Ride – Random Facts
“Nirvana pissed in our champagne,” says Andy Bell of Ride, deadpan. If that sounds like a metaphor for how grunge killed shoegaze back in the day, it’s not. This actually happened. “Well, it was Krist Novoselic,” Andy clarifies. We (that is myself and Wil, proprietor of the Ransom Note) are sat with three-quarters of Ride – Andy, Mark Gardener and Steve Queralt – in a North London pub because, as you are probably aware by now, the shoegaze pioneers are reunited, here to leave the rest behind in their vapour trails once again. Older, wiser, but still effortlessly cool, the second coming of Ride was announced last November, but it is only now that the band are getting around to performing their first proper UK dates – including their only UK festival appearance, at Field Day on June 7 – having first headed to America to play Coachella and few dates on the West Coast.
There was a one-off warm-up gig in OX4 (at the Oxford O2 Academy, formerly the Zodiac) on Easter Sunday, before the band flew Stateside, attended by Wil and I in a blur of Guinness and JD & Coke, reliving our misspent youth – older, still stupid, still not very cool. There were tears (mine during Cool Your Boots – my favourite Ride song and one that I never thought I would hear performed live), but the general emotion was one of pure joy. Ride were back and sounding better than they ever did in their heyday. I actually first bonded with Wil over Ride, both of us sticking our heads in the bassbins during Leave Them All Behind at an indie disco in Bath at the Our Price Christmas party (Steve, Ride’s bass machine, is also a former employee of the now defunct music chain – as was Dave Newton, the band’s manager, then and now). Leave Them All Behind was the encore that heady night in Oxford, an epic avalanche of polished noise that at the time of its release was the sound of the band turning on their afterburners and zooming away from their peers. It turned out to be a creative high – it’s been well documented what happened next – but Ride have become more influential in their absence than they ever were during their first life, and their second coming has been anticipated for a while now. Dave Newton once told me that managing the band’s legacy was almost more work than looking after them when they were a going concern.
With Ride, the hatchet was buried fairly swiftly after their acrimonious split and all band members have been on good terms for a while now. Performing together again is still a leap into the unknown, but so far, so good. The myriad of online footage from their West Coast tour (and Oxford) has revealed a band on fire and, after spending a solid chunk of time together for the first time in a while, they are still in good spirits. There are no awkward silences when we meet. They are good company and obviously enjoying themselves. So what’s the protocol when you’ve got your heroes sat in front of you? Have an earnest conversation about the band’s past, present and future? Nah, you fire a load of random (Ride-related) facts at them instead. Here's what happened…
Andy: My fact is – and I’m afraid it’s the only one that we’ve got – is that today it’s Kim Gordon’s birthday.
How old is she?
Andy: So that I don’t know.
Mark: She doesn’t age.
Did you guys ever play with Sonic Youth?
Andy: Yeah, at a festival in Belgium, I think. Nirvana pissed in our champagne. Well, Krist Novoselic.
Andy: No, he missed the toilet.
No, I mean did he know it was yours?
Andy: In my mind they were going, “We fucking hate Ride lets piss in their champagne.”
Mark: Well it’s on The Year Punk Broke apparently – so it’s been filmed. There’s a bit where they break into our dressing room. Basically they were filming their new video and they were just really playing up, trying to cause a punk riot everywhere they went.
Did you drink it?
Andy: Well, I don’t know if he actually had as he would have had to take the cork out and then put it back in.
Yeah, there’s a practical issue there.
Steve: He was obviously very determined. You have to ask, where were we though?
Andy: We were on stage!
Steve: Oh I see. We were a bit busy.
Wasn’t Thurston Moore part of that documentary for Channel 4 in 2001 – Coming Up for Air? The first time you got back together.
Andy: That was a programme about Sonic Youth.
I’ve always thought it was about distortion for some reason.
