Mark Gardener

Mark Gardener... Busy chap

Interview: Mark Gardener (Ride)

Published on January 30th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams

Last time we spoke with Ride legend Mark Gardener, he was entrenched in mixing and production duties for a range of new artists he’d been recording alongside engineer Nick Moorbath at their Oxford-based studio Evolution. Though Gardener remains engrossed in this new career, a string of solo performances over the past year has refuelled his songwriting muse to such an extent that not only has he started work on a long-awaited follow-up to his gorgeous 2005 LP These Beautiful Ghosts, but is also lining up further collaborations with a couple of fellow ‘indie’ institutions: namely Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins.

Messrs Gardener and Guthrie are set to hit the road together for a series of unmissable shows throughout the UK across February (click here for dates), so Rocksucker went to meet the former at his personal mixing space Ox-4-Sound for a jolly good natter about this wave of exciting new activity, all the while trying not to get too distracted by the reams of framed platinum discs and Beatles paraphernalia lining the walls, not to mention the enviable array of equipment on show.

Before we crack on, check out “The Places We Go”, the first completed track (and a rather wonderful one at that) of what will eventually become a full-length album by Mark Gardener and Robin Guthrie…

How did your recent tours go?

I’d been playing shows abroad and some people said, “You never play in the UK,” so I thought I ought to put that right. Also I’ve started to think about some new material and I’ve got into the idea of playing songs live as you’re writing them and forming them. Yeah, so I ended up doing some shows around the UK in November and that also became the odd festival – I think in three weekends I went from shows in Scotland to a festival in Hong Kong and then a festival in Poland, which was quite a lot of flying around!

The Hong Kong festival was amazing, on the banks of the water with that big skyline, so you have a sort of Manhattan-esque backdrop behind you as you’re playing. That was a great festival, and Primal Scream were playing there as well so it was nice to say hello having not seen them in a long time. It’s always surreal going to places like that because everyone’s always in a state of jet lag, and it’s surreal anyway so it becomes a dreamlike experience.

And you’re about to go back out on the road, this time with Robin Guthrie…

Yeah. One of the newer songs that I was playing was a song called “The Places We Go” which we released last July, and it’s been going down well. Although we don’t really make plans, the idea was always to go back to Robin’s in France to do some more recording. Then Robin was offered a tour around the UK in February and he asked me to be the special guest, opening the night and then closing the night with him, so that’s forced the issue a bit with us to do some more writing and recording together.

Two days after new year’s I jumped in the car and drove to the ferry, took the ferry to France and I stayed with Robin for four days, in which we wrote and recorded another two tracks. Names for them are still working titles but one we’ve been playing with called “The Dice” is probably going to be the set-closer for these dates. It was kind of written with that in mind. Now we’ve pretty much got three songs, and I’ll go back out there in April to do another two or three songs so it’s getting to the point where we’ll have an album’s worth of material for a Mark Gardener and Robin Guthrie album.

Alongside that I’ve started getting bits and pieces together for what will hopefully be the long-awaited next solo record! I definitely want to start getting some stuff out there because over the last few years I’ve been busy with other things, but then that’s been good because I wanted to get my mixing/production head and hat on. Now I’ve got some skills together, I can use it on my own record. It’s good not to feel reliant on studios. I’ll be using here, also Evolution studios and I might even go and do a bit of recording in the States as well, maybe do some recording with Sky Parade – they backed me for last year’s Australian tour, which also went really well. That was the other tour I did since we last spoke and that went incredibly well. Melbourne was a sell-out: there were nine hundred people there, when I was expecting about three hundred! They were probably the biggest solo gigs I’ve played to date, I guess.

These shows have inspired me to get back playing more than I have been – to try and stay busy with the studio work, which I’m loving as well, but also to get myself a bit more active and out there as a performer, which I still love to do obviously.

What kind of artists have you been working with lately?

There’s been quite a lot going on in the last few months. I did a record with an artist called Andrew Pearse that’s just been released – it’s called The Hiding Days and it’s stripped down, soulful and really nice. They’re songs that he’s had around him for a long time. I don’t think he’s got any great designs on being a pop star in any way but it’s nice because he’s releasing stuff that’s really close to him, and it’s turned out really good.

The Co-Pilgrim album was all mixed and produced over a year ago and has been getting some plays on 6 Music, which is great to hear, and it’s being properly released in a week, I think, on Battle Records. That album’s called A Fairer Sea and the video is doing the rounds now. It’s great to see someone I really rate coming through, and deservedly so.

Last year I also mixed an artist going under the name of Honkeyfinger – I won’t reveal who he is yet, and he hasn’t told me yet when the album will come out, but it’s an interesting record. It’s great stuff, very out there, with digital distortion and socially conscious lyrics. It’s a pretty berserk kind of record, which is quite a contrast to some of the albums I’ve been doing. 

