Mark Gardener Interview

By shane


How I Hung Out With My Idol and Didn't Come Across Like an Ass (Hopefully)

In my world, having Mark Gardener tour the States and play acoustic gigs in intimate settings is a bit like having Jesus round for a spot of tea. Finding out on 3 hours notice that you've got an interview with Mark Gardener is a bit like finding out that you, in fact, ARE Jesus. No pressure there.

And despite my fears, it went swimmingly. So swimmingly, in fact, that I'm not even sure where the interview stops and hanging out with a new friend starts. Liz and I got a chance to sit around for a few hours(!) with the former Ride frontman before his recent acoustic gig at Chicago's Abbey Pub. Turns out the voice of my favorite band of all time is actually a pretty down-to-Earth guy with some fantastic insight on Ride, Creation, shoegazing, and his brilliant return to form this year.

Want to hear how Ride "fucking rocked the house"? Want to learn what it's like to have an indie rock icon for a landlord? How Mark considers this his "Neil Young phase"? Then click more to read on!

EXCELLENT ONLINE: So who's the mysterious Kaye? [Kaye Denham sings back-up on Mark's track, "See What You Get," the track that appears on our Flirt compilation. When we were hooking up Mark's involvement with the compilation, we never actually talked to HIM; instead we spoke with Kaye who, at that time, introduced herself to us as Mark's writing partner.]

MARK GARDENER: We were put together by a great, great publisher, a guy called Steve Walters. He used to work for Universal Publishers, and that was the publishing house I was with. She was also with them. She was kind of drafted in just as a writer, she wasn't a performer. We kind of all got together just before the Animalhouse thing, well, about a year before. We wrote some music together, a few tunes, and one of them ended up being "Magdalen Sky" [Mark's only solo material to date, released a few years back as part of the Shifty Disco label's Singles Club.] And it just kind of worked really well, but mainly with me and Kaye, where I'd pretty much finish a song and bring it in and she - she's like a song doctor. It works really good, because you kind of just get a bit lost doing everything yourself, and she just became someone who was really good to work with. And that's kind of grown, and now, basically, a lot of the newer material, we've both been kind of co-writing it. Kaye will never get onstage and all that, so it is just a writing thing. It's great for me, and the guy she lives with recorded "See What You Get" - they've got a studio there in South London - and that's where I've been writing a lot of the new material. And I think that'll carry on like that, but I've got other writing options as well. But it's great - it's like a little bit of writing help.

EO: So is that basically what you've been up to the past couple of years? After Animalhouse, you kind of dropped off the map for a bit.

MG: I did drop off the map, I nearly dropped off the end of the world. After Animalhouse, I was pissed off with BMG and the whole industry. We'd put a lot of time and effort into something which you couldnt even buy in the States. So after that, I kind of went on a bit of a mission, basically. I came to America and broke my wrist after 2 weeks while snowboarding, which proves, well, I shouldn't be doing that. That was God basically saying, "No, don't do that, actually. Go into the desert and sort your head out." So I ended up in the Mojave Desert, and that's where I made the decision, basically, to move out of my home in Oxford - which had kind of turned into a nightclub, basically, after 5 years. It was, like, just a legendary house, y'know, it had just got to be too much. So I thought, I'll move out of my house, that'll cover expenses. I didn't want my life dictated by having to pay my mortgage. So I thought if I don't live in my house, then I could get students in and they'd basically rent my house from me. And I thought I'd just basically be a vagabond and hit the road for a bit. So I did that. I kind of got high on the idea and my friends were coming round and I was, like, putting all my stuff in boxes. And they were like, "What're you doing? Have you lost it?" I was like, "No, I'm moving, that's it, I'm leaving Oxford." I went to France for that year. France was always a place that I kind of went to on the odd three weeks I could get out of my schedule, and I've got some really good friends there. So I went there, and a friend rents a property down there, and I kind of lived in a little barn on my own down there on part of their land. Then they ended up buying somewhere with the same set-up - a little barn and some land - so I renovated the barn that year and sort of made it a place that was liveable. It was literally like a little stone, Medieval barn, fairly small, but it was with the idea that I'd put a studio in, y'know. By this time, I really wanted to get back into the music again. I dunno, I needed just to get away from it all for a while coz it was all just getting a bit on top. And then, at the start of last year, I went to India for 5-6 months and did the whole complete sort of...

