Formed at North Oxfordshire College & School Of Art in Banbury in 1988, Ride quickly cemented their importance as a pioneering band of the Shoegaze genre with the release of Nowhere in 1990, which they followed soon after with Going Blank Again in 1992. Both these albums are remarkable fusions of pop and noise-rock; sonically expansive and lyrically abstracted, but still intimate and immediate. After breaking up in 1996, the band reformed in 2014 to tour, and have since released several albums which include the psychedelia infused electronic collaboration with Pêtr Alecsänder, Clouds in the Mirror. The following is a conversation with guitarist Andy Bell and bassist Steve Queralt.
Eitan Orenstein: In the introductory essay to the twentieth anniversary re-release of Nowhere, you mentioned it was a difficult album to make as you were still maturing as a band at the time. How have the ideas conveyed initially on the album aged for you?
Andy Bell: The ideas have aged pretty well in the sense that they capture teenage feelings. They do feel in a way that they’re part of that time. But I don’t know, as much as they are part of that period they are in, they have aged all right.
EO: So you see that period in which you made the album very separate to you now as musicians?
AB: Yes, especially when you’re doing whole sets where you’re just playing Nowhere in its entirety. You get back into the headspace. You’re delivering all the lyrics in one big block. It’s quite an angsty set of lyrics.
EO: Obviously you don’t want to feel detached from what you’re conveying to your audience. Is it a constructed effort to re-engage with these angsty feelings?
AB: It’s more like a letting go. You know that it’s you. You know that it’s a previous version of an authentic you. You just have to relax into it and accept that “Ok, I wouldn’t say this now. But I remember feeling this way, at some point.” That’s an adjustment I felt happening on the first reunion tour in 2015, playing these songs for the first time since last time we toured in 1995.
SQ: We had played a lot of Nowhere in the last ten years or so. Seagulls had always been in the set, Paper Trails also [both songs on Nowhere]. It’s only the songs like Decay and Paralysed that we’d had to rehearse and re-learn, and get back to how they sounded thirty years ago. Half of the album had been played quite frequently in 2015, after a fifteen year hiatus.
EO: The stuff about language on the album, especially on the song Seagull. How much importance do you place now, in comparison to before, on being lyrically articulate? Especially given the sound is very obfuscated and heavily reverbed?
AB: The lyrics are paramount. I always go to the lyrics probably before anything else. I guess there’s always the initial rush of hearing a sound or a tune, but as soon as I’m listening to it I’m interested in hearing the lyric they’re trying to put across. Although sometimes, minimal lyrics work in themselves. You can hammer home a point just by repeating one line. Like on the DIIV song, How Long Have You Known. The same line comes round and round again, and each time it’s repeated it becomes more and more profound.
EO: It’s interesting to think that, with your lyrics, the words can be just pointers that represent, the point itself they try to convey is lost.
AB: Coming back to eighteen, to that thing of deconstructing the medium and the message. You are the person saying words. But the words are just a conduit for the feeling.
EO: Like the lyrics are kind of secondary to the actual sound.
SQ: Yes. There was a feeling that was part of the shoegaze genre. One of the ingredients was to have the vocals mixed quite low. Traditionally they sit way on top of the backing track. But shoegaze was all about delivering one message: all about the music, melody, not so much the lyrics, initially. I think we were one of the shoegaze-y bands, even though the term didn’t exist at the time, that thought the vocals didn’t need to be lost in the noise, unlike My Bloody Valentine.
AB: I think that, more than any other of the bands at that time, we saw ourselves as a pop band. We wanted to make records that were commercially viable. Deliver something that’s not obscured or layered beyond any recognition. We wanted people to able to hear what the words were. Treating the voice as an instrument, it worked great for the Cocteaus and the Valentines. I wouldn’t even have any clue at this stage what the lyrics are on their records, but they’re somehow more profound for that.
SQ: It seems to me that for the Valentines it was always a play on words. It’s those conundrums that draw you in, when lyrics are left open to interpretation.
EO: What’s the balance between cognition and intuition in your creative process?
AB: A bit of both. There’s always a lot of hard work put into constructing the tunes. But that doesn’t take away from the magic, the initial inspiration. But if you just left it like that, it wouldn’t translate. There’s always some elbow grease involved to push it up the hill, give it a bit of a polish.
SQ: I think the best pieces we’ve written are the ones that happen really quickly. When everything just falls into place.
Andy Bell: I remember Christmas of ‘88, a month after the band formed. Getting the Velvet Underground book Uptight, which is a Victor Bokris biography of the Velvets. And just basically having it as a bible. For the whole period of starting out. Looking at the photos, trying to dress like them, think like them. The book has a very cool design, very in-keeping with the 60s aesthetic. Lots of shots of the factory years. We were at art school and had a bit of that going on. Or at least we thought we did. Turtlenecks, etc. It’s hard being Lou Reed in Banbury, to paraphrase David Keenan.
Image “RIDE-10.jpg” courtesy of Greg Scranton is licensed under CC BY 2.0.