Pushing the Boundaries of Creativity in our Lives – Lessons from Ride

Being at university between 1989 and 1992 was nothing short of awesome in terms of the creative music explosion that saw eighties British indie music break out from it’s often downcast mold and embrace the burgeoning dance scene. Bands like the Inspiral Carpets, the Charlatans, the Stone Roses, Primal Scream and a very young Blur exploded onto the scene which was already pulsating from the second summer of love.

Photo: Maria Moraes Robinson

I had gone to Bath University in 1988, but it was only once I had arrived that I actually discovered the concept of the gap year. I left my Business Administration course, worked like crazy for the following months, and then in the following spring I took off with just a small backpack for an around-the-world adventure.

In Nottingham the main indie-music venue was Rock City, and as well as Indie Night I saw many great bands play. This was all pre-smart phone and you could mosh away without any worries of knocking someone studiously taking video footage for their Instagam.

Nirvana came in 1991, and while I cannot claim to have been a particular fan at this time, at least their visit was recorded in this video which really captures the moment and the fans well.

In 1988 in Oxford, very close to my home town of Buckingham, inspired by The Smiths, Andy Bell, Mark Gardener, Laurence “Loz” Colbert, and Steve Queralt formed their band Ride. While they released their first EP in 1990 on Creation Records, I do not remember them coming to my attention until their second album Going Blank Again which opened with the absolutely epic Leave Them All Behind which I still play a lot today. The song is ranked at number 273 in NME’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Rather than post the studio version, I thought I would share this live version from Brixton Academy which really captures the excitement and energy. I love Andy Bell’s searing guitar which starts to take the song even higher a full six minutes in.

One of the great things about YouTube is the way in which so many programmes and bands that I missed the first time around are available. So it has been possible to go back in time and listen to many different interviews and live performances which I have not seen before. And I have also been re-evaluting and rediscovering some of the more marginal bands which I kind of missed as well. A great example is Lush in that I have found some of their less well-known tracks such as Sweetness and Light and the deceptively excellent Nothing Natural.

Just as Ride never embraced the Shoegaze tag with which they had been daubed by the music press, Lush never embraced Brit Pop which had truly take over from grunge and indie pop from my generation. And with that, record labels dropped the more interesting, textured and subtle guitar bands in their search for the next Oasis, who themselves were on their journey towards world domination.

Photo: Simon Robinson

This year Maria and I visited Liverpool in January, and as a Beatles fan it was brilliant to visit the Beatles’ Story exhibition as well as the Cavern Club. We also spent time at the British Music Experience, hence some of the photos in this post of some of the displays.

I did have my own band at school, and while we were not particularly amazing, we did have some great times. I wrote most of the songs, the music as well as the lyrics, but on arriving at university I left my experiments in music (both electronic as well as guitar) to focus on other things. But it was great to play around in the Gibson guitar section at the exhibition, and I especially loved this semi-accoustic Epiphone.

Photo: Maria Moraes Robinson

After an acrimonious split in 1996, Andy Bell, the guitarist from Ride went on to join Oasis as their bass player, and would then continue with Liam Gallagher in Beady Eye.

On 16 October 2001, all four members of Ride reunited for a session which for Channel 4. The footage was used for the show Pioneers, a documentary on Sonic Youth, and featured a thirty-minute improvised jam. The recording of this song, plus two short sound checks, were released in 2002 as Coming up for Air.

This reunion was only fleeting. But in 2014, with a new level of maturity, and having reconciled their differences amicably, the band reformed, and toured Europe and North America to critical acclaim, reconnecting with past fans while also finding a new youthful audience. And twenty-one years later after their previous album, on the 16th June 2017 Ride released The Weather Diaries.

The Weather Diaries album cover

While this album developed Ride’s sound further, Andy Bell also had continued to with GLOK, his electronic music projects. He produced this extended remix version of All I Want, one of the tracks from The Weather Diaries which I just love and have been playing a lot.

