After a successful couple of years of reunion tours, the almighty shoegaze band from which this blog takes its name are gearing up to release their first album in over 20 years. The rather excellent Weather Diaries is a forward looking explosion of energy, a record that stands up to their best. On a sunny day in a pub in Shoreditch, where the speakers played deep cuts from Blur's much-worse comeback effort Magic Whip while I waited, I met with Andy Bell (guitar, vocals) and Steve Queralt (bass) to talk about everything from politics, producers and pictures.
SQ: It’s not significance at all, it’s just near where I live, I walk past it a lot, and above this tower block is a sign that says Lannoy Point, and I always thought it’d be a good title for a song. I like it because when I hear “Lannoy Point”, it makes me think of somewhere on the seaside, with cliffs and crashing waves, but actually it’s a tower block in South London.
What’s the song about?
AB: It’s one Mark wrote, and it’s about kind of… Brexit.
There’s a big of a political under current to this album isn’t there…?
AB: Yeah, Mark’s theme on it is that we should probably die out like the dinosaurs, it’s a bit of a down vibe to start to the album with, but it’s like “fuck it, we’ve messed it up, so we might as well be obliterated and not have a human race anymore”. I try and look more on the bright side than that.
SQ: Andy, I liked what you said in an interview; with our first couple of albums we were writing about leaving your girlfriend or leaving the town you live in, but now it’s more about leaving the planet.
AB: Yeah, it just happened that while we were writing and recording that all this was going on. It wouldn’t typically be our subject matter.
There’s quite a few political themes on the album… who’s charm assault about?
AB: It’s Boris. But I don’t like thinking about him. I don’t like picturing him when I sing it. I try not to think about him…
I thought at first it might be about Theresa May, but of course she’s got no charm…
AB: Yeah, it’s just the idea that everyone sees this goofy, charming, goofy but charming character, that’s his public image in the right wing press, and he’s not really harmful, he’s just a harmless buffoon. But of course, that’s not true.
What about the track All I Want?
AB: That’s Theresa [laughs], that’s Theresa trying to turn the UK into a fascist state basically.
SQ: We were going to call the album ‘Tory Scum’ [laughs]
AB: It’s just lines in the tunes where this comes up… but I think they do leap out. It’s good to write about what’s going on.
Tell me about your electronic project GLOK, Andy…
AB: It’s just putting tracks out that could never really be songs, I suppose. It’s atmospheric, instrumental, electronic stuff. It’s not that electronic, it’s hard where you draw the line. I make a lot of music in my studio, and a lot of it obviously goes towards being a song for a band to play, and other times I do this more meandering type stuff that isn’t like that, and it’s led to me having a big backlog of stuff. This is just a way for me to put it out there… So I’m just bleeding out tracks, one at a time, and it’s nice to have a separate outlet.
Erol Alkan seems perhaps a bit of a left-field choice to produce the album. How’d he get involved?
SQ: When we were talking about making an album, we were debating whether or not we needed a producer. We decided we probably did need a producer, and lots of names got bandied about, including Erol’s. Andy knew him in a previous life, but our initial thoughs were probably the same as yours; “Erol’s known for being a techno and electronic DJ, how’s that going to work?” But we agreed to meet him for dinner, and it immediately became apparent that he was passionate about all types of music, he grew up listening to indie stuff, and he’s one of us.
AB: He’s kind of in the band now. It’s sort of like he’s in the band, isn’t it? He’s quite on it with all kinds of stuff around being in a band. The online thing, he’s all over it. And just I guess things like compiling a record. He really produced it to the hilt.
SQ: Obviously he knows the industry inside out, he’s got his own record label - Fantasy - they’re a very small operation so Erol’s across everything you need to know in the industry. A musical ally.
AB: Going back to why we got him in, because he’s such a lovely and cool guy, it’d be good to have him in the room. Even at that level, because we didn’t know what he was going to bring in a practical way, but he was really hands on. He knew about all the mics, and the recording techniques, and everything you need to know. You never know with a producer what their take on production is.
SQ: He managed the whole session really well. He was there pretty part time. We basically did it over four weeks, week one: he was there two days, week three: he was there three days, so I almost thought at the time, he’s not getting too involved, but he’s dipping in, allowing us to do what we do, and then dipping in again. By the end of the fourth week, he was there full time, so he managed to bring the whole thing home.
