Shoegaze Week: DiS meets former Ride legend Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener should need no introductions. As a founder member, songwriter and frontman of Oxford four-piece Ride, his band were undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the whole "shoegaze" movement, and for a time, its most commercially successful and well-known export at that.
The advent of Britpop and subsequent polarisation of Cool Britannia and its adoption by the nation's trendy elite led to the band's eventual demise, but not without leaving a glorious epitaph in the shape of one of the most near-flawless back catalogues in recent times.
Since then, Gardener has released the odd solo records, his first and only album These Beautiful Ghosts seeing him collaborate with Oxford's Goldrush four years ago. In between times, as well as forming The Animalhouse, he has also worked with numerous artists both as musician and producer including The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Morning After Girls.
DiS recently caught up with him in his studio for a quick chat and did our level best not to mention the word "legend" at any point...
DiS: How are you and what are you up to at this present moment in time?
MG: I'm still alive and pretty good thanks and I'm mainly finding myself producing and mixing up and coming bands and new talent these days. I last played a solo show in Lima and I still guest sing and write with Rinocerose. I'm also quite involved in Upside Down, the story of Creation Records film that is being made at the moment and will be released later in the year.
It's 20 years since Ride first signed to Creation Records. How did that first meeting with Alan McGee make you feel at the time and did you still expect to be making and producing music two decades later?
When I first met Alan I was a little confused as his accent was strong, my ears were ringing from a Ride gig and overall it was quite hard to understand what was going on and what he was talking about. At the end of the day I was very impressed by the early Creation bands and the vibe of the label and to me Alan McGee was "The Man" with "The Label" so I was made up to be meeting him and then signing to Creation Records. At that time if somebody had told me that we would be the first Creation band to hit the charts and that I would be making and producing music two decades later I would not have believed them. I've always tried to keep my expectations down and therefore thankfully in general at certain times I have been very pleasantly surprised with life and music.
Video:Ride 'Drive Blind' (live)
Ride's first three EPs and the Nowhere album are still seen as being groundbreaking records, both within the shoegaze scene and the wider spectrum of guitar bands in general. Looking back on those records, what are your thoughts on them now and if you had the chance, is there anything you'd change about any of those records?
I wouldn't change anything about those records because they worked , they have stood the test of time and in the end the people decide and that's why they are seen as groundbreaking records. We were totally focused and working very well as a band at that time and also totally naive about the whole recording process and in the end that is to me why those records worked so well and inherited the unique sound that they have. It was all about not really knowing what we were doing but really enjoying the time and going for it in a sonic way!
By the time of Going Blank Again and its subsequent singles, Ride were becoming one of the most commercially successful independent bands of that era. Was this something you had set out to achieve or expected, and with hindsight do you think that changed the dynamics and relationships within the band?
We didn't fall into the press games that many bands were playing at that time and we didn't play the game commercially but we did play a lot of concerts and released some great records so the momentum built in a great way with people either really loving the band or not getting it at all. Our fan base was very dedicated and stronger because we were not playing any games other than recording and playing our music. At that time I think that's why the music press found us quite boring with not so much to say. Personally my ambition was to play the New Theatre in Oxford which was the extent of my ambition when I was a teenager and I achieved that before I was twenty so everything that came after that was a massive bonus for me and as I mentioned earlier I was not holding on to high expectations. With hindsight, I think the dynamics and inter-band relationships were always changing and mostly in positive ways but once records start going into the charts then there is a pressure and expectation more from the outside for the next record to do better than the previous one but I think we rose to that challenge very well and kept hold of our integrity which is easily lost once bands start to become successful.
A lot has been made of the way Tarantula was recorded and the breakdown of relations between you and fellow songwriter Andy Bell. What caused the fall-out and would you do things differently if the opportunity arose again?
When you've been at school together and then in a band together in the public eye and living in each others pockets I think like any relationship that is always changing you can hit a place where sometimes the working and personal relationships do not work as they did anymore. I think we hit that place during the recording of Tarantula and I felt at that time that the band had stopped working as a band and to its strengths. In hindsight, of course, you would do things differently but when you're on the inside you can't see what is happening with any perspective. Many great records have been made in times of inter-band adversity and there were some great tracks made and recorded for Tarantula so I've never really understood why so much was made out of the breakdown of relations with myself and Andy. Nothing lasts forever and I think Ride at that point had run its course so this was the right time to stop.
You mention in your biography that the "Ride period has been....at times, not so well documented." What instances are you referring to and what were the consequences at the time?
I don't hold on to press and wrongly documented pieces about the band. Throughout the years there have been many times that I have been misquoted. Even recently I've just read an interview in the Sunday Times Culture magazine where I was totally misquoted. I've never understood why journalists do that other than maybe the need to spice up their piece. In the end all of that is totally out of my control so I just concentrate on what I am in control of and do my best with that.
