Search The Line of Best Fit
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RIDE Lead Press Shot Credit Cal Mc Intyre smaller

Mark Gardener's Personal Best

31 March 2024, 08:00
Words by Jamie Wilde
Original Photography by Cal McIntryre

Ahead of the release of Ride’s seventh album Interplay, Mark Gardener talks Jamie Wilde through five pivotal songs of his career, taking in solo work, collaborations, and his reunited band.

When it comes to seminal guitar bands, Ride have more than earned their stripes.

The Oxford four-piece of Mark Gardener, Andy Bell, Laurence ‘Loz’ Colbert and Steve Queralt initially rode the wave of indie fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Their distinct brand of noise and melody, which would soon be coined as shoegaze, took its nascent inspiration from the avant-garde music making methods of the ‘60s.

By the time of their second album Going Blank Again, they transitioned away from the scene they helped to found, moving to a more epic space, with the eight-minute “Leave Them All Behind” a keystone in Britain’s guitar music legacy.

Today, the likes of Tame Impala, Beach House and a burgeoning Gen Z audience are at the forefront of a growing shoegaze scene that is indebted to Ride and their peers. Since reuniting in 2014 - after a period of nearly twenty years apart - rather than trading on past glories, Ride, like their peers Slowdive, have moved forward musically, with 2017’s Weather Diaries and 2019’s This Is Not a Safe Place.

Their latest release Interplay is a record that possesses a timeless quality that Ride have distinctly made their own. Its depth is both far-reaching and poignant; tender moments juxtapose upbeat melodies, new expansive elements like synths and noir-pop soundscapes add to their sonic palette and tying it all together is that same essence of transcendence and escapism that has epitomised Ride from day one.

“I think this album is the best that we’ve ever made,” Gardener tells me. “I know lots of people think that about their new records, but I would always be niggled by things when we made our albums – I’m always striving for things to be perfect.

"But with this one, I thought we hit the heights that we could hit by doing this reunion and that was why I wanted it to happen in the first place. It wasn’t really to do the heritage thing, although we’ve kind of done that a bit. I just thought we could make a record of this quality. It feels like a new sonic blood transfusion.”

Coming five years after This Is Not a Safe Place, Ride have had to navigate various changes. The pandemic, of course being an obvious obstacle, which Gardener spent productively in his own purpose-built recording studio, OX4. However, with an ex-manager coming after the band with a legal team at their throats, a lengthy and expensive court battle ensued over the pandemic, which threatened the group immensely.

“There was a lot of adversity, to be honest with you,” Gardener explains. “When you go through challenging times, you feel as though your existence is being threatened. It hit that point. We were being hammered by horrible legal people and we had to figure out what we were going to do. We all have families, and we all have mouths to feed. It was hard.

“But once we got through that, it ignited more strength into the band. It made us refocus on why we got together in the first place and why we do what we do. From the word go, when we first got in a room together all those years ago, there was an amazing chemistry when we made music. For me, making this new album, I felt it was reminiscent of those times when we first started as a band.”

Signing to Alan McGee’s notorious, live-fast-die-young Creation Records in 1989, it was almost inevitable that the Ride’s journey would crash to a halt at some point. Seven years later, it did. Bell would later go on to join Oasis. For Gardener, despite briefly joining forces with some of his former bandmates in The Animalhouse, what followed were nearly two decades worth of time away from Ride. Yet, whilst not widely known as his work with Ride, Gardener’s solo tapestry is one that’s rich in volume. From Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) to Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre), he’s written, produced and co-wrote on a diverse array of music.

RIDE PRESS 03 Credit Cal Mc Intyre

He’s also accrued a back catalogue of solo material which channels several key moments in his life, from living in France to overcoming inner demons and processing the loss of his father. In the process, it’s shaped Gardener’s viewpoints on life, and also allowed him to reflect on just how important it is to have been a part of “that band called Ride.”

“I think what life has taught me is that if you get too hopeful, you get quite disappointed about stuff. But the thing is, music is just so random. In a way, that’s quite good because it keeps the whole journey really interesting”, he explains.

“I really liked the feeling of working on different projects after Ride split up. Of course, you thought that other projects would just take off like Ride did – but they didn’t, and it made me realise that Ride was a special thing. That’s why it all feels so special to be reunited, because we’ve come through everything. We realised that we’d fundamentally shaped our lives forever by being in that band called Ride. It’s pretty huge.”

From the medieval worlds of France to parties and excess back home, Gardener talks us through his Personal Best, taking in songs from Ride and his solo back catalogue that have ultimately shaped his life and career over the last three decades.

“I Came To See the Wreck” by Ride (2024)

MARK GARDENER: “I Came to See the Wreck” was a real exorcism for me. I felt really lost for a while, which is explained in the lyrics - “I don’t know where I’ve been / Where I’m going / Who I’ve known / Where I’m going.” It was also because I’d been through a bit of a separation at that point as well. I’d left Oxford - where my daughter lives - and that was a pretty tough period for me.

I also felt that those streets of Oxford still enchanted me back to them, but through the music, this then gets turned into something masterful and transcendental and offers a way through the tough stuff.

