"The beautiful thing about the Ride story is that we've been allowed to give the ending a second go. We're gonna rewrite the ending much better this time."

Interview by Emily Waller
Photos by James George Potter

I could sit and chat to Andy Bell all day. There's a lightness to his company that makes mining his journey from school boy wannabe-guitarist to established co-frontman and one of the UK's most esteemed musicians a very relaxed experience. This is a guy who is a music fan as much as he is a musician, and as much as Ride's seventh album title calls out to the exchanges between its individual members, the same sentiment tracks with Andy's relationship with music. It's one that's seen him give and take with joy, some frustration and pure fascination in the 30-plus years he's been honing his craft.

Discussing formative music and the bands, records and moments that assisted founding and nurturing both Andy's individual taste and that of the Oxford quartet flows easily and as we move through the years, there's a clear gratitude for the learnings and refocus the failures and fallouts of Ride's past have gifted the band's present. Of course, there were many wild successes early on and a 2015 reunion-turned-rebirth has allowed Andy to travel back in time, while simultaneously reaching for the future.

Interplay is an accomplished celebration of Ride's career thus far and, ultimately, honours newfound connection, to each other and to the core strengths of the band's unique DNA. Their happy ending, whenever that might be, seems deservedly secure.

Where I Am Now examines a personal journey, through music, connection and self-expression.

How formative were the years of your life before the founding of Ride in terms of your relationship with music and are there any key sources or people you’d cite as influencing your taste back then?

Definitely, my dad for one. His record collection was quite small and mainly classical, but you had three or four pop records, so three Beatles and a Simon and Garfunkel record. And it's quite strange because that ends up being my favourite band and then one of my top three guitarists, Paul Simon. So when I think about it, that must have been quite a big influence, it's gone right inside. My dad would take me to record fairs in Oxford and when John Lennon got assassinated me and a couple of my mates got really into the Beatles. And so I started buying up Beatles records with money that I got for Christmas and when my dad took me to the fair, I'd always pick up one more and eventually I kind of worked my way through the whole catalogue that way. So that was quite young, that was maybe 10, 11 or 12 years old and then The Smiths came out and I started wanting to play guitar. I had an uncle called Pete who was a folk guitarist and he taught me a song or taught me three chords to play a normal song and that got me started on guitar playing, because I didn't get on with reading music. I did have a lesson or two, but I didn't like them so it just tailed off, until Pete. He told me how to play the basic chords and then I was away and I was able to learn by ear, to try and learn Smiths and The Cure songs. Then I started going to gigs. I saw The Smiths in '85, I saw Siouxsie and the Banshees end of '84, Aztec Camera as well, I think they were my first gig at 14. All these gigs were at the Apollo in Oxford city centre, which is like a theatre that holds about 2000 people, with a balcony. So I used to get seats in the front row of the balcony or near the front of the balcony and I'd just look down and see the chaos. And there was a gig that Mark Gardner went to where The Damned played that venue and all the seats got ripped out! So knowing that kind of scared me so I always stayed at the top, where it was safe.

The Velvet Underground - Live 1969

I got into The Velvet Underground at school through a girlfriend of mine who got me into the Velvets and Gong. Gong didn't really stick, but yeah the Velvets' Live '69 was the the first album of theirs that I bought on vinyl and it's a double live album. I always thought it was Lou Reed singing but I think some of it is not and it might be the guy who took over from Lou and sang on Loaded... but I still don't know! What I really love about the record is the intro, it's like this whole preamble that I ended up sampling for the Ride acoustic tour. I think it was the 30th anniversary [in 2018] of the formation of the band and we did an acoustic tour of the UK and I made that into a track to play as intro music. Yeah, I just love it and love Lou Reed's stage pattern.

Ride was formed in 1988 when yourself, Mark, Loz and Steve all met at Art College in Banbury (though Mark of course was already a friend from school). What were the standout records you were listening to, collectively and individually during that time? Did any of them directly inspire you to start a band?

