Track-By-Track: Ride’s Mark Gardener on “Nowhere”

The Classic Shoegaze Album: Dissected

Sep 17, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


When it landed in record shops in October 1990, Ride’s debut full-length took the U.K.’s fledgling shoegazing scene to all-new heights. Where My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless had already cemented the subgenre’s propensity for delicately-woven noise, Ride’s Nowhere was the first to marry those distortion levels to a classical pop sensibility, adding melodies and hooks that helped the record climb the U.K. album charts. The Oxford group’s four members—guitarists and vocalists Mark Gardener and Andy Bell, drummer Loz Colbert, and bassist Steve Queralt—were barely more than teenagers at the time, but had already released one of the first truly great albums on the 1990s. (For more information about the band’s formation and early years, take a look at Under the Radar’s feature on Ride and their debut record from 2013.)

Nowhere celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and in honor of that milestone, Ride’s Mark Gardener—who also shared songwriting duties on the album—hopped on the phone with us to look back at all eight tracks that appeared on the record’s initial release. (Fans looking for more should turn to Nowhere25, a newly expanded anniversary reissue which bumps the track count to 15 songs and includes a DVD containing a full and remastered live show from 1991.)

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: When we spoke in 2013, you and Andy [Bell] both seemed to express that you might tweak some vocals or make parts less trebly, but overall you’d rather leave it as-is.  I’m curious, though, since you’re no longer 20 years old—and you’re now a talented, experienced producer—are there any things that stick out to you when you listen to the album? Things you’d do differently if you were making the record now?

Mark Gardener: It’s quite odd that I’m talking to you now, since we recently found something we’d lost in the archives. We found a concert that we did in 1991, and it’s quite bizarre that I’m actually mixing some Ride stuff now. [Laughs] It’s pretty trippy to go back to that now. 

I have referenced some of the records and said, “Oh, maybe we should have done some things differently.” But, I think you [also] just have to know when something is working. In a way, you’re blessed because you did the thing in the first place, but you’re condemned because you’re never going to feel that it’s perfect. Do you know what I mean? I think I’ll always have that feeling, which is good in a way because it makes you just want to keep doing more, and trying to find that thing where you go, “That’s it! That’s it!” Which you’ll probably never get to. It’s a bit like that, with the record. I would say that I wouldn’t touch it now. That, and Going Blank Again. I think about how we recorded it, and how Alan Moulder did a really great job with the mixing, and how difficult it is to get that balance the guitars without losing the rhythm. It’s a fine balance, and I have to say that Alan did a really good job with that. So, if I did say two years ago that maybe I’d tweak some things, I think it would just drive me mad—so perhaps it’s best that I don’t go anywhere near it! [Laughs]

With that in mind, let’s start off with “Seagull.” It’s a great opening track. How did you guys settle on your sequencing?

For us, “Seagull” just had to be the opener. We felt in the studio at certain times, when it was working, you attained a kind of flight, in a way. Not to be too corny about it, but that track really takes off in that way. It has that sort of rush of boys in the studio, naively just going for it, basically. Nowhere turned into night recording sessions, so we became nocturnal, like night owls. That happened because we kept playing and playing the songs until we got takes that we felt were fantastically exciting. And “Seagull” I think came quite early in the whole recording process, so it set a good benchmark for the rest of the album. It just felt like the right kind of start track.

Obviously, “Seagull” was inspired lyrically a bit by Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I think you’re holding a copy of that book in one of the album’s press photos.

Yeah, exactly. Also, we’d all spent a year together in art school. That’s sort of around the time you first fall in love, and then everything goes wrong. [Laughs] We all sort of went through those things together, in a strange way. It reinforced this sort of feeling of, “Well, everything else has gone to shit in our lives, so we’ve got even more reason to make this band work.” It was like fuel for the fire, the fact that everything outside of the band seemed to be going kind of wonky for everybody.

Did you get The Young Ones in America? The house we lived in was a bit like that. Just sort of falling down, and leaking. I remember that Andy’s room always seemed to have fog in it, which was a bit strange. [Laughs] He had a misty room, which was weird.

I think you can hear it even more on Going Blank Again, but some songs on Nowhere—particularly a track like “Kaleidoscope”—have a bit of a classic, 1960s pop feel to them. How heavy an influence were bands such as the Byrds and Beatles to you guys at that point?

I think they had quite a big influence. I was certainly brought up listening to the Beach Boys, Andy was definitely more into The Beatles. My uncle would play me Beach Boys records when I was six or seven; albums like Surf’s Up, which changed my life forever. Of course, my parents had Beatles records around—the red and the blue gatefold compilation albums. But Andy was a complete Beatles freak, so that was always in there. And the Byrds were a massive influence. We discovered them at a young time.