[At this point, the TV playing in the bar cuts to VERY loud static]

MG: Wow, sounds like my guitar back in the old days. [laughs]

[The TV rights itself]

MG: I went all around [he names a whole bunch of places in India that we have no clue where they are, but our guess is that they're pretty cool.] Did the whole detox thing... did lots of yoga. So I have my own sort of daily yoga practicing now. I just addressed a lot of... I'd never really thought about diets and all that sort of stuff. It was just some time for me, just to sort of get centered again. My head was pretty scattered, I think, after the Ride thing and then the Animalhouse thing, and I was losing concentration on things and I was just finding it difficult to be in the right frame to write songs, y'know? So after India, I wrote LOADS out there, just writing words - and then I bought a guitar for like 5 pounds or something on the beach. So I just sat in this little wood hut on the beach and just strummed a lot and started cranking out some new songs... some of which you'll hear tonight. And after 5-6 months in India, I went back to France again, finished off putting my studio in, started doing a bit of recording. And then in December I went back to England, stayed with my sister cause there were people in my house. [laughs] And then went to Kaye's pretty much every day and we started doing recording -- obviously we did "See What You Get" there, and a whole new batch of writing, and basically just kind of got myself sorted out to do this tour. I knew about this tour maybe in December, towards around late last year, and by that point, y'know, I'd been kind of isolated for quite a long time in France -- talking to the chickens in the coop next door [laughs]. It had started to get a bit like, "Ooookay. I've sort of maybe done enough of this" and I needed to get back to the land of the living a bit. So now I'm here, I'm touring, and it feels great.

EO: So what made you decide to start a tour in the States instead of Europe?

MG: I've wanted to come and play here for a long time, and I loved the tours I did here with Ride. I was feeling a real sort of positive swell coming over the Atlantic of good vibes and good people. And I thought it's a place to really get your playing in shape. And I thought, y'know, to me, this is like a re-introductory sort of start point for people AND for me. And I want to know that whatever happens, I can rely on the fact that if I can get up with a guitar, then I can do gigs, y'know. Also, before I came out here, I did a gig with a band called Goldrush. Goldrush are a Yorkshire band, they've been around for a little bit, they're gonna be big, they're gonna do really well. And basically they've offered to be like my Crazy Horse, so to speak. They know that I'm kind of a bit more on the acoustic thing now, but they're like, "If you need a backing band, we're there." I did a gig with them before I came out, and also Andy showed up, and Loz, so we ended up doing the encore together with Goldrush, which was fun. When I go back in May, I'm doing this short tour with Goldrush, where they come on and do a set, then I'll come on, and I may just do 3 or 4 acoustic tunes on my own, then I'll get the band on, and they're learning all the new stuff, so it'll be heavy and electric again. So that's great. And hopefully, as a result of what I'm doing here, we'll be able to bring that show over here towards the end of the year and maybe do a handful of shows. I just want to get it going, y'know.

EO: On this tour, you're pulling out a lot of old Ride songs and stripping them down acoustically. Did you find it easy to translate some of the harder songs back to an acoustic format, or did you run into any challenges?

MG: You know, I would never have come here... when the idea was suggested, I went to my sister's bedroom that I was staying in, got my guitar out, and just started strumming and playing some of my favorite Ride songs, and obviously looking at the "Best Of" and all that. And it just sounded great. A lot of those songs started off that way, that's how a lot of those songs were written. So it's kind of just taking it back completely to its natural form. And, I think, as a natural response to what happened with Animalhouse. It got a bit complicated with that record, it was very experimental, dance beats and such. And that's what we wanted to do with that group of people at that point, we wanted just to try and do a big mix-up thing, and that's what we did. But towards the end of that, I just felt it all got kind of over-complicated, y'know. So, then you do the opposite. I mean, you come out with something like that and afterwards, you just want to get back to stripped-down, acoustic guitar songs. It just started like that again, y'know. I also thought in my mind that when I'd come to my early 30's, that's the time to sort of do my Neil Young sort of thing, get my Crazy Horse, y'know [laughs.] Up until this point, I'd sort of just enjoyed being in bands and it not always being about me, know what I mean? Now that drove me mad in the end, because you end up being like a monkey all the time, just chasing around and being told what to do. And that just drove me mad after a while. So I just want to control my destiny and be in control of what I'm doing and my own destiny. I always loved touring the States, and everyone in Ride did. It's nice that I can come here and do that and get on with it, really. And Goldrush can't wait to come out here to America. They're all like, "Can't we do THIS tour with you?" And I'm just, "Hold on, hold on." So it's really good. And hopefully... I'm speaking to some labels out here as well, as a result of some of the shows, got some great interest on that front. Which is also why I wanted to come over as well. So I think I'll probably end up doing a direct thing in America, which will definitely mean that I'll have to be in America more, which is fantastic. It'll be a two-pronged attack with that and Europe and Japan, I guess. It's feelin' really good.

