It's fascinating to see how some groups that self-destruct end up experiencing a rebirth. We found out about Ride getting back together last fall. Their re-formation, much like those of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdrive (two bands who were also signed to Creation Records), proves that the shoegaze scene lives on. "Shoegazers," so nicknamed by a disdainful music press, were never truly successful outside of the British underground. Yet their dissonant creations and ethereal voices continue to haunt the world of Indie rock.
Among them were four unknown teens from Oxford Ride who inaugurated the 90s with Nowhere, one of the decade's best albums. Their sound bridged the gap between the human psyche and Jesus and Mary Chain. Three albums followed, not quite as inspired as the first, before the group's break-up in 1996. The friends had become rivals. But by then, nobody was interested in anything but Britpop anyway.
Now, eighteen years later, the teens have become fathers and Ride's influence has grown. In the shadows, their fans have remained faithful to their music, and now the ranks of listeners are swelling with new recruits, some of whom weren't even born yet at the height of Ride's fame.
While travelling through France during their most recent tour, Andy Bell (composer, vocals, guitar) and Steve Queralt (bass) reflected on the band's re-formation, the reasons behind their break-up, and those golden years in the British psyche: the 90s.
So what's it like to be touring as Ride again?
Andy: It's really cool.
Steve: A bit tiring today. But it's still a great pleasure.
Did you feel like you had unfinished business?
Andy: In a way, yes, because the group didn't end on a good note. It’s great to have the chance to go back and pick up where we left off, to fulfil our destiny, whatever that may be.
What have you been doing all these years?
Andy: We've just kept on living our lives. Some of us kept playing in bands. Others moved on to other things.
Steve: More than anything else, we started families.
Andy: Between the four of us we had 10 children. After Ride, I played in Hurricane #1 for two or three years. Then I joined Oasis. I played with them for 10 years. After their breakup, I followed Liam. We started Beady Eye together, and put out two albums in five years. Loz (Colbert) and Mark (Gardener) started a group too, The Animalhouse. Then Mark went solo and produced for a few artists, and Loz played drums for a lot of big names: Jesus and Mary Chain, Gaz Coombes... As for Steve, he returned to the real world.
Steve: And I didn't like it much, that's why I came back.
What did you do?
Steve: I did a normal, boring job in an office. That's why I feel so lucky to be able to get back onstage.
How did your reunion come about?
Andy: Our manager contacted us, and told us we'd received some new requests for concerts. It wasn't the first time, but this time around we all thought it was a good idea. We were all free, and the timing seemed right. Most of all, we really wanted to do it.
Had you stayed on good terms all this time?
Steve: The whole thing would have been impossible if we hadn't stayed friends at least a little bit. We've been in contact over the past 20 years. Of course, we were a little cold with each other those first 6 months after the breakup. But then things worked themselves out, and we started getting together at least once a year.
Can you go back to the reasons behind the break-up?
Andy: I think a lot of it was just that we were young, and a little immature. We weren't ready to deal with that kind of pressure. And, you know, making music is hard work. But we started the group when we were teenagers, and all of that wasn't what we'd signed for, if you know what I mean. You mostly sign so you can be a success and go on world tours. But when you get to the part where you have to work hard, you start feeling a bit ripped off... [laughs]
Steve: We just hit burnout; I don't think it was any more complicated than that. We tried our best, but we couldn't stop Ride's natural death.
Andy: I think the tide was changing, too. We weren't one of the top groups anymore. We didn't want to admit it at the time, but it’s significant. When you're a success you don't mind working hard and sticking with it, but when you're not as successful things get more complicated. And when relations with your colleagues or your friends are strained too, things can fall apart pretty quickly.
What was it like to be a musical success in the 90s?
Andy: For us it all happened very fast. Now that I've been a part of this world for several years, I have better perspective. I can tell you that it was pretty great. Our fame grew so fast; we just kept playing bigger and bigger venues. But it's hard to describe it, because we were living so much in the moment that we didn't have time to take it all in.
Steve: Yeah, we didn't know how lucky we were until we'd peaked and then we started playing smaller and smaller venues.
Andy: You can't really appreciate success until you've experienced failure. If you work really hard but fail over and over again, when you finally succeed you really appreciate it. But if you're like us, and you've only known success, you start to take it for granted.
On that subject, what lessons have you learned from your failures?
Andy: It's hard to sum up. Musically, if you're doing something you believe in and it fails, you don't have to feel bad. But if you compromise and it fails, you're going to feel really bad. That's what happened to me, so I can tell you: don't compromise, because you're more likely to succeed if you stay faithful to what you believe in. That's my advice.
Did you have to compromise back then?
Andy: No, not with Ride. If things had been different, I mean if we'd taken a more commercial attitude and if we'd had a major label behind us, keeping us in line, then maybe we would've.
Steve: We controlled absolutely everything. But yes, if a major label had been backing us, they would have told us that the fourth album was a mistake, that we shouldn't have put it out, or that whoever should have mixed the third album...
Speaking of albums, have you started thinking about a new one?
Andy: That's the big question, but for now we don't have an answer. If we write new songs, they've got to be as good as the ones that our fans already love. It's a tall order. We won't do it until we have something really great to offer.
And what do you think about the resilience of shoegaze?
Andy: It's surprising... It's funny, because shoegazing is a term I only read four or five times back then. And it was pretty much an insult. My theory is that American fans turned the meaning around. At the beginning of the 90s we did a couple of tours with Lush, Slowdive and Pale Saints, some of the most famous shoegazers. People loved it. I think those tours started something over there that lasted longer than it did in the United Kingdom. Because you know, in the UK the music scene changes rapidly. Right after shoegaze, Britpop took over. And it got to be so big that shoegaze was quickly forgotten.
How do you feel about Britpop, the movement that, in a certain sense, conquered you?
Andy: I liked it. I was a big Oasis fan before I started playing with them. They probably knew that before they asked me, actually. But the movement didn't have much to do with Ride, even if we were sometimes categorized as a Britpop group.
Steve: It wasn't really my thing. I like it when music is a little more serious and melancholy. Britpop was more about exuberance and having fun.
Andy: The exact opposite of Steve.
Didn't that characteristic of Britpop reflect the mood of the nation at the time?
Andy: Yes, definitely. Britpop was so successful in part because the whole country was euphoric.
Steve: The economy was really strong. Under the Blair government [elected in 1997], unemployment was low. People were happy, and they had money to spend. London suddenly became the coolest city in the world, so yes, it was a positive time, and the music reflected that.
Andy: For people like us who were born in the 70s, from the time we were old enough to understand politics all we'd experienced were conservative governments like Thatcher’s and John Major’s. Even in 1988, once we were old enough to vote, the conservatives kept winning. So when Labour won in 1997 it was a big deal for our generation, like the feeling that from then on everything would be better. But that isn't what happened. It was ten times worse because the politics were exactly the same, but our hope was gone. It was a period of economic prosperity, but only on the surface.
Steve: All based on credit.
Andy: By 2003, when the country went to war in Iraq, everyone had pretty much lost interest in politics. And it's going to be difficult to get that back, because right now nobody wants to be involved.
What do you think about the situation in the United Kingdom today?
Andy: It's not very promising. More and more public services are being dismantled, sold at a loss, or transformed into lucrative businesses. The only thing we can hope for is to reach the breaking point quickly, so we'll be forced to do something and make a real change.