I’m just finishing an album for a new artist called Cagey Bee, which is at the final mixing stages and should all be finished pretty soon, and also towards the end of last year I recorded two more songs with The Naturals – I’m not sure yet what’s going on with that, maybe they’ll be doing more, but I love the band. They’re a really interesting band from Bristol and I think they’re going to do really well. I know quite a few people are sniffing around and keeping an eye on what The Naturals are up to, so if they let me know as well it’d be good!

I did a couple of mixes for a great local band called The Epstein – it’s kind of Americana-y, with great tunes, and I just did a mix for a French band called Dead Horse One, which is sort of sonic and again really good. We just finished a single called “Hopper”. Then I’m also going to do more recording with Desert Ships, who again have been starting to break through a little bit – I think the video for their song “Control”, one of my favourites from their last album, has been doing the rounds, and they want to do another single so I’ll be getting them back to Oxford and into Evolution studios.

What’s the setup like at Evolution? How much work do you do there compared to how much you do here?

It’s working really well because it’s like a proper mix space here. I find it helpful, because it can be tricky when you’re changing studios all the time, like I was when I was getting my mixing ears on. It was vital for me to get a stable mix room to work in all the time and be totally tuned into – it makes mixing easier and I’m more confident as a result. For the recording side of things I’m now working at Evolution, which is a new studio opened in Oxford by Nick Moorbath, who used to play keyboards for us in the latter days of Ride. He’s a great guy, used to run the Zodiac nightclub in Oxford before it was bought out by the O2 Academy. 

Mark Gardener's personal mixing space Ox-4-Sound

The Evolution setup is fantastic. The legendary Sawmills studio that made The Stone Roses’ first album, Supergrass’s first album, The Verve’s first recordings and where Ride did Carnival of Light…well, their main desk  was a Trident 80b, which is also a desk that they swear by in Nashville. A lot of the Nashville studios went and got the English Trident desks, also David Bowie and Lou Reed made them quite famous by using them a lot, and Queen. So it’s a proper vintage English sort of desk.

The control room of Evolution studios, with its Trident mixing desk

At Sawmills studios they always sort of had three desks that became one, interchanged all the modules, so we did a deal to get parts of the three desks to make another desk. There’s still a desk at Sawmills, but desks two and three have now become one desk, all been refurbed and is now being used in Evolution studios. From a tech head’s production and mixing point of view, it’s just a joy working with files coming through that desk – it’s just got that voodoo, whatever it is, that space and warmth about it that’s just great. I love recording people there and you kind of realise that, although those bands were special, that desk has got a sound that’s delivered all of those classic records, and long may it continue! We’re very lucky that it’s just down the road in Oxford now.

Basically, we do all the recording at Evolution, then I take all the files and mix it here. Beyond that, there’s mastering with Tim Turan Audio, which is also up the road. He just did Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous album, he did Madness’s One Step Beyond, remastering Slade’s back catalogue…he’s just doing everybody! So from recording to mixing to mastering, it’s all taken care of over those three places. These are people I’ve known for years and they’re all still as enthusiastic and crazy about the music as they’ve ever been, really. If they weren’t then they’d have stopped doing this a long time ago. 

At a time when a lot of the great studios have sadly been closing down, we opened one in Oxford and it’s been doing okay. It’s been getting busier and busier, and geographically it’s in a good location because Oxford is never that far to get to from around the country, unless you live in Inverness or something. 

Furthermore, Evolution is next door to Electric Avenue.

(Laughs) It is. Eddie Grant is bound to come along at any point on his motorbike! But yeah, Evolution’s going well – Frank Turner and people like that have worked there already, and obviously I’ll be using it to rehearse with Robin Guthrie when he arrives next week, that is if I get all this mixing finished in time!

You mentioned that you might be doing more work with Anton Newcombe?

Yeah, I spoke – well, exchanged a few tweets – with Anton. Obviously I did the track “Monkey Powder” with him over in Reykjavik in pretty chaotic circumstances. Anton’s now in Berlin, he’s got a new studio and seems to be in great form, making a lot of really great and interesting music, sort of more beats-based. There’s definitely a chance that we’ll do something in the next few months. It’s a collaboration we’ve talked about doing for years, and maybe some of those things could end up becoming a part of my new solo album – or become something else on its own, I don’t know. Anton seems to put things out as soon as they’ve been made these days.

Mark Gardener, thank you.

Mark Gardener will be touring the UK alongside Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins throughout February – click here for dates. For more information, please visit markgardener.com or www.evolutionstudios.co.uk

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.