If you were a fan of UK indie in the early 1990s, you were were probably a fan of Ride. After the revolutionary success of bands like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays showed that uncompromising indie could storm the UK charts, and about the same time the Pixies and Nirvana were starting to shake the foundations of American rock, four young lads from Oxford issued a monumental debut album called Nowhere.
The design of the front cover was simply a painting of a massive wave forming on an ocean swell – no words. None were needed: the music was all-consuming. The ringing, droning guitar noise crashing against furious pounding drums and fluid bass, and its hazy, half-chanted (but strangely boyish) vocals and ambiguous lyrics, transported a lovely melodic sensibility into something distant and dreamlike.
There’s never been a sound quite like it: a gigantic sound, not so much psychedelic as ‘oceanic,’ conjuring timeless images of seagulls circling over cold northern beaches – ‘Romantic’ in the old sense of the word, archaic and otherworldly. But still quite accessible and galvanising and dare I say pop. The sneering term ‘shoegaze’ doesn’t really do it justice.
Ride presaged the success of Blur, Smashing Pumpkins and many others, but, despite the success of the follow-up album, Going Blank Again, they were never quite able to capitalise on the promise of Nowhere. After trying other sounds and approaches while sales dwindled, they disbanded five years after its release, just as the Britpop phenomenon was exploding. Their debut remains a lonely milestone, inspiring melancholy passion in a generation of devotees.
It’s hard for me to believe it, but this year marks Nowhere’s 20th anniversary. And its legacy now gets a measure of justice as it’s just been reissued by Rhino Handmade in a lush deluxe edition that includes a double-disc remastered version of the album, along with the Today Forever EP, an unreleased recording of a live show, a 40-page booklet and more.
The occasion of the reissue gave me the chance to interview Steve Queralt, Ride’s bass player. Now a family man in Oxford, Steve no longer plays music professionally, but as he talked about the recording of the album and its enduring mystique, he was thoughtful, friendly and engaged. He’s obviously proud of his earlier work and his band’s role in the scheme of things, but also refreshingly real. Steve provided us with a candid and eloquent glimpse into a memorable musical epoch.
Music Feeds: The reissue of Nowhere pretty much confirms it as a classic. When I talk to music fans of my generation, so many of them mention the impact that album had on their lives. What’s your perspective on that?
Steve Queralt: Obviously it’s difficult for me to say those kinds of things, but they’re nice to hear, and it’s always nice when you read the music press now, to know that you’ve had an influence on somebody. And for people to cite your music as being an important part of their lives, that’s always really good to hear. As for the album itself, it was our best album in my view – either that or Going Blank Again. I’ll certainly stand by both of those albums. It was was a really exciting year for us.
MF: Do you hear your influence in bands today?
SQ: I can’t say I do – we weren’t that unique. Whenever that whole sound is discussed, the usual bands mentioned are My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride. But I’m always proud to be lumped in with those bands. You always read that there’s going to be a return to ‘shoegaze,’ or ‘newgaze,’ whatever you want to call it. And there are occasionally bands that come along and you think, yeah, there’s definitely an influence in there, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a Ride sound. I think we were heavily reliant on the noisy guitars and the kind of wishy vocals – that was the sound of Nowhere – but I think we moved on from that quite quickly.
MF: Considering that Nowhere became your greatest legacy, do you regret moving on from that sound?
SQ: No, because I think we went on to make an equally good album with Going Blank Again. We might have taken an odd turn after that, with Carnival of Light and whatever came after that. With Going Blank Again, we were trying new things, listening to new music, and we weren’t afraid to write good pop songs.
But I think we became a little too obsessed with looking backwards, and that’s where the retro-ness of Carnival of Light came in. And it seemed like the new bands coming up behind us, Blur and Oasis, were very fixed on new sounds. OK, you could say Oasis were looking backwards to The Beatles, but they did invent something completely new with it. And Blur were always a really experimental band – I mean, yeah, they had their pop hits, but the album tracks are always really interesting to hear.
MF: Back then, it seemed that massively successful bands like Oasis and Blur were following in the footsteps of Ride, The Stone Roses, and others. Do you feel that you missed it all by a couple years? Or are you proud to have paved the way?
SQ: Yeah, I would agree with you to a certain extent. I think that we were indebted to bands like The House of Love and The Wedding Present before us who were being taken seriously, not only by their own fans, but the record companies as well – who all wanted to sign an indie band.
That first batch of bands – The House of Love, The Wedding Present, The Primitives – they had a lot of money thrown at them by record companies, but they were marketed really poorly in my view, and they would just make it into the lower reaches of the charts, and never break into the Top 40.
So I think when we came along, we took it a step further, and all of a sudden you had bands making a hell of a noise in the UK Top 40 charts, which was pretty unheard-of before then. Suddenly The Stone Roses would get to the charts, Happy Mondays, The Charlatans, and suddenly you had these indie bands getting into the charts and crossing over.
But then the next generation after that was when Oasis, Blur and Radiohead came along, and they had huge worldwide success on the back of that. So I think there were three stages really, and we were in the middle.
MF: How do you feel about the tag ‘shoegaze’? Back then, it seemed like a mocking or dismissive term on the part of the music press. But now it’s taken on a life of its own, and it seems to be a term people nostalgically use to define that era.
SQ: I don’t think it’s ever been a term that I’ve felt proud of. I think ‘shoegazing’ at the time was a bit of a derogatory term by the press, a way to laugh at bands who didn’t really do much onstage other than stare at their shoes, or stare at their hands playing the guitars. There wasn’t much movement. It was completely different from The Stone Roses and the whole ‘Madchester’ scene where it was all about dance music. But we were quite introspective. And I think, as you said, it was quite a derogatory term. I think bands now are quite proud to say they have a ‘shoegaze’ sound or a ‘newgaze’ sound. But certainly back then it was a bit of an embarrassing term.
