Robin Guthrie and Mark Gardener – “Dice”

Robin Guthrie and Mark Gardener – “Dice”

On paper, this should have been a huge deal – a collaborative album between the musical mastermind behind alternative godheads Cocteau Twins and frontman for shoegaze legends Ride – but Universal Road, the 2015 release from Robin Guthrie and Mark Gardener, didn’t seem to make much of an impression on anyone.

Part of it was timing, certainly. Anything Gardener did under his own name was going to be just a footnote to the Ride reunion which was announced a few months earlier and would kick of a couple months later, and the last time Cocteau Twins were a topic of active discussion was their stillborn reunion ten years earlier. He had a solo career, certainly, but that catered mainly to fans of ambient, textural guitar instrumentals. And of course, the shoegaze revival that seems all-consuming now was still very much nascent, despite the returns of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.

And there was also the fact that Universal Road was a bit of a snore. A lovely, shimmering snore to be sure – Guthrie’s signs his sonic signature in big chorusey letters in the sky with Gardener providing sweet vocals and strummy acoustic guitar in the vein of this mid-aughts solo work, but as a whole it stays very languidly mid-tempo and earthbound. It’s fine for what it is, but compared to the monumental work that the two made their names with, the arithmetic can’t help but disappoint some.

Unsurprisingly, any press Gardener did around the time focused much more on the impending return of Ride and the Guthrie collaboration was a distant second as talking point. Still, he was able to talk about how the two came together, wrote and recorded, and what might come in the future (spoiler alert: nothing, so far):

How did the album with Robin Guthrie come about?

Pretty organically really, I knew Robin from the early Ride, Cocteau Twins days we did a lot of tours with Lush and people who had worked with Robin, so we had crossed paths a few times, but I guess back then we were on different kinds of drugs, he was sort of flying around a bit and I was in a stoned cloud as well. It was a bit like passing ships at that point and then as time went on Robin came to Oxford to promote one of his solo records about 9 – 10 years ago, doing a little tour of picture houses where he was playing music with images in the cinema. So he when he came to the Oxford one he asked me to DJ there which I kind of did but actually ended up talking after his show having a curry and a proper meet, and it was then we decided to at least do a track together. Which became “The Places We Go” which was an online release, it came out about 7 years ago.

INTERVIEW: MARK GARDENER talks new record with ROBIN GUTHRIE and Ride reunion @ XSNoise

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.

Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener Talks About Collaborating With Robin Guthrie on Universal Road @ Alice Severin

How it would work is that either one of us would come with an initial idea, and then it was just a core progression from there. Pretty quickly we would both work it into a song structure (verse, chorus, type thing). We were both really good at structuring things quite early, we didn’t really get into long jams or whatever; which can work well for some bands but we definitely weren’t doing that. I would be in the room when Robin would be doing his electric guitar and bass and drums and then I would be doing the acoustic guitar, and as I was sat there listening to the tracks coming together musically. It was a real conducive environment to start thinking of words straight away in reaction to the music, and putting that top end vocal in harmony with the music that I was hearing. It’s a lovely space to be in when you’re hearing that. In a good way I think the album, consequentially does what it says on the tin.

I would listen to Robin create these beautiful sounds on his bass and his electric guitar, and inevitably after we’d opened a bottle of wine I would say, ‘I think I’ve got a vocal line that’s going to work’ or ‘I’ve got words that work well with this’. Then I would just get on the mic and throw some words at the music that was being created. Robin was great to do this with because he would just say ‘Yes, that’s really working’, or ‘Not that, you’ve had a bit too much wine now.’ I guess in that lucid way, amazing things with music kind of happen. You should always believe in that, you should let those juices flow, and the red wine is all sort of part of it. I guess its probably a better alternative to what we were using to get into that state in the good old days.

Mark Gardener
INTERVIEW: Mark Gardener @ GigSlutz

DiS: Do you see yourself working with Robin (Guthrie) again in the future?

Mark Gardener: I’d like to. This one’s worked out really well and the actual recording part of it was pretty fast. We write together and I let him do guitars and bass and drums while I’m doing the acoustics and voice things. By the time he’s got a backing track together I’m usually ready to go with a topline idea. It just worked really well like that. Everything just flowed. I know Robin’s busy and I am too but we actually spent a bit of time speaking to various labels before realising we’d be better off releasing it ourselves. So Robin’s gonna do that. I guess we’ll have to see how things go when it comes out but I think it’s a beautiful record. Like with Thurston and Sonic Youth, Robin and the Cocteau Twins were another band I used to listen to a lot on the tour bus.

Interview: DiS talks reunions with Ride’s Mark Gardener @ Drowned In Sound

You can stream the whole album everywhere, including Guthrie’s Bandcamp, or sample probably the strongest track below, along with a live performance from some of the dates the two did together to support it:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next:

Daughter: Live at Middle Farm Studios

Daughter: Live at Middle Farm Studios