Andy: When the call came through they asked if we wanted to do the music for a show called Pioneers. So of course we said yes. It wasn’t until after we’d said that, that it turned out the show was actually about Sonic Youth and we were like, “Oh, right…” I haven’t actually met anyone from Sonic Youth. I just worship them from afar. They’re one of our big influences. I’m trying to put forward that it’s not just about House of Love and Spacemen 3 or My Bloody Valentine – so many other bands went into making up our band too. There are American influences too, like Screaming Trees, Mudhoney…
I was listening to the radio show you did for Field Day, and you played Wedding Present at the end, My Favourite Dress, and it made total sense. I’d never really thought of them as an influence on Ride before.
Andy: The reason why I’m saying this is that there’s a shorthand in shoegazing, and people always mention the Valentines and the Cocteau Twins – no one would ever mention Ride. There are always smaller bands that are just as influential, but they just never seem to be part of the vernacular.
Steve: I think Andy also mentioned in that interview about the C86 bands. The Flatmates and The Shop Assistants. The whole Sarah label.
Andy: Also The Loft. The Primitives – early stuff. Orange Juice, Josef K.
Mark: Felt were massive.
I went to college with the drummer from Felt’s girlfriend.
Andy: This isn’t about you Joe.
It’s a fact though.
Andy: A good fact.
OK, here’s another fact. Musicians have the same life expectancy as someone from Zimbabwe – which is the lowest on earth.
Steve: I don’t actually consider myself a musician…
Mark: Hah! Well we shouldn’t go to Zimbabwe then, as it’ll knock off even more years.
Andy: I can follow on from that. Right-hand guitarists get an affliction – in a chiropractic environment – they are susceptible to same thing as jet pilots. So they both get the same issues in their backs and necks.
Steve: There’s probably the same stress involved.
Do you have lead guitarist’s neck then?
Andy: Yeah, because you never really equalize it. I used to know a bass player that would play the other way round to try and combat it.
I’ve got another one, and it’s quite funny. You know the Led Zeppelin song Black Dog? Apparently they came up with that because a black Labrador came into the studio when they were recording. Have you ever had any songs come from something weird like that before?
Steve: We had a pigeon fly in the studio once, but we decided “Pigeon” wasn’t really a very good name for a song.
So you wrote Seagull instead.
Andy: I saw a seagull on the front cover of a tribute album that came out recently. Now that I’ve seen one I’ve realised they’re just not cool.
Some of them are massive!
Mark: Some of them actually swoop down and take your food.
I live quite near the sea now, and they nest near my house. I’ve actually got some seagull facts… We used to drive past one and it looked like it was dancing…
Andy: That’s what the song’s about. A dancing seagull. I’m glad somebody’s finally picked up on that reference.
But what they’re actually doing is tapping their feet on the grass to replicate the sound of rain to get worms to come up to the surface. So yeah, if you ever see a seagull that looks like it’s dancing, it’s actually just getting worms to eat.
Mark: I like that. And if the worms don’t come up they go elsewhere and swoop in and take your chips. They’re so fucking brazen – there’s always one that’s like the gang leader. They can be quite nasty.
Steve: A few weeks ago in Cornwall, Sarah [Steve’s partner] got attacked by a seagull. It took her pasty. It actually wasn’t funny. It was disturbing at the time.
Andy: You should always carry some worms with you.
Another thing that I found out about seagulls was that they’ve got special glands over their eyes, which means they can drink salt water. They’re one of the few animals on earth that can actually drink it.
Andy: So when they’re flying south for winter they can stop and have a drink. We need to harness that.
Mark: That’s what they’re doing in California, they’re trying to work out how to get water from the sea and then to purify it of the salt so it’s drinkable and usable, and they can send it to drought stricken areas.
I’ve got a good fact about vapour trails. Well, they’re now called “contrails” – condensation trails.
Andy: So what are chemtrails?
