Mark Gardener has established himself as a songwriter, musician and producer of some distinction over the past twenty-five years. Recent collaborations with Robin Guthrie and Andrew Pearse have served as timely reminders of his artistry, while Gardener's technical wizardry has seen him oversee recent releases by Swervedriver and Desert Ships among others at his Oxford-based OX4 Sound recording studio.
However, it was with his first band Ride that Gardener first became a household name. Having put out four albums alongside several EPs and singles to a wide range of critical and commercial acclaim, the band became an integral part of the Creation Records story. Despite splitting up in 1996 shortly after the release of final album Tarantula, talk of a reunion has been on the cards for a while now. So the return of Ride in 2015 will probably come as no surprise to many.
We're at Nottingham's Bodega prior to the last show of Gardener's short run of opening slots for Thurston Moore. Here's how the conversation unfolded...
DiS: How are you?
Mark Gardener: Excited. Ride are reforming. We've got a lot of big shows lined up next year.
DiS: Wow! Primavera?
Mark Gardener: Yeah, we're headlining the second stage. And Field Day too. We've been talking to the people from Primavera for about three months now and they made us some great offers without them even knowing we were considering reforming.
DiS: Will it be the original four members?
Mark Gardener: Yes. It could never be without any of those four people.
DiS: I remember speaking to Andy Bell in 2012 about the possibility of Ride reforming and he said it would be a shame if you never got to play those songs again.. How long have you all been planning this? Have you started rehearsing?
Mark Gardener: We haven't started rehearsing yet. We've still got plenty of time for that. But in a way I'm rehearsing by doing these shows. I'm probably the only one that's played any Ride songs live over the past few years. I've been playing three every night on this tour. My main focus has been the three albums I've got coming out next year. We've been talking about it for three or four years but there's been various things that got in the way. And also it didn't feel quite right for a number of reasons. Obviously Andy was full on with Oasis and then he got into Beady Eye. I've been busy with production and mixing. Loz Colbert was drumming with The Jesus & Mary Chain and he's now playing with Gaz Coombes. Steve Queralt (bass player) is an international man of mystery! I'm not totally sure what he's up to jobwise at the minute. He hasn't been doing as much in music as the rest of us but I know he's been busy too. Quite beautifully in a way it's twenty-five years next year since we released Nowhere. We did the twentieth anniversary reissues which went really well. I wasn't sure whether Ride would ever play again to be honest with you. I started to talk to the other guys seriously a few years ago as I have been fielding that question for a long time. In the end I needed to gauge everybody's feelings about it. We do get together quite a lot. We have done for years. I guess we've always known it's been there, so with these festivals in particular next year it seems the right time to do it. At the moment we've got about three weeks worth of confirmed dates. Beyond that we don't know at the moment. But we definitely know we're doing those shows. We didn't want to just do festivals. We also wanted to put on our own shows so we're gonna be playing the Roundhouse in London, Manchester Albert Hall and Glasgow Barrowlands. They all lead up to Primavera towards the end of May and then we're also doing a show in New York, one in Toronto, Amsterdam Paradiso and Paris. They're all we have confirmed at the moment.
DiS: I guess you were the last of the experimental guitar (shoegaze) bands from that era to get back together. Did the success of the Slowdive reunion this year have any bearing on your decision?
Mark Gardener: Not really. I'm really happy for Slowdive at how well they've been received, and rightly so. But I guess we looked at it a bit more when My Bloody Valentine got back together a few years earlier. They were a bigger band back then same as we were and I think we could gauge how things were working for them whether it would be similar for us. I've been speaking covertly to Debbie Googe on this tour about it all. Things like the demographic of the shows because I think there will be a natural synergy there. And she says it's been very mixed, which is great. Because I think as time's gone on and we've all become less stubborn about it, we've come to realise life's too short. It wasn't long after my dad passed away that I started to speak with the others about it. You only live once and there's an incredible opportunity for us, and there is unfinished sonic business. It just seems crazy not to take it. That was a discussion we had a few years ago.
DiS: Has the recent announcement about Beady Eye splitting up accelerated the reunion?
Mark Gardener: I can't really answer any questions about Beady Eye but I can say that these shows have been in the planning for quite some time. It certainly made life easier for Andy because he was looking at continuing whatever Beady Eye were going to be doing. But at the same time, Beady Eye being together or not had no bearing on us doing this.
DiS: So it was always going to happen regardless?
