the demise of Ride. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Seymour Stein who signed Ride to Sire during our Creation days. With my solo project, as mentioned above, I just licensed this record to a few independent labels so I have not had any dealings with major labels for nearly ten years now.

TDOA: Can you talk about your experiences, playing in America during the first Ride tour? You were playing to pretty big crowds, but I wonder how the reaction contrasted with playing in front of British crowds.
MG: The crowds were smaller than the crowds we were playing to in the UK but to go to the US on your first American tour and to tour the US for the first time was a fantastic experience for me. I’ve always been a fan and inspired by many American bands and artists so I loved the whole experience of being on tour in the US. I’ve always enjoyed all my touring in the US. It’s a great and ever changing country to tour around especially with the big landscapes between the cities which at times can be mind blowing. I’m very happy that I have been able to see and tour around the US in this way.

TDOA: What’s next for you? When will we see new music from you?
MG: I’m very busy these days with production and mixing work with various bands and really enjoying this work as well as occasional ongoing solo shows and DJ sets. I’m also looking to create more music for film and documentaries which are opening up for musical involvement. I’m very involved with the film “Upside Down” which is the story of Creation records which is in the final edit stage now and is set for release around the world in the spring. For links and news of this and the various bands I have been working with you can see the details on my website (www.markgardener.com) it’s all on there !!

For more information about Mark’s current work, visit his website at www.markgardener.com

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