I guess in a way that was always Ride; it’s always been an escape mechanism from the realities of life that can really bite you hard. It’s always been part of the sound and the main reason why we started the band in the first place. It’s what brought us together. We all went through our first love breakups together way back in the day, and still go through things together now. It fuels the fire, in a way, if you can keep it burning.

BEST FIT: That’s a really interesting way to look at it. How did it feel when you first presented the song to the rest of the band?

The best feeling in the world is when you’ve created something that you think is absolutely brilliant. As this track came together, I kept playing it all the time and I really felt it. I thought that if we could get other tracks up to a similar standard as this one for the album, then we’re going to have a great record.

For me, hearing it now, it’s up there with some of the best stuff we’ve ever done. I really love that track. I also wanted it to be the lead single, in a similar way with what we did for “Leave Them All Behind”. I remember saying, “That should be the single, it’s our ‘Blue Monday’.” But I was outvoted on that one, which was fair enough!

Speaking of “Blue Monday,” it feels as though there’s sonic influences from the ‘80s, of bands like U2 and Talk Talk in the song. Would you agree?

I think so. I really like the song “The Unforgettable Fire” by U2 and I love the songs from The Joshua Tree period. With Talk Talk, Andy and I did a Mark Hollis tribute at The Royal Festival Hall, so that was definitely in the sonic realm. It was quite an honour to be able to sing and present that.

I think it reminded me of Talk Talk, Tears for Fears, even The Cure. It reminded me of some of those hugely influential bands who are still with me, and with us as a band. The Hurting by Tears for Fears was a big album for me as a teenager. I remember growing up and listening to it in my headphones and thinking about being in a band one day. There’s a darkness in that record that I really love, and the songs are so good.

I also think that the whole feeling with this album was that we didn’t need to stick to any script whatsoever. Why can’t we be like Depeche Mode on this track? That stuff is still in our bones, and we should embrace it all.

“Chained” by 2Square (2020)

BEST FIT: After Ride separated, you spent some time in Oxford before moving to France for a few years. What was that period of your life like and how did you distil it into this song?

MARK GARDENER: I had this two-up-two-down house in Oxford – which is now where my OX4 recording studio is. There was a little studio up in the attic at the time and every time I started making some noise, there were these few mates who I used to party with a lot, who would walk by and think I was having a party.

Then my doorbell would ring, and I’d be like ‘For f**k’s sake, I’m trying to get some music done’, you know! So I’d open the door, then we’d be drinking and this and that. It was fun for a while, and I think post-Ride I really needed that.

But then it did start to get a bit much. Without being too detailed, drugs came into it a little bit because there was experimentation in that way. Eventually I really wanted to get away from that. Everything was starting to cave in. I’d had the fun out of it, and now it was only going to go one way - a bad place.

That’s “Chained” in essence. This feeling of something that was once great, that was now feeling more like a chain. That also triggered a feeling for me, in that the only way I was going to get away from this was to get pretty far away from my house.

I always had a great friend in France who I’d often go to see, and I ended up staying over there in return for doing up a dilapidated barn. I let my house that I had in Oxford and just went there - I guess in a stupidly romantic way - straight into the medieval worlds of France for two or three years. But it was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was so therapeutic after the madness of Ride and what preceded it.

How did the opportunity to work with Stephan Haeri of Télépopmusik come about?

I got to know Stephan through Melanie Bauer, who used to host a pretty big radio station in Paris. She put us together, then I spent a week with Stephan in his smoky little flat in Paris and we worked on all of these tunes. It was such a small flat, but he managed to get a studio in it. I was sleeping on this bed with stilts, he’d moved out of the flat just for me to live in it. But he smoked so much that I was sleeping in constant smoke! I guess that is Paris in a way though, or it was at the time.

Within that week, I loved what came out of working with him. I’d have loved to have worked with him more actually. There’s another track called “Contagious”, and another called “Valentine”. When that one came out, I thought ‘Wow, he really has got it.’ He called the project 2Square, and “Chained” got so lost, but for me it’s brilliant. It was the track that if anyone ever asked me if I was doing stuff without Ride, I’d say ‘Yes, listen to this.’ I was really proud of that.

“White Sands” by Ride (2017)

BEST FIT: Correct me if I’m wrong, but this song seems to it seems to be a tale of the band’s journey from breaking up to reuniting - “The breath between better days / We came the long way round / Awakening to be ourselves / We died at least once to save our ground”.

MARK GARDENER: That’s exactly what it is. I wanted to write a song that tried to reflect that feeling. It was like it could have all happened yesterday, it was so familiar, yet it’s so unfamiliar too. Every part of that lyric was about the reunion.

It’s called “White Sands” because at the time I was listening to a lot of Bonobo, and I really love his album Black Sands. The track gave me a feeling of that album. And also, may he rest in peace, Andy Weatherall, he mentioned through Andy Bell that it was his favourite track from Weather Diaries, which made me feel really proud.

Were there any times that you performed the song live that made it particularly memorable?