MF: That’s what happens when the UK music press gets hold of an idea…
SQ: There were all sorts of names: The Thames Valley Scene, The Scene That Celebrates Itself. The press love to have things – a set of fans or a movement – that they can understand and package. And there were a couple of bands they could lump in with us. Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Telescopes – all sorts of other bands around doing almost the same sort of thing. But I don’t think you can build a scene around it – I think it was just bands who were doing the same sort of thing at the same time, but it wasn’t nearly a scene. The bands didn’t hang out together or know each other.
MF: How did the recording of Nowhere go? How long did it take?
SQ: I think it took about two weeks. We were actually staying in London, in the Paddington area. The record company put us up in an apartment for the duration. So I remember being London which was quite new at the time… We were making our first album so everything was brand new, everything was exciting. We’d made an EP beforehand, but we were actually making an album, and we were all really excited by that prospect. There wasn’t any grand master plan, like, ‘It’s got to sound like this.’ It was just completely natural. That was how we sounded, that was the music we made. At one point we realised we were one track short, and that’s how the song Nowhere came about; it was like, ‘Let’s just invent a new track on the spot.’ It really was that quick.
When it was finished, we were very happy with the way it’d gone, although we had to get Alan Moulder [producer and mixer of Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine, and many more] to kind of rescue the recording, because the mixing didn’t really make it sound good enough – it wasn’t ‘big’ enough. So thank goodness Alan Moulder was willing to help out and kind of rescue it, and turn it into what it became. He took the mixes away and did a professional job on it. He rescued what was already there – he perfected it. He knew what the band were after in terms of noise, the vocals being low in the mix, and so on. And when we got the mixes back from Alan, we thought, ‘Wow, this actually sounds like a professional album.’
MF: Was the sound of your album based on your live sound? Did you play live in the studio?
SQ: Yes, certainly for the first album it was live takes. And it was take after take after take until we were really happy. Afterwards, on Going Blank Again, we developed a process where we’d all play live until we were happy with the general feel of the track, and then it would be all sorts of catching up.
I mean, there was no ProTools – no technology. I think the only technology we used was Q-Base, and that was just really sort of a click track. And we used a few samples. But everything was pretty much played live all through our career. And though I don’t really rate the last album [Tarantula] very much, I think the playing on it is probably the best out of all our albums, in terms of the band playing together. I think it was quite a mature sound.
But perhaps that’s what was good about Nowhere as well – the naïveté. I think with Nowhere, you had four people all trying to make their mark. It wasn’t like we were listening to what each other were playing – we weren’t The Wailers, we weren’t playing off each other. We were all head down, and playing what we liked. And I think that’s what’s good about the album.
MF: Your bass playing was so melodic, especially considering a lot of alternative-rock bass is rather flat and droning. What were your influences?
SQ: That goes back to what I was saying about everyone wanting to make their mark. I think some of the best bass playing has been not too fancy, just a repetitive melody. And some of the best drumming has been where there are absolutely no fills. But on the first album, Loz [drummer Lawrence Colbert] and I wanted to make our mark. He wanted to play as many fills and cymbals and whatever he could get his hands on, as much as possible. And I wasn’t content just to sit in the background and play a repetitive melodic bassline, so there were lots of fills. It was all quite naïve.
I remember when we worked with John Leckie [producer for The Stone Roses, The Verve, Radiohead and many others] on Carnival of Light, I was doing a run on the bass, and he looked at me and said, ‘Well, you need to do it again, there needs to be some symmetry. You can’t just stick a run in the middle of a verse.’ It’s about the way it fits into the song and the way it relates to the drums, and what [guitarist] Andy [Bell] is playing and what Mark [Gardener] is singing. All of a sudden you have to think, I’m in a band here, I’m not just trying to show off.
MF: You were indoctrinated.
SQ: Yeah, it suddenly made sense. And that was the death of Ride really, when I stopped showing off. [laughs]
MF: I think a lot of people would agree with you. Time for the inevitable question: is there any chance of Ride getting back together?
SQ: No. We’ve been asked that a lot over the past ten or so years, and sometimes we get close to kind of taking the idea seriously. But if I’m honest with you I can’t see it happening for a while yet. Obviously Andy’s very busy at the moment. But it would take all four people to have free time and really want to do it, which I can’t see in the foreseeable future.
I also think that we’d have to be careful about what we did. You were talking about Ride having a legacy. And I’d hate to announce a bunch of gigs, and all of a sudden it’d be all over. I’d rather not destroy that legacy at all. In my view we’d have to be very careful if we were ever to re-form. How would we do it? Would it be a festival tour, would it be a couple of one-off shows?
MF: So you’re not keen to go out and play Nowhere as a classic album?
SQ: Again, never say never. The Pixies I can use as an example, and I do love the Pixies. When they stopped making records, they left behind a really strong back catalog, and lots of really good memories. But now I can go see the Pixies any time I want to, because they seem to be touring endlessly. So I think a bit of that magic has disappeared.
But then My Bloody Valentine have done a couple of shows recently, and I’ve managed to see them a couple of times, and both times it’s been really really amazing. They’ve kept it to a minimum, and they’ve just done a handful of really special shows. So you think, when they do play, it’s going to be a rarity, and it’s worth seeing. Those are two models to look at if we were able to do it. It might never be – or it might be in five years, who knows? But it certainly won’t be in the near future, I can’t see that happening.