Ride's second chapter has been dominated by a willingness to step outside of history.
Sure, their reformation was steered by a fondness for those seminal shoegaze releases, but their new work been filled with a longing for the unknown.
2019's 'This Is Not A Safe Place' was driven by urgent live energy, alongside guitarist Andy Bell's burgeoning interest in electronics.
Modern classical duo Pêtr Aleksänder was transfixed, and a conversation was struck up between the two parties.
Eager to throw open the doors of perception, Ride handed the duo every stem from their album, and invited them to overhaul the entire thing.
New album 'Clouds In The Mirror' is out now, a re-imagining of Ride's music that casts their songwriting in a freshly inspired light.
Out now - buy it HERE - it's a wonderful experiment, a sign of Ride's confidence to deviate from the path.
Clash sat sown with members of Ride and Pêtr Aleksänder for a walk-through guide to 'Clouds In The Mirror'.
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Loz Colbert (Ride): I think Ride have always been up for doing things differently. We like to remix and re-interpret things ourselves, so when it was suggested we do an entirely ‘classical’ version of 'This Is Not A Safe Place' we jumped at the chance. We had already released a double LP of remixes of our previous album 'Weather Diaries', creating something entirely new in the process; so it made sense once again to take a fresh approach.
We listened to some recent Pêtr Aleksänder tracks for context (e.g. ‘Sans Souci’), and we were immediately hooked. The sound was so minimal; the vocals were exposed, but so artfully and delicately supported. What would they do to a Ride album? We gave Pêtr Aleksänder 100% creative freedom, and in an impressive commitment to the spirit of the task they avoided listening to the album completely, until they had completed their versions.
Using only the vocals that they heard from it, Pêtr Aleksänder re-imagined each track from 'This Is Not A Safe Place' into the curious string and vocal arrangements you hear in ’Clouds In The Mirror’.
R.I.D.E. - Eliot James (Pêtr Aleksänder): This was actually the last thing we did on the album. We’d missed out the track on our first draft of the album because it didn’t have a lead vocal and that’s what we’d been working with, so we kind of glued it on at the end. I suppose it’s like a little summary of some of the other textures and sounds we’d come up with.
Loz: It’s great to hear it was ‘a summary’ of ideas and sounds because as the first track on the actual album it really opens things up sonically. So working in reverse I’m glad you arrived there back at a ‘prelude’ for some of the ideas to come - that is a very classical approach!
This is one of the tracks where I think the concept of not listening to the tracks worked against you though: It is just one word after all! And only said (not even sung) twice (ha!) so it feels like you set yourselves an almost impossible brief there, but I 100% admire your courage and determination to come up with what you did!
Maybe in the end it does fit well with ‘Clouds In The Mirror’ for a more curious, minimalist approach...
Future Love - Tom Hobden (Pêtr Aleksänder): I think this was the first song we tackled, and one I’m particularly proud of. I remember Eliot coming up with the piano part very quickly. It was also the first track we recorded with our string players, a session we invited Andy and Loz to, having not sent them any clues as to what we’d been up to. It just had a cool about it that immediately got everyone excited.
Repetition - Tom: What we initially set out to achieve with our “reimaginings”, finding a meeting place between classical and contemporary, is best exemplified here I feel.
Eliot: Yes I agree. This is a favourite of ours. Written in two modes. The bulk was written at the piano like Future Love then we sat down and thought about the strings as an actual string score with the beginning passage and the ending. For me this one really combines all the elements on this album. It’s got the song thing and also has an orchestral element to the arrangement against the odd bleepy glitch playing on the ‘repetition’ theme.
Loz: Andy and I dropped by one evening to hear ‘how things were going’ as Pêtr Aleksänder laid down the actual strings in the studio, with them having done all the prep work in advance. This is one really powerful memory I have to hold on to. Andy and I were both utterly blown away. Like speechless - in that all we could do was listen, smile, occasionally look at each other and say “wow”. It felt like something entirely new, it was the birth of something.
The principle of what we were hearing in that room really connected with the fundamental creative and art principles of Ride. Whenever I hear this version of ‘Repetition’ it really reminds me of that night!
Kill Switch - Eliot: Ahh, this one was the one that nearly broke us! We did about three versions of it that we didn’t really like until we landed on something that worked. Because of the nature and musicality of the lyrics, we kept it sounding like something from The Matrix! Now, we loved The Matrix soundtrack but it definitely didn’t feel like the right ballpark!
