Noel Gallagher - Chart - June 1997
Like it or not, Oasis is one of the biggest pop bands on the planet. In Canada alone, the group has sold over 900,000 albums, and even the most casual music fan has heard of the infamous Gallagher brothers. So when Oasis' main man, songwriter/guitarist Noel Gallagher, got hitched to his girlfriend Meg earlier this year, you'd figure they could do it wherever they pleased, and honeymoon on Mars if they wanted. Yet they decided to tie the knot in Las Vegas, Elvis impersonator in tow. Then, they went back to work: Meg to Creation Records in England (Oasis' label) and Noel to New York City to promote his band's upcoming disc, Be Here Now. Unlike the latest from that other biggest band on the planet, U2, Be Here Now doesn't try to be anything more than it is: another collection of incredibly catchy, Beatles-influenced pop songs. Not particularly intense of innovative (O.K., maybe relative to The Spice Girls and Hanson it is), but Noel's hardly losing sleep about that. In fact, on one particular summer afternoon, the man proves to be relaxed, polite and (get ready for this) humble, even.
Interviewer - I'd like to talk about musicianship and playing guitar. Do you always have one with you?
Noel - In my spare time, I'm just sitting around fiddling.
I - Do you still have your first guitar?
N - Still have my first guitar, yeah. It's a brown one, a Hoffner. We try to cut it on every album we record, just jam it on there so you can say "See that guitar there, that's my first ever guitar, and it's still going strong." I think it made it one to this record, I think Bone plays it as rhythm guitar.
I - Do you care about the craft of musicianship or are you more from a punk rock ethic?
N - A bit of both, really. I'd love to be able to play all the notes on the guitar, but I fear the I wouldn't be able to surprise myself. I like finding out things in a haphazard kind of way. I think I'm putting my finger in the wrong place, and somebody goes, "Actually, do you realize that's a suspended ninth jazz chord?"
I - Do you consider the guitar a first love, or is it all just a part of writing songs?
N - Yeah, I can play drums as well, and the bass and keyboard. I'm one of the multi-talented annoying people who can pick up two ashtrays and start banging them and get a melody out of it. I'm pretty sure I can get musical notes out of anything, really. But the guitar is a musical love because it's more of a companion. You can carry it around in a case and if you're lonely or sad you can take it out and sing to yourself for hours.
I - You're such a prolific songwriter...
N - So they say.
I - You must have a vault of material.
N - I've got the next album done, or therabouts. It's not actually finished. It's still in its jigsaw phase, all the pieces are sort of separated, but it's in the box and I just go to take it away and put all the pieces together and I'll have another record. I wish we didn't have to do B-sides. For every album, we have four singles, and three extra tracks which is 12 songs. So this is actually my sixth album. So every time I write an album, I have to write 22 songs. I shoud really speak to my record company about that.
I - Well, it's kind of odd because the record industry iasn't built to handle people who write music so much.
N - They can't keep up. I understand the record company's point of view. I can record two albums at a time, me, but I'm not that egotistical to say I'm going to put an album out one day, and another out the next so everybody goes out and buys it. That's not fair to the people who are fans of your music. But I couldn't take five years between each record. Fuck that.
I - I read that you were offered the chance to make music for the second Crow movie.
N - I turned that down.
I - Because you wanted to concentrate on making music as Oasis?
N - They probably didn't offer me enough money...
I - It was a pretty bad moveie so you made a good choice.
N - The only redeeming feature was that Iggy Pop was in it. How do you write a song for a film, anyway? I'd let them pick a song I'd previously written but not, "Here's a script, can you write a song?" But, saying that, I'm just about to contradict myself, as I've just written a song for a film! [laughs] Irvine Welsh, who done Trainspotting, his next film is from another one of his old books, The Acid House...
I - The Acid House?
N - I think the film is going to be called The Acid House Trilogy. The song I've written is called "Going Nowhere." There's a sad story, a sort of weird, psychedelic drug-induced story, and a really happy story and I got to write the sad song. It was funny, [Welsh] phoned me up...we were just chatting away...and I said "What are you doing?" and he said "We're just starting to film The Acid House. You wouldn't fancy writing a song for it?" I booked the studio that night, went in the next day, got everyone down there, done the song, and the next night I sent the tape. He said "Fucking hell, I only spoke to you last night." He hadn't started the film, and I'd done the soundtrack! [Laughs]
I - I'd like to talk about specific songs from the new album. There are some really long ones on there.
