Rank Your Records: Ride's Mark Gardener on Four Records in Six Years
A journey from abandoned chapels to Top of the Pops.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Shoegaze has been in vogue for the past few years, thanks in part to the influence of bands like Ride. In about eight short years, the four kids from Oxford, England made their sound known as they toured around the world. Each record has its own affect in sound, making each record its own entity and not just capitalizing off of one sound for their entire career. In doing this, they made polarizing records like Carnival of Light that perplexed critics and fans upon its release in 1994, but eventually worked its way up to be a favorite like their first two. And now Ride is back, ready to tour the world once more, including a North American tour that begins tonight (tour dates to follow) which you should definitely attend. We spoke to Mark Gardener about how the records lined up for him.
RIDE NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES
09/17 - 9:30 Club - Washington, DC**
09/18 - College Street Music Hall - New Haven, CT**
09/19 – Theatre of Living Arts - Philadelphia, PA**
09/21 - Irving Plaza - New York, NY**
09/22 - Irving Plaza - New York, NY*
09/23 – The Stone Pony – Asbury Park, NJ*
09/25 - The Riviera Theater - Chicago, IL*
09/26 – MidPoint Festival - Cincinnati, OH
09/27 - Pygmalion Festival - Champaign, IL
09/29 - Mill City - Minneapolis, MN*
10/01 - Saint Andrews Hall - Detroit, MI*
10/02 - House of Blues - Cleveland, OH*
10/03 – Paradise Club - Boston, MA*
11/06 – Saturn – Birmingham, AL
11/07 – Fun Fun Fun Festival – Austin, TX
11/09 – Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ
11/10 – House of Blues – Las Vegas, NV
11/12 – The Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA
11/14 – The Catalyst – Santa Cruz, CA
11/15 – Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR
11/16 – Neptune – Seattle, WA
11/17 – Commodore Ballroom – Vancouver, BC
11/19 – The Republik – Honolulu, HI
**with DIIV supporting
*The Besnard Lakes
4. TARANTULA (1996)
Mark Gardener: Least favorite would be Tarantula. Because it’s a breakup record I felt a bit out of that process at the end of the record. It just reminds me of a bad time, of when the Ride car was crashing basically. That’d definitely be my least favorite. However from that, there were still some great tunes that came out of that period and there are some good songs on that record. But as a record I couldn’t really tell you the tracklisting from 1-10.
I can’t imagine kind of knowing the band was going south, and having to put a game face on and still write and record a record like that.
We were trying to keep it all together it wasn’t like “we’re breaking up so let’s make a record.” It was more like “let’s make a record and keep going,” but we were bummed and we were done. But that’s alright, that’s what happens to good bands. The flame burned brightly, and it never felt like we were going to be a career band, like trying to be professional and keep it together. It always felt like a mad journey. When that flame is burning bright, that’s what makes the band really exciting and edgy and great. Looking back, it was unsustainable how we were and the way it was. But then like us, the label we were on Creation Records, what made it great was also something that would make it crash as well. So I think that’s quite natural, we all survived and we all kind of moved on and decided not to see each other for a short period and then before we knew it, we were very happy to see each other again. And we’ve been pals since then. It’s just the way it all goes, we didn’t know anything other than that. We were at school together, I was at school with Andy and then six or seven years later you’ve been in a band that’s been successful, toured the world. At some point you’ve got to stop living in each other’s pockets and see life in a different way.
What do you mean by unsustainable, specifically?
Just the way it was going, we didn’t stop basically. To keep that edge and energy, it was hard. It was hard just to keep it edgy and interesting like that. At a certain point it’s hard to keep that going. We weren’t particularly a druggie band, but there was some pot and experimentation going on with things which is just going to confuse the issue even more, which it did. And that’s alright , that’s your right as an artist or whatever. We didn’t have time to lose the plot or anything like that, because we were just so busy with the band. I think that was the main thing, it was just not being very good at saying no to people and just sort of kept going. We really should’ve just taken a big break maybe and then we’d be able to come back and continue. We just never took a break, just going going and going until it crashed.
3. CARNIVAL OF LIGHT (1994)
Listening to Carnival back, it sounds like every record is as biting or edgy as possible, and Britpop comes along and it seems like the band almost tried to court that.
In a way, but I think it’s more the way we were influenced by the music around us. We found that we’d done that psychedelic edgy thing to death in a way with those first couple albums. For us it seemed like a natural progression. We never felt like we wanted to particularly make anything other than what felt right. There’s definitely psychedelic elements to it, especially with tracks like "Medicine" which is written about, well you know... acid really. [laughs] Being lost in France, and kind of quite the medicine and the beyondness of things. Like what is this? So there’s an element in that completely. We didn’t repeat ourselves, and that’s what kept the band interesting for us and other people. It wasn’t like us saying “oh we have to be different each record,” it just felt very natural that we’d keep it as creative and experimental as possible. I think if you refuse to repeat yourself, if you refuse to acknowledge the success around you and if you refuse to be tapered by any kind of rules or anything like that, then you’ll still feel like you’re on the tight wire and you can fall off at any moment. And that’s where music’s good. That’s what kept the whole experience back.
Right, Nowhere is a fantastic record, and you probably could’ve just kept the sound forever but it would get boring as a musician I’d imagine, and you’d miss out on Going Blank Again.
