Andy Bell of Ride on His Debut Solo Album "The View From Halfway Down" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Andy Bell of Ride on His Debut Solo Album “The View From Halfway Down”

Riding Solo

Jan 06, 2021 Web Exclusive
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Andy Bell has had an illustrious career over the past thirty years. First and foremost, as a founder member, songwriter and musician in Ride, one of the most influential bands to emerge from the UK over those aforementioned three decades. Then in between times also forming Hurricane #1 while also going on to play with Oasis and Beady Eye.

So, after four years of planning, writing, and recording, Bell has finally released his very first solo record. Entitled The View From Halfway Down, it sees him team up once more with former Oasis and Beady Eye bandmate Gem Archer, who engineered the record. The View From Halfway Down was inspired by David Bowie’s passing which gave Bell the impetus to finally finish the songs he’d been working on for a number of years.

Initially muted as a four-track 12-inch single, The View From Halfway Down eventually became an album during the early stages of lockdown. Musically it evokes similarities with Sonic Boom, Steve Mason and The Beta Band, and Krautrock legends Neu! and Can. Spread across eight pieces, it’s a dazzling collection that was well worth the 50-year wait, as its creator explains to Under the Radar.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): When did you decide to record a solo album?

Andy Bell: It was pretty much straight after David Bowie died when I thought I’ve got to do this. Even at that stage, I had written a lot of years’ worth of demos and half-done songs that didn’t really fit into the band idea. I’d been talking about doing a solo album for years. Back in the ‘90s I thought it would be a folk album! Then in the early 2000s I wasn’t sure. It was different things at different times then eventually it just naturally became what it became. So, David Bowie died, and for me and everyone else in the UK it was quite shocking. When people that I don’t know or aren’t very close to pass away it doesn’t normally affect me, but with David Bowie it felt a bit more personal. Even though it wasn’t. His path through life has been documented within his music, and we’ve all been on that journey with him. I just thought I’m not getting any younger, and this isn’t going to happen unless I do something to make it happen. So, I did something about it. Then a couple of days later, Gem Archer was round my house having a cup of tea as we live quite close to each other. So, I asked him if he would be interested in recording some of my solo work and he was up for it. We spent a few weeks after that recording what became the core of this record, and more as well.

I was going to ask whether there were any more songs than the eight ones on The View From Halfway Down so I guess that answers my question! Will any of them be released in the future?

It will be. The other catalyst for this album was that I’d already released a single. I’m quite old fashioned when it comes to that, and I believe once you start down a certain road you have to keep going. Once you’ve put out a solo single Like I did that can’t be the be all and end all of it. You’ve got to follow it up with something, and my original plan was to follow it with another single. I did “Plastic Bag” and “The Commune” for the Sonic Cathedral singles club, which are not on the album as they’re more late night, introspective kind of tunes. So, I talked to Nat Cramp from Sonic Cathedral at the end of last year [2019] about doing another single. Originally it was going to be a couple of long tracks spread across a 12-inch single. So, I started working on them over Christmas. One of them was “Indica,” which was originally from the Gem Archer sessions, and the other one ended up as “Heat Haze On Leyland Road.” So, I got them going, and I was liking it. But then when I listened back to them nothing vocally really happens in either apart from a few samples or backwards bits. They weren’t song based enough, so I changed tack and decided to do four short songs rather than two long ones. Then somewhere along the way, lockdown started which gave me a lot more time to think about it. So, I just ventured the question to Nat about changing it from a 12-inch single to an album, and he said just change the speed of the record! It’s no problem at all. So that gave me a little more breathing space where instead of the record originally being 20 minutes long, it could now be 40 minutes. As soon as I did that, all of the songs that were bubbling up on the shortlist fitted into an eight-track album. It fell into place, and I’m a firm believer that when things just fall into place like that you should just go with it. So that became the record.

“Love Comes In Waves” was the lead single for the album, which you released on your 50th birthday. What was the significance in that?

That was the release date I originally had in mind for the 12-inch single. Why? Because I didn’t want to be sat there at 50 like a twat! I wanted to be sat there at 50 with something to think about, and something to celebrate that wasn’t just a calendar or next page in the diary. I wanted a reason for celebrating being 50 and starting off down this path.

Do you intend to tour as a solo artist when all the restrictions around COVID-19 have cleared up?

That is a hard question to answer. When it was just a single, I’d say probably not. I wasn’t planning on it. But then during lockdown it’s become an album, and peoplein a way—have no context for this record because they’ve already read it was coming out. They probably assume I already had a lot of gigs booked and a tour planned which I’ve since had to cancel because of COVID but that’s not the case. It’s probably worked in my favor because people might naturally assume, I already had a plan, and there wasn’t really a plan. I think Ride are going to start getting busy again. Not touring, but possibly recording and at least writing. So, I don’t think there will be an opportunity to play gigs with this album but maybe next time—because there will be a next time—I’ll do some when I’ve got more of a bigger body of work to play.

