“I sometimes think I should have had the foresight, like Johnny Marr, to change my name when I realized there was another musician out there with the same one.”
Ride toured the world in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and plan to do so this year after a 20-year hiatus. We talked to Andy Bell, the singer/guitarist of Ride and former bassist for Oasis, about some of his favorite shows, sharing a name with another icon and parallels between hip-hop and shoegaze.
I’m interested in the music scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. There was a plenitude of shoegaze bands of various stripes, both in the UK and America. What drove that for you guys? And what do you think drove the music scene itself, which was ostensibly, at least here, not popular?
Pop music and the mainstream were completely dominant at that time, and any other kind of music was either totally underground or had to adopt some of the production values of the mainstream to be recognised. It was a huge effort of will to bring the shoegaze production sound to records. We had huge arguments with studio engineers – they thought there was only one correct way to record drums, bass, guitars. It always felt like a battle and, at best, a sonic compromise. The scene was driven by the records and artists who had managed to put down coherent records in this new style – the Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine.
You and Mark met in school. From what I understand of some of my favorite bands, such as The Cure and Radiohead, I find that this is more common among British bands. While I certainly played music in high school, there was nothing that kept us going as a band back then. Is there something about British schools or the British music scene that makes that sort of longevity happen?
It was very usual for friendships to be formed on the basis of musical taste. Music – good music – in the ‘80s, was something you had to go out and discover. [It was] a specialist hobby; it took dedication and ingenuity. Like-minded people seemed to have a lot more in common than the music.
And why is it that drummers named Lawrence always get a three-letter nickname (Lol Tolhust, Loz Colbert)? Is Lawrence such a bad name?
I know, right!
So, how many times are you confused with the Erasure guy [Andy Bell of Erasure]?
There’s the occasional instance of it. I’ve never met the man, but he lives in the same part of North London as I do, and I’ve heard he’s a lovely guy.
Is it annoying?
Not at all. It’s [more] mildly amusing. I sometimes think I should have had the foresight, like Johnny Marr, to change my name when I realized there was another musician out there with the same one.
Genres are a strange thing because they’re a shortcut for binning music together or maybe putting a bill together. How would you characterize your music?
It depends on who I’m talking to. But Ride is a whole genre to me now. It also includes all the possible music we could have made – or could make in the future.
Now that the music industry has changed, and it seems that Ride started in its heyday and has regrouped at its nadir, is this reunion only a live thing or are you going to venture new recorded material?
At the moment, only a live thing. But you never know. We may want to continue.
What are the best two or three shows you’ve played or supported?
With Ride 2015 at Barcelona Primavera (May 28, to May 30, 2015: information on festival here)
With Oasis at the River Plate Stadium (May 3, 2009: setlist, recording)
With 90’s Ride at the Roxy in LA in 1991 (April 10, 1991: recording (YouTube))
What about best concerts you’ve attended?
The Stone Roses at Oxford Polytechnic in 1989
My Bloody Valentine Roundhouse reunion show in London (June 23, 2008: setlist, review (Uncut Magazine))
The Smiths at the Oxford Apollo in 1985 (March 18, 1985: recording (YouTube))
Oasis at Maine Road in Manchester in 1996 (April 27, 1996: video playlist (YouTube))
Who are some of your favorite bands?
The Beatles, The Byrds, The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Oasis and many more.
And who would you say actually influenced some of your work?
The above plus the bands around when Ride were starting – The House of Love, Spacemen Three, Loop, My Bloody Valentine, etc.
Your world tours were done at fairly young ages. Did world travel change you at that time? Make you more wise/drunken/happy/isolated/crazy/cynical?
All of the above!
Do people ever sing along to your songs in the audience? Is that weird as a writer to have that mirrored back to you?
It’s a great feeling – one of the best things about being a songwriter. Those are often the moments that really stay with me.
So, when you were first signed, was it elation or was it just sort of like “Crap… I just signed my soul over to the devil”?
We signed to Creation Records, which represented the best independent label at that point in time. So, definitely elation.
I often feel that certain musical movements need time to marinate and get better. To me, the early ‘90s shoegaze was something I was too young to understand or get into, but it is now my favorite movement in music, as it scrambles together rock, ‘60s pop, ‘70s guitar ethic and jam aesthetic as well as the ‘80s embracing of technology. Do you think there is more demand for your music now than when you first began touring?
Yes. I think that style of music has also expanded to include a lot of like-minded genres, so it has really evolved. It’s like hip-hop in that way. Someone smart once said to me that shoegaze was similar to hip-hop in that it wasn’t location specific but seeded all over the world – as a state of mind, almost. I agree.
The influence of pop as a structural abstract (simple drums, singalong choruses – now that is more of a hip-hop/dance thing, with a lot of electronics) is always interesting to me. During your writing process, are you ever conscious of what people typically want to hear, or do you write with a different intent?
You can’t but be influenced by pop in whatever form it’s currently taking, and I don’t mind that. I like pop music. There are as many creative people working in the pop field as there are in the fringes. They just have different aims.
So what happened in 1995 with the breakup and all?
I think we exhausted ourselves over the previous 5 years and had nothing left to give each other.
How does a relationship like a band, with all its creative necessities and commercial pressures whenever it gets successful, morph and navigate over time? Is it like a brotherhood, a marriage, a business relationship? Something else?
Something between a brotherhood, a marriage and a business partnership—that covers it.
After you guys broke up as a band, were you still friends? Like, drinking-buddy friends? Or Facebook friends (I know this was pre-internet, but you get my drift, no)? Did you see each other often, or was it distant?
[We were] distant friends, like old school buddies. I bumped into one of the others once or twice over five years; then maybe more often [and] as time went on, we made more effort to stay in touch and all meet up together. But that only happened maybe three or four times in total. So, it was never as drinking buddy type friends, for me anyway, until the reunion happened.
And what precipitated a reunion?
How have the last 20 years treated you?
I have had the best time ever. I feel very lucky.
And are your kids forming any bands or touring the world? Anything of the sort?
My oldest is 17. She’s very smart and creative, but I don’t think she’s about to go down a musical path.
On crafting setlists: what is the art of crafting and choosing the songs you’re to play? Do you consider the crowd, region, your mood?
All of those things come into it. I like to keep it fresh for us and the audiences so there’s usually a curve ball unless we are playing a festival.
What has been your most interesting experience on the road this time?
It’s all interesting. It has been cool spending time on the tour bus with the guys and just hanging out.
And on your world tours in the past? Tell me an interesting story about one of your favorite places or people you’ve met?
I always love going to Mexico City, and every time I’ve been I’ve done the same day trip to Teutouacan, the site of the Mexican pyramids. We have become friends with a guide who shows a lot of bands the site. We often go back to his house afterwards and eat and drink with his family. I would love Ride to go through this experience.
What do the next 20 years hold? What are your goals as people and as musicians? I know that’s broad… so maybe five years if 20 is too far out…
I would like to continue playing in bands, touring the world and making albums. I’d also like to spend a lot more time scoring movies. I will probably do more of that as I get older. And I’d like to also take more family holidays! I have four children, and I don’t see them enough. In 20 years, I hope to be like Keith Richards, living on my own island with my extended family coming over whenever they want but still travelling the world playing my guitar.