"Sometimes I feel like I’m not an artist, I’m more like a label boss and all of the artists on the roster..." - hmv.com talks to Andy Bell
In a career spanning more than three decades, beginning with his stint as a founding member of influential Oxford shoegazers Ride, there isn't much Andy Bell hasn't done. After Ride's split in 1996, Bell went on to replace Paul 'Guigsy' McGuigan in the new-look Oasis line-up, which eventually morphed into Beady Eye following Noel Gallagher's departure.
On top of that there have been stints in bands such as Hurricane #1 and work with the likes of The Most and Weeping Willows, as well as electronic side projects such as his work with Magnus Carlson as one half electronic duo DK7. More recently, Bell has been back with the reformed Ride for two acclaimed new albums produced by Erol Alkan - 2017's Weather Diaries and 2019's This Is Not a Safe Place.
Up until recently though, solo albums had only been something that Bell had spoken about, but in the last three years he's released not only a solo debut The View from Halfway Down, but also the second of two electronic albums undert the alias GLOK.
Now he's back once again with his second album under his own name. Flicker makes its arrival in stores this Friday (february 11) and ahead of its release we spoke to Andy about why he's finally gotten around to becoming a solo artist in his own right...
Solo albums are something you’d talked about doing for a long time but never seemed to get around to – now you’ve released three in as many years, albeit one as GLOK. Was there any particular spark that kicked all of this off?
“Yeah, there was actually, it was in the period after David Bowie passed away, at the beginning of 2016, when I started to think I should really make some moves to do this, initially just for myself, and there was a conversation that I remember having with Gem Archer, I managed to book a window of time when we were both free so that I could use his studio, and he agreed to do the sessions. So all of the hard work was really done back then, we got basic, skeletal tracks down with an acoustic guitar, bass and drums for both of my solo albums. Then we got busy and I left everything half done. There were a few guide vocals and I had a few melodies in mind, I didn’t really have any words at that stage either, apart from maybe one or two.
“Then Ride was about to get busy and Gem had lots of stuff on as well, so it just got left. Even at that initial stage, it was a way of using a backlog of songs that I never really managed to nail. You can tell from the way Flicker sounds, there’s a folkiness to it with finger-picking guitars, and there were a lot of songs there that didn’t really feel like they were going in a Ride direction. And then the other thing I had going on at the time was that I was starting to work on music that became the GLOK stuff, and they didn’t really fit there either. So it got left, until lockdown happened. There was one single that I’d put out just before that happened, and then Nat Cramp approached me, which is why this has all ended up coming out on Sonic Cathedral."
At what point did they become interested in what you were doing?
“It’s a really cool label and I’ve known Nat for years, he approached me about a single for a subscription only thing he going to do, like a record club where you get a new single every month, and that was just a very low-pressure way of me dipping my toe into the solo record thing. That was in 2019 and I didn’t use the tracks from the Gem Archer sessions for that, I just used tracks I’d done on my own that were quite intimate, late-night and atmospheric, which sort of set a little mood I guess. I was quite conscious that it was important what I chose to do with the first release, and also conscious that once I’d chosen to do a release of any kind I was starting down a road. I don’t like to leave things hanging, so if I start a thread I’m going to keep on that thread and feed into it more, I won’t just do something completely one-off, usually.”
In between your solo debut and this follow-up you released the GLOK album, which is very different stylistically – you’ve some electronic stuff and DJing in the past, but what inspired you to make a record like that now?
“This is a very boring muso answer, but when I was in Beady Eye I was using Garageband to make demos, and people who have a mac laptop will probably know that it’s the bundled, entry-level program that you get free with it. I was on a train I Japan, I had it on my laptop, and Jeff Wootton, who was the bass player at the time, looked over my shoulder and said ‘Andy, why are you using a kids’ program to record music?’ And it stung me. I was like ‘What should I be using?’ So he suggested Logic, which like the grown-ups version, and it was quite similar to Garageband, so I was happy with that, I was able to make it work. I’m not technical, really, I just get by.
“Then Logic updated to a new version and I tried to do what I normally did, and nothing worked, they’d changed everything. I’d completely lost my place with it. So I ended up going up on a course to learn it, and it taught me so much. It’s a place called Sub Bass in south London, I was going there once a week, doing homework, learning all about sampling and studio outboard, using all the onboard synths. So suddenly I was learning all about sampling, and it was all very much geared towards electronic music so the home work would be things like choosing a song you liked, deconstruct it and recreate it. So when it started I was doing that with things like ‘Voodoo Ray’ by A Guy Called Gerald and the Mr. Fingers track ‘Can You Feel It.’"