This is the thing. So conspiracy theorists call them “chemtrails”. We’ve always been told they’re ice crystals and water vapour, but they also contain loads of bad shit – carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphate particles and soot. But conspiracy theorists believe that the government put the flu virus into aviation fuel so that the vapour trails – the condensation trails – then bring the flu virus back down to earth, so then we have to buy drugs and flu medication so that the big drug companies can keep going. I’m sure it’s completely mad…
Steve: That’s just too mad.
Everyone looks at vapour trails and thinks they’re beautiful, but apparently they’re part of global warming and they might even be making us ill…
Andy: There is an evolutionary need to create conspiracy theories. David Aaronovitch wrote a really book about it called Voodoo Histories. He says that humans are built to want that feeling of having figured something out so we know what’s really going on – that’s reassuring. So I’ve read that, and now I’ve taken the next evolutionary step and chosen not to believe any conspiracy theories. I’ve always believed in the moon landings. I don’t like people saying that they’re not real. If we can land on the moon, anything’s possible. If we can’t land on the moon – it’s kind of boring.
Mark: Conspiracy theories interest me.
Do you believe in any?
Mark: I got caught up in the Paul McCartney thing.
Andy: I remember you telling me about this!
Mark: Alan McGee got me on to that for a bit. It’s really interesting. There’s a whole thing online, that I think Paul has endorsed, but the amazing thing about it is that it really shows you this whole esoteric level going on with The Beatles that I’d never even realised. It makes me think it’s even more genius, especially with their album covers, from Sgt. Pepper’s onwards. This idea that Paul McCartney died in a car accident and was replaced, and he’s actually Billy Shears. There’s a film called The Winged Beatle and you can find it online, it’s really interesting. It’s linked on my site I think. I’ve showed it to a few people, but it’s a really interesting theory. It even talks about why John Lennon might have got taken out. It just goes on and on… [To Andy] You’ve met Paul McCartney?
Mark: Or did you?
Andy: I believe it was Paul McCartney. It felt like Paul McCartney. It looked like Paul McCartney.
Mark: But there are photos where it looks like he’s got different hands. And when you listen to Let It Be, you can hear a voice saying, “Paul is dead.”
I always think that surely his family would have said something? His mum and dad might have noticed if he’d been replaced. Do you actually think Paul is dead or do you think he’s behind it?
Mark: Yeah that’s what I mean. That’s part of the magic.
Andy: Mark’s 50/50 on it I think.
Mark: I’d say I’m more about 80/90 per cent really, that I still believe he’s Paul. But there is an element of doubt there. I got really into it and I can understand why they’d have to keep it going.
But he even looks the same as he used to…
Mark: But if you actually look at pictures of him now and then there are some real differences.
Andy: Paul, if you’re reading this, I still believe in you!
Mark: Alan (McGee) reckons it was Paul who was making sure people were checking out this stuff online.
Andy: When was this supposed to have happened then?
Mark: Prior to Sgt. Pepper’s, which is why they never played live again. There was a period when Paul disappeared for a while and then when they came back into the studio people where saying that there was something different about The Beatles now.
Did anybody know what Billy Shears looked like?
Mark: Yeah, he was a total Paul lookalike.
Steve: That’s very convenient.
Mark: It is yeah.
Andy: We did spend a whole evening talking about this in an Indian restaurant about five years ago.
Steve: Do you want to believe it?
Mark: There’s an element of doubt now. The thing is, The Beatles couldn’t ever stop, they had to keep something going. But they never played live again. Sgt. Pepper’s is a scene from his funeral; if you really look at it the flowers say ‘Paul’?. The great thing about the programme is that it really points these things out to you. On Let It Be he’s the only one with blood red backing, everyone else is white. That’s all real. In Yellow Submarine, in the cartoon, at certain points there are five Beatles. When it’s pointed out to you, you suddenly see it. Why are they doing that? Someone’s playing around with it all the time – but then maybe it’s him. I think it’s genius. Its playing with that sort of Aleister Crowley magic, y’know, read things backwards – it’s for people that like to see things a little bit deeper…
But he might not have died and he’s just doing all this for fun.