Which really brings me to the inspiration behind this post. A couple of weeks ago Laurence Colbert (Loz), Ride’s drummer posted his reflections one year on since the release of their new album.

Credit: Ride

Opening with the comment that “It was the album that felt like starting again, but within the gaze (ha ha) of familiarity” I really felt that there was a lot in his post on the subject of art, music, creativity and meaning that I wanted to share it here (bold highlights are mine).

Loz opens with many interlinked observations. That you do not need to know in advance what will come out of a desire to be creative. The foundation for what would emerge was based on their lived experiences, both from youth and from a more experienced perspective:

In retrospect it was the biggest step we’ve taken since Nowhere. Making an album should always be a leap of faith, into the dark. If you know what you’re going to do already, why bother doing it? We never knew what we were going to get with our first album since the split in ‘96; but it did all seem to come together over several months, and I’m glad for the way it worked out. I guess in the end, the making of Weather Diaries was as much of a statement as making our debut, Nowhere. Both came out of the blue, and both drew on years of separate experiences, both musical and lived – which somehow channelled into both of the albums themselves.

Credit: Unknown

The revival of vinyl has been interesting to follow, especially in relation to the experience of the artwork on the album, which diminished, quite literally, with the introduction of CDs, and then again with the shift into digital downloads. The Weather Diaries cover is iconic and immediate, and so it was really interesting to hear Loz’s reflections:

An album is like a sign. It is something you make, as well as give out – a signal to the world … visually and musically. “Hello world!” or “Fuck You World!” or “What Is Going On with This World?”.. It is of course a statement on many levels… Thinking as I am, of an album as a physical product, once you get past the title and hold it in your hand, in reality it reads more like an index of statements: from any colour themes, to track titles/themes, to the typesetting used in the credits, to the order of tracks and tempos, the style & approach of photography or artwork, wether lyrics are printed or not, or how they are printed, which instruments are highlighted in the mix: drums, bass, guitars, vocals etc…? But also over time the artwork becomes the ‘sign’ for those statements.

Some might say that like any album once it’s released, Weather Diaries is in the past now, reduced to a tiny icon on peoples phones, or in a magazine article. Indeed that may have been the way that most people saw the artwork in the first place. But that’s not to say that the many streams of ideas, experience, creativity and production that went into the album are diminished – on the contrary as it is for every album – the beauty is that they are always there to be awakened each time you discover, rediscover, or play a record or CD.

Credit: Andrew Ogilv

By the time Tarantula, Ride’s fourth album was being recorded, the two main musical forces of Andy Bell and Mark Gardener were diverging to such a degree that the two would not allow their songs to be interspersed by those of the other. So the album starts with Gardener’s, and follows with those of Bell. While some of the greatest rock bands have had monumental battles of ego, such as Deep Purple or Pink Floyd, it is clear that Ride are now coming together as a unit. Their early songs had formed from their jamming sessions, but now with the new material there is a method in the improvisation:

It took a lot of work to produce Weather Diaries. That’s not to say it was gruelling, or even hard work sometimes (although of course at times it was)… it’s just a lot of time and effort went into shaping the songs that made the final cut, even before we got into the studio. If there’s one thing this has reinforced for me – something I find to be one of the ‘best bits’ of being in a band – is that it is all in the preparation. That quiet and hidden ghost time spent honing and perfecting, the work you do ‘before the lights go on’ – that is what will carry you forward… And that meticulous process is what you’ll draw from still, years later.

So all of that work and care taken is absolutely justified, even to the point of the songs being so great to play live because of the way we worked them out in the studio with Erol Alkan. Erol would often have an instant feel for a track even if it was just a starting point. The instruments might then go through all kinds of permutations of arrangements, of parts or sounds. But the idea we all shared was always moving forward, always refining, not just randomly experimenting. And it would settle – often at the last minute, just before ‘that’ take – where it did , in what now just seem to be the narrative versions of the tracks or songs. When I play ‘Cali’ live, I go back to those last minute alterations in the drum parts that made everything fit so well, although I am now playing it as a well-known arrangement. I think for Erol, we are the pieces of the puzzle that have to fit together, and Erol very much wanted or wants each of our voices to be heard, musically, in the album.. The challenge for him was how to make all that work for each track.