When me and Andy came out of school, Steve Queralt, our bass player, was working in a record shop. He was maybe a year and half, two years older than me and Andy. He was working in our record shop before he became our bass player. So he had first dibs on Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine, Loop—you know, the really interesting contemporary, great, noisy bands at the time. Steve would play that stuff for us, so we quickly discovered those records as soon as they were released, because he worked at the record shop. So I think that early sound was definitely a combination of the classic stuff that you’re picking up on—the Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds—and their harmonies and melodies, with the contemporary bands at that time that I mentioned.

Andy is credited with “In A Different Place.” Back in those days, what was presented to the rest of the band when a member wrote a song? Was it just lyrics, or was a melody and such already there, too?

Andy was doing more of the writing in the Nowhere period. Although, I would bring in some lyrical ideas and tune ideas. Some of it was quite jammed out in rehearsal rooms, and came out of jams.

With “In A Different Place”, Andy brought in the lyrics. I think he wrote the lyrics because we went to Redding Festival together. It was an early festival experience. It was about getting quite stoned in that festival environment, I guess. It was very much about a shared experience that we had at Redding Festival with a couple of girlfriends, or whatever, lost and out of it, really. So that’s what “In A Different Place” is kind of getting at.

“Polar Bear” seems to be a staple on your reunion set lists. How’d you guys decide on which songs you’d be revisiting live on the tour?

Well, there was a discussion, but we also put it out there on social media to get an idea of what people wanted to hear us play. I really drove for “Polar Bear” to be included in the set because I felt that it did something that no other song does. It’s quite a unique song, for me. I actually heard it played at a festival in Germany, a few years ago. I remember I walked in the following night, and it was basically like an abandoned sort of warehouse … “Polar Bear” came on really loud and it absolutely floored me. I thought, it’s such an incredible track. From then on I started to play it whenever I played solo shows.

When we started to talk about what [songs] we wanted to do, I obviously thought of that. It’s a great tune, and I thought it’d be great for festivals. It’s got a nice little psychedelic thing about it. I absolutely love that sort of chunky, tremolo thing it has, which is probably a little inspired by “How Soon Is Now?” You know, that heavy, chopped tremolo sound. But obviously, it became its own beast completely. But I do remember that I loved that Smiths song, and that kind of sound. Actually, we swap parts live now. I’m doing a lot of the Ebow stuff, while [Andy’s] doing the heavy tremolo thing. But, yeah, I think that came together in the studio, from what I remember.

You sang on “Dreams Burn Down,” while Andy was credited with the lyrics. Does it feel different when you sing someone else’s lyrics, versus your own?

It doesn’t register really, because I just live it—I live those words every time I sing that song. It’s just a beautiful song, and everything about it moves me every time I sing it. I love singing that song.

And I mean, me and Andy, we were so close. We went from school to art school together, to being in a band together. So in some ways it didn’t really matter if it was Andy or it was me singing a song; we both understood where we were coming from.

You wrote the lyrics for “Decay.” Do you remember where you were, or the headspace you were in when you wrote that one?

Yeah. I remember that my dad had some odd English verse books around, and I found some sort of verse about decay—I don’t remember what it was from—and how nothing was permanent. Everything just comes and goes, and that just stuck with me. A little bit dark, but whatever. I remember that was where I got the sort of initial inspiration for the words from. My dad had a lot of pretty interesting books at that time, and I was just sort of looking around—as you do—just for inspiration. I came across that and brought a sketch of some lyrics in and a bit of an idea for the tune to the guys. And then, again, that was pretty well-formed in the studio, with everybody. When we recorded it I hadn’t come in with a demo or anything; it was just a very rough kind of sketch.

“Paralysed” is another song you’ve brought back for your current live sets. After 25 years, did you find any of your sounds particularly difficult to reproduce?

With “Paralysed,” the end section was a haunting piano, so we’ve changed that to guitars, but still with the crowd noise. Again, a very haunting song. I remember when we recorded it; that evening, I couldn’t stop listening to it. It was right around the time of the Poll Tax Riots in London. We recorded some of the sounds of the rioting crowd outside. It was just so eerie; London sort of seemed to be on fire. There were riots just all around us outside. It was almost sort of Dickensian, and strange. It really affected that track. And again, it’s another track that I’ve always loved, and I really pushed for that track to be part of our shows. It’s just a gorgeous song.

 “Vapour Trail” is one of fans’ favorite Ride songs. Was it obvious to you guys from the beginning that it would be the big track from the album?

Not really. I think we thought it was great—and obviously we did because we made it the album’s closer, and you always want a strong track at the end. But no, I think we were probably all too close to it to hear it objectively. But once people really started reacting to that one and picking it out, we realized that we had something great.

Again, it was more from Andy initially. I think a mutual friend had said a few words about vapour trails. It was a bit inspired by that. It was one of those occasions where I said to Andy, “When you sing it, it sounds great. You should sing that one.” I just thought it sounded really good, and so we made sure that he sung it and I think it worked out really well. 

(ridemusic.net)



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maxwell Mutua
September 18th 2015
11:59am

Nowhere is definitely a great pop song….cant stop playing it. kudos to the great band for this great mark of success