Legendary shoegaze pioneers Ride finally shut down the ‘will they? / won’t they?’ reformation rumour mill last year by announcing their first shows together since splitting up in acrimony in 1996. It has been a busy year so far, with a string of tour and festival appearances including shows at Coachella and Primavera. We caught up with guitarist/singer (and former Oasis bass player) Andy Bell to chat about how the shows have been going, and what the future holds for Ride.
NT: Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to speak with Northern Transmissions. Where are you now?
AB: Hey mate, I’m sitting in the back of the Ride tour bus. We are about to leave Oxford. We’ve just come from London and have picked up the rest of the guys here and we are heading off to get the ferry to Ireland.
NT: Oh yeah you are playing the Electric Picnic Festival there right?
AB: Yeah, playing tomorrow.
NT: Amazing, I love that festival.
AB: Yeah, I’ve been there before and I’ve loved it!
NT: So how have the shows been going so far this year?
AB: I’ve been enjoying it more and more really. We started off with quite a crazy one, we warmed up for the whole thing in Oxford, our hometown, and did a show in front of basically a lot of family and friends. That was just a crazy night, which we kind of in a way rushed to do because we weren’t ever supposed to do the US West Coast first, but then ended up doing Coachella, LA, San Fran and Pomona and all before the UK. We were hoping to do the Glasgow, Manchester and London shows first, but then Coachella wanted us for this year. So that was before the other gigs went on sale, so we ended up doing the Oxford show and it was sort of like….woah! It just happened really quickly because we went almost straight from rehearsals into it. But it was great, it was good to hit the ground running, and it did mean that by the time we got to do Glasgow, Manchester and London we were really in the zone.
NT: How difficult was it to decide on a setlist for that huge hometown comeback show?
AB: We were in rehearsals going “what are we gonna play?” and we had the idea of doing an A-list, a B-list and a C-list and to start off with the essentials and then we’ll work out some that we can do every now and again. The A-list was so long that it was more than an entire gig, so really for the first few gigs the setlists wrote themselves because we were just trying to do all the favourites. Since then, we’ve tried to switch it up, so we’ve started doing more of the later stuff here and there. We’ve got a plan going forward to keep on covering more of the later tracks that we have.
NT: Cool! It would be great to see you doing some of the more abstract tunes like Grasshopper.
AB: Yeah I mean we do like the abstract ones. We’ve been doing Nowhere, which was on the third EP. That’s been kind of cool, because you can make it different every time, so whenever we do it we don’t really rehearse it, we just say “tonight is the night for a bit of ‘Nowhere’ action, let’s see where it goes”. Grasshopper is a bit like that. I mean we did say we’d never do Grasshopper, but I’m starting to think maybe it would be cool.
NT: You reunited in 2001 for a TV tribute to Sonic Youth called Pioneers in which you played an extended noise jam which went on to be released as Coming Up For Air. Did this performance ignite the initial spark to reform? Had discussions tentatively begun even as early on as then?
AB: No I don’t think so. I think up until that point and going forward from that point my stock answer to the question, “are Ride getting back together?”, it was always “No”. And I used to think that the only way that I’d want to do it is in a studio situation or like a rehearsal where we could just improvise, like CAN, the krautrock band. That was my mental picture of it, that it would only be worth doing if we were doing brand new music or that kind of thing. And that was kind of how I felt up until quite recently. But I suppose it was the Stone Roses reunion that started to change my feeling on what our band could achieve, musically, by getting back together. And it just put a seed in my head that then later on became useful.
NT: Ride have always been one of those bands where I felt there was unfinished business to a certain extent. Musically, with the exception of Steve (Queralt, bass player), you have all stayed active. When you reunited did you notice a shift in terms of band dynamics as a result of the gathered experience each of you could bring to the table?
AB: Yeah definitely, that’s true. I think that’s bang on. And also not just within us, but also within the sound, the quality of the PA you get now and the way you can mix sound, and the way that technology has come forward, even lights and everything like that, it’s just so much more. What we were trying to achieve back then is now so easy to get.
NT: Sonically, a lot has changed since the first time around too, in terms of technology. Do you have a many more additions to your pedal board compared to back then?
AB: Fucking hell man, it’s gone through the roof! Back then I didn’t have many pedals, I had a Roland GP-16, which is a rack unit with a digital effects box. It’s got loads in it, but I just had that and a foot controller for it and a wah pedal. So to get the sound now I kind of use the same pedal board that I was using anyway, but I’ve added to it.
NT: Yeah I saw that live session for KCRW and noticed the pedal boards, there seemed to be quite a lot going on!