EO: So I've got a few Ride questions, cause we have quite a few fanatics on our list, myself included...

MG: The great thing with Ride, and what I'm doing, is that whatever labels and tags you get, and every band you always get that, it's like, the songs have stood the test of time, y'know. And that's all that I could wish for. I really embrace... Okay, straight away, right after Ride split, of course, you want to get right away from it for a while. But having time away from it and all that sort of stuff, I really embrace what we did. It means a lot to me. I'm sure, on my dying day, in my last seconds of life, Ride will flash through my mind, y'know what I mean? [laughs] It WILL be with me for life. So there's no problem asking me about Ride stuff and talking about it. I'm gonna be doing my career now, but I'm very proud of what I've done thus far as well. There'll always be fans of Ride, I hope.

EO: So now that it's a decade or so on, how do you think an album like "Nowhere" stands up. When it first came out, a lot of magazines actually slagged off "Nowhere," and now those same magazines are calling it one of the seminal albums of that era.

MG: Yeah, I've got their names. [laughs] I think the songs stand up. Some of the production values are a bit messy at times. But actually that's the real beauty of it, the naivety of the whole thing. Just how they sound, "Nowhere" and those records, and the way we were doing things. It kind of had its own sound, it created its own kind of environment. That was the key to it. Same thing in England, you know, people were going, "Oh, the second album, it's a disappointment." That second album's fantastic, you know? You hear so many counts of things going on at the same time. But for me, I think I'm gonna try and release a live, sort of 4 or 5 track thing as well this year here, maybe just record some of these shows. Because that kind of really brings some of the songs forward again. I think, songwise, for the time, you know, the style thing, and the sort of shoegaze thing, that doesn't really translate now, y'know what I mean? You can't bring style things forward with you, y'know? That was then, and it's done and dusted.

EO: The dreaded "shoegazing" tag. Was it a label forced on the bands by the papers, or was there really a sort of scene?

MG: It's ridiculous. It's like, when people've got it in for you in England, they've got it in for you. If we were jumping around on stage, then, cool, you'd be stadium rock. And in a way, the thing with Ride for me, I always found, when people were fronting bands, at that time, it was like Bono was ego overload, y'know?

EO: Only "at THAT time?"

MG: [laughs] No, I like U2, I'm not slaggin' U2 cause I think they've written many brilliant songs. But at that time, you had U2, Simple Minds, all these people giving it ego overload. To me, we were... we were into the Velvet Underground thing, me and Andy, we read Uptight Works and things like that, and we liked the idea of NOT prancing around, y'know, and being more approachable, so that people could feel like, "Yeah, I could get up there and do that." I never found... you know, the stage to me is about playing music, not ego. So you don't do that, and then you get labelled, "Oh, you're a shoegazer." Well, whatever, then. I don't have any problem with that. Here, you realize that now people are like, "Oh, I WANNA be a shoegazer, yeah!" You actually see record sections marked, "Shoegaze!" And all these new bands are going on about it as if, "Yeah, man!" In England, it was a derogative term. But it's kind of become bizarrely positive in a sense.

EO: New bands are trying to emulate the Ride sound.

MG: Exactly, yeah. And, you know, we also knew that the people who came to Ride gigs knew that we rocked. You know, Ride fucking rocked the house. [laughs]. So it's like, the thought that we were just sort of standing there was... pretty stupid, really. A lot of that stuff was going on, when the English press turned against us, we were doing world tours, y'know. You don't have time to sit and worry about that shit. And then you see all the papers that write crap sort of basically fall apart. I mean, I think NME's just about hanging on and that's it. And people know what those papers were in England, and... you'd have thought they'd have learned by now that actually positivity can go a long way, y'know what I mean? For me, it's refreshing to hear, cause there's so much more positivity that I hear over here. And that's why I like being over here. England gets too caught in style over content. And things can be stylish for a few years, but not for... I'm 12 years on doing music now. It's just crazy. I was with Johnny Marr's manager in L.A. Johnny Marr doesn't even want to release his record in England now. This guy's like an English GOD -- fucking legend -- and he's just gone, "Fuck it, I don't need to hear that shit." They won't even take someone like Johnny Marr and say, yeah, he can carry on being a musician. They just go, "No, you were that guy in the Smiths, and that's it."

EO: They pigeonhole to the death.

MG: And you can't do anything else. So he's just gone, "I don't need that. I'm a musician. I'm gonna carry on and play music." And I feel the same. It's crazy that England could drive people -- legends like that, their OWN legends -- out. Then they talk about some ABSOLUTE shit band who've got good haircuts...

