Whisper it quietly but Andy Bell is fast approaching his twenty-fifth year as a recording artist. Having formed Ride in 1988 with childhood friend from school Mark Gardener, plus Steve Querelt and Loz Colbert who they met on an art foundation course at college, Bell and colleagues were responsible for creating arguably some of the most groundbreaking records from that era.
Their first four EPs and debut long player Nowhere still stand proud as flawless artefacts, while 1992's follow-up Going Blank Again (recently reissued to commemorate its twentieth anniversary and awarded a princely 9/10 here on Drowned In Sound) highlighted the band's development from being part of the then-lambasted shoegaze scene into genuine innovators of some repute. Sadly, as with all good things, it wasn't long before Ride fell apart and just two albums and four years later, it was all over.
After Ride's demise, Bell formed Hurricane #1 in 1997 at the height of Britpop, releasing a handful of relatively successful singles along with two albums. Nevertheless, critical acclaim proved hard to come by, mainly because of their similarity to Oasis, so it was perhaps no surprise that Bell's next musical venture would be to join the Gallaghers as bassist, following the departure of Paul McGuigan in 1999. He continued to play with Oasis right up until the brothers' acrimonious split a decade later, contributing to the band's final three albums.
Now, having formed Beady Eye with fellow former Oasis members Gem Archer, Chris Sharrock and of course, Liam Gallagher, Bell finds himself in the studio once more, demoing material for his current outfit's projected second record, the as-yet untitled follow-up to last year's Different Gear, Still Speeding. DiS caught up with him during an extended break where the discussion switched from the making of both Nowhere and Going Blank Again, to his disillusionment with music after disbanding Hurricane #1, to working with the Gallaghers and the questions everyone keeps asking; will Ride and Oasis ever reform and take to the stage one more time.
DiS: What are you up to at present and how are the new songs shaping up?
Andy Bell: We're still at the writing stage and then recording a few demos from what we have. We've been making demos for pretty much the whole of this year. It's always good to have far too much music before going into the studio and beginning the actual recording process.
DiS: Are you heavily involved in the writing process with Beady Eye?
Andy Bell: Me, Liam (Gallagher) and Gem (Archer) are all equal partners when we're writing, which means we all get to make sure none of us has a song that sounds too much like "me" - in the collective sense of the word. It's a good way of working because it means none of us have our individual stamp on anything we do. It's all about what's best for Beady Eye.
DiS: You've recently started incorporating Oasis songs into your live set with Beady Eye. Is this something you intend to do on a regular basis for the foreseeable future?
Andy Bell: I'd say it's something we'll definitely do again, yes. The reason we didn't play Oasis material from the outset was because we wanted Beady Eye to create its own identity. So when we started touring around the world we wanted to get everyone that came to our shows used to the idea that we are a new band, and not just a continuation of the old one, even though when you come and see Beady Eye we look pretty much like Oasis on stage. Except Noel's (Gallagher) not there.
DiS: Are you pleased with how everything's turned out for Beady Eye so far?
Andy Bell: Yeah, it's been cool.
DiS: Some people probably don't realise or might not be aware that you've been a recording artist now for almost a quarter of a century. How does that make you feel?
Andy Bell: Old! But yeah, it is quite mad. Twenty years is a long time. We put out the twentieth anniversary edition of Nowhere at the start of last year and now we've just done the same thing with Going Blank Again. Thinking back from Nowhere, twenty years before that it was the end of the sixties, 1970 I think. To be the same difference from that with Nowhere and then again to now kind of puts it all into perspective. You think about how young rock and roll music really is. It's not like we're a million miles away from the creation of the (rock and roll) big band era. We're still seeing the reverberations of that happening. The music world keeps changing in a massive way. When you see the internet and think how music's changed in the last ten years, some of it in ways you'd never previously have imagined. That time has gone very fast.
DiS: When you first started out with Ride in 1988, were there any expectations as to what you wanted to achieve? Did you set yourselves any goals or targets back then?