Looking back over your time in Ride, what was your fondest memory and what would you consider to be your proudest achievement with the band?
I have many fond memories. The whole feeling that the band was working, while gatecrashing the charts and radio on our own terms was a great feeling. I also really enjoyed the world tours as I always wanted to travel. Certain shows such as Reading 92, Glastonbury and The Royal Albert Hall will never be forgotten and were very proud and great moments for me.
Recently the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver have embarked on successful comeback tours and shows. Would you consider getting back together with the other guys in Ride to do something similar?
The million dollar question again!!! I'm happy for MBV and Swervedriver for their successful comeback tours. There is no plan to reform Ride at present and we're all busy and very much involved in projects that we're all doing now. I'm a believer in trying to be as present in life as possible so I think it could be very strange to try and reform a past life again.
The term "shoegaze" was initially seen as being a derogatory tag at the time, yet over time it has become a romanticised description of the whole genre. How did you feel at the time when certain journalists were calling you and several of your peers "The scene that celebrates itself" and does the term shoegaze hold any resonance with you?
The whole shoegaze thing is pretty amusing to me. The music press loved to categorize so when shoegaze came up as a derogatory tag I was not surprised as that was the time of the music press building bands up to then knock them down so I was expecting the press knives to start coming our way at some point. That the term is now a romanticised description of a very wide genre makes it all the more amusing. At the time of the derogatory press which was only happening in the UK we were on world tours having an amazing time so you tend then not to worry about what a few journos with their heads stuck up their arses were writing here in the UK.
Since Ride, you've been involved in several projects, most notably as The Animalhouse and then your solo work and Goldrush collaborations. How did these projects come about and are there any other plans of a similar nature for the future?
I have no plans at present but I would like to get another album together once I clear the production decks. Whoever and whatever is around me at that time will be possible people that I will play and work with in the event of having a band around the music that I will be making. All these previous projects came about quite naturally and organically in this way. Too many plans along with musicians don't really work!
Video:Mark Gardener 'Vapour Trail' (live acoustic performance)
Your most recent collaboration was on the last Brian Jonestown Massacre album My Bloody Underground. How did you get involved there and what was it like working with Anton Newcombe?
Anton is a great friend who I have known for a long time. He used to think I was an arrogant prat but now we get on very well! We've talked in the past about musical collaborations together and finally we made it happen in Reykjavik last year. The session was very organic and was driven by Anton playing and bashing everything to a point where I then walked out in response and sung the first noises and ideas that came into my head into a mic that was set up. There was no going back in to mess around or overdub any part of that vocal it was a first take recording and that was what became 'Monkey Powder'. I also sang harmony vocals on the track 'Who Cares Why'. It was a great session and it was great working with Anton in this way in Iceland.
You're also building a reputation as a well-respected producer. What lured you into studio-based work and who have you enjoyed working with the most?
Thankfully I've really enjoyed all of my studio based production and mixing work projects. I've always loved being in and working in studios and making records. I always feel a bit like a kid in a toy shop and there is no feeling better for me than when music that you are involved in starts to come together and move you and sound great. I got a bit tired of touring around and having to deal with many non musical things so as time moved on I was always going to be looking to try and balance out all of those miles travelled with being in one place a bit more and to spend more time in a creative and musical way. The Bastila album that I produced with the band last year was a very enjoyable project for me and one that I have high hopes for. I also mixed an album for a great Parisian band called Axel And The Farmers which again was a very enjoyable and interesting album to be involved in. Back in the Animalhouse days I worked with Sam Williams who is also a very reputable producer now and we continue to be very close friends and check in on each others production work as we both have studios in Oxford.
Similarly, are there any producers you aspire to emulate one day and any artists you'd really like to work with in the future?
I don't really aspire to emulate any producers but all the producers that I have worked with have all been a great influence and have taught me so much but in the end you have to have the courage and confidence of your own ears and convictions especially when you start delivering mixed records to the public. I'm very passionate about music irrespective of where it is coming from but the whole challenge for me is to try to make sure that you have got the best out of the people and recorded sounds that you are working with. I don't have any particular artists in mind that I would like to work with.
You've influenced a whole generation of artists, musicians and bands over the past two decades. Are there any of the so-called "Nu-gaze" pack that have particularly caught your eye or ear?
Not really, but my eyes and ears are always open!
Finally, if you could pick one song by any artist that defines the whole "shoegaze" genre for you, what would it be and why?
My Bloody Valentine's You Made Me Realise EP. It just blew me away in a way that I had never been blown away before!
For more information on Mark Gardener visit his Official website.
Photo by Andrew Ogilvy.