Noel Gallagher - Guitar Player.com - 2000
In the birthplace of King Arthur and Eric Clapton -- where civility was honed into a fine art -- few recent acts have done as much as Oasis to champion bad behavior. Guitarist Noel Gallagher has called the Royal Family "clowns" and advocated a public flogging before getting rid of the whole lot. In 1997, he proudly acknowledged his cocaine and alcohol binges by stating that taking drugs is "like having a cup of tea in the morning." Brother Liam -- the band's vocalist -- called George Harrison a "@#!* nipple" and challenged him to a fight. The siblings have also pounded the crap out of each other and various journalists, and repeatedly proclaimed themselves the "best band in the world."
Goody Two-shoes they're not. But the brothers -- along with drummer Tony McCarroll, bassist Paul McGuigan, and guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs -- unleashed a rock and roll crusade in 1994 that reignited an entire generation's faith in the power of six strings and a Marshall amp. Oasis encapsulated all that was holy about the guitar -- style-checking everyone from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols to the Stone Roses -- and brashly infilitrated a media that had turned its back on rock and roll. Never as big in America as they were in Europe, they nonetheless sold millions of records in the States, and returned good old Brit rock to our radio stations.
To anyone who cared enough to look past the tabloid headlines, it was clear that Oasis' stature as perhaps the greatest British guitar band of the '90s was hardly due to hooligan luck. Through all the drugs, brawls, and hysteria, Noel Gallagher worked extremely hard to ensure his band delivered good songs, catchy riffs, and soaring melodies.
It's perhaps Gallagher's fervent dedication to his craft that triggered the latest calamities in the Oasis story. After Gallagher laid down the law, insisting that members had to quit drinking while recording their new album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (the faulty grammar of the title was due to a drunken misquoting of Isaac Newton's words on the £2 coin), Arthurs and McGuigan quit the band. All seemed well when Gem Arthur (guitar) and Andy Bell (bass) joined drummer Alan White in the new lineup, and the band embarked on a U.S. tour early this year. But Liam's continued partying allegedly angered his bandleader brother, and two weeks after speaking to Guitar Player, Noel walked off Oasis' European tour. Slated to rejoin the band for some British dates, Gallagher's abrupt departure put the future of Oasis in question. Whether or not this is the last guitar-oriented interview Gallagher will give as a member of Oasis, it offers insights into the mind of a player who puts as much thought and passion into his music as he generates ink in fanzines and tabloids.
How do you typically start arranging your songs?
Unless it's a really fast sort of punk number, every song starts with an acoustic guitar because that's how I write. In the studio, I sit down with an acoustic guitar and play the whole song to a click track. Then Alan will put his drums on top of that, and he'll usually add some accents or change the beat, so we'll go back and redo the acoustic guitar to match the drums. Then we'll build the track from there.
Do you have arrangement ideas in your head when you're writing the songs, or do you wait until you start fleshing out the tracks in the studio?
The thing about Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is that I had a full year to sit in my 16-track bedroom studio with an engineer friend and make demos, whereas the demo sessions for Be Here Now were finished in two weeks -- and they were really rough. We didn't bother about what sounds we were going to use, or the arrangements, or anything. I thought, "We'll work all that out when we get to the studio."This time, however, I had basically done the album twice before it even got to the band. I had written and recorded the songs on a little Walkman, and then I demoed the tracks on ADATs in my bedroom. And we ended up using a lot of stuff from the demos on the actual record because the demos were that good.
When you work out your guitar parts, do you consider your brother's voice, or do you layer parts and leave it to him to find his place in the mix?
His voice was already recorded -- I always go on last. We'll get every single thing that's going on the record, and then I'll work out my parts while we mix.
Well, if I didn't have a definite idea of what I wanted to do, I couldn't see just playing something for the sake of it. I mean, once you stick something in there and mix it, you can't ever get rid of it -- it's part of the song forever. For example, most of the guitars on Be Here Now were done on the spot, and after I had played the songs for six months on the road, I found that I liked what I was doing then better than the stuff I had recorded. I certainly didn't want that to happen again, so when we started recording the new album, I said, "Well, I'll play each song and wait until something comes along. And if something doesn't come along, we just won't record any guitars."
So I set up a small amp in the back room, and I'd listen to the tracks and mess about until I played something that sounded cool. I'd keep playing that bit for maybe a week -- throwing different variations around -- until I'd go, "Right, let's do it!" Then I'd pretty much get the part down in one take.
