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Stereoboard Talk To Mark Gardener About Ride, Solo Work, Collaborations And Football (Interview)

Tuesday, 21 May 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

Mark Gardener shot to fame as part of the 90’s ‘shoegaze’ scene with Oxford band Ride and enjoyed success with some landmark albums of the genre, most notably debut offering ‘Nowhere’ and follow up ‘Going Blank Again’, the latter featuring the classic ‘Leave Them All Behind’.

1996 saw the band dissolve and the members go their separate ways - Gardener’s school friend guitarist Andy Bell joined Oasis after forming another Creation act, the short lived and largely overlooked Hurricane #1.  Gardener and Laurence Colbert formed another short lived act ‘The Animalhouse’ whilst 4th member Steve Queralt disappeared from music altogether.

Following a period in his life where he relocated to France to escape the music business, Gardener re-emerged as a solo artist, releasing the album ‘These Beautiful Ghosts’ in 2005, but he is now also a renowned producer and mixer working from his own Ox-4-Sound studio in Oxford.  Stereoboard caught up with him as he made his way back to the UK from France where he had just finished working on an album with ex-Cocteau Twins guitarist, Robin Guthrie.

When we first contacted you, you were mixing 2 albums – what were these and what is it about mixing and producing that drives you on?
I was producing two albums, one from a new artist called 'Cagey Bee' and then alongside this I started producing another album in Peter Gabriel’s 'Real World' studios with a band called 'Little Blood'. Both of these albums will be released at some point later in the year. I have also been mixing an album for a band called 'Dead Horse One' from Paris which I'm now one mix away from finishing.

I love being absorbed and transported by music and challenged to get the best out of the artists and music that I'm working with. I've always loved working in studios and I'm still fascinated with making records and the overall magic and power of great and interesting music. I'm totally driven to keep on producing and making records for bands as well as myself, as I have never lost sight of the fact that this was my escapist dream job when I had no idea of what I was going to do with my life when I was leaving college and art school. I'm making a living - as I have been now for around 25 years - doing something that I'm totally committed to and passionate about, and I'm happy and driven to keep this going and to always improve on what I've done before and to keep on learning.

You recently toured with Robin Guthrie and have collaborated with him on some new tracks – how did that come about?
I've known Robin for many years from back in the days of Ride and when Robin was in the Cocteau Twins - we met and buzzed past each other on a few occasions on different kinds of drugs! We finally connected properly around six years ago when Robin was doing a solo tour of the Picture Houses where I DJ'd for him in the bar for his Oxford show. I've always been a big fan of 'The Cocteau Twins’ and Robin’s many solo albums. A while after that I visited him in Northern France where we wrote and recorded the 'Places We Go' single. I am now just on my way back to the UK after three weeks of writing and recording with Robin – we’ve just finished a new 10-track album together which will be mixed at the end of June and released around September/October this year. Whilst driving through France to the ferry terminal on my way back home I’ve just listened to the rough mixes of all the tracks and I'm totally buzzed up with it. It's one of the best albums I have ever been involved in – I’m looking forward to releasing and playing more shows with Robin and the band.

At a recent show in Brighton you mentioned that you also had some new solo material that was work-in-progress…any plans to tour?
I have a few new solo songs written but the new album with Robin will I think be the focus for now, as we will be releasing and touring this later in the year. It's hard to make any concrete plans with life in the music industry these days, but hopefully, if both the new album with Robin and the new solo tracks are well received, then I would look to back both projects up with tours.

At one point in your life you withdrew from the music industry altogether and retreated to France – why was that and what drove you to return?
My life post-Ride descended into a self-made mess and chaos! My house in Oxford had turned into a non-stop night club and I was totally burnt out. I'd also been dealing with BMG and a music business that was going into panic mode with the onset of free digital downloads, which was the classic major label bullshit that I had managed to avoid up until that point.

I made The Animalhouse album with Sam Williams who had been producing Supergrass amongst others and was (and still is) a great friend of mine. We released the album but pretty much all of the people that believed in the project had been moved on at the label, so after all our hard work we felt pretty shafted.

