“Steve, have you got a good answer for why we’re reissuing them again?”
Speaking is Andy Bell, lead guitarist for English rock band Ride, on Zoom along with bandmates drummer Laurence “Loz” Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt. Singer and rhythm guitarist Mark Gardener, tied up with session work at his own OX4 Sound studio in Oxford, will be on a later call after Ride has hit the road for some shows in support of the latest reissues of their first few Creation Records releases—which are the subject of my opening question.
For a band that clearly doesn’t want to be seen as a nostalgia act—they’ve put out two albums of new music since reforming in 2015 and are currently finishing up another (more on that later)—Ride seem to reissue their old records on a fairly regular basis. To be fair, those records are classics. 1990’s Nowhere has been hailed (arguably accurately) as “the second-best record of the shoegaze era.” Its follow-up, 1992’s more pop-oriented, but still plenty noisy Going Blank Again, is similarly well-regarded. Still, after having done reissues for the 20th anniversaries in 2010 and the 25th anniversaries in 2015, which really wasn’t that long ago, is there a compelling reason to do it all over again?
Bell lobs the question over to Queralt, who has managed to log onto the call after some technical difficulties.
“Well, they’ve been out of print,” Queralt replies. “It’s always depressing when you go into a record shop and you look in the Ride section—if there is a Ride section—and there’s no vinyl there. Vinyl is such a big thing now; we thought we ought to get it out. It’s also repackaging the early stuff, all the first few EPs—it was too good an opportunity to miss.”
In a digitized era when bands rise and fall at the mercy of algorithms and the fickle tastes of TikTok teens, the story of Ride’s early days seems almost the stuff of fairy tales. Within 12 months of forming in 1988, a band whose initial ambition, Queralt says, “was to be the biggest band” in their hometown of Oxford and hopefully get booked at “a big venue in town called the Co-Op Hall,” Ride were signed to Creation Records thereby becoming a crucial group in the legendary label’s pre-Oasis peak years; selling out shows all over the UK (a peek at their early gigography will inspire third-hand exhaustion); and putting out a series of well-received EPs, all of which made the UK Singles Chart—proving that, like one of their foundational favorite groups Sonic Youth, you could be an indie band while still achieving commercial success. (Bell points out that Ride sort of sold out by signing to Sire Records in the United States while remaining on the independent Creation in the UK, but “it was Seymour Stein who signed us, and he was the guy who signed the Ramones and Blondie and Madonna and the Talking Heads, so it felt like it was the right kind of thing for us, and we were like, well no one knows about the States, and it’s pretty far away, so it’s fine…”)
With the release of Nowhere in late 1990, Ride officially took their place alongside labelmates Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine in the pantheon of canonical shoegazers (it should be noted that Ride was and remains ambivalent about being called a shoegaze band, but oh well, whatever, etc.) Post-Going Blank Again, the band floundered in the face of changing musical trends and personal tastes, put out two meh records, and went their separate ways in 1996. There’s a happy ending, though, as Ride reformed in 2015 to play some shows they decided they liked being a working band and have continued on as one ever since.
All of which is to say, Ride have more than earned the victory lap or two (or three.) But Queralt is correct in pointing out that what makes this go-round particularly special is the compilation of Ride’s early EPs, the availability of which restores an essential piece of the puzzle in Ride’s musical development during a particularly fertile period for guitar rock in general.
With this in mind, it seemed an opportune time to have the band talk through their discography, from the newly reissued to the proper new. Below, all four members of Ride weigh in on the trials and tribulations of their recorded history, musical and otherwise, from the late ‘80s to the present day.
With their first three EPs—Ride (January 1990), Play (April 1990), and Fall (September 1990)—Ride proved themselves to be a very loud band with a strong artistic vision who could churn out memorable songs quickly. Early classics like “Chelsea Girl” and “Drive Blind,” both on Ride, date back to the very first time the group ever jammed together in the garage at Colbert’s house, the latter tune coming about when they tried to cover “How Soon is Now” and ended up writing an original instead. By the time the band made Today Forever, recorded immediately post-Nowhere, the songs were already sparkling with the assertiveness that would fully blossom on Going Blank Again.
