For the British band Ride, whipping up stormy surges of electric noise is just one way of getting in touch with the inner self.
"It's frequencies," Andrew Bell, one of the band's two singer-guitarists, said in a recent interview after being asked to account for the allure of noise. "It's the chemical reaction your body has to frequencies, and you can activate it with guitars quite easily. If you crank it up loud enough, you can get a good sound quite easily."
While Bell confesses that he hasn't conducted any proper lab experiments into the effects of highly amplified guitar distortion on human body chemistry, Ride's three years on the alternative-rock scene have given him ample firsthand experience in the matter.
The band's 1991 album, "Nowhere," was a particularly good example of well-directed noise. Bell, fellow guitarist Mark Gardener, bassist Steve Queralt and drummer Loz Colbert churned up some impressive waves of feedback and distortion (the album's cover, showing a solitary wave moving in the middle of a steely blue sea, gave a good impression of the music within). But, far from overwhelming the music, all that noise was modulated and sculpted to lend an epic sweep to Ride's songs of loss and thwarted aspiration.
Ride, which plays tonight at the Coach House, didn't stumble upon its noisy method by accident. As Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of scientific giants to grasp new revelations in physics, Ride leaned on the amplifiers of established noise-merchants as it made its own early inquiries into the possibilities of feedback and white-noise blur.
Sonic Youth and the Jesus and Mary Chain "were two of the most influential bands around when we started," Bell said, citing sources during a recent interview from a tour stop in Portland. "We wanted to be the Mary Chain and Sonic Youth and House of Love and My Bloody Valentine rolled into one."
Ride began in 1988 when art-school classmates Bell and Gardener found themselves sharing a house with Colbert and Queralt's girlfriend. When the four got together to play for the first time, they plugged in and decided to play something nice and noisy: the Stooges' garage-grunge classic, "I Wanna Be Your Dog."
"We went into that one because we all knew it," Bell recalled. "We just banged it out, and we never dreamed it could be so easy." The four felt creative sparks instantly, Bell said, as its jam carried it far beyond the brutal riffing of the Stooges number. "When you start to try to play something by someone else and it comes out better, you know you've got something special."
By Bell's reckoning, Ride has found its own way to make use of its noisy antecedents. Rather than having to follow just one method of noisemaking, he said, the band can take a versatile approach.
"We could do a song with a Beatles style, really melodic. But we could really jam for hours at a time, really blunder off if we wanted to. I think the way we are is an amalgamation of the best bits of all the other bands. As we go on, we nick better bands."
Ride's new album, "Going Blank Again," represents a move toward clarity. While the distorted guitars remain, the textures are softer and the shapes more clearly etched than the encompassing wave forms of "Nowhere." On tunes such as the bright, pop-flavored "Twisterella" and "Chrome Waves," which features a glistening acoustic guitar strum, Ride departs sharply from its previous approach.
This too, Bell says, reflects a principal of chemistry--not internal, but interpersonal.
He attributes the more organized sound of "Going Blank Again" to "the prevailing happy mood in the studio" while the band was making the album. "We had a lot more time, we were working with (a producer and engineer) we really liked, and we were getting on real well personally. That's pretty unusual. We didn't feel like doing the noise thing much. We did it as much as we wanted on 'Nowhere,' but during the six weeks we were in the studio (for 'Going Blank Again') we didn't feel like doing anything in that vein. We did more efficient-sounding, well-structured stuff on this album. The noise stuff is still there, if you come see us live. If you do a new album it doesn't mean the other stuff disappears."
The new album sports a colorful painting of what looks to be a clown with a red gag over his mouth. The image seems to tie in with a lyrical thread running through several songs--a discomfort with the life of a traveling performer questing after fame and fortune.
On "Twisterella," lyricist Gardener feels himself drawn reluctantly to "the circus lights," wondering at the same time, "If I've seen it all before, why's this bus taking me back again? / If I don't need any more, why's this bus taking me back again?" On the concluding "OX4" (a postal zone in the band's hometown of Oxford), Gardener confesses to outright homesickness.
Bell says it's a sentiment he shares.
"I'm really homesick quite a lot. I've got a lot to be homesick about--I got married in February, and that's something good to go back to." (Bell said his wife would be flying from England to join him for a couple of weeks while Ride played along the West Coast.)
As for the pursuit of riches and fame, Bell said, that has never been the band's main motivation.
"We never wanted anything. We never particularly wanted to be successful or famous or anything. But as it came along, we handled it."
* Ride and Slowdrive play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $16.50. (714) 496-8930.