In the end we found a very classical sequence that seemed to work. We had to change a few notes on the main vocal to make it fit though!
Clouds Of Saint Marie - Tom: I was on a US tour with Mumford and Sons and wrote the strings for this in some downtime. I remember wanting to capture a similar style to John Cale’s 'Paris 1919', with a driving, joyous mood that contrasted with the lyrics “she’s over me” and “nothing’s real”.
Loz: Love this interpretation - the song in general should be heard more I think, as it is a great track.
Andy Bell (Ride): I love the 'Paris 1919' reference, it does feel that way.
Eternal Recurrence - Tom: We had fun with this one. It ended up a sort of cross between The Beach Boys and Schubert or something. It might be my favourite on the record.
Eliot: Yeah I love this one. I think the band we’re a bit bamboozled by it though. Harmonically it’s very complex and strays a long way from its original version so is probably a bit of weird one if you happened to write the original! We changed a few notes of the lead vocal and went for a very float-y classical meets Beach Boys thing. This was written in Sibelius as a score (the modern version of musical notes on paper) before being recorded, hence we had to change the odd lead vocal note to fit as we went a bit off piste in the process!
Fifteen Minutes - Tom: Harmonically rich, this is one of the darker reimaginings on the record. The sentiment of the lyrics is bitter and we made the music so too.
Eliot: This is us being as weird as we possibly can but trying to keep it pretty and beautiful at the same time. The chorus is a complete key shift from the verses and there lots of other weird modulations in key. It’s quite a challenging listen but we love messing about with keys and odd harmony so we love it. I wouldn’t want to listen to this if I had a tummy ache though, as it’s a bit queasy in places!
Jump Jet - Tom: The arrangement in this one is more about taking a back seat and being the supporting role to the vocal, which is expansive and uplifting. I like the journey this track goes on, with the unusual strings in the second verse.
Loz: Having taken a big break from playing live in this lockdown, it is refreshing to hear these songs in a different way as classical pieces... It really is like hearing them new again.
Dial Up - Eliot: This feels like it ended up a bit like the French band Air who are a big influence - so that’s OK with us. There are moments when the combination of Andy’s or Mark’s vocal style and melody with our music really seem to create something that we could never have envisaged or imagined before and for me this is one of those moments. It feels like a completely new band!
End Game - Tom: In this one, it’s more the arrangement that dictates where the song is going and the vocal plays the support. I love the way this one grows and develops. It feels very pained but beautiful. There’s nothing quite like strings to do that!
Eliot: This is one where we’ve started in the land of notes on paper/Sibelius rather than just playing along and for us this one is really special. Quite often the 'sitting at the piano’ way of writing can lead one down the same path as we tend to go for similar patterns.
‘End Game’ is actually us recreating one of the things we do instinctively, which is a syncopated piano rhythm but we’ve done it from a very different starting point. In that we’ve we’ve written it down instead of playing along, which actually makes the final result slightly different. The mood of the strings and the rhythm seems to really work with the vocal, for us anyway.
Shadows Behind The Sun - Eliot: There are really two parts to this, in that there is the main section of the track and then a string arrangement that I have to give full credit to Tom Hobden for. When we were working on the main part we felt that it needed something special to end with so Tom went off to do some homework while I got on with the main part of the track.
We were actually listening to a few string moments from the 90's, in particular an incredible arrangement by Wil Malone on Unkle’s 'Lonely Soul'. There’s this break in the track and suddenly everything goes all string crazy for a bit, then the track pops back on afterwards. So, Tom went and put his headphones on and came back with the ending. For me this is one of the most moving things we’ve ever recorded. It was a nightmare to record though as it’s so exposed.
In This Room - Eliot: When we were working on this one my son was hanging out in the studio with us after school. Obviously when we work on stuff it just goes round in a loop for ages and the verse was going round endlessly which has a slightly spooky feel. He looked a bit green by the time we went home again. I think this drove him a bit mad in the end!
Andy: Thanks Tom and Eliot for taking these songs somewhere else. What you came up with totally exceeded expectations, and our visit to the studio to hear the string parts being recorded is one of my favourite studio experiences ever!
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'Clouds In The Mirror' is out now.
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