I'll be honest: I didn't like Ride the first time I heard them.
The UK shoegaze icons, who headline April 16 at Humphreys by the Bay, were like anything else I tried for the first time -- coffee, beer, sushi, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan -- they've all got learning curves, if you will. Of course, not all the curves were as egregious as some (dude, it took some real effort to get used to Waits) but there was always an arc of sorts. And with a newfound appreciation came a certain sense of accomplishment. When you finally settled into fandom, it felt like you had leveled up in the game of life.
For the uninitiated, the genre "shoegaze" takes some getting used to. It's a dense, long-evolving sound that typically abandons the immediate accessibility of pop song structures for a slower, more drawn-out, ethereal feel. Ride's music isn't difficult to get into by any means, but you have to want it. If you're not in the mood, forget it. Needless to say, I wasn't in the mood all those years ago (thanks, teenage impatience) and I let the band's co-vocalist/guitarist, Andy Bell, know it when we spoke on the phone.
"This interview is over," he said laughing.
After quickly assuring him (as if he needed it) that I revisited Ride's catalog including four studio albums: 1990's "Nowhere," 1992's "Going Blank Again," 1994's "Carnival of Light" and 1996's "Tarantula" -- and ending up making a huge connection to them. We then talked about how life and personal experience changes music over time.
"Every time you listen to an album, you get something new," Bell told me. "It’s a new moment. When you hear something 10 years later, you’ve been through so much in your life during that time, you hear things in a new way."
It's a poignant statement coming from a man re-approaching his band's music again after two decades. The band rose in popularity throughout the '90s with other like-minded bands such as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and the Stone Roses, but Ride (which, in addition to Bell, includes guitarist/vocalist Mark Gardener, drummer Laurence Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt) called it quits in 1996, before their much-criticized "Tarantula" was even released.
Intra-band tension had torn the group apart at that point, with Gardener wanting to take the band in a more dance-oriented direction while Bell objected. The disconnect was apparent even on "Carnival of Light," with the musicians literally penning separate sides of the album. Even though there was some strife between the two, Bell says now that their friendship never fully deteriorated.
"It’s funny thinking about that stuff," he said. "But it never got really bad, you know? It was always like, 'We’re all in this together.' When Mark pulled the plug on it, I was still fully onboard and in denial about it. [For Ride], there was a very clear rise, there was a peak, and there was a steady decline. We could all see it -- no one was saying anything -- but all of us could sense it."
After the band's dissolution, Gardener went off to a solo career, and Bell formed Hurricane #1 before eventually joining some band called Oasis, and then Liam Gallagher's Beady Eye, until those groups called it quits. Over the years, Ride fans would speculate every so often on reunion rumors. And they'd steadily get shot down. So what's changed?
"This conversation has been rumbling along for a few years," Bell explained. "During that time, I’ve gone from saying, 'Bands should never reunite,' to then watching it happen to bands like the Stone Roses; going to those gigs, I felt really emotional about the music and I couldn’t believe I was hearing songs like 'Fools Gold' live -- it just began chipping away at my cynical attitude toward these reunion things. And just the fact of being older, and being quite a sentimental person, I’ve really taken to it. The last time it was brought up -- three weeks of shows in the UK, NYC, Toronto, some Europe shows -- we all just looked at it and said, 'Okay, this could work.' It wasn’t in the way of anyone’s schedule and it just seemed like the right time. It was like now or never, you know?"
For fans that have waited 20 years for this tour (which includes performances at this year's Coachella festival), it's sweet music to their ears. Some grew up listening to their treasured Ride records, while others weren't even born before the band's breakup and are just now digging in. For Bell, it's almost like he's hearing their songs for the first time, too.
"Perspective is a wonderful thing," says Bell. "We all wish we could have it in the moment. We’ve been gifted this great perspective, along with the opportunity to go back and do this again. That's really rare. You wouldn’t often get this in life. It’s like being allowed to have another go at something that you have always felt was unfinished, really. Even though it was finished -- it was done in a really unsatisfying way. So, I don’t know who’s to say how long this part of the story will go on for, but just to have these gigs is a big closure in my life and a massive pleasure to be doing it with my old mates. It’s great."
And what about the question all of us are wondering: Will there be new Ride music in the future?
"I don’t want to predict what’s going to happen," Bell said, cautiously optimistic. "It’s enough to think about delivering something worthy of everyone’s expectations for these shows. I just want to get things right, and play all the songs everyone wants to hear and play them really well. After that -- if we nail that then maybe. Yeah, maybe.”
Ride headline Humphreys by the Bay on Thurs., April 16. Tickets are $38 (plus fees) and will be available at the door due to online ticketing issues. The band also performs on Friday, April 17 at the 2015 Coachella Music & Art Festival.