LONDON – ‘I’d never seen anything like it!” says Ride frontman Mark Gardener as he recalls the first time the recently reformed shoegaze pioneers stepped foot on Japanese soil.
“We touched down at the airport and there were 300 people there, all with daffodils, chocolates, toys and sweets,” he says. “We were totally unprepared for it! We were like, ‘What do we do with this? We need a van to put all of this in.’ We’d watched footage of that Beatlemania thing, but it really was like that. It was totally mad.”
That was 1990, two years after the Oxford four-piece formed (including guitarist and vocalist Andy Bell, drummer Loz Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt), a point in time by which Ride was already in the middle of a dizzying ascent: signed to Creation Records within months of its first gig, along with My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive the band was soon heralded as being at the forefront of a movement that became characterized as shoegaze (so called because band members would supposedly play gigs staring down at the effects pedals responsible for ear-bleeding sonic assaults). In Ride’s case, though it shared its peers’ wall-of-sound dynamism, a knack for melody and youthful yearning — not to mention some luscious locks and killer pouts — stood the group apart. Its debut album “Nowhere,” voted 74th best album of the 1990s by Pitchfork, remains seminal 25 years on.
Three albums and a string of EPs followed during a crazed six years of peaks and pitfalls.
“It was a whirlwind and we weren’t very good at saying no,” Gardener says via telephone from a hotel room in Bristol, the latest stop on Ride’s 2015 festival-topping comeback trail. “We were living our dream, but we were like headless chickens. We didn’t stop. And all the things that made Ride great were the things that were going to make it crash. Like Creation, it wasn’t sustainable, and that was reflected in the music. We weren’t a career band. It was a whirlwind that was always going to crash.”
By 1996, Ride was burned out amid a blur of drugs, animosity and diminishing returns, Gardener acknowledges the band lost its way as music culture’s tectonic plates shifted beneath the members’ feet.
“Times around us changed. Nirvana had kicked in, Oasis were coming through, but things changed for us, too,” he says. “We thought about it too much. We wrote a bit more separately, which didn’t help because that didn’t quite work out. Up until (1994’s third album) ‘Carnival of Light’ we’d just got bigger and bigger, but things changed and we didn’t react well to any of it.”
Gardener’s solution was to abruptly announce his departure at a routine band meeting shortly after the release of “very difficult” fourth album “Tarantula.”
“I was first, but it could have been any one of us,” he says. “It was the crash point, I was just the first one to jump out of the car before it hit the wall.”
As the four members went their separate ways, Gardener confesses he became “completely lost,” moving to “medieval France” in order to escape a “music business I thought I was done with.” He did return, flitting between various projects (with Paul Oakenfold and Big Audio Dynamite, with Colbert as The Animalhouse and fleeting solo ventures), though it was Bell that carved out the most coveted post-Ride path, joining Oasis in 1999 and later forming Beady Eye. Time proved a healer as far as personal relationships were concerned — “We’d been living in each other’s pockets so it took a while before we could speak” — but nonetheless there seemed little prospect of a reunion.
Three years ago, that changed. Inspired by The Stone Roses’ all-conquering return and the fact My Bloody Valentine “did it and sounded bigger and better than they did first time around,” Ride decided to settle some unfinished business.
“We just thought what if we get older and say, ‘Why didn’t we get back and play?’ It’d have been tragic had we not done it,” Gardener says. “We knew people had wanted it for a long time. Plus, I was seeing festival footage of ordinary, bland, boring bands and not seeing anyone doing something challenging, out there, psychedelic. The things we do I didn’t hear bands do very well. But it was only worth it if you can come back stronger.”
Technological advances helped that cause. “It sounds crazy, but I never heard anything through the monitors at our early gigs. I couldn’t hear Andy sing. It’s hard to sing in harmony when you can’t hear each other.”
This year’s comeback tour has seen the group headline European festivals Field Day and Primavera, as well as taking the main Green Stage at Fuji Rock just ahead of Noel Gallagher at Fuji Rock, in a run of shows that have “far exceeded any expectation.” Gardener puts that down to the quartet’s enduring chemistry.
“I’ve done lots of different projects, but once we got back together we felt that connection and energy,” he says. “There’s a special voodoo that goes on between us. Once we got back in a room — I was like, ‘That was what was missing.’ “
Ride plays Namba Hatch in Osaka on Nov. 24 (7 p.m. start; ¥7,500 in advance; 06-6535-5569); and Zepp DiverCity in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 25 (7 p.m.; ¥7,500 in adv.; 03-3444-6751). For more information, visit www.smash-jpn.com or www.ridemusic.net.