Sight lines: Pale Saints frontman Ian Masters reminisces with Ride’s Steve Queralt

Ian Masters and Steve Queralt photographed in 1990 by Wendy Stone

The Pale Saints’ classic 1990 debut album The Comforts Of Madness has been reissued for its 30th anniversary with additional demos and Peel Session tracks. For the most recent issue of our Crypt fanzine, super-fan Steve Queralt of Ride quizzed the Pale Saints’ elusive frontman Ian Masters about how the band ended up on 4AD and the album came about. Here’s a slightly extended version of their conversation…

Steve Queralt: While I was working in a record shop in Oxford I can remember opening a new release box and finding the first Pale Saints EP [Barging Into The Presence Of God] along with Scar by Lush. I’d heard of neither band, but because I was a fan of 4AD I immediately played them on the shop sound system. Was it a label you deliberately targeted?

Ian Masters: We made a list of labels we thought might be interested and sent tapes out. The first to show interest was Egg Records in Glasgow, then One Little Indian and 4AD, so we made the dull journey down to London. Derek [Birkett] showed us his new DMs; Ivo [Watts-Russell] showed us his bank balance. I’m yanking your chain. The three of us made the decision together, based on a coin flip.

The cover of the Barging Into The Presence Of God EP

SQ: 4AD almost always used V23 to create their artwork. What say did you have and would you have preferred more control?

IM: Vaughan Oliver was in charge all the time we were at 4AD. ‘Charge’ being the operative word; he was always in full ‘charge’ mode, like a chatty rhino. We used our friend Graham Bailey’s painting for the EP. I can’t remember now why we used it, apart from the fact that we loved it, obviously. Everyone’s idea of best is not always the same, so we were trouble-makers who didn’t completely trust V23, although we had liked some of what he had done for other artists. We couldn’t have a Cindy Sherman image for The Comforts Of Madness because she said no.

SQ: Early Ride songs were often inspired by other bands – we were shameless magpies. What were your influences?

IM: As a band we were blessed with influences from all over. I was John Barry, Burt Bacharach, The Electric Prunes, Blondie, Eyeless In Gaza. Graeme [Naysmith] was Black Sabbath, AC/DC, De La Soul, Bam-Caruso comps. Chris [Cooper]: The Yardbirds, The Action, ’60s beat, Keith Moon. We were all omnivorous, as much as we were able in those primitive times, but eating in different forests. We’d made a few atrocious demos, but learned a lot very fast, I think. We then encountered a couple of friends – Richard Formby and Mike Stout – who knew exactly what we were aiming for and so we were no longer at the mercy of the sausage machine demo studios scattered around Leeds. When the reissue of The Comforts of Madness comes out, you’ll be able to hear the demos we did for the LP. I think they sound good and have a lot of spirit.

SQ: The Comforts Of Madness was on repeat in the Ride tour van when it came out. One of the aspects that excited me was the way each track blended into the next. What was the thinking behind this genius idea?

IM: Sorry, the genius idea was not mine. We were used to playing tiny gigs where, if you weren’t the flavour of the week, you’d get little or no applause, so having heard The Red Crayola’s The Parable Of Arable Land, I suggested we join all the songs together with incidental music. It was probably not even The Red Crayola’s idea, but that’s where I half-inched it from. In the studio, we played the songs and the intermissions separately and they were spliced together.

SQ: I found your playing style unique and tried to emulate it on a few Ride tracks – ‘Polar Bear’, ‘Here And Now’ and, to a certain extent, ‘Vapour Trail’. What inspired you to play that way, using chords instead of the more traditional approach?

IM: I have no idea. I had never played bass before in my life, so my approach was that of a natural swimmer. The band needed a bass player to survive, so I went and bought one and played it like I had played the guitar.

SQ: You seemed content on using a fairly modest set-up – a Westone Thunder bass if I remember correctly. Were you never tempted to upgrade your equipment?

IM: I wasn’t that fond of the Westone Thunder, but it did the job until I had enough money to buy a Fender Jazz. That had a much nicer sound and was much lighter. Useful for jumping off speakers. The Westone was a bloody heavy piece of wood!

SQ: Our paths crossed several times in the early ’90s, but we toured a lot of the US together in the summer of 1992. Do you have any memories of that time?

IM: Almost none. I have stronger memories of playing at ULU with The Pastels and Ride [November 17, 1989] than I do of the US gigs we did. I was probably already thinking about leaving the band.

SQ: I heard that you moved away from the UK after you left the Pale Saints. What made you decide to leave the UK and did you continue to play or create music in your new home?

IM: I live in Japan, in Osaka, and have done for about 20 years. When I moved here, I was bored of life in London and wondered what it would be like to be a foreigner for a couple of years. It seems as though I forgot to go back. I make music, release it and do gigs, but only when I feel like it. It doesn’t pay the bills and I prefer it that way. The last release I made was in May 2019 – a super-limited hand-made 7” under the name Onkonomiyaki Labs. It’s been hard finding musicians in Osaka that I wanted to play with, but I have a two-person unit called Big Beautiful Bluebottle with a very talented younger bloke called Terako Terao. We understand each other musically, trust each other almost completely, and both of us hate rehearsing, so there’s a lot of improvisation and surprises. It’s very satisfying.

SQ: Are you tired of being asked when the Pale Saints will reform? I’ll happily play the bass parts if you want to concentrate on the vocals.

IM: Ha ha ha. Not really, but it doesn’t change my response. If there’s a reformation, it’ll be without me. I don’t have the time to waste on the past. I’m too busy working on new projects, including one with Australian musician, Tim Koch…

The 30th anniversary reissue of the Pale Saints’ The Comforts Of Madness – featuring bonus demos and Peel Session recordings – is out via 4AD on vinyl and CD now and you can also listen on Apple Music