Noel Gallagher - Rocket - 14th January 1998
To look at them, though, you wouldn't know whether Oasis were playing to thousands of people packed into Manchester's G-Mex Exhibition Centre or to a few close friends in somebody's basement. As always, guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and bassist Paul McGuigan stand as if their feet are nailed to the ground; blank, almost bored stares adorn their faces. Noel Gallagher remains stony-faced and focused on his guitar work while Alan White, centered at the back, dutifully pounds away at his drums. Liam Gallagher, the band's moody singer and Noel's younger brother, takes his signature stance - his hands behind his back, his face tilted up toward the microphone - as he spits out the words to "Roll With It," one of the U.K. singles from the band's sophomore effort, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Not that you can hear Gallagher. The voices of the rabid Oasis fans stuffing the G-Mex to capacity are nearly drowning him out. Pumping their fists in time to the song, the crowd sings in unison: "You gotta roll with it/ You gotta take your time," with as much spirit as if they were chanting the victory cheer at a Manchester City soccer game.
While this scenario may be less commonplace at an Oasis show in America, the band has still become something of a household name in the States. Thanks to their 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe, and, more importantly, Morning Glory - which reveled in England's musical past by combining the melodies of the Beatles with the attitude of the Stones - Oasis seemed on the verge of conquering America as well as England a year ago, a feat few British bands have been able to pull off in recent years. With the release of the fuller, more mature Be Here Now in the late summer of 1997 - an album which sold more than 800,000 copies in the U.K. during its first three days on the market - it was expected that Oasis would once again be sweeping American charts and airwaves like they did with Morning Glory. This time around, however, overwhelming American success seems to be eluding them.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Be Here Now traded in Morning Glory's ballads - the ballads that American audiences ate up - for songs that swagger with punk-like attitude, the type of songs that first put Oasis on the charts. Or perhaps America has just grown tired of hearing Oasis' tabloid-manufactured press and their claim that they're bigger than the Beatles. Whatever the reason, Be Here Now isn't selling like its predecessor.
Oasis, however, don't care what America thinks of them. "[Last time we toured the States,] our record company wanted us to make a big impression in America. We just went and played the gigs," explains Noel Gallagher by phone from Germany a few weeks before the band's Manchester show. "We just come to play to Oasis fans. If we never have a No. 1 record [in America], so be it. As long as we have a good time while we're there, that's all that fuckin' matters to us."
This theme - that nothing matters beyond a good time - is a recurring one with Gallagher. Even on the phone, he's in an exceptionally good mood. And while he plays the part of the cocksure rock star quite well, it sometimes seems as if his oft-quoted arrogant remarks stem more from a belief that they're expected of him rather than from his true feelings.
Take this discussion of John Squire, for instance (his current band, the Seahorses, is opening for Oasis in Germany). Describing how it feels to be touring with the guitarist for the now-defunct Stone Roses - one of the bands responsible for starting the "Madchester" scene in the late '80s and who have been highly influential on British pop music in general - Gallagher says, "[The Stone Roses were] an influence on my guitar playing as well, even though I don't even come close to what [Squire] does. It's an honor, more than anything. It's a great honor for me to be playing with one of me heroes." Of course, when asked if it's strange that his hero is opening for his band and not the other way around, he replies simply, "Well, no."
Phone interviews are less revealing than those done in person, if only because the interview is conducted with just one band member instead of the entire group. In the case of Oasis, however, it's not really an issue, since Noel Gallagher, in many respects, is Oasis. It's always been that way, ever since he returned to Manchester in 1992, after touring the world as a roadie for Inspiral Carpets, to discover that his little brother, Liam, had formed a band along with founding member Arthurs, McGuigan and original drummer Tony McCarroll (McCarroll was kicked out of the band and replaced by White just prior to the recording of Morning Glory).
To this day, Gallagher continues to write all the band's songs; he also tends to handle the majority of the band's press (perhaps because Liam, the less articulate of the two brothers, has a marked tendency to stick his foot far down his throat). Gallagher admits that he often feels as if he's carrying the weight of the band on his shoulders. "But then again," he counters, "no one else is prepared to do anything because they're all a bit lazy, so it's down on me, really."
Aside from the obnoxious comments that fly out of their mouths on a daily basis, the biggest complaint against Oasis has always been that their music can be incredibly derivative. The band is famous for stealing entire riffs from other groups. In fact, Oasis have often been dubbed the Fab Five for borrowing liberally from the Beatles.
Be Here Now, however, veers away from the Beatles- inspired ballads. And while the album has its share of Beatles references, it's noticeably lacking in riffs lifted directly from other group's songs. Reverting somewhat to the pure rock 'n' roll sensibility of Definitely Maybe, Be Here Now features faster, harder songs along with its string-filled melodies and twining vocal harmonies. On tracks like "My Big Mouth," Oasis follow the equation that made earlier songs like "Live Forever" and "Supersonic" such great tunes: basic, steady drum beats, guitar-based melodies and heavy doses of attitude, thanks in great part to Liam Gallagher's vitriolic sneer.
The album does still contain a few Morning Glory- like ballads, such as the moving "Don't Go Away." It's a song full of typical verse-chorus-verse Noel lyrics-- simultaneously simple and nonsensical. Still, it's a beautiful tune, and one that exemplifies Oasis: The song might not break ground in terms of originality but it's addictively catchy.
How Oasis manage to write such consistently memorable songs that appeal to so many people is something not even Gallagher can entirely explain. "I think it's a combination of a lot of things and I'm not even too sure what them things are. I'd like to think it's just the melodies and the music and the words, but I suppose there's other things, like the way the band looks, the interviews, the shit like that. I don't know what it is, to tell you the truth. But I don't particularly want to know what it is, because if I know what it is, then it won't interest me anymore. If you don't know what the magic is, how can you lose it?"
Despite the musical growth exhibited on Be Here Now, it seems that Oasis might be losing their cash-register magic--here in America, at least. While Morning Glory sat in the U.S. Top 10 for 15 weeks, as of late December, Be Here Now, five months after its release, was sitting at No. 77 in the Top 200.
Perhaps the band's declining popularity in the States has less to do with its music and more to do with its persona. For one thing, American audiences aren't accustomed to bands who, when they play live, just stand there without cracking a smile. And these days, with many high-profile American artists ducking world-wide fame, Americans aren't used to bands who actually enjoy being famous.
Does Gallagher think people resent Oasis for relishing their fame? "I hope so, yeah," he says characteristically with a laugh. "I don't care if they resent us."
Pausing to consider the question more carefully, he continues, "Well, if they do, then fair enough. But I don't resent people for not enjoying it. That doesn't matter to me. I'm going to enjoy whatever I do because I could get run over by a bus tomorrow. I could die in a plane crash - touch wood, I won't - but I could die in a plane crash. And what then? I fuckin' live my life like a miserable cunt, sat in dressing rooms going, (in a mopey, American accent) 'Hey man, just like, could you stop taking pictures, man.' Fuck that for a game of tennis, mate. You've got to live it while you're young, haven't you? I'm only getting older. This is like a party for us."
Even if the American portion of Oasis' party is at a lull, the band is too busy enjoying the here and now to bother worrying about what may be around the corner. Even the title of their current album is indicative of their state of mind: Live for the present because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Take it from the 30-year-old man who often claims to be in the biggest and best band in the world. "I don't worry [about our success running out] because bands don't stay at a certain level forever. Nothing ever lasts forever. So we're just enjoying it as much as we can until whatever it is deems that we should be back where we started. But I don't care about that. We all just live for the moment."