When the EPs are presented together in chronological order as they are here, it becomes clear what a staggering creative run it was for a band who only a year before hadn’t played a gig outside their hometown. “It’s a little bit overachieving,” admits Colbert. “But that’s just the way we were at the time.”
Because Queralt owned a four-track, Ride were able to start recording themselves almost immediately. (Bell actually first met the future Ride bassist through Queralt’s brother, who asked Bell to play guitar on a cover of George Michael’s “Faith”; his brother, he told Bell, would “produce” it.) Recordings from this nascent period in the band’s history, somewhat incredibly, still exist. Querelt says he “recently dug out the four-track cassettes and, and got a full track player and did a little mix. They’re actually sounding pretty good. I’m quite impressed at how professional we were right from the get-go.”
4 EPs reveals that all the elements that make Ride Ride were present right from the start: the bigness of their sound, how much space they could fill by cranking all levels up to euphoric highs; their talent for loud and quiet dynamics, pairing alternately distorted and chiming guitars with a punishingly heavy rhythm section; and especially how doggedly song-oriented they were in comparison to their more atmospheric-minded contemporaries. They never sat around deciding they were going to be the most melodic of the original shoegazing bunch, by the way. It just came out like that because they loved Sonic Youth and Madonna, Stone Roses and Cocteau Twins, the Cure and the Beatles. It’s how their band naturally wanted to sound.
The youthful Ride were music heads in the old-fashioned sense of becoming obsessed with a particular label—4AD and Creation, in their case—and listening to every new release from it. Queralt worked at a record store, so he got “first dibs on anything new coming in,” says Gardener, and would bring the most interesting stuff to the band. My Bloody Valentine, Loop, and The House of Love were favorites. What a thrill it was, then, for Ride to end up labelmates with “the Valentines” only a year after having their minds blown by the latter band’s You Made Me Realise EP. It was so thrilling that they didn’t even get mad the time they turned up at a studio and weren’t let in “because Creation hadn’t paid the bill for the Valentines’ recording session,” says Bell. “We didn’t really feel like we were on that level; we were just like, ‘Oh my God, we’re locked out of the studio because of the Valentines! That is really cool!”
Despite having released nearly a whole album’s worth of music before putting out an album at all, Bell proudly points out that there are no repeated songs on the EPs—only the shimmery “Dreams Burn Down,” with its epically cascading guitar lines, originally on Fall, also appeared Nowhere. “We were conscious of bands like The Jam and the Beatles putting out singles every three months,” says Bell. “We were like, we’ve got to keep doing it; otherwise, people are going to forget.” People didn’t—each of the EPs made the UK Singles Chart, a first not only for Ride but for any Creation band.
“I think that four tracks over 12-inches is the perfect little format,” Bell continues. “It’s not quite as much pressure as an album, but it is like an album because you get to have a first track and the last track and all those things. Ride were a very conceptual band in those days. I actually think [the EP] is the best format for our music. We’re always really good at that.”
When asked which EP in the bunch is their personal favorite, Bell says he likes the first one. Queralt also says he likes Ride but thinks “the second one [Play] is pretty, pretty terrible; it has two good tracks on it. I think the fourth EP is our strongest.” Colbert also likes Fall and Today Forever because “they feel like gear changes. The third and fourth feel really good, like we’re hitting our stride.” Gardener did not share which EP is his favorite because I forgot to ask him.
By the time Ride arrived in London in the summer of 1990 to record Nowhere, their “feet were barely touching the ground,” as Gardener puts it, so swift had been their rise from merely wanting to be “the biggest band in Oxford to recording demos in bedrooms, then to putting out EPs and going in a transit van around the country playing shows, to now finally making an album,” says Colbert. Adding to the excitement was the fact that they were recording at Blackwing Studios in London, where some of their favorite albums by 4AD bands like This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance had been made.
