Interview: Mark Gardener


In 1990, Jane’s Addiction told us that “The world is loaded / It’s lit to pop and nobody is gonna stop”, which in retrospect might be viewed as presaging the explosion of exciting music in the early 90’s. Grunge was launched in 1991 with Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten, a year that also saw the release of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Slint’s Spiderland. Hot on the heels in 1992 were the amazing debut albums by Rage Against the Machine, PJ Harvey, and Liz Phair. One could go on and on.

An album that belongs in this rarefied company is Nowhere by the band Ride, released in 1990 and regularly hailed as one of the quintessential albums of the shoegaze genre typified by whooshing distorted guitars and hypnotic vocals. Ride went on to release several more albums before imploding in 1996. A key component of Ride’s sound was the guitar and vocals of Mark Gardener, who answered the following questions by email, received on 9/26/14. This served as the basis for a preview article for Gardener’s “solo acoustic loop show” at SOhO in Santa Barbara on 10/9/14.

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?

Mark Gardener: New, old and middle aged songs! I’ve recently finished a new Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) / Mark Gardener album which I’m very happy with so I will reveal some of these songs for the first time but will of course play a few old songs for the nostalgic element.

JM: This is being billed as a “solo acoustic loop show”. Are you a fan of guitar loopers like Robert Fripp and David Torn, and have they been an influence on your music?

MG: No not really, I’m aware of Robert Fripp but he’s not an influence on my music. I’ve always been interested in the hypnotic qualities of music and therefore the loop pedal works well for certain songs and as I’m playing solo it becomes my band as I can loop guitar lines and vocals.

JM: Perhaps you know that you’ll be playing an “early show” at the venue, from 7:30-9:30PM, then Thurston Moore and Sebadoh will be playing a “late show”, starting at 10:00PM. Any chance that there will be some musical cross-pollination between you and the others?

MG: I just found that out. There has already been some musical cross-pollination as Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth along with Sebadoh have both been influences on me musically. I was a fan of both of those bands so I’ll hopefully stay around that evening and watch the late show. That’s a great coincidence or maybe it’s fate that we all play the same venue on the same night!!

JM: I’m a big fan of the Ride album Nowhere. What are your reflections on that particular album?

MG: Well it was the first album we had all recorded together. We recorded it in what was once a chapel just south of the river in London. All of the takes were live takes and we just kept on recording until we were happy with the takes and songs. It was a very instinctive, pure and innocent as we had no master plan but just some songs that we had been playing live and then some songs which were half written and came together there and then in the studio. We were certainly not tapered by any rules, it was pure experimentation and expression.

Our 3 EP’s that preceded this album had all done really well so we were in great spirit. We rented a strange apartment a taxi ride away from the studio somewhere in London where we would occasionally sleep as there was no residential side at the studio. The sessions got later and later until we became nocturnal. I remember the taxi driving us back to our apartment to sleep when the rest of London seemed to be going to work. I felt like we were living on the edge of life living and realising our dreams in what was becoming a more and more surreal dreamy headspace. It worked great!!

Alan McGee would visit us from time to time in the evenings and he like us just seemed really happy with what we were doing. In hindsight it was a big challenge for us to go in and record that album with no producer but a great engineer (Mark Waterman) who we ended up driving into the ground in the end but he and we all did a great job!!

Alan Moulder was finally pulled in at the end once we had recorded everything to mix it. It ended up being a dark album but it has a very unique sound and an incredibly energetic quality about it. I had no idea then that it would end up being such a big and respected album. I’m very happy that it has become that.

JM: Nowhere is about to turn 25 years old. Are there any plans to commemorate that anniversary?

MG: No plans …….yet !!

JM: What was the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Shoegaze and Britpop music scenes?

MG: Like all ‘scenes’ there was the good, bad, and the ugly. The originators of both scenes were the better bands, and then lots of dire bands followed on in the dust of the originals. Shoegaze, I think, was definitely more substance over style. Britpop for me was more style over substance. Shoegaze has proved to have been the much more experimental and influential in the long run and has certainly stood the test of time much better than Britpop. Maybe Britpop will come round again but I never felt any of those bands were breaking any new ground so I doubt there will be any second coming. I’m always suspicious when people start waving the flags and declaring the second Brit invasion of the US. It didn’t happen.

Some of those bands did well in the UK. I thought early Oasis and Supergrass were great but there wasn’t much else that did much for me during the Britpop years.

JM: What were the pros and cons about being on Creation Records?

MG: Creation was the best label and was a perfect fit for Ride. The label was the best kind of passion and drug fuel’d rock and roll chaos that was always going to succeed, deliver and attract some of the best bands of the 90’s and then crash! Alan McGee believed in the people and bands that he signed and the bands believed in McGee and the great crew at Creation. They were fantastic times when you win by your and the label’s own rules.

The cons were when you realised that you had been in a studio for a while feeling good and the studio owners were becoming very agitated. Then you work out that the studio had not been paid by Creation!!!! They always paid in the end. The only other con was when Sony got involved. It had to happen at some point but that was the start of the end. We crashed our own car not long after Sony got involved so we were lucky to experience Creation throughout the early great chaos days before it became more sensible and corporate with Sony.

JM: You’ve been doing a lot of production work these days. How would you describe your approach as a producer?

MG: I treat every piece of music or every band that I work with as a true challenge to bring out the best in it and to give it the best possible chance to be heard and to do something and get somewhere in these challenging times. There’s so much bland, safe music and too many dull bands out there. The magic was and still is the challenge of making great sounding records.

I love being in the studio and I love doing what I do. Different bands and different music needs different approaches so I don’t have one way of working. I trust that when a piece of music is moving me to the maximum then it will have the ability to move others. I’ll mix and mix until I get there. It’s a constant learning curve. It’s not an exact science. That’s what keeps it all interesting. I enjoy my soundtrack work as this is when I get to play on all the toys, sounds and different instruments in the studio and never have to be concerned with one day having to play it live. My next soundtrack will be music for a documentary on WB Yeats which will be interesting !

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

MG: Keep on keeping on. It’s all about how you come back learn and get better from your failures and crashes. Experiment, believe in and make it better than the others. Dreams can be realised if you’re prepared to put the time and effort in.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

MG: A new Robin Guthrie/Mark Gardener album will be released soon. A new mixed up MG collaborations mixes and remixes album from the past few years will also be released soon. I’m also currently working with John Leckie revisiting, reworking and remixing an incredible lost treasure of an album he recorded in 1973 called ‘Western Justice’ It’s Jack Rieley’s solo album of Beach Boys (Holland and Surfs Up) period fame. I also worked with Jack during the last couple of Ride albums so I’m honoured to be working with John and Jack again on this wonderful album. Alongside all of that I hope to play more full band shows next year once these albums have come out.

JM: Where are you responding from?

MG: My Ox-4-Sound studio in Oxford …….. the city of dreaming spires……..and musicians!!


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