It does have that sort of early house music sort of feel to it…
“These are definitely my favourite kind of electronic tracks, and what they had in common with me at the time was that they were all bedroom productions, with just one person using quite a simple array of gear. So it was quite easy get into it via that route. One of the first GLOK tracks just started out as a track I made while I was learning how to use a compressor, which ended up becoming ‘Pulsing’. It all came out of that really, I was making more electronic music and it was sounding pretty decent so I started to think ‘what am I going to do with this?’ But then I had a meeting with Globe, which is Universal synch company, and they actually signed me as a composer to write for films and TV with this music. So I was sitting there thinking I was going to be John Carpenter or something, and the GLOK tracks had a bit of a false start there. They all came out, to absolute tumbleweed, so I’d parked it completely. This was 2015 or 2016, I’d started to do some of the tracks with Gem and then was working with Ride on new music.
"But then I got a call from this guy Joe Clay, who I sort of knew, and he was saying ‘I’ve found this track by GLOK called ‘Pulsing’, and somebody told me it’s you, is that right?’ Because I was doing it anonymously, I wanted it to stand up on its own two feet. So he asked if I had any more of it and I sent him everything I had, and he asked if he could put it out in a cassette. That was quite exciting, it was a sort of validation for having put it out ther ein the first place. That became the first album, Dissident, and once that was done I started thinking that I should actually do an album, because that was never even intended to be one, really. So that’s what became Pattern Recognition."
So does this new solo album still feature some of the sessions you started with Gem?
“Yes. And you can hear a lot more of the personality, it’s a bit truer to the original sessions, you can hear a lot more of the acoustic guitars in there and things, whereas with The View From Halfway Down I picked certain tracks because I was trying make a bridge between that first single and the album. Sometimes I feel like I’m not an artist, I’m more like a label boss and all of the artists on the roster, because a lot of it is compiling records from a catalogue of stuff, made with different heads.”
Were there any particular musical reference points for these solo albums?
“For the solo stuff, because it’s got my name on it, I really had a feeling for what the right and wrong tracks to go with. The single was very late-night feeling, I was going for something like a Big Star third album era thing, or an Arthur Russell type vibe where it’s just one person, singing in the night. If I’d have turned round to Nat and given him two big-sounding single type songs then I think it would’ve started things off down the wrong road. I chose The Commune and Plastic Bag because they were interesting and didn’t give too much away, they were mainly atmospheric types of tracks. So for the first album I was picking stuff out of the Gem sessions that were maybe more instrumental, with occasional vocals. I don’t think my biggest strength is singing, my strengths are more in guitar laying and building tracks so I was leaning more on the instrumental side of things on the first record.”
You say that, but on things like 'Cherry Cola' there were some great layered vocal harmonies, shades of CSNY in there…
“Well, if it reminded you of the best vocal harmonists in the world then I guess that’s a good thing!”
Was there any particular song that set the tonefor the rest of the new album?
"I had quite a few that had sort of become at-home party pieces. ‘Lifeline’ has this finger-picking guitar thing running through it and I’d never quite found a track to fit it, a set of lyrics or a melody that would feel definitive. So I was left with this kind ‘Scarborough Fair’-ish, folky, finger-picking track that had gone nowhere. To get that into shape and make it into a song that felt complete, ‘Lifeline’ became one of those key moments on this record, in the same way that ‘Cherry Cola’ did on the first one. Once I’d got that nailed I’d got something to build on."
Were there any others that were especially difficult to get to where you wanted them?
"‘Something Like Love’ was a tricky one to get right. It was in a different key before and I had to make the painful decision to re-record a lot of the stuff on it, because it was too high for me, I had to completely change the key. But the key I changed it down to was the ‘Vapour Trail’ key, so I started playing it with the [Ride song] ‘Vapour Trail’ shapes and suddenly everything came right into focus. It’s a song about memories and nostalgia, and how memories change and how you live with your previous hope and dreams for your life, so to have it echo ‘Vapour Trail’ just seemed perfect."
Is that a theme that’s emerged lyrically on the album too, nostalgia?
“Yes, just by the nature of what it is I guess. Like I said, I came t Gem’s studio with an armful of songs that I’d had for quite a while, really thinking that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with it, because if I didn’t get it down on tape in some sort of definitive way then I’d never use any of it. So I was pulling stuff from the past even at that point, and then I sat on it for years, and making it during lockdown, it was a really introspective time I think, for everyone.
“The View from Halfway Down wasn’t quite the same, but with Flicker I was writing more lyrics from the point of view as me, now, but the music was harking back sometime sfive years, sometimes ten, sometimes back into the 90s even. So it was a lot of bouncing around between younger versions of myself and me as I am now.”
What about Ride? Are there any plans for more albums at this stage?
“Without being able to say too much, plans are afoot. We’re really pleased with the last two records and we’re just really happy to be back, in any way.”
Flicker is available in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.