Ride Interview: Capable ears and hugs
Ride’s well-received 2017 comeback album Weather Diaries was only the start. What’s happened next has seen Ride become spectacular again. As the stunning This Is Not A Safe Place continues their new chapter as a proper working band, they tell John Earls about the joys and frustrations of being back together, hugging the boss… and out-singing Michael Bolton on Top Of The Pops.
By rights, Ride’s reunion should have been a familiar story. Their return to touring in 2015 after 19 years apart was followed two years later by an engaging, up for it comeback album. Weather Diaries was better than most records by bands who had been dormant for so long. Nobody would have complained if our heroes disappeared off into the sunset again, or settled into a cosy routine of festival appearances and the occasional headline show.
Instead, Ride have decided to be Ride all over again. Properly. Which has meant another, better new album with This Is Not A Safe Place and determined talk that they’re already thinking of further future records. “Once we went into recording Weather Diaries, I sensed it wasn’t going to be a one-off,” explains Andy Bell. “It was back to thinking, ‘Yeah, this is my band’ and that feeling has stayed. Hopefully we can do another 10 albums before we die… which is a concern these days!” Sat with bassist Steve Queralt in Bell’s local café in North London, the pair break into delighted laughter. In their late 40s, the jokes may now be about mortality, but the important thing is they’re joking again. All four of Ride are clearly back to being mates.
Although it took decades for Ride to resume being a band, the animosity around their break-up following 1996’s disastrous fourth album Tarantula didn’t actually last that long. They needed annual business meetings about accounts and such, and all four quickly started looking to getting together. “The reunion question would always arise, but we didn’t want to damage our legacy,” admits Queralt. “It wasn’t until we saw bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive do reunions really well, coming back with great tours and music, that we saw how it could be done. We realised we could build on what we’d left behind.”
With all four members able songwriters, it was no surprise the fine Weather Diaries emerged from the ideas stored up as soon as Ride was a going concern again. But, as drummer Loz Colbert admits: “We were feeling our way a little with Weather Diaries. There was a frisson at what it was like to record together again after so long, and maybe there was a little bit of nervousness, too. We were pretty pleased in how that all culminated, because that record showed there was life in the old dog yet. But, after we’d made it, there was a sense of ‘Well, what do we do now?’”
Bell emphasises it’s Mark Gardener who was initially instrumental in pushing the idea of new music forward. Gardener speaks to Long Live Vinyl from the new studio he’s built near his home in Oxfordshire, talking excitedly about its SSL console and moving his collection of vintage keyboards and acoustic guitars there, joking: “I’m surrounded by cool stuff and I even know how it all works now.” Explaining his determination to have Ride become a regular band again, Gardener reasons: “The ultimate test of bands who get back together is their new records. If the chemistry still isn’t right between band members, you get found out. If that chemistry is gone, you can still play the old songs, but new material won’t happen well. I felt it was potentially right with Ride. These new songs have been the best feeling about the whole thing. Playing new songs live feels like fresh blood running through you. Not that the old songs are stale blood!”
‘If you jump in with confidence, it works. After the first week, we were buzzing with excitement.’
Like his bandmates, Gardener is friendly and jokey. But he’s also the most open in admitting that being back in a band after so long can be an adjustment. “It’s really good and familiar to be back with the Ride boys,” he states. “But some of the familiar frustrations come up as well. We all want to put in our songs – and when you can’t put in as much as you want, that can be frustrating. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you feel you’ve got a few of your songs that get left on the shelf, but that’s what being in a group is.”
The construction of Gardener’s studio meant he wasn’t around to help oversee mixes and construct a running order for This Is Not A Safe Place as much as usual, but that’s another advantage to being back in a band. “It’s not all on you, and that’s nice,” he laughs. “Everyone has very capable ears!”
