Ride's return has added a curious new chapter to their work.
The band's collapse always seemed the most final, the most visceral of their peers, collapsing amid fractious discussions and even more fractious music.
But their incendiary re-union shows proved that a vital spark still remained, and this permeated their wonderful 2017 album 'The Weather Diaries'.
Working prolifically, Ride followed this with a full EP of new material, while live engagements swept across Europe, to the Far East and then South America.
Heading straight back into the studio, the band linked up once more with Erol Alkan, whose input helped 'The Weather Diaries' reach full fruition.
New album 'This Is Not A Safe Place' continues their return, and at every point it feels entirely natural, a completely unforced but enormously progressive step from a truly seminal British band.
Clash caught up with guitarist Andy Bell to find out more.
- - -
- - -
Ride seem to be in a very creative spell right now. Has the songwriting process been completely ongoing?
Yes it has. We’re going to Australia pretty soon, and in theory that’s part of ‘The Weather Diaries’ tour. We’ve been trying to put certain places together – like our South American shows recently – but it was so sporadic that there were some long gaps.
We did some shows in the Far East at the beginning of 2018, came home, and there was a gap of a few weeks. For whatever reason, I just started writing loads of tunes really quickly. It’s not my normal style, but it was quite a prolific little period.
I guess it was that which started the ball rolling, as I ended up with a number of new demos in quite a short space of time. I sent them round to the rest of the guys, and they passed back some ideas. It all came together pretty fast.
By the time summer came round that year we were pretty much rehearsing fully-written tracks, sitting in a studio that Jethro Tull’s drummer owned and playing the songs through, then having a big listening session in there. We were inspired, we thought the songs suited a specific drum sound, so we were playing PIXIES records, and Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’ album. Anything with a Steve Albini drum sound we were like: yeah!
We talked to Erol Alkan, and he suggested using Assault & Battery for the drum recording. We didn’t have the budget to do the whole album in there, so we did a week in there and then went down to our normal studio. But in that first week when we did the drums, we also got loads of guitar and bass done, too. So it’s almost like we made the album in that week and then messed around for months afterwards!
But everything about the record has been the same – we start writing one tune and suddenly we’ve got 15 tunes; you record the drums and suddenly you’ve got full tracks. Almost too easy! Definitely, for me, the easiest record I’ve ever made.
In some ways, for me, it doesn’t feel like a legitimate follow up to ‘The Weather Diaries’ because it’s happened so quick. I feel like there is a weightier follow up that we’re going to do, but in the meantime there’s this that has just turned up. But this album has become something in its own right.
Erol Alkan seems to add so much to Ride’s creative process.
I think it’s just a very natural relationship. When we first got in touch with him we felt like we were making quite an adventurous choice, that might lead to an album that was massively different to what we’d done before. But to our surprise, really, he turned out to be a lot more in the rock world than we thought. He was really, really good at getting a rock sound, as he had actually produced a lot of that before.
We hired him for the more experimental electronic side – and we did get that, but we also found there was so much more attached to it.
Really, with Erol, it’s a producer role – he takes on that responsibility, and he’ll see things through to the end. He’s there at the mixing, he’s there even through promotion – his stamp is all over it, he’s really invested in it emotionally. It’s perfect for us, and I can see it continuing even further.
- - -
- - -
Erol wants to tap into that original Ride spirit – as opposed to the sound – and that really comes through on the new record.
Exactly. And because he had that connection – he grew up on the recordings, and appreciated who we were – that gives him the perfect perspective to take part in what we’re doing now in 2019.
How much of those initial Assault & Battery sessions have made it through to the final release?
Half the album was done in the first week. The rest we added afterwards. It was pretty quick.
So in terms of those overdubs, is there an example of a significant change? Or did you remain true to that initial week?
There’s one that I really remember. Basically, I’d written a lot of songs on this same guitar, that I had put into an odd tuning. Then I left that guitar sitting in that same tuning, and started – almost as a laugh, really – putting that guitar on every song… and it is, actually, on every song on the album. It does something Sonic Youth-y to every track.
Then later at the residential studio we were sat working on Steve’s song ‘Eternal Recurrence’ and it’s become this big, epic, slow synth song, and I didn’t know what to do with the guitar part.