Andy Bell: I think it will be a different answer from each member of the band. We were definitely quite confident in ourselves. We were big indie heads for a start. We were all NME readers, we all shared similar tastes in music. Bands like The House Of Love, Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine, The Stone Roses, Loop. I'm sure you could fill in the blanks! It was mainly guitar music that we were heavily into but at the same time we also liked The Beatles and classic albums from that era. I naively thought what we were going to do was be like The Beatles where the music we made would be the most far out but also the most popular. So, my ambition was to get to the top of the charts while at the same time pushing the boundaries back as far as they can go. I guess we kind of got there with 'Leave Them All Behind' and Going Blank Again, but overall we just fell short commercially. We never spoke about it much but that was our aim from the beginning.
DiS: I also remember even at your early shows you seemed to attract a large female following, which was quite unusual for guitar bands at that time. Did it ever occur to you that Ride would become poster boys of the indie scene back then?
Andy Bell: I don't know really. I guess that was Mark (Gardener), he was the pin-up of the indie world back then! It wasn't something I thought about that much. What I thought you were going to say was there were a lot of Japanese kids at our early shows, because I remember there being loads of them at our gigs. The Japanese do tend to pick up on things really early. Liam and Noel said the same thing happened with Oasis. The first hardcore followings they got were with Japanese crowds.
DiS: It's interesting you say that as there is quite a vibrant Japanese scene at present that's seemingly in thrall to a late of late eighties and early nineties UK bands.
Andy Bell: The Japanese love shoegazing! And so do the Americans. I never realised what an effect the '91 and '92 American tours had. At the time we just treated it as another tour, yet now it seems like that kind of music has gone on to become so loved in America. Except that love wasn't shown for a good five to ten years afterwards. And then suddenly I'd be going over there with Oasis to play and people would be coming up to me saying, "Forget Oasis, I'm into shoegazing!"
DiS: Was there ever a time when you were in Oasis where you approached Liam or Noel with the intention of making a record in a similar vein to what you did with Ride?
Andy Bell: Well, no not really, not in so many words, but I think Noel definitely appreciates all that music. He likes a lot of the bands from that era. I know back in '93/'94 when Oasis first broke he was quoted in the press as saying his band were going to blow away all this shoegazing crap or whatever - not those exact words but that was the implication - yet that was never their ethos themselves. Noel definitely had a lot of time for me. He was a bigger shoegazer than me! He was always staring down at a pedal with Oasis, and he got a really good guitar sound from his pedals. It was right in that category with Nick McCabe or John Squire or myself, in that world of sound where we're all heavy on delays and distortion. In a lot of ways, those first Oasis demos that I heard from Alan McGee reminded me of The Jesus & Mary Chain. Some of the songs off the first album like 'Bring It On Down', they weren't singles but formed an integral part of the live set, to me anyway sounded like the Mary Chain. I mean, I don't even know if they'd heard of The Jesus & Mary Chain at that point. They were just doing their own thing, but to me they had a lot of that element to them.
DiS: I'd agree with that, something like 'Fade Away' for example sounds like the Mary Chain meets T-Rex or something.
Andy Bell: Yeah, totally.
DiS: You were all teenagers while recording Nowhere, which is quite an incredible achievement looking back. Since then it's been cited as a landmark album, and by many publications as one of the greatest debuts ever made. Did it occur to you at the time you were in the process of creating something so important, pivotal even?
Andy Bell: No, not in the slightest! The actual process of recording that record was quite messy in places. I remember we had loads of problems getting the vocals right. They were out of tune and all over the place at times, which kind of makes it difficult for me to listen to now knowing all that. Although Nowhere is still my proudest achievement, more because it was our debut and we'd finally made an album with our names on it. It's grown on me more in the years afterwards. I don't think any of us quite realised what we'd achieved until many years later. We'd always strived for better things and I think after we finished recording it there was this nagging feeling that maybe we could have made a better record. Having done it, between ourselves, we kind of agreed that next time round we'd spend more time on the album, making it better. I think you can hear that deliberate effort on Going Blank Again to make it more polished.