The title The View From Halfway Down was inspired by a poem written by Alison Tafel for the script of the penultimate episode for American television series BoJack Horseman. How much of an influence was that on much of this record?

It wasn’t an influence on the music on the record but it was nice to have that title pop up and feel very apt in terms of me putting out an album. It was more that really. I saw the final season of BoJack Horseman while I was on the Ride U.S. tour in the latter part of 2019. I was watching it on the tour bus and I just really loved that episode and the poem. So, I noted it down for reference. Here’s a good title, a good idea to file away and then it came back to me when I was thinking about possible titles for the record. It’s a really good title because here I am at 50, and if I’m lucky I’ll live to be 100 so I’ve made it halfway. So, it just felt like this album is my view, halfway through. That’s how I see it.

A lot of the songs on the album feel like sonic experiments rather than typical lyric based songs. Was that deliberate and always your intention to get across on this album?

I think so. It was just about a listening thing rather than anything else. Since I started making the tunes for this, the reason I didn’t carry on straight away was because we were getting busy with Ride stuff. Ride had just made two very punchy albums and my writing’s always been very direct in terms of trying to bang out as many three-and-a-half minute tunes as possible. Make them as packed with as much information and context as possible. So, with this album I wanted a contrast. Let’s empty out all the content and just float. I like the way it just hovers on one thing for ages. A lot of the songs have just one verse or nothing at all, vocally. A lot of them have very simple chord structures which I like about it. That was the idea really.

Going back to Ride, the response since the band reformed has been overwhelming, particularly in regards to Weather Diaries and This Is Not aSafe Place. Were you expecting both albums to be greeted with such universal acclaim?

The response has been next level! Beyond what I thought was possible. We’ve had hardcore Ride fans that cite Nowhere as their favorite record ever telling us This Is Not a Safe Place is the next best one we’ve done. As much as I love the new stuff and believe it’s up there, I wouldn’t be expecting those kind of fans to say the same thing. That says a lot to me.

It’s probably fair to say that both yourselves and Slowdive toofrom the bands that reformed out of that same era—came back with new music as good if not better than your earlier material, which ultimately has given both bands extra longevity?

My personal feeling is I don’t believe I could ever top making Nowhere and Going Blank Again with any record I’ve ever made. But with the last two Ride albums, we’ve certainly given it a good go! I do think Weather Diaries and This Is Not a Safe Place stand up really well against them, and the reason why the other two win is a technicality really. It’s because they were the first and that was the original time. It’s all tied up with experiences to me and being 19/20 whereas the last two records were made in my 40s. If I had to rank our own records, I’d definitely put them up there just behind the first two.

You mentioned earlier about the possibility of new Ride material next year [2021]. Will you be working with Erol Alkan again?

Erol’s great. He’s brilliant, and added so much to the Ride experience since we got back together. A lot of the credit has to go to Erol for the way the two albums sound and feel. We had to get a producer in, and his production technique was very much around taking everything good about what we were and updating it to make it work now. So, he’s been great for the band. I’m not really sure what will happen next as we’re going into the very early stages of writing so those discussions will be way further down the line.

Are there any demos or songs ready yet? Is there an idea of how the next Ride record might sound?

No, I think it’s quite open. We’ve all been spun out in our own worlds through COVID so we haven’t got together and had that conversation yet about new music. We’ve just had a discussion about meeting up to play at some point. I think that’s where we’re going to start from, just coming up with new ideas on the fly.

How’s lockdown been for you? Has it been a productive time?

Lockdown has affected different people in different ways. If you’re a frontline worker it’s affected you one way, then if you’re a family with young kids it’s hit you another way. That’s the category that I fit into so me and my wife have been working from home then home schooling an eight- and six-year-old, trying to make all that work. It’s been quite a shared experience for us same as it has for a lot of people really. Everyone seems to be on the same page, especially when we were going through it. We’d only meet up with other people on social media and when we shared our experiences, they were all quite similar.

The wider implications for the music industry are quite perilous as things stand, although at the same time, campaigns such as #LetTheMusicPlay have brought all different sectors together which can only be a good thing in the long term.

These things are good for bringing the musical community together and trying to make what needs to happen, happen.

What changes do you foresee taking place within the music industry going forwards?

I really don’t have a clue and wouldn’t want to come up with any on-the-spot theories either. I’m just looking on with interest from what feels like the outside of it all. Obviously, it’s hitting everyone really hard. Some people have got the ability to stay afloat without getting income every month and others haven’t. It’s really sad to see venues threatened that have been there for decades. I just hope everyone gets through it unscathed.

What advice would you give to a new artist or band that’s just starting out?

The way things are now, you can still make tunes. You can still rehearse unless you’re more than a six-piece band. So just keep working on it. Use this time well. Use it as being all done by design. Make some lemonade out of the lemons you’ve been given!

The View From Halfway Down is out now on Sonic Cathedral.

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