Noel Gallagher - Q - February 1999
Outside Supernova Heights, the North London pied a terre of Oasis's Noel Gallagher, there is a lot of graffiti. "I want you Noel," says one felt-tip billet-doux., "even though I know I will never have you, because you are married!" Next to it, there is another, even more unsettling slogan: "Eddie Vedder rules." Inside, sat at a beautiful dark oak dining table, is the ruffled but twinkling lord of the manor, above him a Warholesque screen print of The Beatles, below that a flourescent '50s jukebox stuffed full of classic singles: "Paperback Writer", "Itchycoo Park", The Bar-Kays' "Soul Finger" among them. Q readers' most popular contemporary writer of singles is feeling spry - he gave up daily cocaine use in April - and keen to impart his views on rock'n'roll's most explosive format.
What was the first single you bought?
It was either "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" by The Damned, or "Anarchy In The UK" [by The Sex Pistols], though not at the point when they came out. The first current in-the-charts single I bought was something by The Jam. Probably "Start!"
It's such a different experience to buying an album isn't it?
With a single you've already heard it before you buy it. It's a badge more than a discovery, I suppose - though the B-sides were always important to me. The Jam and The Smiths always had brilliant B-sides. The B-side of "This Charning Man" was "Jeane", and I can remember turning it over for the first time and going, "F****** hell, that's good". "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side" had "Rubber Ring" and "Asleep", top song.
A single can also be a declaration, a signpost to where a band is going next - like "Whatever" was for Oasis...
Yeah, it was a signpost to where we were going, and we didn't feel obliged to put it on "What's The Story..." either. But it's a shame, y'know, because when you become a massive f*****g big band you can't do things like that anymore. You get told by your label that you can't put three singles out before the album. Now, when you put a single out and an album two weeks later, it's over almost before it's started.
Do you know when you've written a single?
Oh yeah. There was someone round here the other day - I won't tell you who it was, though it was someone quite famous - desperate to hear some of the new demos. So I said, "Well, you can hear the single". And he said, "You know that it's gonna be the single, just from the demos?" He was quite shocked.
What makes a great single?
It's got to be short. The radio is so powerful these days, especially in England, anything going over three and a half minutes, forget it. "D'You Know What I Mean?" was about eight minutes long and they only played it up to the first bridge. I was siting there, out of it, f*****g strung out, going "They'll play all eight minutes of it. They'' play all three guitar solos, 'course they will, becuase it's got my name on it and I rule the f*****g world!" And, of course, they didn't.
It's funny how three minutes has become the legendary optimum length...
The three-minute rule comes from the States, from the '50s. The people who owned restaurants where all the kids were hanging out and drinking Coca-Cola, wanted them to feed the jukeboxes more regularly, so they pressed for shorter singles. Can you believe that? Some geezer and his hamburger-flipping mates forty-five years ago are the reason why musicians still have to write three-minute pop songs! Americans, man, they're the f*****g scum of the earth.
When something new comes along - whether it's rock'n'roll or glam or punk - it always seems to arrive with singles.
It has to. Because if you see a band live and say, "F*** it, let's sign them", you've no idea what they're like in the studio, or if they're f*****g drug addicts, you just know they've got something. It was certainly like that with us. We were doing gigs that consisted of four songs, one of which was "I Am The Walrus". So Alan McGee must have thought, "Well they've got three songs - that's a single." And this is before he heard "Supersonic". That's all he had to go on. We didn't have shitloads of demos or anything.
Your first three singles were a bit of a monument. "Supersonic" punched people's lights out, "Shakermaker" took the piss and "Live Forever" broke their hearts...
Oh aye. McGee wanted to put "Live Forever" out straight away. Marcus [Russell, Oasis manager] was talking about building it slowly. I was just gagging for the drugs and the women. I sat in McGee's flat in Rotherhithe, and I'll always remember this conversation - we'd just decided that "Shakermaker" would be the next single - and he's going [affects perfect Creation Glaswegian] "I'll tell you why it's genius Noel, it's a great character single." And I started laughing my head off. I couldn't believe he'd analysed it! I was going, "Forget about the f*****g characters, Al, just give me the drugs and I'll go get me some birds!"
So what's the demo of the next single like?
It starts with a drum loop and you'll go, "That's not Oasis." It's really short and catchy, it hasn't got a guitar solo and there are no backing vocals. You know like in "Live Forever" there isn't actually a chorus, just a little refrain? It's like that, and there's a sort of hole in the song where everything goes swirly and mental - backwards stuff from Camberwick Green, Windy Miller dialogue - and then there's like a false key shift which kicks the song into a totally new gear.
