Monday, December 18, 2006

The Return of the Choir Boy on Acid

Mark Gardener (with Goldrush) - Where Are You Now? (electric)

We’re ending the year on a high with an exclusive interview with Mark Gardener. Mark (formerly of Ride, in case you live under a stone) released his debut solo album 'These Beautiful Ghosts' back in 2005, but you might not know that as it has yet to get a full release in the UK. However, the excellent Sonic Cathedral label released an album track, 'The Story of the Eye', complete with a killer remix from Ulrich Schnauss, as a limited edition 7” last Monday (11th December).

Mark kindly took some time out to talk to TWNR about his solo career, the end of Ride, the evolution of the music industry and his plans for the future in this awesome interview. He has also donated an exclusive 'Electric' mix of the gorgeous album track 'Where Are You Now?', which is available to download for a limited period. It’s a wonderful song, with lush 12-string plucking and fantastic harmonious ‘Ahhhhing’, reminiscent of the golden era of his former band. Special thanks to Dave Newton and Nat from Sonic Cathedral for making it happen. Read on...

Joe C: Hi Mark. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for The White Noise Revisited; you are a legend on these pages. Where are you now and how are things?

Mark G: When I’m not touring around I’m now based back in Oxford after four years of living in the wilds of France and lots of time based in New York last year when I was pulling the album together.

JC: I was lucky enough to get hold of a copy of your debut solo album ‘These Beautiful Ghosts’ from Oxford Music last year, but many of our readers may not even know you have a record out. How come you’ve been able to get deals in Europe and the States, but still haven’t sorted anything concrete out in the UK? Can UK residents get the album, and if so, where from?

MG: That’s a good question and one that I ask myself too! I was approached in the States and Europe by some good indie labels who were committed to releasing the album and working it along with me playing some solo and band shows to help promote it so that’s what happened and that’s been keeping me busy .

So far no English indie label that would make a difference to me releasing my own album on my own label has shown any interest so that is why it has not, as yet, been officially released in the UK. I haven’t been in a position to release the album myself in the UK as I’m still on a loss from making and funding the record. It’s not so easy to make a living in these days of free downloads etc but that keeps you on your toes and certainly keeps life very interesting!!!!! I am hopeful that in time this situation will change and the album will eventually be officially released here in the UK. UK residents can buy the album online at iTunes and a limited edition version is still available on line at Oxford Music, which will be joined by a DVD of the making of the record, with an interview, extra clips and songs early next year, as soon as the DVD has been finished.

JC: It’s hard to talk to you without mentioning Ride, as they were such a massive band for me, and for many of our readers. The weird thing is, I wasn’t that disappointed when you split – ‘Tarantula’ was a pretty awful album and it was obvious things weren’t working out between you all. The disappointing thing for me was what happened next. It was always going to be hard to follow Ride, and I was initially excited by your solo release on Shifty Disco (a re-recorded version of the gorgeous track ‘Magdalen Sky’ appears on ‘These Beautiful Ghosts’), but both The Animal House and Hurricane # 1 were a huge letdown. Was this down to unfair expectations and the inevitable comparisons? Or do you just think the bands weren’t good enough?

MG: Well, nothing lasts forever and it was time to split as far as I was concerned as the band had stopped playing to it’s strengths and we were all burnt out with it all as we hadn’t really stopped since we started. More bands should split up before they end up kidding themselves into thinking that they can kid the audience. As a musician and a music fan, I think it’s quite easy to hear when the chemistry has gone from bands and you wish they would stop, or tear up the old formula and do something new and interesting again or get a different job! More bands should split up!!!

I don’t have a problem talking about Ride so it’s okay to “mention it”! I’m at peace with my past and very happy that Ride seems to have stood the test of time, which for me is always the real test in the end of any musical or artistic venture. Now that I’ve had some time and space away from being in the middle of Ride I can listen to it all in a fresh way now and I’m also a big fan! The Animal House for me was more of a studio-based project that was only ever going to be a one album experimental project. The disaster for me as far as Animal House was concerned was signing and dealing with a major label (BMG) at a time when the majors were panicking big time about the impact of the net. So few people ever heard or knew about the record, so who knows if it was good enough, it never really had a chance. This put me off ever wanting to deal with the music industry again for a while, and played a big part in my relocation to the wilds of France to detox from all of this and feel good about writing music again.