Where did you record it?
SQ: Vale Studios, which is in... Herefordshire?
AB: Yeah, near Evesham.
SQ: So in the middle of nowhere…
AB: Well, the picture is a reimagining of a poster from the 1968 Paris riots, but although those posters are done anonymously - so you could, in theory, use them, and couldn’t really get done for it - in the posterbook there’s an actual letter in there from the movement that says “you can’t use these images for anything other than the revolution”. And it says essentially if we use them for anything else, they’ll curse us, that sort of thing. It brings down a curse on you.
SQ: IT’s a really good way for them to do it, saying use it but feel guilty about it. So we just copied it.
AB: Just copied it? Is that worse? But yeah, it’s a nod to that, because we like that. And we like the feeling of those.
Do you think there's a need for bands to be political?
AB: No. Not really. I think bands should do what they want, bands are about freedom.
SQ: I know some bands think you should have your voice, and use it for a political aim. But that annoys me as much, if not more…
AB: It’s tough liking Kate Bush at the moment though… like I love Kate Bush, and she was on a massive winning streak with me until that quote, and now it’s just killed her.
SQ: What? That she loved Theresa May?
AB: Yeah, and I hadn’t got round to… you know the live boxset? I got that for Christmas, and it was sitting on my hi-fi, waiting to get played and then this quote came out. And I kept looking at it, thinking ‘nope, can’t listen to that now’.
What other songs are you most proud of from Weather Diaries?
AB: I think that Intergration Tape is quite an important track for me, because stylistically, it’s not just about that one song. It’s that sound influencing the production of the whole album. What we did was pick out a William Basinski atmosphere, and that decaying… it’s another take on y’know, if you quantify shoegaze, it’s all about reverb and delay, but it’s if you take that another way, you could, y’know. What Basinski does is all about decaying tape. And it’s another tool that gets that same feeling, makes the music cloudy, muffled, and sort of wasting away, and it fits that aesthetic really well. So that track is our attempt at doing something like that style. And also, every other song has got elements of that running through it as well.
So you’re going to take this album out on the road, but you’ve not played many of its songs live yet…
AB: We’ve put it out at a bit of a weird time, cos it’s festival season. So the album comes out, and we’ve got a gig in Oxford, a gig in London, a gig in Manchester, and then a few festivals. So we can’t do what you imagine, and do the album and just go on tour for six weeks, or six months. That’ll happen later in the year. We are gonna do some dates in America, right?
SQ: Yeah! So far we’ve played… four? Five? Songs live. Obviously a few of them are quite challenging, and I don’t know how we’re going to do them live. We’ve got rehearsals booked.
AB: We’ve got acoustic rehearsals booked, so we get together at Loz’s house, with acoustic instruments, and just try and play all the new album songs. We wanna get together a whole new album set acoustic to use at some point. But it’s really good, well for me anyway, to learn them that way, without the effects, with the band. I thought they’d be harder to learn, actually.
SQ: I think the challenge is capturing what we’ve done on record, and trying to replicate that live. Or doing an even bigger version of it live. We will play all the songs live at some point.
So you’ve been back together just over two years… what’s the highlight been in terms of live shows?
AB: Field Day, off the top of my head, everything went right. It was a day like this, red hot, and sunny, in London. That never happens. Patti Smith was playing, but she didn’t want to play last, and she requested to go lower, so we were in effect headlining. We got a really big crowd, we played really well, and the wind direction blew the sound away from the houses, so someone said to our soundman ‘you can turn it up as much as you want’. So yeah, Field Day for me…
SQ: Yeah, Field Day, Primavera in Barcelona, which was going to originally be the first show, and Fujirock, in Japan.
AB: One more; we played a venue in Manchester… the Albert Hall. Have you been there?
Nah, what’s it like?
AB: Well, it’s not like the Albert Hall in London, it’s more like a theatre with one wall of stained glass windows. Is it a cinema? A theatre?
SQ: Must have been a theatre.
AB: So yeah, really great venue, really nice layout, and these windows were letting in the daying light of the day. And it was the best crowd singalong of Vapour Trail we’ve had, ever.