DiS: One thing that stood out for me with Nowhere was that having released three flawless four track EPs prior to its release, only one song out of the twelve - 'Dreams Burn Down' - made it onto the album. Was that a conscious decision not to include anything off your previous singles on the album?
Andy Bell: All that time we were touring the first three EPs I'd end up going back to my parents house in Oxford and immediately become chained to my four-track, writing these new songs. All the songs on Nowhere were written during that three or four month period while we were touring. I remember being shut in this Bed & Breakfast with the rest of the band after we'd played a gig somewhere, all four of us sharing one room. I started playing the four chords on my guitar that would later become 'Vapour Trail' and Mark just went, "Wow! That was pretty special." And then Loz and Steve would start playing around with it and that's pretty much how that song and the rest of Nowhere came about really. Almost like a happy accident at times!
DiS: The following summer after the release of Nowhere you played the infamous Slough Festival with Slowdive and Chapterhouse among others, which seemed to be where the terms "shoegaze" and "scene that celebrates itself" emerged. Were you conscious of the backlash at the time and did it affect your approach to songwriting in any way?
Andy Bell: And we were all called the Thames Valley Scene as well. They'd been trying to find something to tag it with for a while, and because we were all friends that hung out together we became "the scene that celebrates itself" in their eyes. And then because we all looked down at our pedals it became "shoegazing". It was meant to be a put-down at the time but now it's become a genre! So I've decided to claim the shoegaze tag as having created my own genre.
DiS: In the sleeve notes to Going Blank Again, you say that album was a deliberate attempt to withdraw from that whole scene.
Andy Bell: Yes, without a doubt. We saw ourselves as being far superior to all those other bands. I think any band that's worth its salt genuinely believes they're the best band in the world, and we were no different. As much as Ride were four very withdrawn and quiet individuals as people, we had that confidence, that belief, in ourselves. Songs like 'Leave Them All Behind' came purely from that belief to think bigger and think better and move forward rather than be trapped in what was happening already. We were never about trying to ape the sound of our previous records.
DiS: Wasn't 'Leave Them All Behind' partly inspired by The Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again'?
Andy Bell: The keyboard beginning part, definitely, was us trying to recreate that epic sound of The Who from 'Won't Get Fooled Again'. It wasn't about us copying it, more about getting a similar kind of feel. We ended up with a Hammond organ and I was holding down notes. Alan Moulder the producer had a gate going. I don't know if you're a musician or record producer, but in order to keep time they'll sometimes use a click track generator. He put down a really fast click track and used it to somehow, cut the sound of the organ in and out of the studio so it became quite an intermittent rather than constant set of notes. We hadn't actually done the keyboard part then either. It just seemed to magically overlay itself and fit perfectly.
DiS: How did you feel when 'Leave Them All Behind' gatecrashed the Top 10 singles chart?
Andy Bell: Absolutely ecstatic! It was brilliant. You can't beat that kind of moment because you've made a song that doesn't compromise. It was a nine minutes long wall of sound with no edit whatsoever which meant no radio play either and it's landed in the top ten! You do feel vindicated at that point.
DiS: Did you think it this point that the mainstream was there for the taking to be subverted by bands like Ride?
Andy Bell: Oh yes, definitely. That was the whole idea. I think the success of 'Leave Them All Behind' was the high point of Ride's career. But, the very strange thing about it is we followed it with what we thought would be our big breakthrough single, 'Twisterella', and it stalled at number 36 or whatever it got to. It never got played on the radio, and from that point onwards things started to tail off until eventually the band broke up. It's a weird one, the rise and fall being so close together.
