Bell has played his way through the evolution of guitar effects, from stompboxes to rackmount units back to stompboxes, and now performs with two pedalboards filled with boxes. Photo by Kazumichi Kokei
Ride is associated with using effects. Were you using them early on?
I used them back then, but it was quite basic. I had a small Boss multi-effects box with delay, chorus, distortion, and one other thing I can’t remember. The biggest thing was when I added a wah pedal, though. When I got that it was like “ahhhhh … oh yeah.” I used it all the time, to the point that the other guys were saying, “Andy … you have to ration this thing. Every song can’t go ‘Wah! Wah! Wah! Wah!’’’ I still use one all the time, but more like a solo boost now. I’ve figured out my style with it. I know it’s sweep really well, and where the notches are. Sometimes I’ll turn it on and just leave it in one position.
When you went into the studio to make Nowhere,were you excited about what the studio offered, now that you had figured out your aesthetic?
Our first EP was basically cobbled out of demos, really. The second was done by going into the studio with an idea. We did four songs and we were out of material, so we did a loud jam that was intended for the full album [Nowhere], but didn’t use it because we decided we didn’t want to carry anything over. We wanted to start from scratch with Nowhere. We spent more time at the console, taking more control of the songs.
We’d had arguments with the engineer when we made theEPs. The whole thing was a big battle. There was a right way and a wrong way, and in his mind we were doing it the wrong way. By the time we were ready to make Nowhere, we’d found Marc Waterman. He had worked in the EMI demoing studio, where we prepared for the album, and was the same age as us. We knew we could work with him. Not only was he not always saying no, he was saying, “Yeah, that’s cool, let’s do that!” Nowhere was his first big break, moving from engineer to producer. The thing is, we pushed him so far that he got a bit worn out, so Alan Moulder [Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails] came in to mix it. He went on to produce our next one [Going Blank Again]. That record was yet another step up, and we spent even more time in the control room, using things like the Eventide Ultra-Harmonizer on the guitars—especially for lead parts. We used slave tape machines, tried backwards parts, slowing things down and speeding them up, editing two songs together. There were more “studio as an instrument” ideas than on Nowhere. While Nowhere is more sophisticated than the EPs before it, at its core it’s still basically a rehearsal captured.
Reproducing things live must have presented a challenge.
We had versions of the songs, then demoed them, then made the album. But when it was time to play live, we referred back to the first versions of the songs, before production was added. It wasn’t essential to make it exactly like the record. We did a few takes of [Nowhere’s] “Seagull” in the studio and one became the version—the one on the album—but live it would be different every night. The only time we listened back to the albums as a reference was when we reunited, much later. A song like “Cool Your Boots” [from Going Blank Again] had a randomness to it, and we had to learn that randomness. On the current tour we’ve been able to take advantage of new technology. In the past we could never hear our singing or what we were doing—just the roar of our guitars and drums. Now, with in-ears, we can hear everything crystal clear. It makes us play a lot better than we did before!
Andy Bell displays his signature Rickenbacker 12-string chime and his addiction to wah repeatedly during this 1991 performance from the companion DVD to the 25th anniversary edition of Ride’s classic album, Nowhere, issued in time for the group’s 2015 reunion tour. Co-guitarist Mark Gardener also muddies the sonic waters by flogging his Jazzmaster’s vibrato arm mercilessly, and the tune ends in an effects pedal driven crescendo that reveals the beating heart within Ride’s shoegaze sound.
Oddly, in some ways pedalboards have become lower tech, with the return to stompboxes.
Yeah, the first time around I was using a Boss DS-1 Distortion, a Cry Baby wah, and a rackmount Roland GP-16 to handle all of the rest of the sounds. Now I use two pedalboards stuffed with stompboxes and no rack gear. My wish finally came true, though, and I have a backwards guitar pedal now. The Eventide TimeFactor makes it so I can do things like play the intro on “Seagull” more like the way we recorded it.
Are there any guitars you used back then that you are using on this tour?
Yeah, both Rickenbacker 12-strings I bought when we got signed. I’m still using the exact ones I recorded “Seagull” and “Vapour Trail” [also from Nowhere] with.
Right now I’m building quite a big modular synth setup around my guitar. Snazzy FX in New York City has made me something that allows me to plug in a guitar and use it as a CV controller. It’s fun getting to know the modules. The Phonogene from Make Noise is one of my favorites. That’s where it’s going for me, and I’m so excited about it. I’ll be recording and releasing music I make with it.