So I thought, well, just try that guitar in the weird tuning, and I started playing along with it and because of the chords of the song what I played ended up sounding like ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince. It sounded so cool, so we recorded it – I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but we used that take, and that’s what’s on the album.
The band have been moving so quickly, was there a point during the final mix where you finally grasped the scope of what you’d completed?
Well, that’s where Erol is good because while we were working at Assault & Battery he was doing his own, Lee Perry style dub stuff, where as we were doing takes he would take parts of the guitar and bass and put them through reverbs and delays, and record them as separate tracks.
Even when we didn’t keep those specific takes Erol would find a way to get something extra out of them, that ended up making it to the final record.
Again, with ‘Eternal Recurrence’ – it has a lot of that on it, where it swirls around, like a mist on the track. So you might hear ghost parts, where the takes weren’t kept but the echo was kept.
‘Ghost parts’ is such an evocative phrase – it could perfectly describe ‘Ghosts Of Saint Marie’, for instance.
What I like about the record is that we used a lot of the same techniques over every track, and I’ve always liked that sort of thing. I remember reading about Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, and they had the album compiled before the overdubs happened, so the backing singers and guest musicians could appreciate it as a whole album.
So essentially, they could play through the entire album in a take. It’s a bit like that, where you use the same thing across the full album. And it was so fresh – if we liked it, we would just use it again.
- - -
- - -
‘Future Love’ was a fantastic single to return with, do you remember what spurred that track?
It was written just after the first bunch of tunes. I had written about seven or eight, and they were all pretty heavy, pretty downbeat, and pretty depressing, and I think I needed a bit of light, a bit of brightening. There’s a very airy, loved up feeling in that song, although the words are still quite melancholy, in a way.
‘Future Love’ is – again – an out of standard tuning, but it’s an acoustic instead of an electric. The back-story, I suppose, is that I was sitting on YouTube that morning, and someone had posted a video of John Martyn playing ‘Solid Air’ at his last gig. And he was absolutely plastered – he goes to play the first note and he breaks a string.
He seems like he’s so drunk he can’t even talk, but he changes the string, tunes up, goes into the tune and it’s… one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
That day I was working in the studio, and thought: I need to figure out that tuning, so I looked it up online, tuned the acoustic to that tuning, and made a song out of it.
Next morning I played it back again, and realised I’d made a shit tune, basically. Got frustrated about the whole thing, and started playing a really fast tune on the same guitar in that same tuning, and that’s ‘Future Love’. It’s a fast, lighter in mood version of the ponderous thing I had done the previous day.
The electronic material you’ve released as GLOK has taken on a life of its own – how does that impact your compositional sense more generally?
Some songs you write and you know from the start that it’s a Ride song, but other times you might be working on some music and you get quite far into it before you know what type of song it will be.
The GLOK thing has really taken on its own identity the past few years, and it’s a great way of getting music out there that won’t end up being a song. It seems like my music falls into two piles: one pile are Ride songs, the other is electronic music. It’s just a way of getting that to be heard.
I saw you at the Moth Club in London earlier this year…
That was crazy volume in there! It was intense. In a lot of ways it was really authentically similar to how it would have been in 1989 because we couldn’t hear ourselves at all. But I like that feeling sometimes.
We’ve really enjoyed having technology move on across the last 20 years, so during the re-union tour we could hear ourselves in the monitors, and we had a lot more control over the sound. But once in a while it’s great to do a gig that is completely mental, and that’s what the Moth Club gig was.
How long can you keep up that level of live commitments, do you think? Do Ride have a full break in their sights, or are you simply enjoying each show you play?
Well, we go to Australia next, and we’re going to play new songs. It turns out they’re going to get two albums for the price of one! I guess we won’t really stop touring. The gaps get longer as the tour peters out.
We’ll try and do as many festivals as we can on this tour, and then because the festival season is all year round now anyway we’ll just do what we get offered. And when that stops we might even have another album on the way! At the moment there’s a momentum that we all want to keep going.
- - -
- - -
'This Is Not A Safe Place' is out now.
Photo Credit: Kalpesh Lathigra