Their memories of that two-week stay in London are both colorful and hazy: the dodgy shared flat (in Paddington, they think); how long it took to get to the studio on the Tube, how long it took getting anywhere in London; eating breakfast together in a cafe near the studio; watching the 1990 World Cup matches while playing pool in the green room. (Bell remembers doing this and Googles the dates to make sure his timing is right; Queralt does not remember this at all.) But mostly, it was working on music. “We started at 9am on the first day, but then the next day, it was 11,” says Queralt. “And the day after that, it was one in the afternoon. We became completely nocturnal by the end of it.”
Gardner calls Nowhere a “nighttime sort of record.” He remembers getting a taxi in the mornings to where the band was staying while “every normal person was coming to work in London—and we had just finished work. Then, when we were going into the studio, it seemed like everybody else was coming back from work. I just felt a bit isolated and a bit out of the general loop of life. I think that record sounds a bit like that.” He adds that the band were smoking a lot of pot in those days, “as you do.”
Ride’s increasingly late working hours ended up putting so much pressure on their engineer and first-time producer Marc Waterman that he somewhat famously burned out and couldn’t finish the job, resulting in Alan Moulder being brought in to do the final mixes on Nowhere. Upon hearing the recordings, Bell says, Moulder remarked that “he couldn’t tell what was the bass drum and what was the fucking snare drum.”
“But I think that therein lies its charm,” says Queralt. “I think if we had recorded [Nowhere] with huge amounts of money and the world’s top producers, it wouldn’t have been as good an album. I think it has a lot of lo-fi charm about it.”
“Marc Waterman, to his credit, was going for the vibe. He wasn’t really paying attention to which microphone was doing what,” says Colbert.
Nowhere’s legend has grown so large in the decades since its release that it’s easy to forget that Ride were practically still teenagers when they were making it. (Watching footage of the band from the time, you’ll want to cry at how young they look.) No wonder that the experience was, as Colbert says, “a really sort of intense time for the band, having gone from the softness of Oxford to the edginess of London; and the studio being Blackwing and just heads down, working all the time on this emotionally expressive, existential album. But it was also beautiful and brilliant and creative in its own way.”
“At that time in your life, you’re not so good at dealing with ups and downs that life starts throwing at you when you’ve first left home, when you first start falling in love and that all goes wrong,” says Gardener. “You don’t have any sort of way of dealing with that stuff. So I think we just dealt with everything by escaping into the band.”
30 years on, Ride remains hugely proud of what they accomplished on Nowhere. “It’s a really, really good album, especially in its original form,” says Queralt. “I like the format of eight tracks. It’s got a great opener; there’s this quiet stuff/loud stuff. I think it’s a really well put together, arranged album.”
“Bearing in mind, we were only like 18 or 19, there’s some amazing stuff,” says Colbert, who says he grew to appreciate the record even more when the band had to relearn the songs for their first reunion shows. “A track like ‘Paralysed’ has got so much going for it; I’ll always shout out about that track. It’s actually quite complex and clever. No one had any sort of formal music education or anything; we just did what felt right. It is impressive, the complexity and the directness of it, for a bunch of young lads.”
“And more than just the songs, it’s the whole package,” says Queralt. “Like the cover, I think, is still really, really good. I like the photos of us inside. I would buy that album by that band.”
If Nowhere was, as Gardener puts it, a “nighttime record,” Going Blank Again is when everything became illuminated, the album’s pop vibrancy and immediacy and colorful stylistic choices a reflection of Ride’s growing self-assurance and the guiding hand of producer Alan Moulder. After having made a big statement with their first record, toured across the world on the strength of it, and picked up accolades like winning Melody Maker’s reader’s poll for Best Band of 1991, Ride had understandably begun to feel “quite confident as a band,” says Queralt, and so “there were very few rules about how we wanted to sound.”
“We didn’t put any kind of parameters around ourselves,” he continues. “If we wanted to bring in a synth or play to a sequencer, which is what we did on ‘Leave Them All Behind,’ we could do all these things. And Alan was totally up for that experimental side of things. We could have gone and tried to do another full-on guitar record. But I think we felt we’d done that, and we wanted to sort of shift forward a little bit.”