EO: File under "Menswear."

MG: Exactly! There's many, many... Whatever, you know. That's the way it goes.

EO: So when you guys made the stylistic jump from "Going Blank Again" to "Carnival of Light," was that a natural evolution? Or was it a calculated move to get away from the shoegazing tag?

MG: No, because if you get away from that tag, you'll get another tag. You never get away from tags, so you don't even react to it. To us, the way that "Nowhere" sounded and the way that "Going Blank Again" sounded, it's a progression. It's us learning to play better, it's us getting to sound better, to try and be more dynamic. You can't just do noise all the time, d'you know what I mean? We loved that style. But we did SO many gigs like that. After a while, you need to... You don't want to just repeat the same album each time. There's nothing in that for us. We were people who wanted to feel that each thing we treat differently. Keep it fresh for our sake, keep it fresh for the audience. We saw it as a progression, really. I think towards the end, maybe things got a bit too obvious at the end with some of the influences, which I wasn't too happy about. Cause to me, you know, Ride was great when it was about Ride. Songs like "Leave Them All Behind" -- NO band sounds like that. That's a piece that, to me, has everything that's great about Ride in it. I wanted to develop the sound, but not be too pulled by influences, y'know? And I think we did alright with it. I liked the way the albums progressed, and I like the different things that are on the albums and the fact that they all sound different. As people, we went through a LOT of changes in those years, and if you're honest with your music, your music will reflect that as well. And we were honest. It just reflects that from, at 19 when we first got a record deal with Creation, in 3 years we did 2 albums, and there were big times and big changes in there. It was a mad, mad time. You know, we'd hear, "Right, you've got 6 weeks, we need a second album!" And we were like, "Riiiight. We had our lifetime up til then for the first one." I must say, I loved it. Certainly "Nowhere" and all the recording times with Ride, I loved it. What we were doing in the studio, the people we were working with. I really enjoyed my studio time. It was great. And all the early gigs as well, it was just amazing, being in this thing and having it grow. And none of us really expected it to go off like it did, but when it does, you just gotta go with it, y'know. And it was just like, "Fuuuuck, it's really going off." It's just an amazing time of your life. But you ought to know that, if it's gonna go up, at some point it's gonna come down. But it was great.

EO: So what was it like working with McGee and the Creation machine? I know some artists who really respect Alan and the label, but I also know another who has few good words to say about their Creation days.

MG: Really? I don't have ANYTHING bad to say about Alan McGee. He was, personally... he did SO much for me on so many personal levels. The music he was playing me... He's just a great, great mate. He still is. The good bands that were on Creation were just phenomenal, like ground-breaking bands. When we met him, we were always gonna go for that. I don't equate anything to do with Creation in ANY kind of bad light. It was a brilliant time, it was a big party time. I mean, it couldn't have carried on like that. But to be around that environment... that whole scene was fantastic. Alan deserved what he got. He got Oasis in the end, he got some amazing bands, and he's an amazing guy as far as I'm concerned.

EO: Does it ever bother you that The Creation Story has pretty much become The Oasis Story. That Oasis seems to sometimes eclipse the other pioneering bands on the label?

MG: Sometimes it does, yeah. Cause actually, and Alan will admit it, we saved Creation when they were making the My Bloody Valentine album. Had it not been for us releasing "Going Blank Again," they would've gone bankrupt.

EO: They always operated just under the bankruptcy radar in those days, didn't they?

MG: Completely, yeah. It was great, I saw Alan in Austin up at South By Southwest, and we got drunk together, it was the first time in ages. And it ALL came out. It was just, just great. He even admits it [Oasis overshadowing other Creation bands]. You know, the thing is, Oasis were such a big phenomenon in England, not so much here.

EO: Well, they kind of were. Just took a bit longer to catch on.

MG: Right. But so many people don't have that many great things to say about them over here now that I speak to. Which I'm like, "Okay, fair enough." Dunno. I suppose our contribution does get a bit overlooked, but the people that know, know. It's fine, I don't need more. I don't feel worried about having to go, "Oh, but actually, before Oasis, there was Ride..."

EO: So Ride breaks up. You go to Animalhouse, a band where you're no longer the obvious frontman. Andy goes to Hurricane #1 and then Oasis and takes up the bass. It seems odd that you guys seemed happy, at least for a time, not being in the direct spotlight. What's it like suddenly not being the bloke singing all the songs?