JC: It’s taken a while, but I really feel like ‘These Beautiful Ghosts’ contains the first recordings from either you or Andy that are worthy of Ride’s legacy. There’s a depth and beauty to the tracks that make it an album I keep on coming back to. Your voice has also matured a great deal – the vocal’s are stronger than anything you’ve done before. You must be very proud. It feels like it’s come out of nowhere, though having followed your career, I know that you’ve been touring the songs for ages. Has it been frustrating having to wait so long to get the album out? I haven’t seen many reviews in the UK – has the record been well received? How important is critical acclaim to you?

MG: Thank you! I am proud of the record. I have not stopped singing and writing so I think this is why the vocals are sounding stronger than before. All of the more stripped down acoustic shows and not being able to hide behind noise have also really helped me develop the songs and vocals. It also helps when you can actually hear your voice and what you are singing which was not so easy during the Ride days! The process has not been so frustrating as I have personally funded making the record along with the good people who pre-bought the album before they had heard it through my website. It’s been a step at a time sort of project which was the only way that I could make the record and as I can’t be in more than one place at one time, I have had to play in the different countries at the times that the record has been released.

It’s always a pleasure to read positive reviews of a project that you have put so much time and effort into. I do respect some writers and mags opinions especially those that are still talking music and are not so affected by fashion and style, which seems to be the way that sadly many music magazines have gone, especially in the UK. At the end of the day I’m probably my own hardest critic and I’ve always been more concerned about what close friends think about what I am doing as I am of journalists who don’t know me and can have many other personal agendas that don’t have so much to do with music.

JC: The album is credited as being by Mark Gardener (with Goldrush). Who are they and how did you get together with them? Were you ever tempted to form a new band with them, or did you always want the record to be released under your name?

MG: Goldrush are a local Oxford band who I saw in concert a long time ago and I really liked them. Robin, the singer, offered his and the bands services to me when they realised that I was going it alone. At that time, this worked really well as we played many shows together where Goldrush would play their set and then I would do a few solo numbers and then the band would join me and back me for the rest of the night. It was great to have a group of great guys and players around and we played many great shows together. Goldrush are their own band with their own music and schedule so it was never an option for me to form a new band with them.

I’m really enjoying the freedom of being a solo artist and feeling in control of my destiny, and I do not miss moving around as five or more people and being in the same space with the same group of people all the time. I enjoy the variety and adventure of jumping around between different musical collaborations and projects. This variety helps keep me fresh, busy and inspired. I wanted to remove the veils and hiding places of band names and project names and tell it like it was which is why the album had to be Mark Gardener with Goldrush. Other musicians who played on the album include Sacha from The Morning After Girls, Grasshopper and Suzanne Thorpe from Mercury Rev, Gene Park, Cat Martino, Kaye Phillips and Clive Poole.

JC: There’s a fantastic mixture of styles on the album, but folk and country dominate. There are some heart-melting harmonies on tracks like ‘Rhapsody’ and ‘Summer Turns To Fall’. Who were the major influences on you while you were recording?

MG: The record reflects the fact that I was playing many shows solo acoustically along with many shows with Goldrush, which is where some of the more folky country feel was coming from. I wanted the record to feel pretty stripped down and direct. During my time in the wilds of France I listened a lot to records such as ‘Sea Changes’ by Beck, ‘Grace’ by Jeff Buckley, Manu Chao and The Cinematic Orchestra amongst many others. These records helped spur me on at times to keep on keeping on with my solo project. I’ve always been a massive fan of strong vocal harmony bands such as the Beatles, Beach Boys, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, The Byrds, The Band etc so I’ve always loved combining different vocals and voices and tried my best to create “heart melting” harmonies!!

JC: You still play a few Ride tracks in your live sets. Is this to keep the hecklers quiet, as I bet fans are always shouting out for Ride songs? Or is it because you still enjoy playing them? Can you foresee a time when you’ll just tour Mark Gardener material?

