Noel Gallagher - Access - November 1997
Noel is four hours late for our interview, but in good spirits. When he bursts into the office, he says to the the three journalists present, "Alright. Line up. queue. Who's first?" He pours a Belgian Beer (Stella), but hardly touches it during our seventy-minute conversation.
Interviewer: I heard you got thrown out of Abbey Road studios- where the Beatles used to record- because you were too noisy. I thought a rock & roll band was supposed to be noisy, and a recording studio was supposed to be able to handle that.
Noel: Yeah, that's what we thought- but there you go. There was this producer who was recording some classical stuff in one of the other studios who apparently said our recordings were too loud. It was like being at school and the headmaster telling you off. In the end we did three songs at Abbey Road. But it was good to get out of there and got to a farmhouse to record and act like a band again as opposed to a media circus. It wasn't only that they complained about the noise, we had to deal with the tabloid press and people stealing things from the studio...leaking the contents of private conversations to the gossip press and such. It became intolerable.
Interviewer: Every great rock band has the musketerrlike attitude: the usagainsttheworld thing.
Noel: We've always felt like that, yeah. We still feel like outsiders. Always have done. We're very popular with the kids, but we're not popular in the music community in London. There's not a lot of other bands that like us, which is cool because we all think those bands are shit anyway.
Interviewer: Or jealous.
Noel: Whatever word you wanna use. But we've always felt like outsiders, ever since we were a tiny band in Manchester. Even back then we thought we were the best band in the world- although nobody took notice of us- and that one day we would get ours, and everybody else would bow...and subsequently we've been proven right.
Interviewer: I feel the main thing Oasis have proven is that there are no rules in rock & roll.
Noel: Yeah, I feel we obey our own rules. You make your own rules...Cheers (raising his beer). In a way, the music that we make is very traditional, so we don't break many rules musically. But in the things that we say and the way that we don't conform to how pop stars are supposed to act, we have broken all the rules. Actually, we dont' think that we're outrageous. People seem to think so, but it's just the normal way we act home.
Interviewer: When I see Oasis, I'm always reminded of the frank attitude people like The Who had when they first went to America in the late '60's. You had some tacky old TV presenter asking Roger Daltry condescendingly what his name was, and Daltry said, "My friends call me Roger...you can call me John."
Noel: Yeah. Great attitude. It's like us cracking America. If we do it; it'll be on our own terms. We're not going to kiss anybody's arses. If we've proven that you don't have to kiss arse to make it big time, that's top.
Interviewer: I know people have been bothering you with endless Beatles comparisons, but it must happen sometimes that you unconsciously end up in territory that has already been covered. For instance, you write a song and then, a week later, you listen back to that demo and suddenly realize: "That sounds like 'Let It Be' and I didn't realize it." When was the last time that happened?
Noel: Last week. (laughs) It happens all the time, mate! I don't think I've ever actually re-written somebody else's song. I've put bits of other people's songs into my songs, yeah. I stuck a little bit of 'Imagine' on the front of 'Don't Look Back In Anger'- but they're not the same song, right? But if I do that, I don't do it by accident, I do it on purpose. When I was writing 'Cigarettes And Alcohol', I wasn't sitting there going (sings T.Rex riff) and then say "Fuck me, this sounds like T.Rex!" Of course that bit sounds like T.Rex because I wanted it to sound like T.Rex! I pinched that riff off Mare Bolan...but he stole it in turn off Howlin' Wolf, who in turn stole it off Robert Johnson.That riff goes back to the '20's. I mean, the Beatles were derivative of black American music-The Shirelles and Buddy Holly and Bill Haley. They sort of copied some of that stuff up to Rubber Soul. The Beatles, The Small Faces, The Kinks, The Stooges, The Who, The Sex Pistols, Elvis...I must of played all those records a thousand times, so it'll always be an influence. It's true that 'Don't Look Back In Anger' reeks of Rubber Soul or even Abbey Road- but it's an original song. No composer is ever a virgin. You never start from scratch.
Interviewer: What's it like when you're a kid from Manchester and suddenly you start making music and, after a while, you're bigger than the people you used to look up to?
Noel: I've had that with every pop star I've met. I had that with the Sex Pistols, where I was mesmerized with the mythical figure of Johnny Rotten. When I was eleven years old and I heard Never Mind The Bollocks- Here's The Sex Pistols for the first time, that was about the most mindblowing experience I'll ever have. But now, I know John Lydon quite well, and to me he's just John from North London. And he's not let me down in any way. I mean, everybody is just an ordinary human being, you know? David Bowie was not a 'Starman'. He's not some alien. He's just Davey Jones from Battersea Park. When I was queing for concerts of The Smiths in 1983, I was a fan. But I didn't get to meet Johnny Marr until after I became Noel Gallagher of Oasis, biggest band in the world.
Interviewer: Did you ever write a lyric about Liam's behaviour, knowing that he would be obliged to sing it?
Noel: I have never, ever written a lyric at all with Liam in mind. And I never think of Liam singing anything when I'm writing. I always picture myself singing it. People are always saying, "Oh, Noel, you must have been envisaging Liam singing this lyric because it feels so natural when he's singing it." But that's because we're family. We have the same blood, the same parents, and whatever's going through my mind is going through his. It's as simple as that. The only problem I have with Liam over lyrics is that I'm dyslexic, so sometimes I forget to write down words, or spell them incorrectly. Then when Liam sings them incorrectly he says, "But it doesn't make any fuckin' sense!"- and then it turns out I forgot half of the sentence.