Mark Gardener: Yes. It was always going to happen. When The Stone Roses got back together I remember thinking maybe we should do it. For a good few years after we split in 1996 I thought that was it for Ride. I pretty much disbanded my entire live rig. I sold a couple of guitars to Andy actually. At that point I was solely concentrating on studio work such as production and mixing. I also love doing soundtrack work which I've gone on to do. But at the same time I've also missed that feeling of playing live. I've missed the guys. We've got on great for years. It feels like completely the right time to do this now. We're really buzzing about it. We want to do it but I also think a lot of people have demanded it in a way too. We are aware of that. Especially in this day and age with social media and stuff. I think you'd have to be living in a hole to not be aware of it! I really like the fact I'll never have to answer that question again because I have known for years. I also like the fact loads of people that were too young to see us first time round will get a chance to see us properly. I didn't really think about that before and I do now. Also, loads of people who are older but may have missed out will get that chance. We're not coming back to play new material although I can't imagine us getting together and new material not happening. It's just a natural process that when we get in a room that will probably happen. We know what people want to hear and we'll be giving it our all. We've all grown as people. I understand a lot more about sound because I've been in the studio for all this time and Andy's been on the cutting edge of massive shows for over a decade, so we can bring that kind of knowledge to make these performances louder and even better than it was back in the day. That's another necessity for it to happen and us to feel good about it. We've got to feel it's going to go up another notch. We're all in good shape. In a lot of ways I feel in much better shape now than I did in my twenties. For various reasons I have to say. There are escape reasons I was using then because it was pretty full-on existence wise. The Creation Records era and all the partying that went with it is quite well documented. I've come to realise you can't buy that kind of relaxation zone. Getting stoned out of your mind isn't so great really.
DiS: Will the sets be predominantly Nowhere based or will they span the entire Ride back catalogue?
Mark Gardener: Certainly for the initial run we'll be playing songs off the first EPs, Nowhere and Going Blank Again. They're the songs people mostly know us by. We never played any of Tarantula live ever so 'Black Nite Crash' could be fun to do. There's a couple on Carnival Of Light that I really love as well. I still play 'From Time To Time' in my sets quite a lot so it's a bit early to say exactly how the setlist will look. What I can say is that we have a big catalogue of songs to choose from so it will be our intention to change the set from show to show. I don't see how we can do every song even from that Nowhere/Going Blank Again era in the allotted time. There are some real mainstay ones we'll definitely play at every show but we want to mix things up a bit too. It's nice to be in a position where we can throw things in, take some out and juggle everything around a little bit.
DiS: Tonight is your final date on the Thurston Moore tour. How's it been so far?
Mark Gardener: It's been amazing. I think this is the smallest room we've played on the tour so it should be incredible tonight. I did some shows on the West Coast of America about and we ended up playing the same night in the same venue. I don't know if it was by chance or if the booking agents had got together and arranged it that way. But because I was doing an acoustic set it meant I could go on first, and then Sebadoh and Thurston Moore. Thurston watched the set and then I got a message from him a few weeks later asking if I'd like to support on the UK shows and it's been great. I've known James (Sedwards) for years as he's from Oxford, crossed paths with both Thurston and Steve (Shelley) when I was in Ride and they were in Sonic Youth, and know Debbie really well from the Creation days. It's been fun. All the shows have sold out. I love Thurston's new album as well. I was just watching the shows live at first and then he gave me a copy of the record plus the album he did with Beck which is beautiful as well. So I've been driving my stuff around from show to show with those albums on rotation. It's weird because Sonic Youth or Thurston always seemed to be at a poignant part of Ride's development. The last time all four of us properly jammed together was for a project called 'Coming Up For Air' which was a tribute to Sonic Youth that went out on Channel 4 in the early 2000s. And now we're doing Primavera next year and they're thinking about it as well so it's kind of come round full circle. Thurston always seems to be around whenever Ride get back together!
DiS: There has been a resurgence of that whole sound in recent years, probably due in no small part to labels like Sonic Cathedral and Club AC30 along with films such as 'Upside Down' and Eric Green's 'Beautiful Noise'. What's your take on it?
Mark Gardener: I think it's all helped but I'd also say that none of those bands including Ride ever became insignificant. Whereas when I listen to a lot of modern music I can't imagine people saying the same things about them in twenty-five years time. That's not to say I don't like anything current. I do. People like Elbow and the Arctic Monkeys for starters, but I also think there's a lot of bland bands out there just playing it safe. Which is why bands like us and My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth still hold a place in time. The substance of that whole shoegaze/spacerock/sonic/whatever-you-want-to-call-it movement was really strong. Much stronger than the style aspect, whereas for me the movement that came after it - Britpop - was more stylised. The substance wasn't really there and that's why it didn't stand the test of time. When the music's great and it's interesting; many of the bands around at that time weren't repeating themselves and didn't care that much about success; it becomes a fearless form of pure expression. When I watch Thurston and his band every night I see something totally fresh and exciting and it's just brilliant to witness. They don't know where it's going. They take you on a sonic journey. They don't play by the rules and I don't think Ride ever did at our best. What confused us was when people started talking about singles and stuff like that. I never really felt we were a singles band.
DiS: Well you weren't really. Nowhere doesn't have any singles on it unless you count 'Dreams Burn Down' off the Fall EP.