Krautrock Rave Monster
An important bridge between Weather Diaries and the new album came with last year’s EP Tomorrow’s Shore. Initially intended to showcase four songs that hadn’t fitted on Weather Diaries, instead only Catch You Dreaming was carried over, with three new songs specially recorded. It harked back to Ride’s earliest days, when they began with the spellbinding EPs Ride, Fall and Play in 1990 before debut album Nowhere. “More bands should do EPs,” insists Bell. “It’s like making a very quick, stress-free album. EPs are one of our strengths as a band.” Queralt agrees, adding: “It’s not just less pressure, EPs give you freedom to explore the corners of your sound more. Tomorrow’s Shore is more out there than Weather Diaries. We’ll definitely do another EP after This Is Not A Safe Place.”
And if Ride’s next EP is even more out there than This Is Not A Safe Place, it really will be quite something. Made with Weather Diaries producer Erol Alkan, Ride’s sixth album is spectacular from the moment it kicks off with Krautrock rave monster R.I.D.E., a stunning club-friendly banger soon followed by the equally groove-led pop beast Repetition and Kill Switch, already a savage live favourite and punkier than anything Ride have ever made. As enchanting as lead single Future Love was, it’s one of the few songs immediately recognisable as Ride.
“We didn’t go in expecting to make an album at all,” admits Colbert. “But we all want that step in the dark; not knowing if we’ve got enough material, whether what we do have is good enough, or if we’ll be too disparate and random to still be able to work together as a band. You don’t know that. But if you jump in with confidence, it works. After the first week, we were buzzing with excitement.”
Gardener credits Colbert for Kill Switch, saying: “It’s from a riff on a Loz demo. Bearing in mind Loz doesn’t play guitar, it sounded great – simple and direct. I kept walking past a bit of graffiti in Oxford that says ‘Make the right noise’, which fitted well. A few of the lyrics are mine, but mostly it was Loz and Andy exchanging lyrics. Kill Switch is a great example of how our band works well together.”
R.I.D.E. came together on a day when Bell was away, at his grandmother’s funeral:“I wasn’t there, so I can say that song is magic,” he smiles. Queralt recalls: “It started out a bit, dare I say… jazz-funk,” a notion which causes the otherwise laidback Bell to turn and look horrified at the bassist. “It’s a good job I wasn’t there for that,” he exclaims, mock-shivering over his sparkling water. “R.I.D.E. could have been another Leave Them All Behind,” resumes Bell. “We added loads of sections and lyrics for verses. But it’s ended up in its perfect form.”
Instead, there are two epics on the album, with Eternal Recurrence closing Side two and In This Room the album’s final song on Side four. “We allowed ourselves to stretch out on those two songs,” says Queralt. “The other songs have an awareness of structure and the clock running down, so Eternal Recurrence and In This Room were always the contenders for the album closer. We think of albums as two halves, so Eternal Recurrence closes the first half. But, now everything is on heavyweight vinyl, we should maybe start to think of albums as being four quarters.”
Another key song is 15 Minutes, an unsettling, charged attack with the chorus “This was your 15 minutes, hope you had fun/ Have a nice life? Yeah, you’re basically done now.” Bell wrote it after Ride toured Weather Diaries in Asia, saying: “Quite a few songs on this album are from that period. They’re about a situation we got ourselves into with someone we used to work with. It’s a delicate situation, but a lot of songs came from our anger about it.” Is the situation still going on? “It’s going through a quiet period,” Queralt interjects, before Bell summarises: “I’m not sure these songs are going to help. It’s best to leave it there…”
‘We clipped our own wings a little, because we didn’t think making a good pop record sometimes involves a different process.’
Two people Ride are happy to have resumed working with are Dick Green and Mark Bowen, former bosses at Ride’s original label Creation, who now run the band’s new record company Wichita. “I love those guys,” Gardener eulogises. “It feels right to release records through Wichita and have that thread back to Creation. Back in the day, Dick was the quiet one at Creation, trying to keep it all together while everyone else was out of their minds. I didn’t know Mark that well – he came on board around the time of Super Furry Animals, bringing Welsh anarchists to Creation. Mark is fantastic too, and we’re really lucky that those guys still believe in what we do to the max.” Has their working relationship changed with their label bosses? “I give Dick a lot more hugs now,” laughs Bell. “In the 90s, we took everything a lot more for granted. I’m really grateful for this second chance. This is like being handed a chance to redo your life.”