“We were a bit more practiced, a bit more rehearsed,” says Gardener, who credits the American tour they went on in 1990 with broadening the band’s horizons. “Those books you read because you’re supposed to, because they were the cool books to read—Kerouac and the Beat Generation, all that sort of stuff—when you read them in Oxford, you don’t really get them in the same way until you’ve started traveling around America. The whole experience had blown our minds wide open in a really great way, and I think Going Blank Again, for me, sounds a bit like that: more confident, more striving.”
The record’s opening track, “Leave Them All Behind,” is indisputably one of Ride’s finest moments, a swirling eight-minute-long noise pop storm from a band who felt themselves pulling away from their musical contemporaries—quite literally “leaving them all behind.” The band insisted on making it the lead single despite its length, a move Creation “fully supported,” says Queralt. The song became—and remains—their most successful single, debuting at number nine on the UK singles chart.
Going Blank Again was recorded in six weeks at Chipping Norton Studios, a residential recording studio that no longer exists in the market town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. Unlike their time recording in London when the band, their star on the rise, would occasionally have interviews with TV or radio programs or Alan McGee from Creation checking in “to make sure we were still alive and that we were doing what we were supposed to be doing,” says Gardener, Ride had very few visitors while making Going Blank Again.
Gardener lights up when talking about recording in Chipping Norton, which was both just far away from and close enough to Oxford that he could go home in the evenings and start writing lyrics in his room, his head still buzzing with all the music the band had worked on during the day. He remembers easily coming up with words for songs like “Mouse Trap” and “Time Machine” and “OX4,” which he says was about “the drug dealer’s house where ourselves, Supergrass, and other bands would go and buy pot.” It was a productive time, a happy time.
“I like to say it was a bit of a ‘wow’ time, really. It was just the feeling that like this [band] was beginning to become our jobs and our lives, and it was working,” says Gardener. “I didn’t necessarily expect it to happen. It’s a very pleasant sort of surprise when—and this sounds a bit corny—your dreams start to become reality. It was definitely that sort of feeling.”
This guide will be skipping over Ride’s final two records for Creation, 1994’s Carnival of Light and 1996’s Tarantula. First of all, they aren’t on Bandcamp, and secondly, they’re acknowledged, even by the band themselves, as not being their best work. “We weren’t playing to our strengths, you could put it that way,” says Bell.
When Ride reunited in 2015 to play some shows, the plan was more or less just that: to play some shows. It was while on tour they realized that “we’re enjoying this, and we should go back into the studio and make an album,” says Queralt. Fittingly for a band that was always known for being a powerful live act, the time spent gigging ended up informing what would become Weather Diaries, Ride’s 2017 comeback record.
Playing their old material together after so many years was “a crash course in seeing what works, both within the band and also just with the fans—what songs had lasted the test of time and what bits we enjoyed playing. We were being schooled in what we were good at, and I think that made Weather Diaries better,” says Bell. “If we had gone to make a new album without doing that year of touring, it would have been a lot more stabbing in the dark.”
Made with DJ and producer Erol Alkan and Alan Moulder again on mixing duties, Weather Diaries is an album that bears many elements of Ride’s feted early records—the textural guitars, the foregrounded melodies, the ultra-heavy rhythm section—but it does have a sort of meticulousness that simply wasn’t present in the band’s earlier days when they were, as Gardener jokes, “stoned boys with fluffy hair, not knowing what the fucking hell was going on.”
The grown-up version of Ride was ready to try something they’d never done before and “really make a decent studio album,” says Colbert. “Going Blank Again was a really good studio album, but we were sort of just playing live, and it was being recorded. Weather Diaries marks the time when Ride really got into our studio shit and really made it start to work, thinking about sounds and getting proper takes and trying to build our studio craft a bit. It was a studio album that we then learned to play live.”