There is a saying that “youth is wasted on the young” and for me one of the elements of truth in this saying is the fact that very few of us have the same degree of self-awareness that a few more decades of reflection and wisdom instills in us as we leave our thirties and move into our forties. Growing self-awareness can deflect us if we become stuck in looking back at the past, but it can develop us creatively if it helps deepen our sense of self and being, who we are and what we are about.

For this reason I always love to read interviews with those who have managed to stay in music and continue their creative journeys. And with Ride, they have managed to reach a point where they are still able to take risks in the creative process:

As I was suggesting earlier, album artwork starts out as a thing on its own, but it quickly becomes a signifying icon for the ‘signified’: things such as the overall sound of the album, the artistic manifesto of the band at that point, any changes (or not) in direction, any affiliated musical themes, the variety (or the similarity) of songs… hopefully the album artwork ends up standing for a snapshot of the musical creativity of the band at that point. Can it really ever be anything else? Weather Diaries captured where we had got to in 2016 after a reunion world tour, and after we had naturally started writing together as part of hanging out and appearing as a group, with our instruments nearby… Like I said before, some of the songs came from soundcheck jams recorded on an iPhone … but in hindsight it becomes clear that it also captured many of our wider aspirations to open up what RIDE is and what the band can be about.

In the making of Weather Diaries, we dared to do some things we’d never done before. And that’s the way it should be. Perhaps we’ll be more daring in the future, who knows? The space outside your comfort zone is a good place to be, it is a healthy place to be. I feel that the way we have left it is that there are many ways we could go next musically, as options have been opened. And because of Weather Diaries, RIDE isn’t just about the first two or four albums any more, it has now become more about what we are now. Rejoining the two themes from earlier, I am glad that the great artwork that is associated with Weather Diaries and Tomorrow’s Shore EP is what it is, and I think the message we have given to the world is that it’s not over, and that RIDE have a lot more to say.

After Tarantula I don’t think anyone thought that Ride would make a comeback in the way that they have. It has been great to follow their journey which has now seen them tour globally, and which has also seen them inspiring other indie and shoegazing bands such as Slowdive:

Credit: Eat Your own Ears

Weather Diaries has changed things for us, but mainly in that it has given us the chance to shine light on RIDE as a contemporary working band. It is a rare and wonderful opportunity we find ourselves in: one of being able to make new music and to play it for audiences both old and new. Since 2016 we’ve released 15 new songs across an album and an EP, the new songs have been played on the radio all around the world, we’ve played live sessions for 6 Music, KEXP, Amazon and several others. And of course we’ve had the utter pleasure to play many shows to so many happy people…

Creatively, Weather Diaries has got us back – and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Happy birthday to Weather Diaries, and here’s to what the future holds…
Loz x

Ride are receiving rave reviews for their live shows. I missed their December Glasgow gig last year by just a few days so I guess I need to hope they have plans to come to Brazil some time soon. Live performances can never come close to being captured in their entirety, but in the meantime, if you like indie music but may not be so familiar with ride, here is a really excellent recording from La Route du Rock Festival, 2015.

I think one of the greatest inspirations from bands like Ride, the ones who do not wish to rest on their laurels and past achievements, but who wish to continue to push boundaries is that no matter where we are in life, no matter what age, we can always explore, experiment, play, create, improvise and jam. We do not have to be international rock superstars, far from it. I have decided to get myself a new guitar having just had an acoustic for many years, and I can’t wait to play around with all the effects pedals I never had as a teen.

I think Loz’s reflections are really fascinating, and really add meaning to their music which is uplifting, progressive and inclusive. Life isn’t all about millennials or youth demographics or any of that nonsense. It’s about finding meaning in that art which we create, be it just for ourselves or that which will be performed. And may our lives always go to eleven.

References

Weather Diaries: Looking Back, Laurence Colbert

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