What are your favourite tracks to play live?
AB: Think I’d probably go for the crowd pleasers, the ones everyone likes. Like Vapour Trail; the easy ones, that everyone loves.
SQ: Drive Blind. We get to just enjoy ourselves, make as much noise as we can.
SQ: Yeah, it’s us getting self indulgent. Playing some of the new stuff has been exciting as well, cos we’re not just playing the same old songs.
AB: All I Want, we’ve only played a couple of times, but it’s really really good to play. I think it’ll get stronger and stronger throughout the tour. I’m looking forward to playing Weather Diaries as well, with the whole stormy bit.
SQ: We played Weather Diaries at Bestival, but it was a very different version to what we put on record.
Do you find yourself influenced by the current crop of shoegaze bands, who’ve taken influence from you?
AB: Well, the big one is DIIV. I’ve stolen from them, literally. I love their sound, I love what they do, and I don’t necessarily hear - I know that they’re Ride fans but - I don’t hear us as a primary influence in their sound. There’s a lot of Cure in what they do, and a lot of krautrock, NEU! and that really light on it’s feet, fast, floaty, relentless, jamming feel. And they always coat the songs in lovely guitar lines that are actually quite clean. I’ve ripped that off; I mean, Lannoy Point, is sort of similar. And there’s another band doing that called PLANET, they’ve got a song called Disaster Caster… they’ve only got a couple of single out and that’s the first single. But I have to be played stuff by people, I’m not necessarily searching for new bands. When I’m searching online, I’m normally searching for electronic stuff. But occasionally I’ll read something, like what you guys wrote about the Yak album, and I had to go and buy it because it was such a glowing review. Did you give it 10/10?
Yeah, I did.
AB: It is a great record! And there could be some of that kind of thing on the next album. Really raucous, almost like Dinosaur Jr. thrashy pop.
Already plans for the next album?
AB: Well, I wouldn’t say plans, just kind of, we’ve had a few conversations about what direction to go in. I wanted to do a metal record. It’s kind of been done, what’s the band we talked about?
AB: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, like a kind of really slowed down Black Sabbath. And also like WAND, do you know WAND?
AB: They’re also doing that kind of thing. Like a hard rock mentality with an ambient edge. Or Mogwai are doing it. But there’s something in that. They’ll be one tune at least like that. Or Sleep, that band Sleep. They take it to a ridiculous extreme, they make everything really, really super slow, and that’s one thing I wanna do.
SQ: We’ve never planned an album, it’s always happened quite naturally. “Ooh, we’ll make a shoegaze album, ooh we’ll make a pop album”.
AB: We’ve definitely conceptualised tracks, whole tracks.
SQ: And we’ve never hidden our influences, we’ve always been upfront about which bands we steal from. We are magpies.
AB: Til it goes to court and we have to shut up… But yeah, when we were doing the record, Weather Diaries, we went in with 15 songs that were demoed and written, and we’d been working on them from a much bigger bunch of tunes. It wasn’t an album as such, it was too many to be an album, so we just did tracks. Erol chose Charm Assault first. He was making the call of which song to do next, he’d always say “I fancy doing Weather Diaries or Lateral Alice” and we’d do that. So it got to the last week, we had eleven done, and thought we’d make that the album. Then there was a day where we cut the song titles up, put them on the floor and decided the flow. We knew White Sands felt like the ending, Lannoy Point feels like the start, Weather Diaries feels right in the middle, last song on side 1, conceptually.
SQ: Conceptually we were always working towards a classic vinyl single album, but because we’re so self indulgent it was too long to put on one piece of vinyl.
AB: We’ll do the director’s cut, make it shorter.
SQ: I think we’re like five minutes over the maximum we can have on one record…
AB: This was the Cali thing. Cali was supposed to fade, it was always going to be a pop song that faded after four minutes, but we did this long take of it and it became the one. It took us to double album status.
Ride's Weather Diaries is out 16th June, and the band play the Village Underground on the 12th.
They're also on tour in November, so go see 'em! DETAILS HERE
(Words: Cal Cashin)
They're also on tour in November, so go see 'em! DETAILS HERE
(Words: Cal Cashin)