“Personally, I felt there was so much that we hadn’t really done, you know, so much more there for us, recording-wise, in the studio, that it would have been criminal not to make new music,” agrees Gardener.
The band followed-up Weather Diaries the next year with (what else) an EP. Tommorrow’s Shore features one track leftover from the album’s recording sessions (“Catch You Dreaming”) and three brand new ones, a highlight being the fuzzy “Cold Water People,” which sounds like the Beatles crossed with Kraftwerk.
Ride’s sixth studio record This is Not a Safe Place “just happened super quick,” remembers Bell. “We’d just finished touring Weather Diaries, and it was almost like, let’s just get this one out. We’ve got all these amazing ideas right now, so let’s just do this right now, and we’ll do the ‘real’ follow-up later.”
“There’s echoes of the way we recorded in that first year,” says Queralt. “We were hungry to make another record. For me, it was a nice way of saying that Ride is back. I think plenty of bands in the last 10 years have reformed, gone on a big tour, recorded and released an album, and then done nothing else since. I didn’t want to be one of those bands. I think it makes a statement to come back with a second ‘comeback’ album so quickly. It’s not all about reunion. It’s not all about one comeback record. Ride are a proper working band.”
This is Not a Safe Place is certainly the weirdest (in a good way) record of Ride’s career, and sees the band continuing to pursue their love of spikier, more electronic elements while continuing to excel at making great, melodic rock—the jangly “Clouds of Saint Marie” might be one of the prettiest songs in the Ride discography. It’s the work of a band with nothing left to prove to anyone but themselves, so they feel comfortable allowing themselves some latitude in the music they make now—the keyword being “some.” “We’ve kind of given ourselves a little bit of the boundary of ‘Here’s what we do well, and let’s stay within that, but within that, let’s experiment and let’s go crazy. Let’s stay within our lane, but the lane is big,’” says Bell.
“I’m okay about looking backward as long as you look forward,” says Gardener. “I struggle with it, to be brutally honest. It’s depressing if you feel that your life was just about those few years that have gone 30 years ago. It’s just essential for my well-being that we go to some new places with the music.”
That said, Gardener “wasn’t totally happy with some of the mixing on [This is Not a Safe Place], but then, I’m like that with all our records. I probably didn’t feel quite as involved in that album, but at the time, I was building a studio and also going through a separation.” Regardless, he says that songs like “Kill Switch” and “Future Love” have become mainstays in their live set, “which is great. If we have a setlist where we can play whatever we want, and there are certain songs from the new era that are always going to be there with some of the older ones, that, for me, is an achievement.”
The 7th full-length record by Ride, coming in 2023 or 2024 (they’re not sure yet)
Throughout our conversation about their old records, Ride continues to make reference to a forthcoming new record, their seventh, which they’ve been working on for the past few years. It’s been slow-going for various reasons—the pandemic being the major one—but also because they have, after so many years, been liberated from having to record on someone else’s schedule in someone else’s studio. The new record is the first one they’ve made together in Gardener’s OX4 Sounds studio, which “felt like Ride’s studio, and we’ve never really had that before,” says Gardener. “It’s just nice to come and go a bit more as we please. Rather than think too much, we’d just jam and play and see what came out of that. And because of that, it’s gone to some really interesting places.”
“There are two or three songs on [the new record] which I think are outstanding, like really outstanding,” he continues, genuinely excited. “Ultimately, the biggest part for me is that feeling that there’s still something we’re going to surprise people with, and I surprised myself with a few of the things in the new record.”
So it seems that more than three decades after forming, Ride have come full circle to be what they were in the beginning: four guys from Oxford, jamming in a room (in Oxford), recording themselves, seeing what happens. What remains constant is the quality of the music they make together when it’s just them together.
“You can have really bad chemistry between people in a band and still go out and play a few shows and get paid and just about get away with it. Then when those bands come to the studio and make new records, it all falls down,” says Gardener. “If the chemistry isn’t good—you can just hear it. It just doesn’t work. But I think with us, the records are good because the chemistry is good.”