DiS: What's most striking about Going Blank Again compared to its predecessor is its diversity. 'Chrome Waves' references Massive Attack's 'Unfinished Sympathy' while 'Grasshopper' kind of pre-dates post-rock by a good five years or so. Would it be fair to say you'd already started moving in different directions musically from each other by that point?
Andy Bell: We were, but at the same time we'd always been into a lot of different types of music anyway. The main difference between Going Blank Again and Nowhere was that on the second album, we were trying to incorporate as much of the music we were into as possible into what we were doing. We were still very much a core of four people at this time that felt the same about music so we'd share each other's tastes. Steve was into a lot of electronic pop around this time. Around the time of 'Leave Them All Behind', Electronic had just released 'Get The Message', and Johnny Marr somehow made this sound (starts singing the riff) and I don't know how he did it, but next time you play 'Leave Them All Behind' check out the lead guitar on it because I was trying to play that. It's part of the intro and I guarantee now I've mentioned it you'll notice what it is. Loz was into The Fall and a lot of hardcore indie. Mark was a big fan of 1980s indie, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cure, that kind of thing. I was listening to a lot of sixties music, stuff like The Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Nick Drake. All of those were major influences on Going Blank Again, the Beach Boys as well. I should also mention that Steve's number one love was reggae. That's why there's also a lot of dub on the record. In fact, going back to Nowhere, the only reason why the single version of 'Dreams Burn Down' is on the album is because McGee insisted. We had a dub version of 'Dreams Burn Down' - I think it may have been released on the Firing Blanks rarities compilation. Anyway, we were planning to put that on the album and McGee stopped it at the last minute. He made us put the single version on instead.
DiS: The anniversary edition of Going Blank Again also features a live DVD of your show at Brixton Academy in March 1992. Do you remember much about that night? Why was that show included on the bonus disc rather than any of your others?
Andy Bell: We had quite a few of our gigs recorded, especially around that time, but this was the one we chose because there'd been a lot of requests from fans over the years to put that show out on DVD. It originally came out on VHS format in 1992. There are a lot of good live recordings in the archives but this is the one most people tend to talk about.
DiS: Does it stand out for you as one of your favourite shows with the band?
Andy Bell: I guess it represents the band at their peak live. We did two nights at Brixton on that tour and one of them was filmed, and if I'm being honest, we never got any bigger than that. Brixton was as good as it got.
DiS: Your third album Carnival Of Light wasn't as well received by fans or critics as your previous records. Looking back, do you regret that record now or do you still stand by it?
Andy Bell: I try not to have regrets about it because we were always a band that did whatever we wanted. If we were a band making that record now, things would be different, of course they would. You can't make an album where your songs are on one side and Mark's songs are on the other. You can't behave like that, it's just stupid. You've got to talk, work through any differences you both may have. You can't just go on and do something out of spite. It was all going a bit sour around that time and things were allowed to happen. I don't want to say I regret it because the story of Ride is pretty perfect in a way. We did kind of swing wildly between albums. I mean, the first album is the classic debut then we swung towards a cleaner sound and lose the shoegazing tag on Going Blank Again. Then we tried to become a classic rock band like Pink Floyd or The Byrds on Carnival Of Light. From there we decided to make an album live in the studio with Tarantula. Then you had all the personal politics going on with that .
DiS: With regards to Tarantula, songs like 'Dead Man' almost sound like a blueprint for the first Hurricane #1 record. Were you already planning your next project by that point?
Andy Bell: No, not at all. Tarantula was very much a Ride album. The only time it stopped being right was when we turned up at this meeting midway through the album sessions, and Mark announced that he was leaving the band. The Hurricane #1 songs were written soon after that. I think it's fair to say by that point I had gone very sixties! I always had been in a way. 'Seagull' off the first album was an attempt to rewrite 'A Taste Of Honey'. You should play them both one after the other; they're basically the same song. The Beatles were always the touchstones for me. Even when I was the king of shoegazing!