Mark Gardener: Exactly. That was confusing so what I'm really looking forward to is getting back to that way of sonic exploration. I feel there is an audience who'd appreciate us being really psychedelic and edgy. We don't need to worry about singles. We don't need to worry about any of it. I think we've created that space and place to do that which is really exciting and liberating. We don't have to do many interviews or that kind of thing. The whole press thing really got on my tits back in the day because you're constantly jumping through hoops, especially when we used to go to America. We'd be doing an interview every half hour for about two or three days which isn't quite how I imagined being in a band would be like. But then you also need to do that because these people are investing in you. If I never did anther photo shoot or interview again I wouldn't miss it. Whereas what I do miss is that feeling of being in a band with the other three when the music's really taking off. When I'm watching Thurston I get that feeling from them. So I'm really looking forward to feeling that again because I've missed it.
DiS: The last time you played Nottingham was at the Glee Club last year with Robin Guthrie. Your set that night was a mix of new material - I remember a song called 'Contagious' particularly standing out - and a handful of Ride songs. Are you planning to release any of those new songs?
Mark Gardener: I'm just waiting for the go ahead from Robin to release the record I made with him. It's coming out on his label so hopefully it will be sometime next year. That's one of the three albums I have coming out. Another is a collection of all my collaborations put together on one album. Things like Dive Index for example. I'm also working with John Leckie on another record. We're reworking an album from a former Beach Boy called Jack Riley. It's his solo album he did in 1973. There were aspects of it he wasn't happy with. He's older now so just wants to go back and make a record he's really proud of. I'm revisiting that with John Leckie which is opening up a treasure chest of beautiful songs. I'm hoping all three will be out next year. I just don't know when. I'm not going to be running around promoting them, but I guess with all the focus being on Ride it may have a knock-on effect. Hopefully bring more people's attention to the other stuff I've been doing. It's going to be a bit mad next year with everything coming together at the same time, but at the same time very exciting too.
DiS: Do you see yourself working with Robin (Guthrie) again in the future?
Mark Gardener: I'd like to. This one's worked out really well and the actual recording part of it was pretty fast. We write together and I let him do guitars and bass and drums while I'm doing the acoustics and voice things. By the time he's got a backing track together I'm usually ready to go with a topline idea. It just worked really well like that. Everything just flowed. I know Robin's busy and I am too but we actually spent a bit of time speaking to various labels before realising we'd be better off releasing it ourselves. So Robin's gonna do that. I guess we'll have to see how things go when it comes out but I think it's a beautiful record. Like with Thurston and Sonic Youth, Robin and the Cocteau Twins were another band I used to listen to a lot on the tour bus.
DiS: Are you proud of Ride's legacy? Which artists who've cited you as an influence are you most fond of?
Mark Gardener: Because I've been so busy working with John and Robin and doing the Andrew Pearse EP recently I'm so closed off from a lot of other music to be honest. I need people to actually send me something. I know of people and I've heard of them but probably haven't actually heard them. It's difficult to have any judgment on them. Driving around in my car is a nice time to be listening to music. I've been listening to a lot of Bonobo recently. I met Simon Green and it turns out he's a massive Ride fan. It makes sense in that there's a kind of musical hypnosis in what he does. It's on the dancier side of things but I love his music. I'm more interested when people turn it into something of their own. For example, Sigur Ros I know were quite influenced by that whole scene. But then they're completely their own entity which is amazing. They create their own environment and that's the point. It's good to be influenced by things but in the end, great bands create their own environments.
DiS: What advice would you give new bands that are just starting out?
Mark Gardener: In the old days you had to be great to get signed. There were filters back in the day. You had to pass a filter test to even get considered to make a record. That's all gone now which is great, but also a bit of a hailstorm too because you've got to be really great now to stand out from the rest of that storm. It's really tough and even when I look back to when Ride first started, we played every Dog & Duck we could do for a good period of time which led to things starting to break into the charts. We really worked it and got a couple of breaks with Snub TV filming a show we played with Galaxie 500. But it's like anything, you make your breaks and I'd say to anyone just keep going. The tougher it gets come back with something that's better and better. It's only over when you give up. Maybe at times it feels like that. There's endless possibilities when you stick with your art and just keep going for it. It hasn't always been glamorous. I've done some pretty rough shows on my own but they can also open up possibilities. I can say that because I was a dreamer. It was my ambition to play the New Theatre in Oxford where I saw my first shows. I had no idea that would happen within a matter of three to four years when I made that ambition. We were very absorbed and single-minded about what we were doing when Ride first started. And it worked so there's no reason why other people can't do that. The way things work with social media now, I honestly believe if something's that good word will spread. In the end it's the people who decide not bands or labels. If it's exciting and dangerous to you then that's what people are gonna get from it.
Those Ride tour dates in full...
22 Glasgow Barrowlands
23 Manchester Albert Hall
24 London Roundhouse
26 Amsterdam Paradiso
27 Paris Olympia
29 Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival
2 Toronto Dan Forth Music Hall
4 New York Terminal 5
7 London Field Day
Tickets on sale here from Friday 21st November.
For more information on Mark Gardener visit his official website.
Photo by Shaun Gordon.