Of course, by then you're completely immersed in not only the sonic environment you're trying to fill, but also the emotional element.Yeah -- because you can listen to the song as it's being built up from nothing. Subconsciously, you're working parts out in your head instead of somebody pressing Record and expecting you to pull it out of a hat. And, of course, I'd been listening to the songs for about a year before I recorded my parts, because I'd taken that much time to write and demo everything. When I actually recorded my parts, I had a better understanding of what the song was about, the feel of it all, and how the things I was doing would sound in the final mix. That was really important -- having the mix up so I could hear what the finished product was going to sound like. Usually, when you do stuff in the studio, you're not quite sure how the song is going to sound. Is it going to be rocking and loud, or will it be a quiet mix? Is it going to be acoustic, psychedelic, or what? Also, instead of having recorded something with Marshall stacks, and then six months later getting to the mix and going, "Crap -- we should've used something else there," I had the luxury of being able to hear exactly what would work with the mix. Then I could plug my guitar into a little amp, stick a mic in there, and just get it done.
What instruments and amps did you use on the Giants sessions?
For this album, I decided that I wasn't going to use anything that I'd used on any of the previous three albums. I put away all the guitars and Marshall stacks I'd used on Morning Glory, Be Here Now, and Definitely Maybe.
Then I bought loads of really weird pedals, old guitars, and small amps. In the past, I would just have a couple of 100-watt Marshalls, a Les Paul, and my Epiphone Casino, and that would be it. I wouldn't even try to experiment with guitar sounds, because I couldn't be bothered.
So what prompted you to toss out your old faithfuls?
Well, again, I had the time. There was no pressure to have the record released by a certain date. When somebody gives you an infinite amount of time to produce a record, you tend to take quite a few days just messing around.
What were some of the "new" instruments you used?
A Fender Strat and a '60s Telecaster that Johnny Depp bought me for my 30th birthday. And I just bought this really cool, wine-red '80s Les Paul Deluxe. But it wasn't so much the guitars that changed the sound of the album -- it was the amps. For example, I'd never used a Fender amp on any of my records. It was always Marshalls, Marshalls, and more Marshalls.
Did you try a bunch of Fenders, or stick with one or two models?
The main amps were a Bandmaster and a blackface Princeton.
What were some of the tonal differences you noticed between the Marshalls and the Fenders?
No disrespect to Marshalls, but they have one sound, and that's just about it. They're either really loud, or really quiet. But I found that each Fender amp has its own character.
Then I assume you used the Bandmaster and the Princeton for specific sounds?
Yeah. I used the Princeton for clean sounds, and the Bandmaster would just be for loud, dirty sounds.
Are you bringing the Fenders on the road, or are you sticking with the Marshall sound for live performance?
Well, neither, actually. I'm using Clark amps -- they're made by a guy in America. Spike [Stent, Giants co-producer] downloaded the information from the Internet, and I was intrigued by Clark's claim that he could replicate any tweed Fender, but with sturdy hardware so that they don't rattle around on tour. We couldn't try one out beforehand -- because he only makes the amps to order -- so we took a gamble and sent him some money. Four months later, this amp turns up at our rehearsal studio. We plug it in, and it sounds five times better than my Bandmaster! I don't know what this guy does, but he's a genius.
Which Clark model did you order?
It's a Tyger, which is based on a late-model tweed Bandmaster. Spike ordered a replica of a '59 tweed Deluxe which Clark calls the Beaufort.
How do you dial in your live sound?
I used to just turn up the amps as full as I could get them -- I never used distortion pedals or anything like that. But I started collecting Ibanez Tube Screamers recently, and I've got an old '70s model, which is the best pedal I've ever come across. So now I get a really good rhythm sound, and then kick in a Tube Screamer for the guitar solos. I like that so much better than having a loud guitar sound going all the time.
Good tone, and -- as a bonus -- you're probably saving your hearing.
Absolutely -- and the rest of the band's, too. [Laughs.]
What did you use to record the slide parts on "Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is"?
I'll have to own up and say that's not actually me playing the slide part. That was the engineer, because no one in the band can play slide. For about six months that track had no guitar on it at all, and it was going to stay guitar free. But we ended up deciding that it needed some guitar. I believe he recorded the slide parts on an old Ibanez X Series copy of a Gibson Flying V through -- of all things -- an EMS synthesizer.
No amp was used at all?
No. It's a good sound, isn't it?
What about the parts that sound like backwards slide on "Who Feels Love?"
All the "Who Feels Love?" stuff was done in my bedroom studio. The engineer and I got out two electric guitars, started playing together, and then threw everything into Pro Tools. There's a lot of chopping up on that song, actually. All those backwards parts and floaty bits took a good week to arrange. We wanted the guitars to sound really interesting without being overpowering.
Whereas a band such as AC/DC takes a fundamental approach to guitar tone and tends to produce tracks that sound the same, you've managed to keep more or less conventional guitar tones interesting by layering or orchestrating different sounds and parts. Is this a way for guitar-based bands to evolve sonically without sacrificing the primal impact of the guitar?
