Before there was Britpop but after the revival of 1960s fashion and music ideas that arrived at the end of the 1980s there was a band called Ride. Do you remember them? They, er, rode in on the end of 1980s, sneaking in behind the success of The Stone Roses and around the noise of My Bloody Valentine. Ride wasn't quite a shoegaze band, nor was it just a psychedelic-pop act; there were layers - lots of layers - and though the band fell apart in the mid 1990s the early singles, EPs and debut album, Nowhere, still sound fresh and pleasing to my ears.
So it was - revisiting some Ride after hearing that Mark Gardener would be touring New Zealand - that I found myself on the phone with Gardener. He's made himself over as an acoustic one-man-band and has a studio he runs, finding steady work as a film composer and producer. He's as interested in sound and sounds as ever and feels good about the way he approaches his own work now. When he tells me, almost in a rush, at the start of our chat that he "fell out of love with the industry but never with music", it sets the tone for our discussion. It feels like a philosophy.
So let's answer the obvious question for Ride fans straight away - yes, Gardener will be performing songs from his back catalogue.
"I wouldn't come to New Zealand and not play the songs that people know. I would expect people to want to hear Ride songs and I'll be playing plenty of the work from the band as well as some new solo songs. Basically, it's me and my loop pedal and we'll be addressing the last 20 years of my life."
But the change - from layers of electric guitar and the slow build and steady swell of the band around him to solo troubadour - wasn't an easy, overnight thing.
"I think with Ride - for whatever reasons, and there were several - we left the stage at the right time. It might not have ended all that well but we're all on speaking terms now and we're all in touch. But it took a while before I was ready to look back at the material. I moved on to another band, The Animalhouse, and then it was time for a break - for a while." Here Gardener laughs at the memory as he admits, "it is a bit of a bad rock cliché but I actually went to an ashram in India..."
When the laughter stops, he resumes the timeline.
"I was living in France, on a walnut orchard - and I was happy for a time away from music, away from that scene. And then, around 2001, 2002 I started to get back into music. I had been in bands, Ride, Animalhouse, I'd done bands and so I started to work on the idea of being a solo performer. I wanted to be self-sufficient."
And there were offers coming in...
"For the last decade, really, I've done acoustic shows, I've worked up an act - it started off with invites to festivals and there have been American tours and there are new songs but there are always the Ride songs too."
So how do they sound, stripped back, their earlier sonic threads removed?
"It's interesting," Gardener says, and then pauses. He (possibly) rethinks. "In fact, and I say this in all honesty, the songs were - in most cases - written that way. These songs really were built up from an acoustic guitar, or one guitar and then obviously the guys in the band added bits, we jammed, the usual thing, sure - but in terms of the writing, the idea, most often it came from the guitar - just me and a guitar, or me and Andy [Bell] with guitars. So it's been really nice to reconnect with them in this way.
"And I say this as a guy who was known for layering things up - but I actually love to hear vocals, to hear singing, and here I have to do that - in a way it's a tough gig to pull off, because there's nowhere for you to hide. But I like it. I'm used to it now. This is what I do."
It's been a way of finding peace with his past too.
"There was rage for a while, definitely", and Gardener breaks into a long laugh - "and that's where the ashram came into it, learning to deal with that baggage, to not let your past haunt you. But I enjoy playing this material. And I enjoy playing it in this way - I don't want to diss people for doing this but the big reunion shows don't interest me. People need to make money and I understand that but I'm my own boss now, no one's making me come to New Zealand and Australia to do shows and though there is payment involved I'm not doing it for the money. In the case of New Zealand - it's a place I've always wanted to visit and how great to get to see some of it while I'm there on tour."
But one thing he does do for the money - in the sense of earning a living, there's a lot of passion in this project too - is work the studio. Over the last decade Gardener has set himself up to be in a position now where he has plenty of production work, composing, arranging; it is, he tells me "varied".
"It's part of the being-your-own-boss approach - I work on all sorts of projects and it's demanding but it's very rewarding. I've definitely pushed a 'less is more' approach which is funny coming from me, someone who really did layer stuff up, as I say, but I'm always saying to artists 'let's not overdo the overdubs, all right?'" and there's another break for a laugh at this point.
The production and composing work recently saw Gardener confronting his past once again with the movie, Upside Down: The Creation Records Story.
"I sort of fell into that project really, I was one of the early interviews for the film - because of our involvement with the label with Ride. I was interviewed early on for whatever reason. And then I remember thinking that if there was going to be a film about Alan McGee it would take a special person. And that was the director, Danny O'Connor. When I met him I knew that he would be the one to make the quintessential documentary to capture all that madness about Alan and Creation. And he did that. So it was amazing to work on the music - they needed some simple cues for some of the interviews and he'd seen my studio so that was it. In terms of the work I did for the film it would be McGee talking about drug breakdowns and I'd have Danny calling out to 'make it weird' and to 'make it more purple', stuff like that, which I really liked. We had our own language."
Ride is receiving plenty of interest from a whole new audience these days - with reissues of the band's work.
"The legacy has grown for the band and I think part of that comes from leaving it at the right time - I never got Suede or for that matter Britpop - and I think with Ride we were lucky to be on the edge of various scenes, rather than just any one. And we were edgy and we refused to repeat ourselves. And I can say, now, that I'm actually a fan of the band's work - you never say that at the time. And it might seem a bit silly, but enough time has passed. I went off to do my thing, Andy went on to Oasis and that was fine - and then you go back to the music, you hear it, and now I'm playing those songs in a different way - back to how they started in some cases - and you can appreciate what we were trying to do at the time."
Gardener tells me that a special recent memory was after a solo show in Munich where an old factory was fitted out with lighting and a sound system and "they had DJs and there were all these 20-year-old hipster-types and next thing the DJ drops Polar Bear and there were these young kids just digging it. And I thought f**k yeah, you know what I mean, great, it sounded fresh. I'm probably not supposed to say that about my own song. But it did."
Mark Gardener plays Mighty Mighty in Wellington, Thursday, August 9 (tomorrow night); Kings Arms in Auckland, Friday August 10 and Wunder Bar in Christchurch, Saturday, August 11 - be sure to go along for the Ride!
So are you looking forward to seeing Mark Gardener live? Were you/are you a Ride fan? Do you have favourite albums or songs? And did you see Ride live back in the day?