Exactly. I think Going Blank Again is the biggest sounding record, but it didn’t have the seagulls on it. But it had something else. We were always trying to better ourselves and expand the sound, wherever it would go. Things like "Time Machine," just really interesting to me. I think you could probably pin the influences a bit more on Nowhere, but like I said Going Blank Again is where we hit our peak.
The most common thing I hear about Carnival of Light is that it’s one of those records for people to dig as time went on more than anything. When it came out, the press wasn’t the most favorable, but it’s one of those records that stuck around.
I think a lot of people were weird about it because Nirvana kicked in and everything was a bit grunge rock. I think people criticize that record more and probably because they loved Nowhere and Going Blank Again so much. But you’re right, I don’t know if it’s about that record or more the environment at that period. I have to say, things like “Time to Time” I always play that at solo shows, I think that song is incredible. I know a lot of people that prefer Carnival of Light over lots of other stuff we’d done, that they came into it. It’s good it works out like that, it makes it still mysterious as to what we have going on. [laughs]
2. NOWHERE (1990)
So Nowhere is the first record after this series of EPs you did, were you excited to work on a larger canvas like that?
Yeah, and it’s the first time we went into the studio we knew we were making a full-length record so there’s that sort of naive freshness. And we all became night owls straight away because we kept jamming and jamming, playing and playing. In the end we just became nocturnal. I remember we’d always be going to go back to get some rest when everyone seemed to be going to work in London, and then we’d be going into the studio when everyone was going home. So we’d become completely out of step with everyone else, and I think that sort of helped in a weird sort of way. That feeling we were a bunch of weird kind of guys working on this mad record. It was great, it was a great time for us. Alan McGee would pop in from time to time, just be like “wow this is great, keep going boys.” It was good times, yeah. And we recorded in some weird old chapel in South London, had its strange old atmosphere about it as well. I think all of those things kind of colored that record, the night time recording sessions and that naitivity. I think we ran our poor engineer ragged as well, he was in bits by the end of it because we kept going and going and going. Close casualty! [laughs] Mark Walterman, bless him he did so great with all the recording. We had to bring someone in the end to mix it, we were all sort of broken by it.
You guys were super young when you were recording that, right?
Yeah, we were like eighteen, nineteen twenty? Pretty young. [laughs]
What was the first sign for you that the record was hitting something wild?
Maybe “Dreams Went Down?” That was quite an early one where it was just like “whoa.” So was “Seagull” and “Polar Bear,” it just seemed like this is great. My memory is a little bit patchy of the order in the recording session, I think “Vapour Trail” came later.
Which song on the record stands out the most for you?
Everybody loves to pick out “Vapour Trail,” live I think “Seagull” is amazing and “Polar Bear” really stands out to me. “In a Different Place” is quite good too. They’re all kind of quite different songs from one another, so it’s quite hard to say “that is the one.” I guess the ones we’re playing live we all feel are the ones that stood up. That said, I think we are going to try and rehearse some of the songs we didn’t play off of Nowhere and see how they would sound now as well to mix it around as well. Not sure how it will work out, but we’ll see for certain.
1. GOING BLANK AGAIN (1992)
So Going Blank Again. How quickly after Nowhere did you start recording?
Well we toured after Nowhere for about a year afterwards, it was a pretty extensive tour. Certainly some of the songs from Going Blank Again came together when we were in a tour bus in America. I remember that, like "Chrome Waves" and "Leave Them All Behind," I wrote about being on the road. Leaving places and people, and “Leave Them All Behind” was about the wheels on the tour bus. Living that sort of Beat Generation book that we read and never thought we’d get to live. So that's what that’s about, I remember we booked into a studio in Oxfordshire in a place called Chipping Norton, and we went into the studio with some songs half written. I think “Leave Them All Behind” was quite close. Other songs like “Mouse Trap” came from drumming and playing around in the studio, “Time Machine” as well. To me it felt like, like we’ve talked about it where the band felt like a band was all really enjoyable and felt like a team. Going Blank Again was the best for us, and I really enjoyed making that record and being in that studio which is sadly no longer. It’s good, we were sort of back around, but not really, around people where we could pop in to where people were but we were still out in the sticks in a town called Chipping Norton. We were in our own bubble, but we could pop back out if we wanted.
So what were some of the specific things you wanted to bring out of Going Blank Again rather than Nowhere?
Just to experiment really. Alan Moulder was really confident on the controls, I think Massive Attack was a big album at that time, and we’d been into the beats side of things and that’s when we played around at that time. But not in such in obvious way, like in “Chrome Waves” we were obviously inspired there, “Unfinished Sympathy” with the string paths. Just mucking around with what we knew worked for us, we knew we had the guitars going, we knew we had the harmonies, it was just to mix it up more and keep it interesting for ourselves. It worked out well across a lot of the album.
I know the record did super well too, which must’ve been wild for a band like Ride to find yourselves in a different place like that.
Yeah. “Leave Them All Behind” went #9 in the charts. We went into Top of The Pops which was weird. It’s what happened with the Smiths, and us where we were being put in really strong chart positions. I also have to say at that time, the mainstream radio here, they were still avoiding playing our songs because it was noisy sort of guitar stuff that didn’t fit their format, which strengthened our fanbase even more. It was a good feeling, we were busting in on the charts in an area we shouldn’t have been in, and on our own terms.