MG: Well, I did my fair share with Animalhouse. I sang on most of the tracks, but it was in harmony with Sam. It was a harmony thing rather than saying I was the frontman or he was the frontman, whatever. We were just trying to do a group thing. You know, at that time, really, that was what I wanted to do. I guess, after the Ride thing, I was knocked as well, by a lot of stuff. I'd just been part of something massive. And I'm sure Andy felt the same after Hurricane. He wanted to do a job. And he got a great job playing bass for Oasis. And now he's not always having to take the flak.

EO: Takes the pressure off a bit.

MG: Yeah. And it was the same for me. Animalhouse was nice. And on a studio level, it was great to work with Sam, because he produces all the Supergrass albums, he's a great producer. It was good on those kinda levels to work with Sam. I brought something to him, and he brought something to me. It was just a good working combo for that kind of record. But, yeah, I did feel a bit... stranded with it as well. Because of the way it turned out. The whole thing became a bit strangly. I was feeling a lack of air, oxygen, d'you know what I mean? But to me, it was only ever gonna be a one or two album max thing. We'd done the Animalhouse albums, and we did some shows in Japan which went great. We did some shows in England, which was good as well. And then BMG were a nightmare. I mean, I wasn't THAT worried. I would've liked to have come and do some shows over here. I just felt it was done. It was a done thing. No animosity with people or whatever. People knew that it was just one album I was gonna do within the unit, and I said, okay, that's it, I'm at the end of the ride with this thing. And I just starting thinking about getting out there, you know, and being me. It just took that time to feel good and feel comfortable about getting out there and doing what I'm doing now. And pre-Animalhouse, I just didn't feel quite right to do that at that point. But then, it took about 3 years to get to that point, and I just thought I'd be involved for a year, year-and-a-half. But everything in bands sort of doubles in time. So three years went gone, yeah. But this is kind of like the masterplan now, what I'm doing, and it's just the start.

EO: So what's the timetable looking like for new releases?

MG: At the end of this tour, I'm gonna go speak to a few people. And, I guess, realistically, I would say early next year the solo album, which will be me and maybe Goldrush on a few tracks, and the others would be quite acoustic. But it will be great. And that's the whole thing about why I'm just taking my time. I'm not deluding myself. I know I've got somewhere to go. People haven't really heard me sing before. With Ride, there's a lot of noise going on, and with Animalhouse it was all harmony. I've come a long way. I can come out and really sing now, and it's quite liberating, to hear stuff, and be able to do that. The response at most of these shows has been, "We didn't know you could sing." And I'm like, "Well, I DID!" [laughs]. It's a good place for me to go vocally. The album's gonna be on the darker side of things. Most of the stuff I like doing has got more of a darker side to it. But, yeah, I would hope early next year. And hopefully a live EP from these shows in the fall. And maybe a handful of shows in America again in the autumn as well. Goldrush are coming over to record with Dave Fridmann, they're doing their album as well, I think in September. So we're talking about the idea of me maybe coming back over to do some shows.

EO: How have the crowds been thus far at the shows? Receptive? Has it been mostly old-school Ride fans, or new faces, or can you even gauge such a thing from the stage?

MG: Some old school. Yeah, I can gauge it. I've been a bit more accessible as well, so it's been nice to be able to talk to some people. There's definitely been some old school Ride fans that were there at the gigs ten years ago. There have definitely been a lot of people who missed Ride who've been coming to see me which is great. And I don't know who the other people are. [laughs]. It's just been great. Three years, four years ago, I was not a guy who just sat there thinking there's this swell in America over what I did a few years ago. I thought it was all over, as far as the Ride thing was concerned. I'm just pretty blown away by it, really. So in a way, it's perfect for me now, cause I've got this brilliant fanbase to help bring music to people. It's great, it's what I want to be doing. Things got rough at times over the last few years. I was painting and stuff just to sort of pay the rent. Plop the roller in, back and forth brush strokes, and well, fuck that. [laughs]. I needed all that, though. It makes me really appreciate now that I can come back and do what I'm doing. I love what I'm doing. It IS my oxygen, basically. I need to be doing it.

At this point, thoughts turned less to an interview and more to food, so we hit stop on the recorder and just hung out for a bit. Topics hit on everything from Indian colonics [don't ask] to naked hippie dancing [don't ask, don't tell], from Miki Lush [I'll never tell] to how this is Mark's first trek through the States as a single guy [attention hot indie babes who are obviously out of my league.] Needless to say, it was one of the best shows ever.

Special thanks to Gagan at The First Time Records and Dave Newton from Shifty Disco for helping us arrange the interview, and extra thanks to Mark and Kaye. Remember, you can hear the first new solo recording in years from Mark right here on FLIRT, our online compilation cd, available for free download.