Originally appeared in THE BRAG #446, Jan 23, 2011
“There are no misconceptions about Oasis,” Noel Gallagher states firmly. “Everything I ever read about us had an element of truth about it. I don’t think ‘Wow, I wished they’d really discussed my love of Van Gogh. They really missed my love of classic ‘60s British film noir.’ I don’t give a fuck about that. If you want to know anything about Oasis, listen to the music. The rest of it is irrelevant.”
Ah yes, the rest of it. If there are, as Gallagher claims, no misconceptions about Oasis, there are certainly many surrounding Noel – namely that he is a surly, difficult person to deal with. This reputation is no doubt fuelled by the many public spats with his brother Liam, his willingness to insult other musicians at the drop of a hat, and his aptitude for a stinging one-liner. A lot of the bad press surrounding Oasis was actually due to brother Liam’s penchant for mouthy retorts and violent alterations with photographers; it was, after all, a violent act involved a guitar-as-weapon that spelt the end of Oasis.
Noel Gallagher, on the other hand, while undoubtedly fiercely opinionated, is one of the most affable and well-adjusted artists around. Understandable, considering his iconic stature as the frontrunner of Britpop, the mid ‘90s movement that swept aside the depressing notions of American grunge with a flood of positivity and music that harks back to the heyday of British guitar rock (Beatles, Stones, T-Rex, Pistols, et al). Long since cast into an elder statesman role, Gallagher is conducting interviews to publicise both his debut album (although such a term seems redundant for a man who has sold 70 million records) and his trip to Australia as part of the Big Day Out tour. However, he is finding that, not surprisingly, Oasis is still at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
“I haven’t discussed Oasis in any sense with anyone with any sort of authority since I left. It’s only in interviews when I’m forced to talk about it. I don’t mind that, if you lot are obsessed about it,” he laughs. “I don’t care how people perceive [Oasis] now, I didn’t care then, because I know how I perceive it. I was in it and I loved it and I still look back at it with great, fond, glorious memories, but there’s no need to keep fucking going on about it. I understand people want to talk about it and that’s great and I don’t mind it, but it was what it was. There you go, what can I say?”
Perhaps the obsession with his past glories is due to Oasis’ abrupt, undignified end and the fact that neither Gallagher brother has moved on artistically. Liam hastily cobbled together the extremely-OK Beady Eye record with Gem Archer and Andy Bell while Noel Gallagher took his time, and recorded two albums simultaneously, the first of which (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) doesn’t seem to traverse any new ground. For an effortless songwriter, it comes across as too effortless, and despite its overall quality will probably go down as a lukewarm placeholder for the second record; a dense psychedelic excursion written with London electronic duo Amorphous Androgynous. Gallagher is loath to commit to a release date for this album, or to reveal too many details, despite the record being basically complete.
“We had a window where it was suppose to be finished and I’m on tour now, and have been since October, and it’s hard to us to nail the final mixes without us all being in the same room. Its in the can, its just a case of when I’m in America they’re in England, when I’m in England they’re in fucking Kazakhstan or somewhere. And its gotta be brilliant – there’s no point in just putting it out half-heartedly. ”
Although Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds is ostensibly presented as a ragtag collective, it is very much a solo venture, with Gallagher performing all the vocals, guitars, bass and most of the keyboards on the record.
“I just thought it was a great name, that’s it really,” he explains. “It’s for no other reason then I thought it would look good, in lights, above your local theatre.” As he explains, he doesn’t plan to delve into mid-set jazz odysseys when performing the album live, either.
“It’s note for note, exactly what’s on the album. I don’t fuck about. I’m not there to indulge myself. I play the songs that people have become accustomed to and that’s it. There’s no funky covers, there’s no reggae music, there’s no electronic passages. It’s just 20 songs, one after the other. If anyone says anything witty, I shall retort – and that’s it.”
Talk soon swings back to Oasis, naturally. As a studied-up student of rock’s back pages, Gallagher is more than aware of where his catalogue sits in comparison to other bands throughout history. So, in an attempt to remain objective, how does he rate the band’s recorded legacy?
“I think we made four great albums out of… how many did we make?” (After a quick discussion in which The Masterplan, the b-sides collection, is added to the canon, the figure rises) “Five out of eight great albums, that’s what I’m going with.* That’s five more great albums than 99% of bands that have ever started. I don’t look at it and think we were at good as The Beatles, but we were better than most bands of our generation.”
A little known fact about Gallagher is his involvement with Russell Brand’s weekly BBC2 radio program. For over a year, Gallagher appeared on the show, firstly as a guest, then as a phone-in guest every other week, then as an on-air member of the team. Gallagher has fond memories of the show, which ended in 2008, and would jump at the opportunity to reprise this role.
Russell is a close friend of mine. He was doing a radio show, literally 100 yards from where I lived and he’d call up and say ‘come down’ and in the end I became part of a team. I loved it. I love every bit of it. There’s talk of us doing another radio show, but Russell is in LA and he is also going through a bit of a shit time [namely his divorce with popette Katy Perry] so I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon.
Neither will a career change for Gallagher. Although he states firmly that he has no need to do anything musical again, he is clearly driven by the need to keep busy. Music just happens to plug that gap.
“You know what, if I could find anything better to do, I would do it. If Russell called me up tomorrow and said ‘right, we’re gonna do the radio show for the next ten years and you can be on a wage,” I’d do it, because it’d be a great laugh. Because both he and Matt [Morgan, Brand’s right hand man] are both my friends and it’d be incredible. They make me laugh. Better than hanging out with fucking Thom Yorke, I’d have thought – he doesn’t strike me as a laugh a minute.
“But this [songwriting] is what I do, d’ya know what I mean? If you can think of anything better for me to do, give me a shout.“
ON THE STONE ROSES REFORMATION
It depends where John’s [Squire] head is at when he is writing the tunes. Ian’s [Brown] immersed in reggae and hip-hop and Mani’s just come out of Primal Scream. That’s the fascinating thing, what kind of record they will make. I’m really pleased for them, because I know them, and now they can stop fucking jibber-jabbering on about not making any money.
I like being in Australia because it’s the furthest place away from where I live and its like ‘fuck, I’m on the other side of the world and it’s amazing’ The people speak the lingo, which helps, everything looks kinda familiar. We vaguely look the same and vaguely dress the same, we both like football and cricket and rugby. I like it. It’s like an acceptable America.
ON THE MUCH-DERIDED/LOVED BE HERE NOW ALBUM
I don’t like any of the words, I think all the songs are badly arranged, I think it’s badly recorded, there’s not enough focus on it and I would lay most of the blame for that at my door. I totally completely understand people liking it, but this is just my opinion. I have to say, I don’t mind the songs. I play some of the songs live; I played Don’t Go Away recently and it’s fucking amazing, a great song. They’re just bad versions. I was in a shop a few months ago; I think it might have been in American or somewhere, and Don’t Go Away came on and I thought it sounded fucking awful.
It comes and goes. I might write five songs in five weeks then not write a thing for five months. I don’t chase it. I haven’t really had a set ritual. I don’t even have a space in the house with a desk so I can write. A music room. My fucking kids have taken over my life. They’ve all got their own rooms… I haven’t got one. What the fuck is that all about? What’s that all about? I spend ten to fifteen minutes here and there writing, but I don’t announce ‘I’m going upstairs to write a song.’ I just do it in my spare time.
* The Oasis records deemed not to be ‘great’ by Noel were Be Here Now (1997), Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants (2000) and Heathen Chemistry (2002)