N - I like a good intro. I like a good outro. Then you just get the funky bit in the middle. It's just the way I'm writing at the moment. The next record might be all three-minute, really quick songs. It's not intentional. Sayint that, for "All Around The World," I wanted to write a big pompous, "Hey Jude," orchestral song, and you can't really squash all that into three minutes.
I - "It's Getting Better (Man)" has a very free, jam-type feel.
N - That was going to be the last thing on the record. We were just going to keep the end going all the way until the end of the CD. Then we decided that "All Around The World" would fade back in for another two minutes, with all the drums taken out, just the orchestra playing. It's a very mellow way to end an album. I had written about eight separate pieces about a minute long that were going to come in after each song. But because the songs were so long, we could only get 74 minutes on the CD and we would have had to make it a double CD then the record company would have started charging ridiculous amounts of money to buy it.
I - The segues might be great music for films.
N - I might just take those interludes and make an instrumental album in the future.
I - Do you feel free to do things like that?
N - I've got my own record label in England, you see? My record company gave me this little label called Helter Skelter Records as a present. So if I wanted to do an instrumental album I could put it out on that, or under a different name, you know, just to have it there. So yeah, I feel quite confident. Especially when, you know...we earch obscene amounts of money, it give you the freedom to do what you want. I feel quite lucky in that way. In fact, I feel very lucky.
I - One of the challenging things about your lyrics is that they don't seem to be about anything in particular.
N - I'm a Gemini, right, and I've got this scatty brain. One [side] is vey focused and knows exactly what it's going to do and what it's going to say, and just when I"m about to round it all off and make the big profound statement, the other side of the personality kicks in and says, ah..."d'you know what I mean?"
I - On that song, I hear blips of electronic experimenting in the background. What's going on, exactly?
N - There's a Morse code stanza in between [the] first and second verse. That's an homage to "Strawberry Fields." There was a gap there, so we decided to put some Morse code in. Then [we] decided to get the Morse code sheet and actually tap in some subliminal message. We couldn't get the Morse code machine to work, so we had to get some feedback and sample it, then do it on the keyboard. Now I don't know if I transcribed it properly off the sheet, but after the lyric "Don't look back 'cause you don't know what you might see," it says "Bugger All." Knowing me I've probably spelled it wrong! You can have fun with things like that. There's a backwards drum loop running through the whole song, too. That was one of the last songs that we done for the album, so the next one is going to sound a lot more like that, really. Because I'm getting a bit bored with the traditional songwriting sense of one man sitting in a room with his guitar. I just built a studio in me house and I've got all the machines now. I'm not really a machine person. I sit in the room with loads of flashing lights and I don't know what any of them do. But as soon as I get some time to myself I'm going to sit down and figure out what they do and make some funky noises out of that.
I - So you think dance elements can merge with rock elements?
N - Of course they can. A song's a song at the end of the day; it doesn't matter how it's done. There are extremes of dance music that couldn't translate with the extremes of rock music, but they do gel. The stuff that The Prodigy is doing now is just electronic punk music. Chemical Brothers as well is a blend. I don't see anything wrong with that at all. The track I done with The Chemical Brothers was an homage to "Tomorrow Never Knows."
I - Do you ever consider yourself responsible for the cross-over success of The Chemical Brothers?
N - I understand that argument, because a lof ot people have sayd that [The Chemical Brothers] are going to exploit the fact that I co-wrote the song and sung on it. Do you blame them? The fact of the matter is that a record company is a record company and it's got to do its job, but Tom and Ed have never exploited the fact that I wrote half the record and sung on it. But if...if it gave them a bit of exposure for people to go buy that record, that's good. It doesn't matter if people bought it just because they heard me singing it, as long as they found something else on the record of value. I certainly don't walk around thinking they owe me their career. We had some drunken conversations about doing a track together. It's just three musicians wanting to play together, that was it. A lot of people make a lot of hooha about it.
I - So you're not going to sit back and say "Not only did I have the best band in the '90s, I also broke electronica?"
N - I probably will at some point, when I'm old and senile. [Laughs] That's not me. I'm quite content. If anyone else would have sung it, I believe it would have been a hit. I don't believe I'm that good, that I carry that much weight. It's hardly an Oasis song. People could say that a lot of people who would never listen to an Oasis record might go out and buy the new record because I've worked in the dance field and they'll think, "Maybe he's not just about that Beatles bullshit after all." That would be great, really.
I - You use the word "know" a lot in your lyrics. Is knowledge important to you?
