‘Ride was pretty intense and the nature of the music reflected that.
At the end of the day, we drove the car real fast until we crashed it,” said Mark Gardener in late December from his home in Oxford.
The 45-year-old guitarist/songwriter was explaining the implosion of the pioneering shoegazing band that he founded in the late 1980s with childhood schoolmate Andy Bell – a sound described by the British music bible NME as a mix of “spectral guitar phase and baggy’s wah-wah with airy, acid-high vocal melodies” For a couple years in the early 1990s, before Oasis ushered in the era of Britpop, Ride joined like-minded bands such as My Bloody Valentine in inventing delicate psychedelia.
While often playing second fiddle to MBV, the quartet’s first two albums, Nowhere and Going Blank Again, are considered classics of the shoegazing genre.
However, before they had much of chance to reap the rewards, they were history – a development that Gardener doesn’t regret.
“In a way, I’d think that more bands maybe should have hit the wall and crashed instead of lingering on,” said Gardener, who went on to spend much of the last two decades performing and recording solo, collaborating with artists like the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, Goldrush and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
“When the energy and spirit take their leave, you can kid yourself but you can’t kid your audience. The music is really transparent – as soon as fans feel that something is wrong, it can be heard in the music. That’s why I was the first to say, ‘it’s not working anymore.’” Much ado was made at the time about friction between Gardener and his onstage and creative foil Bell, who went on to join Oasis in 1999 and later formed a band with Liam Gallagher called Beady Eye. But according to Gardener, the reports were overblown.
“It makes us laugh when they talk about tension between Andy and me. There’s always going to be an element of that because we cared so much about Ride, and because we grew up together,” he said. “We were glad to be apart from each other when Ride went under, but in a matter of months we were good again and have been that way ever since.”
So good, in fact, that last November, Ride, with its original lineup of Gardener, Bell, drummer Loz Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt announced a reunion for a series of shows throughout Europe in May and June (with one show in New York), culminating in a headlining gig at London’s Field Day festival. Most of the shows sold out within minutes of going on sale.
“We were really overwhelmed by the response. We knew there was a demand for us, but until you start putting things on sale, you never know, right?” said Gardener.
“Over the years, there’s been something of a groundswell to make this happen, and we were just finding the right time to do it. We see this as a reunion, but we also think that there’s a lot of unfinished Ride business, creatively.
“I think we’re all seeing this as another stage of our development – and that really excites me. Andy’s been at the sharp end with Oasis and Beady Eye performing live and I’ve been at the sharp end of studio work for the last 15 years, so when you combine us together, we’ve both learned a hell of a lot during the period apart.”
One thing Gardener has to relearn, after primarily performing solo acoustic for many years, is how to plug back in and turn up the volume.
“Now I’ve got to go out and buy amps and stuff, it’s fun! I just got back from a music shop, trying to work out what to get – it’s like, ‘hey, what do they use these days?’” he said with a laugh.
But before he goes electric, Gardener is bringing his one-man career retrospective to Tel Aviv for one intimate performance on January 14 at the Barbie Club. Performing a mix of material from Ride, his solo albums and his upcoming album with Guthrie ( which he calls “amazing”). Guthrie distills the essence of the songs without any bells or whistles.
“A lot of those songs started out as single guitar acoustic so it’s really bringing them back to the way they started,” said Gardener.
“At the end of the day, people get carried away with sounds and labels – shoegaze, space rock, whatever you want to call it. But they forget that it’s based on songs. If you have good songs and clothe them around a sound, that’s great. But a lot of people just have the sound and not the songs.
“I think that’s why the whole stock in Ride has grown and grown – it wasn’t just the sound, there were some great songs there.
And the ultimate test is to strip them back to acoustic guitar and vocals.”
Besides freeing up the songs from their covering, being on his own has also freed up Gardener from the confines of being in a band.
“It’s been nice to travel independently, spend some time in the places you go to, and talk to the audience at shows and tell some stories,” he said. “It’s really freedom. Near the end, being in Ride wasn’t freedom, it was ‘no, you can’t get off the tour bus.’ After a while, it was really frustrating.
“So, it’s been really nice to just be a free bird. Of course, no I’m looking forward to getting back on the tour bus.”
This time, though, they’ll be strapped in with seat belts and bent on avoiding crashes.