What feedback have you had on it?
Alan McGee told this guy at Sony: "They've got it back." I'd like him to tell me where we lost it. I know where we lost it.
Where did you lose it?
Down the drug dealer's f*****g front room is where we lost it. If you're given a blank cheque to record an album and as much studio time as you want you're hardly gonna be focused. There's a pub round the corner and Kentucky Fried Chicken - you just get lazy. [Be Here Now]'s not as inspired when you put it next to the other two albums. We weren't pushing ourselves in the studio. We nearly split up when we came back off tour before it and it was like, "Uh, we forgot to split up." Good for the bank balance, though.
We need Oasis back, don't we?
There's been a lot of good bands this year, but there's not been a good rock'n'roll band. There's been a lot of foot-tapping and a lot of chin-stroking, but not a lot of arse-shaking. And there's a lot of rock'n'roll numbers already written for the next record.
How do you rate "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (by Nirvana)?
That's a f*****g good single - easily one of the great singles of the last ten years, becuase it starts from nothing and builds into this f*****g raucous , shouting thing. Oasis wouldn't have been so heavy if it hadn't have been for Nirvana. When we started out we sounded more like The Stone Roses circa the first album, but getting older and taking more drugs and listening to Neil Young more and Nirvana, that's what did it - Yeah, get that knob up to eleven, turn up the bass, turn down the vocals and make him shout, the lazy c***.
What do you think about Nirvana refusing to play it by the end?
I think that's just taking the piss out of your fans. The Who always play "I Can't Explain" and we'll always play "Wonderwall". People ask us if we get bored of it. You can't get bored of 15,000 people shouting for "Wonderwall". That's better than drugs. You get a hard-on when you hear that.
Roll With It vs Country House was a great singles moment...
Blur are a good singles band. "Song 2" is good, "End Of The Century" is good, "Beetlebum" is great. I liked "Chemical World". But it's weird, they do that and then they come up with biggest pile of donkey shit.
Is "Wonderwall" your bravest single?
That was a massive departure for us. In my head it was like Joy Division with strings. We were putting our bollocks on the line. But Liam, first time he heard "Wonderwall" he said, "That's puff's music, I'm not sing that." For weeks and weeks and weeks he wouldn't sing it, and then he heard me singing it and then he knew...
What's the best Beatles single?
"Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever". Strawberry Fields is probably the perfect pop song - when you take into account the experimentation, the words and the melody, it's f******g incredible....
How experimental can Oasis be?
People aren't gonna get Sgt Pepper, 'cos it's not in there [taps head]. Who's experimental anyway? Not The Prodigy. They're bound by the restrictions of the big electronics companies - it's Mr Yamamoto building the new sampler who's doing the experimenting, not them. The only really experimental band of the last five years have been Stereolab and who gives a f*** about them? I mean, I like them, but who really gives a f***? Y'know, I like honesty and balls-out rock'n'rillness. I like a f*****g tune. If "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had sounded like "Wonderwall" or vice versa they would still have been brilliant singles. Does it want to make you get out of your bed in the morning? Does it make you want to shag your bird? Does it make you want to take drugs? Does it make you want to have a fight? Does it make you want to put your arm round your mate and say I love you? That's what counts.
Actually, our kid came by where I was recording, and I thought he was gonna sing on some of the demos. But he comes in, opens a can of Red Stripe, sits on the couch, drinks it sown in one, lights a fag, and goes, "It's f*****g great being back in the studio!" F*****g hell. He sat there in the same place for a week - didn't even bring a chnage of clothes - with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a tray of Stellas, just drinking, going, "This is what I miss about being in a band!"
Has 1998 treated you well?
This year's been the greatest year I've ever had. I kicked drugs in April. Didn't go into rehab like all me mates did - f*****g lightweights. I just wasn't gonna do it anymore. It wasn't doing my health any good and I couldn't focus on anything. So I came off the road in March and carried on taking drugs every day 'cos I had f*** all else to do. But by the end of April I thought, "If this carries on, I'll be dead by Christmas". So I packed it in and about six weeks later I started writing songs. So I've writen thirteen since June, all pretty much f*****g straight. I feel much better for it, and it's funny when we have a party round here, I have a glass of wine and watch everyone else descend down that really dark corridor. Then you wake up in the morning, have a little sachet of Resolve, a couple of Nurofen and shout "Good Morning!" at all the f*****g casualties. And y'know, I've found I've started writing about things now, rather than abstract f*****g shit. I've enjoyed it, to tell you the truth.