Mark: But then on the American news back in the day they did say that there had been a car accident and one of The Beatles had died. That all exists – there is real footage from back then. It is a weird one though; it really plays with your head. On The Winged Beatle, there’s him on the Letterman show or something and he’s being asked if he’s supposed to be dead and he’s going, “Nope, it’s me.” Heather Mills was interviewed once and they’re asking her why their relationship broke down and she says something along the lines of, “People aren’t ready to accept or prepared to understand what I have come to know about this whole situation.” She’s filmed saying it. If she came out and said, “Look, he’s not actually Paul McCartney”, she’d be even more slaughtered.
Yeah, but she’s a bit of a shit-stirrer though…
Mark: Yeah, totally, but it’s still interesting. It’s just playing around with that kind of esoteric/cult stuff, and why not?
So the answer to the question of if you believe in any conspiracy theories would be yes!
Mark: Hah! Yeah. I like it. I got lost in all that. People think you’re mad, but then they watch The Winged Beatle and it gets them thinking.
This has led on quite nicely to my next fact, I guess, as it’s about dreams. So – Google, DNA’s double helix spiral form, the sewing machine and the periodic table were all inspired by dreams. Have you ever had any song ideas come to you in dreams?
Mark: Definitely. Yeah, I have. I actually started to put a Dictaphone by my bed because it happened a few times. After my weird dreams I’d wake up and then hum these weird tunes or sing into the Dictaphone. It hasn’t been very successful with any of my partners though as they’ve all left. Three or four times out of five it would be absolutely dreadful – I sound like Chewbacca.
Anything that turned into a song?
Mark: Yeah, there have been a couple that I’ve ended up using in things, but I can’t remember exactly what.
Andy: I definitely find the in-between stage of sleep is a good time to get to the subconscious mind. When you’re falling asleep and your mind’s kind of drifting, you can keep a notebook and pen right by you, or even in your hand almost because it’s a really good time to get lyrics. You jolt awake and then just start writing straight away. It’s a technique, to just start writing whatever comes into your head.
Is that lucid dreaming?
Andy: Yeah, I’ve learnt quite a few lucid dreaming techniques. I’ve explored that a bit and there are some good things there, but I’ve never actually had a lucid dream. I’ve tried – a lot. I have thought about getting one of those machines, but people say that contributed to Kurt Cobain’s suicide. To become really well versed at lucid dreaming can really mess with your waking life so I’m a bit scared of it. All the states leading up to sleep are almost more interesting than sleep itself, because dreams in your sleep… I’ve never written a song from my dreams, they’re always just like stupid films. I’ll probably dream tonight that all of us are sitting on a ship on a cruise and there’s a leak on the boat or something…
Mark: Then Billy Shears suddenly appears…
Wil: Have you ever tried the Hypnagogic Light machine?
Andy: Yeah that’s what I’m talking about. Have you tried one?
Wil: Yeah, they’re incredible. My friend’s got the licence over here to have them.
Andy: I haven’t actually used one, but I have done a lot of neurotherapy at a place called Brain Works in West London. They hook you up to electrodes all over your head and you’re basically playing a PlayStation, but only using your brain. You’re not trying to do it. It works by you zoning in on the right state and when you’re in the right state, the game works. You don’t try and play the game. You remember Nintendo Game Boy? We were so young when we started that we all bought a Game Boy for the Japanese tour. We’d play Mario and Tetris and F1 racing… You used to get this indented triangle of pain on the thumb, because you always had to be on the boost. The game at Brain Works is basically a similar version to the F1 game, but in colour. So I’d been playing that with my subconscious once a week for three or four months and I got really good at it. But once you’ve learnt to do it you can’t really use that skill for anything, it’s almost just a reward for your brain for feeling good. You can tell when your brain is pleasantly alert and when it’s not stressed or anything because you’re whizzing down the track, but when you get stressed it goes off the rails. You’re basically training your brain without knowing it.
Mark: Can you bring some of that on tour?
Andy: You can get a home kit. I’ve got a very basic version. It helps you to regulate your breathing and stuff.