Interviewer: I'm sure you're familiar with the ultimate rock & roll movie, Spinal Tap. Was there a moment when you thought, 'Shit, we've ended up in the '90's version of that movie?'
Noel: We were doing a gig in Philadelphia on the last American tour. Now I don't usually get drunk before I go on stage, but this one particular gig I was pissed. So I walked on stage and started doing all these cliched rock & roll poses and signs totally over the top. But the crowd went mental and loved it to bits. And I thought, "This could only happen in America.' I was pissed- and taking the piss- but the crowd thought I was being serious. So for the rest of the show I acted like I was a member of KISS, you know, playing extended guitar solos with my tongue and all...and everybody seemed to think it was really great. Looking back, I think that was the moment I realized it wastime to go home. That's the only time Oasis were ever Spinal Tap. Well, that's the only time I'll admit that we were Spinal Tap.
Interviewer: It astounds me that they're very few bands of this generation that seem to have learned from their predecessors' mistakes. We all know what a terrible time people like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles had with corrupt managers, back-stabbing managment, shady deals and drugs, yet most new bands keep making the same mistakes. You had the advantage of starting out in the music business as roadie of the Inspiral Carpets. Did that give you the oppurtunity to suss things out, to prepare for your Oasis strategy?
Noel: That did give me time to sort of be on the inside without having to commit myself. And my experience with Inspiral Carpets quickly made realize there is a certain way not to do things. I saw others mess up, and I remembered not to fuck up. I mean, that's why I was down at the printers today. I'm a rich rock star. I could have stayed homeand gotten pissed or played with the dogs or shagged the wife, know what I mean? But instead I drove two hundered miles...
Interviewer: Ah, now you're lying...You couldn't have been driving because you don't have a driver's license.
Noel: Well, someone else drove me, obviously. I'm a rock & roll star, I don't have to drive myself. But yeah, that's true. They (Sony Music) gave me a chocolate brown 60,000 pound Roller (Rolls Royce) for Christmas, but I'm not allowed to drive it. Anyway, so I was at the printer's today making sure that when the album cover of Be Here Now is printed, all the colours are matched up correctly. You see, I started writing this album eighteen months ago, and I just finished this album this very afternoon! So I've gone from writing to playing the tunes to producing and taking care of the cover. I've taken as much care over of every aspect. I write it, record it, produce it, play it, sing it, mix it, I do the artwork...and now I can rest 'cause it's finished. A lot of other bands don't give a fuck about all those details. I do. 'Cause it's my art, man! That's why I'm in this office everyday. Because I want to make sure that every decision taken for Oasis is the right decision. 'Cause it's my and my brother's and my four mate's careers that weretalking about. And I take as much pride in the artwork as in being on stage or pissing about at some award ceromony. And if anyone is going to fuck it up, I'll fuck it up. No other idiot is gonna fuck it up.
Interviewer: The context of some of your lyrics is fascinating. Like that line "Don't put your life in the hands of a rock & roll band" in 'Don't Look Back In Anger'. That line could be a quote from (right-wing consevative British politician) Mary Whitehouse.
Noel: Yeah, it does sound like a warning from a worried parent, doesn't it? But if the band is Oasis, of course it's okay to put your life in our hands. But the thing is, I also meant it as a warning. What I was saying with that particular line was, "Okay, Oasis is a great band and we're real and you can trust us. But do not build your life around us,'cause any rock band can split up at any time, and if you've built your life around it, and the band splits up, you'll be left with no life." I was saying to the fans, "Make sure you've got something else to fall back on."
Interviewer: You know, Sting once said...
Noel: Sting?! He's rubbish! Fuckin' Sting. Fuckin' rainforest! Fuck trees, man...dogs piss on them. (laughs) Go on, what did fuckin' Sting say?
Interviewer: Sting said about the band politics in The Police. "You can't argue with a good song." The band members of The Police always refused to fight over whose song ended up on the record, but Sting simply wrote the best songs so he always won.
Noel: That's true. Sting's still a prat, though. Sting wrote "Message In A Bottle': good tune. 'So Lonely': top tune. But he's still a twat. (laughs)
Interviewer: What is the strangest fan mail you ever got?
Noel: The weirdest fan mail. The would have to be this girl in... we're in 1997 now, right? So this was in 1995, just after Morning Glory came out. That girl sent me a letter claiming that she met me in a dream and she claimed that she had written all my songs. She was convinced that I knew he knew that she'd written 'Wonderwall' and all the rest of them. And I actually got to meet her, and she was going, "But Noel, you know that I wrote 'Champagne Supernova'?!", and I was going, "Fuck off, of course you didn't!" But the weirdest letters we get are usually the ones asking for money. I read a lot of the fan mail but I rarely reply.
Interviewer: If Oliver Stone made a Doors-type of movie about Oasis, what would be a crucial scene to give outsiders a good idea what it's like to be in Oasis?
Noel: That would have to be when I was in Abbey Road studios recording 'Come Together' with Paul McCartney and Paul Weller. You got three generations of soul music there. Paul McCartney, rude boy from the '60's and '70'; Weller from the '80's and '90's; and me from the '90's and going well into the next century. That's almost forty years of music, man. That's top, man!