For a generation of indie-girls, with his floppy fringe and bee-stung lips, Mark Gardener was the pin up of choice (it was always between him and Tim Burgess, and looking at them both now, we’re quite sure we made the right decision). It helped, of course, that Ride were flipping brilliant. Bursting out of Oxford in 1990 with a trilogy of EPs, before debut full length ‘Nowhere’ cemented their reputation as the noisy kids on the block. Two years later, they returned with a bona fide top 10 hit in ‘Leave Them All Behind’, a Top Of The Pops appearance that cemented our love, and their magnum opus, ‘Going Blank Again’. With its 20th anniversary seeing the now almost obligatory re-release, resplendent with live DVD, we caught up with our teenage crush to talk records, reefers, and reformations.
‘Going Blank Again’ is twenty years old, which makes me feel ancient.
Me too! End of interview? (giggles)
I think we probably should talk about the re-release a bit at least, or we’ll get in trouble. Do you have any specific memories of recording it?
I have to say, it was probably up there with the most enjoyable time I had being in that group. We came from a pretty dark and edgy place, in that we were art school people who suddenly became a band. I think, in the early days with ‘Nowhere’ and all that, we were a bit taken by surprise. For me, anyway, and the rest of the guys, we finally came to terms with what was going on, we were feeling really good about what happened with ‘Nowhere’, and maybe got a little bit more in control at last.
The studio that we recorded in, which sadly is no longer there, was in Chipping Norton, which was half an hour, forty minutes from Oxford, which put us back in the zone we were in before, before we started the chaotic lifestyle. But not too close to it. And it was a lovely studio, we were kind of left alone, we didn’t have people visiting because it was in Chipping Norton, and no one came to Chipping Norton unless they were looking for Ronnie Barker. By this point we’d done our first American tours, our first Japanese tours, and we were feeling great about everything. I remember doing a lot of vocal and lyric writing in the studio, in reaction to the music that was happening on the day. I was the only one staying in the studio, the others were staying in connecting cottages, but I was in there, in one of the top rooms, and I just remember many a night, listening to cassette tapes of what we’d done that day and trying to pen lyrics together for some of the songs. It was all spontaneous and felt good, and we were all pretty much firing on all cylinders.
Prior to that release, you’d been lumped with the ‘shoegaze’ label, but the record itself had a huge amount of influences, from New Order to The Who. Was it a conscious attempt to remove that tag?
I don’t think we ever really thought, ‘ooh you know, we want to do something so we’re not called shoegaze’, we just hit a point and wrote the kind of songs that were right for us then. I don’t think you can really write and work like that, all along the records were really honest with our development as a band. It sounds a bit pretentious, but if it’s interesting to you, as a group, you have some sort of confidence that it’ll be interesting for people that are interested in the band. And I think it worked. It felt like a very natural step on.
The album was critically really well received, and you were getting 9/10 reviews from Steve Lamacq etc. But the second single that you released from the album was ‘Twisterella’, which didn’t do as well as it really should have. Did that come as a surprise?
I suppose in a way. It’s probably one of the first times we’d thought… prior to that time, everything had taken us by surprise. The EPs, ‘Nowhere’ charting, I suppose it’s that classic thing, where you think, well this one might do quite well, it should chart, and of course as soon as you think that, it didn’t. It’s the kind of beauty of it in a way, as soon as you think one thing, another thing happens entirely. After that, we didn’t really release another single, it didn’t really work out. We were obviously just, fuck it, I don’t know, with hindsight, you think there were other potential singles in there, but in the middle of it, we were just thinking, oh well, and move on.
With the re-release, is it fair to suggest that your favourite Ride album was ‘Going Blank Again’, then?
I go between that, ‘Carnival Of Light’ and ‘Nowhere’, all three had great stuff going on. But I think ‘Going Blank Again’, I come to as my favourite, but… at different times, I hear different songs… For example, I played a gig in Munich not long ago, which was in the old disused warehouse where they used to build the Orient Express trains. And the Germans do this really well, it’s not normally a venue but they’d turned it into a festival for the weekend. In the morning, I walked in, and the air was really thick with pot smoke and all that rubbish stuff, packed with 20 year old German hipsters, and then ‘Polar Bear’ came on. And when it’s one of your own songs, you see how people react, and I was just, my god, that’s absolutely amazing. I’ve started to play it acoustically live now, because it just blew me away, it’s one of those moments where you’re just, I forgot how good that one was. But then obviously, when I hear ‘Leave Them All Behind’, and ‘Chrome Waves’ is always a personal favourite of mine, and ‘OX4’, there were a lot of great tracks on ‘Going Blank Again’, it was possibly a more consistent record.
The beginning of ‘Cool Your Boots’ starts off with a ‘Withnail And I’ sample, the same one that Orbital also used on ‘Planet Of The Shapes’. How did that happen?
We were potheads at that time, obviously, and that was one of those films we caught quite early. Actually, we contacted HandMade Films to clear the sample, and they were just really pleased, because at that time, ‘Withnail And I’ just wasn’t a known film at all. I can’t remember how it came into our sphere or whatever, but I just thought it was fantastic, I loved it, we just thought it was great to use a sample. And HandMade were just happy to do anything that bought it to anyone’s attention, so they just cleared it, we didn’t pay them anything. Of course, George Harrison was in the background of that company, so it has to be cool. And now it’s a cult classic, everybody knows about ‘Withnail And I’ now, and rightly so, it’s just a great film.
Did you know Orbital were using the same clip?