MG: I think I’ll always play a few Ride songs here and there, if people want to hear them. It’s interesting and always fun to play songs that I have written recently along with songs that I have written, sang or played on in the past. I have no problem with this and it’s a great way to test new material and make sure that it stands up with the older material. People understand that I’m moving forward with new material and I understand that people still want to hear some older songs. Plus it can be very mutually moving to air a few old songs in a more intimate and acoustic way closer to the way they were first created before the white noise!!!

JC: Sonic Cathedral is putting ‘The Story of the Eye’ out as a single on December 11th 2006. It’s one of my favourite tracks from the album – it has a nice dubby feel to it. The Ulrich Schnauss remix is brilliant as well and I’m sure his profile will help a new generation discover your music. How did you hook up with Sonic Cathedral? Ulrich has been flying the shoegazing flag for a while now, supporting all the old tunes and pioneering a new wave of affiliated sounds – were you aware of his work? If so, are you a fan?

MG: Nat who created the Sonic Cathedral club and now label has been flying the flag for a while and I’ve played some of the Sonic Cathedral club nights so this was how the connection was made to Sonic Cathedral, in a similar way to the Ulrich Schnauss connection. I think a mutual appreciation of a lot of great and at times overlooked interesting music has brought us all together. In the old Creation days the music was always driving all the connections that were happening and this feels a bit like that again which is great. I first heard Ulrich Schnauss a few years ago when I played a show in Berlin and have been a fan ever since.

JC: I know many people who are clamouring for a Ride reunion, but personally, I’m not bothered, providing you continue in this rich vein of song writing form. Having said that, sometimes I miss the psychedelic fuzz - are you ever tempted to get the old Rickenbacker out and stamp on the distortion pedal one more time?

MG: Yes... I actually played a Telecaster and stamped on a distortion pedal on my last band show in Paris and I also miss psychedelic fuzz so long may it continue!!!

JC: What next for Mark Gardener? I hear you’ve got a new backing band. How’s that working out? Will you be recording new material with them?

MG: The new backing band has been working out very well. I’m sure some new recordings will happen with them amongst a few others. I just spent a week working with Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) in France, which has been very interesting and new songs are now starting to happen along with more new and different collaborations. January and February are looking busy with shows and then... ??!?!?!?!

JC: You come across as a mellow, together guy, totally unaffected by everything that has happened to you. What’s the secret? Are you actually content with your lot, or do you still feel you have something to prove?

MG: I guess I come across in this way and I’m happy with that, but it’s not always how I feel on the inside and life outside of music has often felt anything but mellow and together for me. I think I’m as confused as the next person, but I guess I have a positive outlet for this with my music, which can also act like a kind of cathartic self-help therapy session for me and help me to try and make some kind of sense of it all! I don’t feel content and I still have a great desire and hunger to keep on making music.

I don’t know what else I would do in my life if I wasn’t doing music and I feel blessed and very happy that I can continue to travel, write and play to people and to work with other great musicians. I still feel like a kid in a toyshop when I’m in a studio and still feel a real sense of wonder with music, art, people, places, creativity and life in general.

It’s a very interesting time to be alive and making music with all the new technology, which can enable you to do so much more recording and interacting with the public and musicians without the need of big recording budgets, studios and middlemen to try to sell and make people aware of what you are doing. I’m really enjoying the feeling of being able to be more direct with the people who have been into what I’ve been doing in the past and present and to operate more independently in what feels like a bit more DIY kind of cottage industry again. So all in all “Power to the People” and long may it continue!!!!

JC: Have you got any plans for Christmas? Everyone at The White Noise Revisited wishes you seasonal joy and hopes that next year is a blinder for you, on a personal and musical level.

MG: Just to get through it!!!
Many thanks and a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all at The White Noise Revisited.
My best,

Buy the Special Edition of Mark Gardener's 'These Beautiful Ghosts' from Oxford Music - there's only four copies left!
Piero's excellent Mark Gardener microsite
Mark Gardener at My Space
Buy Mark Gardener 'The Story of the Eye' limited 7" (featuring Ulrich Schnauss Remix) from Sonic Cathedral shop
Mark's US label UFO Music
Mark at Dutch label Anorak Supersport
Official Ride website
Ulrich Schnauss website
Goldrush website