I've always hated the ‘business’ side of things and I think that the music business is soul destroying and brutal and deserved to crumble as it now has. I headed to rural medieval France to be far away from all of that and to detox from everything.  I lived in a very small barn in the middle of a walnut orchard in the middle of the medieval wilds of Le Lot. It was one of my better moves actually, as after two years of that life plus six months travelling around between ashrams and shacks in southern India I felt refuelled and very positive again about making music and at last going solo. I wrote many songs in the barn and India which became a big part of my 'These Beautiful Ghosts' solo album. I played my first proper solo concert around 2003 at South by Southwest and was amazed by the response and before I knew it I was doing a US solo tour – since then, I have not really stopped making music and playing shows.

Another collaboration was ‘Monkey Powder’ with criminally undervalued band The Brian Jonestown Massacre – what was Anton Newcombe like to work with?
I've known Anton and the BJM guys for a long time. They came to the first Ride show that we played in San Francisco back in 1990. Anton is a close friend and somebody I admire and have a lot of time for - BJM have always kept it raw, real and interesting. I recorded the track 'Monkey Powder' spontaneously as a 1st take reaction to working in the studio with Anton in Iceland after being in a bar with him for three days and nights! It was an Icelandic blast!

Of all those fantastic Ride moments (and tracks), what is the most memorable moment you had during this time and what is your favourite Ride track?
Lots of the early shows were really memorable with Ride - at that time we were just growing rapidly and playing bigger and bigger shows. The 1st US tour with Ride was a blast as well as the first tours of Japan and Australia, and certainly shows such as our 1992 Reading performance playing just before Public Enemy closed the night - plus our Glastonbury shows - were very memorable to me. I don't really know what my favourite Ride song is but playing live it always used to be Leave Them All Behind, as this, along with a few other songs in the set, gave me a transcendental kind of taking off with the crowd feeling!

You’ve played a huge range of venues, from those festivals at Reading and Glastonbury with Ride to pubs and clubs as a solo artist – do you find the excitement and adrenalin rush the same wherever you play, or do the bigger venues provoke much bigger bouts of nervousness?
I'd have to say that playing to 50,000 people and being the last band on at festivals such as Reading evokes an extreme kind of nervous adrenalin rush which is a feeling I hate before you perform, but I love the feeling during and after the concert is played. Playing smaller solo shows can also be very intimidating and exciting as there is no place or band to hide behind so you have to be bang on. Whatever the venue, I always get that strange nervousness before going on stage and the adrenalin rush during and after.

You’re a season ticket holder for Oxford United – it must be tough having witnessed first hand the decline in their fortunes since their heyday in the 80’s and 90’s?
Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1st game in charge of Man Utd was at the Manor playing Oxford United and Oxford beat them 2-0. I was there – I started watching Oxford when I was six years old as my dad took me. They were amazing times; the decline was tough but in a way, since we bottomed out and fell into the Conference, we have been on a steady rise ever since, so as tough as it can be I actually really enjoy lower league football and the feeling that Oxford are slowly on the rise again. These teams are closer to the supporters and the leagues are far more unpredictable and interesting than the Premier League. I know that most of the money I'm paying is going to the club and the players rather than some multi-millionaire's world business interests. I enjoy watching the top UK clubs on Match of the Day and sometimes a Champions League game but OUFC will always be the team that I follow, watch live and support. There are many big clubs in the lower leagues who were once in the Championship or Premier League. I also admire clubs such as Crewe who are small but consistently bring through great players and more than hold their own on very small budgets.

If there was 1 person (dead or alive) that you could collaborate with, who would it be and why?
Laurel and Hardy would be my number one choice. I could not think of a more entertaining studio session and I would have loved to have met those guys.

Mark Gardener was talking to Graeme Marsh on behalf of Stereoboard.  Check out Mark’s all-time favourite tracks/albums/artists/gig at criticalwax.com‘QuestionTime’.

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