As a former singles buyer for the Oxford branch of Our Price, Queralt is hilarious talking about realising how the charts work from both sides of the counter. He recalls how he’d get two days’ notice of which bands would be on that week’s Top Of The Pops, so that Our Price could stock up for the resultant rush. “Indie bands had the opposite effect,” grins Queralt. “We’d go on Top Of The Pops and sink like a stone. The show was there as promotion, in the days when singles steadily climbed the chart. Then Leave Them All Behind entered at No. 9, so we did Top Of The Pops… and we were back out of the chart immediately.” Bell takes up the story: “Top Of The Pops was the absolute bastion of pop. Bands like us and The Wedding Present only got on it on a technicality. It was the other side of the coin of Kylie being top of the indie chart because she was on PWL.”
When Birdman entered the chart at No. 38 in 1994, Ride were told they could be on Top Of The Pops if they did “something extra” for their performance. On the single’s sleeve, Bell is sat on a throne. “Everyone was doing different stuff in lord of the manor style like Led Zeppelin,” he explains of his regal demeanour. “It was the imperial period of the band. In theory, at least.” So the throne came with Ride for their appearance. Better still, it was during the period when TOTP insisted acts sing live for their performance. “Michael Bolton was on after us,” recalls Bell. “He took three vocal takes, while I nailed mine in one. But I now realise the producers maybe thought, ‘This is all so horrible. Let’s just do this as quick as possible and get him out of here. This experience is not what we do on Top Of The Pops’. They didn’t even try to make us sound any better!”
An archetype of a band caught in the album/tour/album cycle, Ride’s first three LPs were released in four years. The third, Carnival Of Light, has its moments, but was Ride’s first patchy release. They were becoming a pastiche of their retro influences. “I hold my hands up to that,” confesses Bell. “The people in the band into electronic music weren’t holding the reins. I pulled Ride into a retro direction. Everyone apart from me was going to raves and jungle nights. It wasn’t like I didn’t like electronic music, I just had a wobble. Our solution to making a slightly below-par album in Carnival Of Light was to record really quickly for Tarantula. We should have taken six months off, do something different and then see what different influences everyone had going on.”
Colbert goes further in his assessment of Ride’s first incarnation, saying: “One of the things we never did first time round was to make a decent studio album. That’s no criticism of anyone we worked with, it’s more about ourselves. We were too hooked on the band’s organic nature. We clipped our own wings a little, because we didn’t think making a good pop record sometimes involves a different process.”
That’s been solved by working with Erol Alkan. As an electronic artist, Alkan was a pioneer of the electroclash movement in the 2000s, but the band are quick to point out that Alkan knows how to get them performing well as a traditional band in the studio, too.
Meanwhile, everyone in Ride is adept with recording software such as Ableton and Logic. “Working with Erol again on the new album was a no-brainer,” says Queralt. “He works fast, so you know what’s going to happen that day, while allowing for some magic to happen, too. I’ve always liked it when bands develop a relationship with a producer – Nigel Godrich and Radiohead, or the first three Oasis albums with Owen Morris. It’s a mini-story within a band’s history.”
Although they emphasise they now get time to enjoy touring, Ride are already planning the third album of their new incarnation. By the time This Is Not A Safe Place is released in August, it’ll be 10 months since Ride finished recording. Now he has his studio, Gardener is keen to test it out. “We’ve got a great space,” he says. “It might make it easier to get everyone together, because it’s not going to clock up money. We’ve gained something we can use. The next tunes after this album? My head is already there.” Ride are the opposite of cosy. But as a band, they’ve found a safe space at last.
This Is Not A Safe Place is out on 16 August. Ride tour from 29 November-12 December.