I got to know Mark at school and we were Smiths fans, fans of The Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen, before gradually moving to art school days where we got to know Steve a little bit more who was the big brother of one of my school mates. He worked in Our Price in Oxford, so he was a little bit more of a cool record guy and he thought The Smiths and The Cure were like route one. He was the person that played me my bloody valentine, Spaceman 3, Loop, House of Love, Cocteau Twins and all that stuff, so that was like the level two of it. And so me and Steve got really tight and he played in a reggae band and I joined that band with him. And because we were really getting into guitar music, I kind of said, oh you know, should we start a band as well? Me and Mark already had it really, so we kind of got Steve into that with Mark and then at the end of '88 we finished school and went to art school in Banbury. Meeting Loz was like the final part of the music taste that put Ride together, because he was one step further out than Steve. On 4AD there was this Bulgarian voice music and it was like really out there classical, a-cappella Bulgarian chanting, so he was the final piece with bringing that to our attention. We always say Ride started officially in October 1988. We'd been at art school then for about a month and decided to play together at Loz's mum's garage. She had a house in a small village where there was not much chance to disturb people, so we brought our stuff around there and the only song that we all knew was I Wanna Be Your Dog by The Stooges. So the first note of Ride existing was that.

So out of all of those those bands and gigs, is there anyone in particular that really kind of made you think I wanna do this, I want to start a band?

The Smiths
gig. It was the Meat Is Murder tour and seeing Johnny Marr, because I'd already heard them on the radio and got the cassette. Seeing it all live, the volume of it and just seeing the audience going so mad and just seeing the way that he played guitar made me wanna do that.

Can - Cannibalism I

We had an older friend of ours who used to make us cassette tapes and let us record stuff from his collection. He was the guy that got me into krautrock - this is '89 or so when Ride was going and gearing up towards our first single - that was when I first started listing to that music. So he had given me a few albums on cassette and I went out and bought a couple of compilations so I could own the bulk of their stuff in one go, it's got all the main tracks. Can are a bit like Madness because a compilation sums it up perfectly. Like there are some good Can albums but mainly I think it's all on the comp, it's a great career retrospective from '68 to about the late 1970s.

It's cool that you mention the Iggy and The Stooges song, because I was having a little scroll of your YouTube channel and that track makes a standout appearance. It was back in 2020, as Lockdown hit, that you began uploading a bunch of covers on your channel - The Beatles, Bill Withers and New Order as well as many Ride songs, including universal favourite Vapour Trail. In May of that year, right in the thick of it, you shared a cover of Just Like Heaven by The Cure and in the caption you say "I just got a random memory of jumping around like a maniac to the Dinosaur Junior version of this in the mosh pit at Oxford Poly 1989 with Mark and Loz just before the Stone Roses came onstage.” How transportive is music for you as you get older? Do you often listen to stuff that catches you off-guard and takes you back to a certain place or time?

Yeah it happens a lot and the music's been so important. That particular Dinosaur Jr. cover of The Cure song took me right back to that moment. We were still at art school, we started Ride late '88 and went through to the middle of '89 and then by that point we basically had record label interest, so we didn't complete art school it was that quick. But yeah, that was a gig we went to as an arts project, so I got permission to go shoot it as a photography project and I've still got photos from that night. It was a monumental show. It was the first time I saw The Stone Roses and it was after buying one single because I liked the sleeve. They were playing Reading next which was really close, so we all went to Reading and saw them like a day or two after. And then the next thing they did after that was play Ally Pally in London. I actually live really close to there now but I couldn't have told you back then about where that venue was in the city! But yeah, I'd have to hear a tune to be transported back and tell you what it reminded me of, but it happens all the time. Memories are very strongly associated with music.

When you hear your own songs from 'phase one' of Ride, does it remind you of a certain performance or a certain moment from those early days?