N - I don't ever want to know everything there is to know, because then there would be nothing left to know, and what would be the point in carrying on. [Pause] The question always holds infinite answers and only one correct one, and the correct one is always quite boring. It's better to ask "Is ther elife on other planets?" than to actually find out. Because the thought of it, all the conspiracies and the cover-ups, is far more exciting that what the spaceship is like.
I - What's you take on that one?
N - I think there definitely is. And the conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination is far more exciting than what's actually going to come out. And, you know, it's far more interesting and stimulation to debate whether or not there is a God than to know. That's what makes the weather so exciting. Will it be fine today or will it rain? Nobody knows.
I - Isn't it crazy that people still talk about the weather?
N - It's a nervous thing. People say, "What a beautiful day." How do you answer that? You answer it with a question: "Is it really?" you say to the taxi drivers, "How do you define beauty then, my friend? In what way?"
I - You don't play with taxi drivers' minds like that, do you?
N - Sure we do. The other day, this taxi driver said, "Where's your accent from?" We said, "Where do you think?" He said, "New Zealand." We said, "Yeah, yeah, New Zealand." He said, "Why you in town?" We said, "Sheep convention." He said, "They don't have any sheep in New York." We said, "Yeah, there's plenty of sheep in New Jersey." He said, "I didn't know that." We said, "Yeah, where do you think the term Jersey cam from?" [Laughs] And he actually believed us. It's l ike when Jehovah Withnesses come to your house. People always slam the door. I say "Come in, come in. I have lots of questions for you. I'll make you a coffee, prepare your notes."
I - Let's talke about the Internet controversy with Oasis sites being banned.
N - The record company is using my name to say I want to shut down the Web sites. Take this from me, me and the other four members of the group, don't even own a computer and couldn't give a flying shit about the Internet. To me, if a kid is sitting in front of a computer, he should [do] something more worthwhile, like start a band or something. I think that the record companies are really paranoid that with this medium that they have no control over, that somebody somewhere might be making money out of it and not them. It's just corporate companies vs. corporate companies and little old bands get caught in the middle. All of a sudden you've got these kids going, "Yeah, man, you're just trying to surpress freedom of thought." I thought, "Fucking hell, as if I care."
I - what's your general feeling on the ownership of things you've written?
N - I would expect people to do it to me, sooner or later. Say if some new band, next week, their first single has one of the lines from "Live Forever" on it, I'd take that as a compliment. My record company would probably shut them down. So it's not me. I've ripped off loads of songs. And I've met people I've ripped off and they've said, "That's really clever and really good." I did that thing with The Chemical Brothers. I'm signed to Sony, they're signed to Virgin. For, like, eight months, this song was never going to come out. Nobody was allowed to hear it because Sony was going, "Well, we own half of that song," and Virgin was going, "Well, we own the other half." Then it was like, is it going to go on an Oasis album? I'm like, "It's not going to go on an Oasis album, it's not a fucking Oasis song, you idiot." And then Sony wouldn't let it out. Me, Tom [Rolands], and Ed [Simmons] sat in the middle going, "It's enough to make you think, 'Why did we bother in the first place?'" As long as it comes out, I couldn't care less. Then there were rumours that I wanted it for my record. Then I got told that they weren't going to put it out because I supposedly said something in the press about them. It was people trying to play people off each other. Everybody wanted to take the credit for it, but the funny thing is, we wrote it. It was us three, sitting down and working out a top fucking dance track. Everybody else wanted the recognition for it. You just have to grit your teeth and hope that in the end common sense will prevail.
I - You have just played at the Tibetan Freedom show. In the past you've been quoted as saying music shouldn't be a part of politics. Do you think you should have the right to change your mind?
N - I've not really changed my mind. Before I ecen agreed to do that, it was out that I was asked, so if I would have turned it down I'd have looked like a cunt. It's like blackmail in a way. At the Tibetan concert people were asking me what I thought about the cause. I don't know anything about it. I'm sure that it's a really sad situation that's going on over there, and I've heard what I've been told, but I've got nothing to say about it because I'm not that clear. I'm just there because somebody asked me to come by and I've got my guitar and I've played a few tunes. And if that brought a bit more publicity for whatever it is you're going on about, fine, but I'm not a spokesman for any political movement.
I - In your lyrics you say all sorts of things like "spread the word." Is there a a part of you that's trying to convey a message, to make people's lives better and happier?
N - If one of my songs makes them feel happy and stops them beating on their kids or their girlfriend or something like that then that's fine by me. All I ever hoped for is that somebody who listened to my music would start a band. And in turn, pass the torch along to anybody else. I don't want to be a spokesman, I'm just a musician.