I definitely wasn’t aware of Orbital having used that sample before we did, but then I wasn’t aware of Orbital at all until a little bit later. I actually hung around with them for a good few years, I’d often watch them at Glastonbury and have a lost weekend. But it’s a coincidence that we used the same thing, I’m still not sure which one came first, but that’s a good pop quiz question!
Ride famously gave Creation Records’ their first charting single and Top 20 album, what was it like being on that label at the time?
It was just mad, it was brilliant! Have you seen [Creation Records’ Documentary] ‘Upside Down’? Well, yeah, it was a lot of fun…
Creation was complete chaos. It felt brilliant because the stuff that we were doing at that time, for a label that we’d greatly admired before we were even with them, was making a massive difference to the label and was putting some money to those guys, and to Alan [McGee]. It’s an amazing feeling, like you’re winning on your own terms, with a label that’s just chaotic. It just felt great, it doesn’t get better than that. Reasons to celebrate and party, and we really did. Not ridiculously, because we were really busy, but you’d go to the Creation office on a Friday and come back home on the Monday and be like; what the hell happened? Alan was always, and still is, like a kind of mad uncle figure to me, it was a time when I spent a lot of time with him and a lot of our nights, aside from the crazy Creation nights, we’d spend a lot of time having calm nights, just listening to music together. Alan definitely turned me on to Big Star around that time, around that record, and that definitely had an influence, especially with things like ‘Twisterella’. Being exposed to Big Star, and I didn’t know them before Alan, he was great at finding bands and championing them when they’d been missed. And they were amazing, a massive influence on other bands, like Teenage Fanclub. In a way, all we’re really talking about is music, and that was everyone’s number one passion with Creation, with the bands, and I’ve quite often found, when you start being on other labels, that isn’t the case at all. It totally makes sense to me why so many bands came to that label and flourished.
Around that time, they seemed to be one of those labels you could just trust, like Sarah Records and Heavenly…
Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think labels can be signposts, you can trust them, for a bit of quality control. There’s so much music out there now, I hope with what I’m doing, with the bands that I’m producing, I hope to become a bit of a signpost, and say look, I really believe it and if labels can do that as well… I’ve certainly felt that with 4AD, with Ninja Tune as well in the past, I’ve always had a lot of respect and admiration for bands that have come through there too. And Creation were absolutely one of those labels as well, but it couldn’t ever have been sustainable for a long time you know, it had to blow up, everyone had to blow up in their own way too. Which just makes it a bit more interesting. I just think music’s transparent, and once your environment becomes boring, then your music does too. If the people around you are all feeling it, and involved and edgy… everyone within that organisation felt like we were on the edge of life. That’s where music happens creatively.
You’ve said in the past that reforming Ride would be like getting back together with an ex-girlfriend, that there’s a reason you split up in the first place. Can we take it that a big reunion isn’t on the cards?
Yeah, I have used that one… I just say, if you imagine going out with someone that you were going out with twenty years ago… it might be great for a night or so, but eventually the same reasons come up as to why it ran it’s course…
Do you look at reformations like the Stone Roses and feel even a teeny bit tempted? Financially, it’s clearly a bit of a goldmine…
We’d certainly make a lot of money. I’m just, personally, really happy with how things have been, I love doing the mixing and production, I’ve just done an Australian and New Zealand tour that went really well, I’m genuinely happy with what I’ve been doing, I’m just enjoying life, living in the present. And of course, I do love and really respect the songs that we’ve written, and I’ll when I do an acoustic show, I’ll play them, just in an acoustic way… I’m 42 now, it feels like a nice way to deliver them, in a more intimate way. With Ride, it was a big deal in the end, because you felt separated from the audience and the crowd, because that’s how your life was. I’m taking it that Andy’s probably been very happy, doing the Oasis thing and doing Beady Eye, so because we’ve both been very happy doing our own stuff, I don’t think it’s properly been an option, really. It’s a real difficult one, it’s not something that I’d call the guys and say “come on, we have to do this.” When I found out the Stone Roses had reformed and were doing those shows, I sort of thought it’d be nice to support them, but then I think that for about an hour at most. There’s always thoughts, you know, a big Glastonbury show’s always appealing, and it is in my mind that certain shows would be appealing. But if we did it, we’d need some new material…
So it’s not completely off the table then?
No, as I stand now, it’s definitely not in my plan, and it’s way off the table! But when we formed the band, if someone had said, “you’re going to be doing Top Of The Pops and it’s all going to go off for you”, I would never then have said of course. You can’t say something’s never going to happen in the future. But at the moment it’s not something that’s in any of our plans or thoughts, really. But it’s something that’s always there, I guess, and I don’t want to diss the Stone Roses or whatever for doing it. I’d kind of diss them if they came back and the shows were crap, because back in the day the Stone Roses weren’t a sure bet to have a good show; I saw a lot of them and they were rubbish. So the fact that they’ve managed to come back, and all the reports that I’ve heard, they were great and everyone had a good time, so if you can come back and do that, then that’s fine. They’ve made thousands and thousands of people really happy, so who am I to argue with that?
The thing is, there’s a lot of us who were about 14, 15 when the Stone Roses were around the first time, who didn’t get to see them – which is the same for Ride – there’s a big market for those of us who were slightly too young, but to whom those records have meant a lot over the last 20 years…
A lot of people tell me that and that’s a valid argument, and I hear you on that. And it’s not really all about you, when you think about the people and if they really demand that and want that, it’d be nice to give them that, but we’ve all been doing our thing. We know we get some pretty serious offers from different festivals around the world, we’re always aware of it, but as yet it’s not in our plans. So what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t rule it out around completely, but it’s more likely not to happen, than happen.
Ride’s 20th anniversary edition of ‘Going Blank Again’ is available now.