Mark Gardener Is Relishing Ride's Long-Awaited Second Act

Mark Gardener with Ride in 2015
Mark Gardener with Ride in 2015
Photo by Kazumichi Kokei

After English shoegaze icons Ride abruptly broke up in 1996, it took nearly twenty years for them to play another show. It seemed they might be at risk of being overlooked by a new generation, even as their contemporaries faced roaring reunion crowds. The intervening years saw Ride member Mark Gardener live in France, India, his native England, and...Park Slope.

In 2005 and 2006 Gardener, now 45, lived on Sackett Street in the Brooklyn neighborhood. It was after he lived in rural France, and New York life quickly snapped him back into sync with the modern world. "I sort of needed to save myself from becoming a kind of strange medieval farmer or something," Gardener says. "New York sort of saved me and got me back on track with life and people again." 

It's not that he was a stranger to the city: Ride toured America in the Nineties, and Gardener not-so-fondly remembers doing hours of interviews while he and his bandmates were cooped up in Manhattan hotel rooms ("We were a bit like caged animals," he says now) instead of running through the streets like normal twentysomethings. And in 2003, Gardener recorded a live, acoustic performance at the Knitting Factory, then in Tribeca. The set's full of well-lubricated fans whooping for stripped-down versions of Ride hits like "Vapour Trail" and "Twisterella," free of the studio polish and guitar feedback. (His rendition of the Ride song "Dreams Burn Down" is rooted to the floor when compared to the soaring album version.)

"It was a mad night, really," Gardener recalls. "All those solo shows, I was really heartened. I kind of lived in the wilds of France before then, and it was me sort of coming back to playing music again. I was so heartened that I think the second night I drank a bit too much or whatever and it all started to get a bit blurry."

That night, Gardener dedicated "Vapour Trail" to the other half of Ride's distinctive vocal duo, Andy Bell, with whom he had formed the band while they were students at the Cheney School in Oxford, England (and who by that point in 2003 had already famously gone on to join Oasis). The acrimony between Bell and Gardener that had led to Ride's split was well documented in the press; Gardener offered this to the audience that night about a reunion: "Well, you know, one day."

The Ride re-formation had been talked about by the band members for several years leading up to it, but the death of Gardener's father, Terry, at 72, spurred him to refocus his energy on the band that brought him to fame so early in life.

"I was with him at the time, and it was just one of those kind of moments where you're like, 'Whoa,' and nothing prepares you for that," Gardener says. "We're not here forever...in the last three or four years since [his death] I just thought it would be tragic if I never got to play shows and Ride never played again.

"I think with that, if I ever get to 60, that would be something that would've haunted me for the rest of my days, really. It's strange."

Ride played two shows in New York on their brief reunion tour this spring — one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan — before moving on to festivals dotting the globe (the band returns to New York on September 21 and 22 for shows at Irving Plaza). While Ride played festivals during their initial run — including memorable sets at Reading and Glastonbury — a band like theirs can stick to the festival and mega-concert circuits exclusively, which is exactly why Gardener says Ride wanted to play club shows like the one at Irving Plaza. It's just more intimate. 

By the way, here's Gardener bopping on the stage at Reading '94:

After almost two decades without Ride, it was easy to be skeptical about the band returning to form, even if Gardener and Bell had continued to make music in the years between. While youth has left them, their voices sounded very Nineties at those New York shows at Terminal 5 and the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

"A lot of people have been commenting about the vocals," Gardener says. "We love the Byrds; we love the Beach Boys, the bands that did that well. It's lovely, given all that I've been through with Andy, going from school onward, that we can stand and sing together like that in harmony now." He adds this: "And also our lifestyle's a bit better than it was back then." Father of a seventeen-month-old daughter, Gardener avers that these days his only poison, if you can call it that, is vaping pot.

In an interview last fall with Drowned in Sound about the Ride reunion, Gardener predicted 2015 would be a "mad year." Three-quarters of the way through it, he confirms as much: "It's definitely been fucking mad, yeah. I think the plan is not to have plans and go one show at a time. I sort of sound like a footballer or whatever: 'One game at a time.' "

So while this year's been full of global touring (Glasgow, Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto, Barcelona, Cincinnati), it's still better than Ride's first act, when the young band had their lives planned out months ahead of time.

That intense scheduling started from the success of Nowhere, the album that broke Ride into the mainstream. It turns 25 this October, and Gardener says the band's rehearsing some songs from the album they rarely ever played live. He says the anniversary will only be "noted" during their shows at Irving Plaza. Some of those fans at the Irving shows might not have been born when Nowhere was released, a fact made clear to him by My Bloody Valentine bassist Debbie Googe, who told him that during the MBV reunion shows in 2008, she saw that the audience demographic was far wider than during the band's heyday.

"We realize that maybe 75 percent of people we're playing to probably never saw [Ride] the first [time], whether they were too young or for whatever reason," Gardener says.

Those people don't even remember music videos the way anyone over 30 does. Not that Gardener would have Ride fans watch the band's videos, which he says were sometimes the tragic result of three ideas smashed together: the director's vision, what the record label wanted, and, finally, how the members of Ride thought they should appear. 

"I cringe [watching] pretty much all of our music videos, apart from 'Vapour Trail,' because I think the guy pulled the film out of the camera and scrunched it up and re-ran it and it was just lovely," Gardener says. "With most of them I kind of think, 'What was going on?'

" 'Twisterella' is pretty cringey for me, if I have to be honest with you. I hated doing videos. I never, on Top of the Pops and things like that, I never felt comfortable. I kind of get it now when I look back and think they're all right, but it's not something I go to and watch too much."

Gardener's living back in Oxford for now, where he, alongside his bandmates, reviews offers to play festivals and shows around the globe. This time, the band has control (so don't expect any more music videos). 

"You appreciate it so much more when you do it again, basically," Gardener says. "So much more than the first time."

Ride play Irving Plaza September 21 and September 22. For ticket information, click here.

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