Again, this kind of builds from that – I was looking for some facts about time machines, and I ended up reading about how Stephen Hawking tried to get the idea of time travel banned from the laws of physics. He spent quite a long time trying to scientifically prove that the idea was impossible.
Andy: A Star Trek version of time travel is kind of a ludicrous idea. The idea that you can pop up in another time on the same planet. Because time is laid out – it’s already there.
Mark: The whole idea of the time machine does really fascinate me though.
Hawking came to the conclusion that there he couldn’t find any physical law that prevented time travel or proved that it was impossible. He basically ended up saying that “it could be possible but it’s not practical”.
(Andy proceeds to explain the theory of ten dimensions using the pub’s food menu)
Andy: That’s the theory, but it’s not really advanced enough to define.
Mark: That’s far out. The closest that I’ve ever felt to time travel is when you go to a place that has been left in exactly the same state for years. Obviously it’s not actually time travel but you walk into a place that has been suspended in time. That is absolutely mindblowing. It hasn’t changed or been touched in all those years.
Andy: It’s the same with National Parks in Sweden, as by law they’re not allowed to touch them or clean them up – you have to leave them exactly as they are. There are trees that have fallen thousands of years ago that are still there. So when you’re in the middle of a forest in Sweden and you can’t see a road or anything, then you’re basically in a prehistoric world. I guess it’s the same with a few other places in the world like Death Valley. There’s been probably two or three situations in my life when I’ve just been surrounded by nature that hasn’t been touched.
I saw a documentary about Chernobyl and nature has completely taken over. You can’t go there, as it’s still so radioactive, but it looks amazing. It’s a perfect example of what would happen if there was an apocalypse.
Andy: If we all died, now, in theory it would only take two years for the ozone layer to repair itself. So if there was a big cataclysmic earthquake and the human race was wiped out, it’s amazing how quickly the planet would right itself. That’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Keeping it light.
I’ve got some facts about Howard Hughes as well. I don’t know if they’ll lead anywhere, but I know you are interested in him. Apparently he’s suffered 14 serious head injuries in his lifetime. He would wear a box of tissues as slippers because he was so scared of germs.
Andy: He grew his fingernails.
Yeah, and he insisted on a 4ft exclusion zone around him, as well as employing someone to catch flies – but not kill them, just catch them – that were near him. What was your interest in him?
Andy: It was more just the idea of the recluse. I think that’s just all it was really. The words are pretty simple and it’s about shying away from life. That’s it. It was the idea of him being locked up in his hotel room and not wanting to go out.
Did you ever get like that?
Andy: Not really, no. I just liked the romantic idea of writing a song about being a recluse without actually being a recluse.
Mark: I did it post-Ride. I went over to France, for like a year and a half, two years. I felt like I was totally losing my marbles.
Did you grow a big beard?
Mark: Yeah, I did. Well, sort of. I had a beard when we did the Sonic Youth thing for Channel 4.
Andy: Did you? That was when a beard used to mean something.
Mark: I did the whole recluse thing for a while. It was interesting and then also kind of awful. It was weird.
On the subject of writing songs, apparently Jimi Hendrix wrote Little Wing in 145 seconds. I don’t know how he did that though.
Andy: That's shorter than the song isn’t it?
When you are writing, are you firing out ideas? How quickly do you work?
Andy: There have been times when I’ve sat down and played something into a tape machine that I’ve kept. I think Howard Hughes might have actually been one of those. Real quick. Sometimes you can just come up with a couple of verses on the spot and sing them in. Others can take years.
Mark: From Time to Time for me was definitely one of those ones where you get home and you’re absolutely spangled on something hallucinogenic, and in that moment and state of mind you can try to write things, but a lot of the time it’s dreadful. But that just came out really quickly. I just sang it and recorded it, then went to bed and came back down the next day and listened back.
It must have been like Christmas. Coming down and someone’s left you a present.