I do remember one festival in Sicily we played called Ypsigrock Festival. We weren’t planning on playing it there, but there was something about the track that reminded me about Pink Floyd in Pompeii, and I said to the guys, ‘We need to play “White Sands” tonight.’

I was recently in Sicily doing a solo show, which was why I thought about this track, and everybody that I met who had been to this festival and came to the show said that that moment, and that song just clicked. It was a beautiful, warm night in Sicily, we played that song, and those feelings of transcendence were definitely there. It was something really special.

Why did you decide that this would be the album closer for Weather Diaries?

Before we talk about the song we’ll go onto next with Robin Guthrie, he always had this thing where he said, ‘Keep your best song until the end of the album.’ Then I listened back to Cocteau Twins’ albums, and you know what? They always had a great closing track.

I thought it was a really strong track, one that I was heavily involved with, and I thought it’d be a great album closer. It also made me feel like we were hitting a new creative stride as a band after reuniting, so it’s a big track for me.

“Universal Road” by Mark Gardener & Robin Guthrie (2015)

BEST FIT: Can you tell us about how you came to know and work with Robin Guthrie for your Universal Road album?

MARK GARDENER: I met Robin a few times before working with him. I was always a huge fan of Cocteau Twins. I think theirs was the third CD that I’d ever bought – the first was The Cure, then Hatful of Hollow by The Smiths and then Treasure by Cocteau Twins.

When you work with Robin, that pretty much means that he takes care of the sound and I’d look after the lyrics. He has this ‘sound’ that he can put on anything, and it’s just amazing. It was great to work with a hero of mine, living in his house with his wife Flo and their daughter. I was living a nice, northern French life, drinking wine and being up in the attic every night making this album together. The whole experience was great.

Where did the “Universal Road” title come from?

“Universal Road” was quite an early one from when we got together. In the song I’m talking about my dad passing away. It was a traumatic thing to go through when he was really bad and ended up passing away in hospital.

The song was about the conversation continuing after death. There’s that life and death split, but the song is about continuing on that “Universal Road” type of thing. Robin really liked that, and that’s why the album ended up being named after the title of the track.

For me, I guess it’s a bit sad, because I really love that album, however it didn’t get a lot of attention. A lot of people don’t know about, but I think it’s really great. That’s why I wanted to choose this track. If I ever play solo shows, I always play “Universal Road”.

Do you think Ride’s reunion potentially overshadowed this album’s release in early 2015?

It’s always difficult with solo work. I’d like to do more in a way, but it is hard because Ride does overshadow a lot of stuff. But with this album, I think it was hard because we’d both invested time, money and energy into doing it. We probably lost money in the end, purely because we wanted people to know about it. Had the interest gone up just a little bit then we’d have probably made another album.

There just wasn’t enough to warrant it, but it’s still out there and it’s not going away. I hope more people will find it, because it’s a nice combination of two people working in a harmonious way together.

Speaking of which, collaborations have been a recurring theme throughout your musical career. What do you love about the idea of bringing other people’s ideas into the mix when it comes to making music?

I really love collaborating with other artists because it takes you to new places. With people like Robin, I was purely reacting with the sound of the tracks he was putting together. He’d grab the guitar, start getting drums going, and it’s lovely to react to that in a room.

In the early days straight after Ride, I did some work with Paul Oakenfold which was really more trance than anything. I used to go out to clubs a lot, and I’d challenge myself to figure out how I could put a lyric with a trance kind of tune that isn’t just a typical party line, you know? I think it’s really interesting when two different worlds collide in that way.

“Magdalen Sky” by Mark Gardener (2003)

BEST FIT: Do you remember where you were when you wrote this song?

MARK GARDENER: I actually recorded the track in the same place we recorded Going Blank Again, in Chipping Norton studios. It ties in with Magdalen Bridge, which is in Oxford. When I used to go out drinking in the city centre, I’d walk back across Magdalen Bridge and back into East Oxford, which is a bit less picturesque and dream inspired.

It was those feelings that I’d have in my head when I’d walk back from the city centre on a bit of a comedown from having drank too much, then there’s all this stuff going around in your head. It allowed me to exercise a lot of darker feelings that I had.

What were some of those darker feelings you had at the time?

I wrote it post-Ride and it was a difficult period for me. It was probably around the party time that I talked about earlier on “Chained”. I remember feeling that Ride was gone, and I felt a bit isolated. I was also trying to make sense of a relationship at the time… there were a lot of things that I was trying to make sense of. It’s the sound of a guy that’s lost his band and is losing his marbles a little bit.

You first released this as a limited edition single in 1997 on the Shifty Disco label. Yet it still featured on your debut solo album These Beautiful Ghosts eight years later. What was it about it that made you stick with it for so long?

I felt it had a timeless quality about it. I didn’t want it to be lost. Shifty Disco at the time only had limited numbers, and it was a bit lost. I thought it still held its own amongst other tracks when it came to the solo album, so I stuck with it. It’s a track that I felt, and still feel, very close to.

Interplay is out now via Wichita Recordings / PIAS.

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