When we played Nowhere as an album, which we've been doing quite a lot recently, I basically channel myself as a 19 year old because hearing the album in its original order kind of reminds you of what you were trying to achieve with the record, why you sequenced it that way. And it just makes me remember what I was writing about, like the the kind of angst and the girlfriends at the time or whatever it was that was on my mind. It just puts you right back into that head space and I love being there because it's like a sort of direct connection to something very, very vital to what Ride is you know, that feeling. I think we all feel the same in our own way, like in the band. It takes us right back and it's even more intense when you're playing the album in its entirety, because it really sinks in.

Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

So this record is very influential on the Ride sound. Sonic Youth were massive to us and the band's trilogy of albums of Evol, Sister and Daydream Nation are just so brilliant and were so influential to all of us. I actually fulfilled a lifelong dream and met Kim Gordon last year in Chicago. She was lovely and I got a fan photo, a "selfie", with her.

For many years at Rough Trade we’ve curated an Essential range, an assortment of albums we believe should be the cornerstones of a great collection and Nowhere has long been included. When you made that album you were all so young - what were the ambitions for the record and the band at that time?

Everything and also nothing. You have no expectations really, because we knew that there hadn't been any big bands from Oxford before and we didn't know what the music business was like or whether we had any chance at all. But we wanted and expected and hoped that we'd be massive, you know? So yeah, huge expectations but also very, very small ones. It was like anything could happen from this, but it might not, but it might and probably will! I remember when we started getting a bit of a momentum behind us, in the early months in 1990 we were just on tour and we'd had a single come out. The first EP came out in January, the second one came out in April and the third one came out in the summer time just before the album. So we were on tour the whole time and each time we put out a record, the venues would get a bit bigger. So it went from 100, to 300, to 500 and then it was like, this is gonna keep going. The expectation was this is not gonna stop and as we keep making records, it will be bigger and bigger. And it kind of did grow, until after the second album we released Twisterella [Going Blank Again] as a single and I think that was the first time that a single went in lower than the previous one. We sort of plateaued after that. I went off to America to do a tour for that album and then by the third album things weren't quite as hot as they had been. And I think that's when we realised that we were fallible. It was a process, you know, and I was still only 22.

Do you look back on that time and think well, actually, we were really vulnerable and it all happened so fast...

...and there was no handbook. And there was no older mentor, not really. I mean, there was Alan McGee, who was very encouraging and gave us a sort of artistic carte blanche to do whatever and he'd release it. We made all the choices about the singles and everything like that... but yeah, we were very much out on our own out there. Tamsin Embleton brought out a book last year called Touring and Mental Health, which is a brilliant book with chapters on things like inter-band dynamics and drug use and drinking and being healthy and mental health in general. It's like, wow, this is really great but where was this book 30 years ago? I had to make all my own mistakes in all those areas and learn things the hard way.

Yeah, the industry has definitely evolved. In some respects do you feel lucky that you were able to make your own decisions though?

Yeah, we were allowed to succeed and fail on our own terms. We had a really, really big start and then we kind of crashed and burned, but all on our own terms and I think we prefer it that way. The beautiful thing about the Ride story is that we've been allowed to give the ending a second go. We're gonna rewrite the ending much better this time.

Since Ride embarked on its second era in 2015, how much has the time you spent apart from the band informed your personal interpretation and performance of that earlier work? 

The time spent away improved my life skills, people skills and music skills and I think that's true for all of us. We came in with a bigger skill set as far as being people/being in a band and being with other people was concerned and we were able to communicate better. What really educated us was the reunion tour in terms of gaining an appreciation for what we were best at and what people liked to hear from us. We were playing songs from all over the catalogue and it kind of left us feeling really connected to what our strong points were. And that was a big part of the conversation when we started talking about making new music. We had this chance to work with Erol Alkan and when we sat down with him to talk about this, he said "look, if we're going to do this, I want to feel like you are plugged into all the things that people are going to want to hear from you." And we totally were, we had the harmonised vocals, the big guitars, the amazing drums and bass. We were ready. In the second half of the band's initial time, we started to become a bit scatter-brained about knowing what we were good at and started to overshoot and go into musical styles that weren't the best fit for us. You're always kind of led by the trends at the time, even if you don't think you are. I felt like I was on my own personal journey musically and, for some reason, I outlawed reverb on the third album because I'd read that Willie Mitchell didn't use reverb.