DiS: After Hurricane #1 finished, you then got asked to join Oasis, who were arguably the biggest band in the UK and possibly the world at that moment in time. Was it quite a daunting experience at first?
Andy Bell: No, I wouldn't call it daunting. Hurricane #1 kind of finished in a... It was never really right, that band. It was basically just me trying to keep busy. When I started the second album, I hit a pretty big writer's block that I'd been fighting for a while. I managed to finish the record but it seemed like too much hard work to carry on. I didn't really want to if I'm honest. I think at that point I'd lost all impetus as a songwriter, so I quit the band and moved to Sweden. We'd just had a child as well, my first daughter, and at that point I kind of retired from music. That was me done, aged 29. I'd given all my guitars away and had no intention of making music again, when a call came through from an old friend of mine that worked in the Oasis office. She told me I was about to get a call from Noel Gallagher asking if I wanted to join the band, and sure enough half an hour later he's on the phone asking if I want to play bass with them. I decided to fly back to England and meet them, still not really knowing what I wanted to do. But then when I met them we instantly bonded and felt at home so decided to give it a go.
DiS: How did working with Noel and Liam compare with what you'd been used to in the past? Did it seem strange going from being the main songwriter and focal point with both Ride and Hurricane #1 to being the bass player in what was essentially their band?
Andy Bell: Working with the Gallaghers was brilliant. They're both very different yet in some ways quite similar, and also very appreciative for what I was bringing to their band. I wasn't bringing much other than playing bass on their songs to start with, but they knew and liked what I'd done before.
DiS: Your arrival seemed to coincide with the band releasing possibly their best two records since Definitely Maybe and (What's The Story) Morning Glory in Heathen Chemistry and Don't Believe The Truth.
Andy Bell: I'm a big fan of Don't Believe The Truth. It was definitely the best record Oasis made during the time I was with them.
DiS: Do you ever see Noel and Liam burying their differences, reforming Oasis and working together again?
Andy Bell: I'd love it to happen. I think that life's too short for it not to happen. But, in reality, do I see it happening? At this point, no I don't. The matter rests entirely with the two brothers. It probably should happen at some point but if they can't make it happen, no one should force them to.
DiS: Obviously when Oasis split up, Noel went his own way and the rest of you formed Beady Eye. What made you choose to work with Liam rather than Noel? Was it something that just fell into place?
Andy Bell: It just fell into place like that really. When Mark decided to leave Ride we initially thought about carrying on. But because it had been the original four, and then it would have been three, we just felt it would have been impossible to carry it on. But then who knows what would have happened in a parallel universe? We could have just carried on with what we were doing and wait to see if Mark came back but that never happens. You tend to make snap decisions in the moment of crisis I guess, and then you have to live with them. Your life is then laid out in a certain way as a result. That's what happens; in certain times of your life you have to go with one big choice or the other.
DiS: I guess it's better to look forwards rather than keep wondering what might have been.
Andy Bell: The brave choice is always go forward.
DiS: You've left quite a legacy in your various back catalogues, as well as having influenced a generation of musicians and bands. Are there any that you're particularly proud to have cite you as being an inspiration?
Andy Bell: Anyone who mentions anything I've done as being an influence is alright by me. A lot of people tell me this when I'm being interviewed and then when I read the interview they only tend to mention Loveless! It's a recurring thing for me which is cool because Loveless is one of the greatest records ever created, and if that record raises awareness towards a certain era or genre of music that's fine by me. A lot of bands who are successful these days cite a lot of early nineties guitar music as being influential; Coldplay and The Horrors being two that spring to mind; and we fit right into that, so that's got to be a good thing.
DiS: Bearing in mind the obvious impact of Ride's music today, I guess the final question has to be do you ever see the four of you getting back together and playing one more time?
Andy Bell: Well, never say never. We're good friends now. We get together once a year and just have a few pints and whatever. We're all pretty busy with what we're doing, but personally, it would be a shame if we never got to play those songs one more time.
For more information on Ride visit their official website.