Mark: Yeah it was great. It was the initial idea, just the chord sequence – not the structure of the song as did that together, but the initial idea was so quick and rapid.
Andy: There was a story about Townes Van Zandt that’s similar to that. He was drinking cough syrup and went to bed, but he’d probably drunk a bit too much of it, and when he woke up he found that he’d recorded a song in his sleep and it was If I Needed You. That’s like, one of the best songs. It’s never happened to me though unfortunately. Not yet. I need to drink more cough syrup.
I’ve got some Oxford facts for you.
Mark: Lets hear them.
Do you know that the Shark House in Headington was apparently a reaction to the Cold War by an American artist?
Steve: Bill Heine? He’s a local radio DJ now.
Mark: My dad had a big rant at him once. He phoned in and said that he was a pseudo-intellectual idiot. He took him to pieces. It made for very interesting radio.
Apparently Hitler wanted Oxford to be the capital of the UK post-war, so he didn’t bomb it…
Mark: I heard that he wanted to keep it as an educational place for the “new” German race…
Steve: They didn’t bomb Cambridge either.
Mark: He bombed the fuck out of Coventry though.
In Oxford there’s more published writers per square mile than anywhere else in the UK.
Steve: From Oxford, or that just happen to live there?
I presume just living there.
Mark: That doesn’t surprise me. I guess it’s got to be a draw for writers as it’s the place to be for it really. It’s a very “writey” place.
Mark, you still live in Oxford?
Mark: Now I see it through the eyes of my daughter. I always really liked it. It gives you a bit of time for reflection. I love coming to London too, but as I get older I appreciate Oxford a lot more. I love the energy.
Oxford was also the very first place for graffiti to appear. It was done with nails in a door, some time in the 1870s I think. It was against Robert Peel, when he was the prime minister.
Steve: Oxford also invented joyriding. Blackbird Leys was the theatre of joyriding. And grooming young girls as well, apparently. That happened in Oxford first. It’s got lots to be proud of.
I’ve got some cycling facts for you Steve, to round things off, as I know you are a keen cyclist. They did a psychological study and found that cyclists have a unique blend of generosity, intelligence and the “cool factor”. So it’s actually a fact that cyclists are cool.
Steve: I agree.
Andy: I’ve never met an annoying surfer. Surfers are always pretty cool.
Mark: Sorry to piss on your bonfire, but I have.
Steve: I’ve met a lot of annoying cyclists.
You have your own Ride-endorsed cycling gear?
Steve: We do, but I wouldn’t ever wear it. Well, I wore it once.
I love the fact that you endorse it but you wouldn’t wear it. Somebody was wearing the top at your comeback gig in Oxford.
Steve: They might have cycled to the show.
OK, one final thing. It’s more of an observation than a fact, but you’re one of the only bands to ever have name-checked themselves in a song. It was in Chelsea Girl, right? “Take me for a ride…”
Andy: And Close My Eyes. “I want to ride and ride and ride, until I’m nowhere.” Band name, first album title…
Mark: Oh yeah.
I was trying to think of other bands that have done it, apart from rappers, and the only other one that I could think of was Slowdive. Their first song was called Slowdive. I thought that was quite interesting.
Andy: So us, Slowdive and all rappers. Hah!
And if you’d actually sung the words “Chelsea Girl”, you’d probably be making loads of money from it being used in Made in Chelsea all the time. So you missed a trick there, didn’t you?
Andy: They did a film called Birdman recently and we never got a call. Not that I was expecting one…
RIDE's forthcoming tour dates:
Friday 22 May 2015 Barrowland Ballroom Glasgow, UK
Saturday 23 May 2015 Albert Hall Manchester, UK
Sunday 24 May 2015 Roundhouse London, UK
Tuesday 26 May 2015 Paradiso Amsterdam, Holland
Wednesday 27 May 2015 Olympia Paris, France
Friday 29 May 2015 Primavera Sound Festival Barcelona, Spain
Sunday 7 June 2015 Field Day (headlining) London, UK