But you learn from those mistakes and those choices right?

Yeah it's all good stuff in the end, because you learn.

DIIV - Is The Is Are

DIIV are a band that I came across because our American agent paired us with them and said, you know, that they'd be a good fit to play with us. People have told me a lot that they think DIIV are very Ride influenced and I know that they like our music, but to me I can't particularly hear it. I'm way more influenced by them then they are by me, I think. They remind me of The Cure more than anything, like someone updated The Cure (not that they need it). I chose this album because it's lighter and I find them a really optimistic band, like sunshine.

Your seventh album is called Interplay. Would I be right in saying it’s a title that speaks to the way you've worked together as a four-piece, shaping the sound and direction of the new songs? 

I just think it sounds like a Joy Division album title and that's why I like it! But yeah, it is a reference to our group dynamic.

Over the course of a 35-plus year career, do you ever feel overwhelmed by how much change you’ve witnessed in music?

No, not really. There is change going on all the time, but you don't notice it. When it's happening you can kind of stay in the lane and go along with what's going on, basically try and go with the flow rather than fight. So streaming and all that kind of stuff? I see all the positives, I prefer to look at the positives.

As much as you embrace and draw from the earlier work, with this second era of Ride are you very much a forward thinking band? Are you a stronger unit now than you were back then?

Yeah, stronger unit definitely. And forward thinking? Hopefully, but within our lane. That conversation I talked about with Erol set out the lane quite well. And then once you know that you're on this kind of fairly broad track, you can then go to the edges of it and do interesting things. As long as you're sort of somewhere within it, you're fine. We try and be adventurous, but within the boundaries of decency or whatever Ride's thing is.

We’ve observed amongst ourselves here at Rough Trade that shoegaze might be set for a bit of a moment this year. Ride are often referred to as pioneers of the genre and I wanted to ask what your personal relationship is to that tag - has it ever antagonised you in any way or have you embraced it over the years?

I've embraced it. I wasn't always cool with it and in the beginning it was basically a way of dissing you. The music press would use it as a bit of a put down, but the scene didn't last very long so there was a bit of it and then after a while people had moved on to the next thing, and we broke up anyway soon after that. In the intervening years, at some point, I started to hear the word again and it was in America, probably in the mid-noughties, and I was like, alright, cool it's a thing now. From that point onwards I was totally fine with it because I was just grateful that the music was being heard again. I think it's important not to get too bogged down in the origin of the genre name (for instance krautrock is a pretty derogatory term) and the origin of the name of the genre isn't always chosen by the bands involved.

I was touring in October and a friend of mine was doing the driving and the driver gets control of Spotify, so I had 30 days of his music taste and it was either a guitar day or an electronic day. At one point he asked if I could only choose guitar music or electronic music for the rest of my life, which would I pick? I said electronic. But that aside, during the guitar days I never heard so much contemporary shoegaze in my life and I was Shazamming everything!

Turnstile - Glow On

This is such a cool record, I play it all the time. I think I was the last person in the world to discover Turnstile because everyone else knows about them. I was on a day off and I was sitting in an Irish bar in America and I was scrolling the phone and saw a quick video clip of them playing TLC, thought it was amazing, scrolled past it, scrolled back and then couldn't find it. I'd clocked that they had a Mexico gig coming up when I'd scrolled past initially, so I thought maybe they were from Mexico. So I put the word out on Twitter as I had no idea what they were called and all throughout that day I was getting amazing recommendations for hardcore Mexican bands. But obviously they weren't from Mexico, they're from Baltimore! Then our drum tech said "oh you don't mean Turnstile do you?" and once I've discovered what it was, I went on Spotify and listened to the full record. It's very short songs which I love, very economical, well produced and pretty vocals! So I'm all in and I can't wait to see them live.

Ride's seventh album Interplay is released on 29th March 2024 on Wichita Recordings.

Ride - Interplay