Ride and the Cocteau Twins – two iconic bands, each with an unmistakable, unique sound. You could call them legendary, with a fan base no less devoted than they ever were. Ride has reformed and is touring again, playing festivals and small venues, to ecstatic fans. The Guardian gave their live show five stars and said that the band “plays…with the care and passion of musicians who made – and still make – an emotional connection.” Meanwhile, Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins has been touring as a trio and demonstrating his mastery of the ethereal, powerful sound that made the Cocteau Twins so special. Now take Mark Gardener from Ride and Robin Guthrie, and put them together in a room in France, to work on songs together. The end result was Universal Road, the album that they recently released together. Lyrically emotional, sonically euphoric, the combination of their energies reveals a shared musical passion that’s melodic and complex. Shoegaze may be experiencing a resurgence of interest, but this album both encompasses and transcends that energy. Whether you were devoted to these bands back in the day, or never heard of them, the album is an unmissable listen, with a timeless quality that looks towards the future. Northern Transmissions wanted to hear the story behind the album. Alice Severin spoke with Mark Gardener about working with Robin Guthrie, life after Ride, and the unexplained.
Northern Transmissions: How are you and where are you?
Mark Gardener: I am in Oxford at the moment, I’m back in the studio, just doing little bits of mix work between all the Ride shows, and stuff like that. Obviously doing interviews, and just being close to home, things like that. My other life. My other world. (laughs)
NT: You have a studio there?
MG: I have just a small mix room in Oxford, it’s my kind of thing, it’s not like a commercial big studio. It’s just where I do mixing and production and overdub stuff. I don’t have bands here, or anything, it’s not like that. If I do that, I use a different studio in Oxford or somewhere else. This is just my own little thing really.
NT: How did you start working on the album with Robin Guthrie? What gave you both the idea of doing something like this?
MG: Well, we’ve known each other for years, really. We used to see each other on occasion back in the day, when he was in the Cocteau Twins and I was in Ride. Robin worked with some bands that we toured with, Lush, and people like that. So… At that time I was a big fan of the Cocteau Twins, in fact Ride were big fans of many of the 4AD bands. I think if we’d not been on Creation, we’d have liked to have been on 4AD. So there was always that kind of mutual respect in place from an early time. I have to say that one of the very early CDs I bought was Treasure by the Cocteau Twins, I think it was like my third CD that I bought. So yeah, basically that was then. Robin came to Oxford to do a tour, he was doing a tour of picture houses, I think it was a Lumière tour that he was doing, for one of his records where he was playing music to visuals. Basically, I went to that, and I was asked if maybe I wanted to DJ there, although that didn’t really happen. But we did end up just going and having some food together, and properly having a chat. Maybe that was 8 years ago. It’s quite a long, long time ago. It was then that we sort of said, because we were both doing quite a lot of mixing and production, I’d obviously been doing quite a lot of collaboration work with various artists and people. More of that will come out soon as well. But basically it was there and then that we said, I’d like to come out to France, maybe we should try and do something together.
So maybe a year after that, I went over to France and that’s when we did the single which was called “The Places We Go” which you can find online. It was just an online single, a sort of test the water thing between us. Then we got a lot of positive response from that and we both thought it was really good, and it worked quite well, my voice with Robin’s orchestration and stuff. Then about three years ago, or a couple of winters ago anyway, Robin said, look, I’m going to go on tour with my band, he tours a three piece, just doing his instrumental stuff. And he said, come over, let’s try and do another song or two. And then basically we can do that live on stage as part of the tour. So I went back over, and that’s when we did “Dice” together, which we did play live at the end of all of those concerts. We did a UK tour during February, which was quite a tough tour but it was great to play with him and the band. And then we said look, we’ve got to try and get together and do an album, because it’s worked really well.
A few months after that, I went over to France. And we got another four or five songs together very quickly, within 10 days I guess. And I just said, look, why don’t I just stay, and let’s carry on, you know? And sure enough, in another couple of weeks, just me staying in France, we did the album. So the album actually happened pretty quickly. But it was just finding…we’re both really busy doing production stuff, which is obviously how I’ve been, how we’ve both been paying the bills, post being in the Cocteau Twins and Ride. It was just tough trying to find time and space within our schedules, because obviously we’re not being paid to do this, it’s just something we did for the love. So we just had to find that sort of good bit of down time to kind of do it, really. And basically, that’s how it all happened, really.
NT: Did you have a specific idea of the sound you were looking for, or was it more experimental, the process of writing songs?
MG: No, you know, Robin kind of has the sound, you know. I love that sound. Obviously, Robin was the Cocteau Twins minus Elizabeth Fraser, so I understand the sounds that Robin makes, and obviously his instrumental work also, I love that, it’s beautiful.