AB: Haha! Yeah I have two pedal boards, and Mark’s got two as well. But I’m gonna rethink, because we saw Tame Impala at Coachella and they have three, so we’ve gotta go for three now! So I’m working on pedal board 3 now in the studio I’m putting it together, it’s the one that takes things to the next level. It’s all about pedal board 3!
NT: Being a teenager and into your early twenties playing in Ride, did you ever have any indication of how significant it was going to turn out to be at the time? Have you been surprised how the influence of the band has grown in those intervening years?
AB: I think I’m only really getting it now, it never really felt like it at the time. When we first broke up, there was a feeling like there was no particular love for the band and things had moved on in the UK music scene massively, and Ride were sort of like a forgotten band. Everything got swept up in a kind of Britpop, Union Jack wonderland you know? Which was great, and I loved all that stuff, but it was around ten years later, or quite a few years later when started to feel like people were starting to mention that I’d been in this band Ride before. More often than not, it was American people that were mentioning it. So it was a process that happened over a few years and now it just seems to have reached a peak at the same time that we were feeling like “it’s now or never let’s just do this.”
NT: Initially the term ‘shoegaze’ was used as a derogatory term by the music press and now it seem it is a very valid genre of music that you guys and your label-mates at Creation basically started. I saw the reunited Slowdive live recently and found the evolution of their sound since reforming really interesting. It almost seemed like they had been influenced by the bands who they had inspired to begin with, bands like Mogwai for example. I thought that was really cool. Do you feel any influence from any of the bands you may have initially inspired?
AB:I totally get that, and yeah it’s happened for me as well I guess. I mean, talking about shoegazing and where it went…I think the kind of people who would have been in shoegazing bands after the era had finished, I think they went into electronic music. I think they went into that Warp Records vein of electronic music. Boards of Canada, Broadcast and Stereolab, well I’m not sure if they were on Warp, but that sort of approach that Radiohead took on board, and Atoms For Peace have taken on board now, there’s a lot of threads of electronic music that seems to connect with what I think the head-space of shoegazing was.
NT: I guess it all has its roots in psychedelia.
AB: Yeah, a definite relationship with psychedelia and certainly a relationship with krautrock.
NT: Creation Records was home to so many great bands at the time: Ride, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The House of Love. How did it feel when that scene began gatecrashing the charts?
AB: It was really cool! I remember it was the week that Leave Them All Behind, reached number 9, and another high new entry was Jesus and Mary Chain, I mean they weren’t on Creation, but they had been and left for another label. They were a Creation band anyway, so that for me was like our version of like when the Roses and the Mondays were on together. Them and the Inspiral Carpets, all on Top of the Pops. There was a certain Top of the Pops where the Roses were on doing Fool’s Gold and the Mondays were on doing Hallelujah, or maybe Wrote For Luck, and I remember Gaz Whelan the Mondays drummer wearing the same t-shirt as Ian Brown, like one of those nightmare party moments where you walk in and you’re wearing the same clothes as someone else!
NT: Some of your ex-labelmates at Creation have also embarked on reunion tours, bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and even The Jesus and Mary Chain. Prior to making the decision did you speak with any of them to see how the experience had been for them?
AB: No but I did go and see the Valentines and thought they were really good actually, they were great, better than they ever were, and a lot of it is down to the technology improving massively. Slowdive I didn’t see. I did see the Jesus and Mary Chain, but on an earlier reunion with Loz Colbert of Ride playing drums. That would have been a few years before that, but I didn’t really speak to anyone, I just kind of just got on board with the idea.
NT: On your first tour as bass player with Oasis you suffered some permanent hearing loss as a result of Alan White’s drumming. Has this caused any issues when it comes to playing with the band?
AB: No, thankfully music-wise it is fine. The only time I notice it is when I’m in a restaurant and there’s a lot of talking and I have to lip-read a little bit. But to tell you the truth it’s not that severe. It’s the very top-end, I think once you lose that, you lose a lot of ability to pick out words, it’s weird.
NT: The North American tour kicks off in DC on September 17. Is it too soon to ask about whether or not any new material has surfaced in rehearsals?
AB: We’re not thinking about it at the moment but we are slightly held back by the fact that we’ve been doing festivals. The American tour has a bit of freedom to maybe jam out at sound-checks and maybe put in some tunes from other albums to keep surprising people. I don’t know what we’re gonna be coming out with after all that, but the future is open. At the moment, we’re just sticking with the old songs for the tour and then we’ll see where we are in a few months.
NT: Apart from your own, what are the 5 most important records in your life?
The Beatles – Revolver
Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet
The La’s – The La’s
Mr Fingers – Amnesia
Oasis – Definitely Maybe
NT: Thanks for chatting with us Andy, I’ll catch you here in Vancouver on November 17th.
AB: Cheers, looking forward to it mate!
Interview by Stephen White