I think there's a lot to be learned from producers who make modern music. I learned more from Spike in ten minutes than I've learned from any producer in the past six years. He turned up with a box of effects that I would never plug a guitar into -- all these really cheap, nasty pedals. I'd say, "Oh, and what does that silly thing do?" And he'd answer, "It was meant for something else, but if you use it on guitar, it's fantastic." I always needed convincing, but I have to admit that he really knew his stuff. He helped me see that -- with computers and everything now -- the guitar's tonal possibilities are endless.
A lot of musicians feel that using Pro Tools is a cheat.
Well, screw 'em! Rock musicians don't seem to be very patient, and sitting in front of a computer screen is fundamentally wrong for anyone who has a black leather jacket and shades. I understand when people are frightened of a bit of progress with computers and stuff like that -- especially guitarists. But the thing is, you can always go back to sounding traditional if it doesn't work out. But you have to try new things -- you simply have to.
I think that 18 months from now, Pro Tools is going to be the only way to record music. The first time I saw a computer coming out of its box, I was thinking, "Well that's a waste of $10,000, because nobody is going to use it." Within ten days, I was totally sold on the fact that we could fix things that weren't played quite right, cut and paste parts from different takes, and correct stuff that was out of tune. If it was in the computer, we could make it sound better.
And, obviously, you haven't betrayed the heritage of the big, bashing rock guitar thing by bringing Pro Tools into the studio.
No, not at all. We used Pro Tools to fix some loose drum tracks on "Roll It Over," but everything else was pretty much left the way we played it. We always dump all the tracks into Pro Tools, however, just in case something can be improved.
It used to be that we'd never record anything that was too out there because we wanted to make sure we could reproduce onstage whatever we did in the studio. But that approach can limit the way you make a record. This time, we said, "Well, we can just take the damn computer on the road." I mean, we're not Led Zeppelin, man! So we're loading all the album's backwards guitar parts into the computer and using loops and stuff like that.
Oasis has obviously embraced computer technology, but I think it's difficult for many guitarists to view computers as just as much a part of their rigs as amplifiers.
When I started playing, all you could do was plug a guitar into an amplifier. That was it. Now, you can plug a guitar into anything. Plug into a computer and you've got, like, every amp you can think of in the software. If I was a kid today, and for the price of a 100-watt Marshall stack I could get a computer that simulates 75 amplifiers -- well, I know what I'd be buying. I mean, at the end of the day, screw history. In the real world, it's all about economics, isn't it?
How has your playing evolved since the band's early days?
Let me put it this way -- where I'm at now as a player, is where I should've been four years ago. Four years from now, I'll be where I should be now. This is all because I never took guitar lessons, and I didn't really want to be a lead-guitar player. I'm more of a rhythm player, I love just strumming the guitar -- it's beautiful. But I never get the time to sit down and work out riffs or anything like that. I have to wait for the inspiration to come, and, hopefully, I'll get it right. But, having said all that, I'm really proud of the guitar playing on Giants. And, a lot of that satisfaction has to do with being around producers and engineers who have helped me get my best bits on tape. They'll say, "Hang on a minute, why don't you play that part there, and this part over there?" I feel like I've learned a lot in the last six months.
Although you seem confident and in control of your vision for the Oasis sound, you're also incredibly open to outside opinions. It's interesting that you'd take so much direction from producers and engineers.
My thing is the writing. Nobody tells me how to write and arrange my songs. When we rehearse before going in to do an album, there's no producer around at all. I do the writing and the arranging, and then when we get to the studio, it's like walking into an open book. At that point, I'm open to ideas. In the old days, we used to show up with two amps, two guitars, and a crate of Jack Daniels, and that would be it. If someone suggested an experiment, I'd say, "I haven't got time to think about this because the beer's getting warm. Just plug in the damn guitar, set the mic in front of the amp, and let's do it!" Whereas now, we bring everything to the studio -- every single amplifier we own, and every plectrum and pedal. We wanted to try a lot of different things -- "All right, that sounds cool. Now let's try this" -- because we had plenty of time to experiment.
Having the freedom to experiment is a recurring theme in the production process of Giants.
Absolutely. And trying different things at home was helpful because I wasn't paying $800 a day for studio time while I was working out parts. And even when I was in the studio playing to the mix, it wasn't wasted time -- we were mixing the song! That's great, because you're there -- you've almost got the finished article coming out of the speakers, and you're just waiting to discover the perfect part.
GALLAGHER & CLARK
Here are the basic specs for the made-to-order Clark amps that Gallagher uses on tour.
The Beaufort ($1,295) is an 18-watt, 1x12 combo (a Celestion Blue alnico speaker is standard) with normal and bright channels, and a common tone control. The amp features one 5Y3, two 6V6s, one 12AX7, and one 12AY7. The Tyger ($2,205) is a 35-watt, 3x10 combo (Weber VST P10R alnico speakers standard) with normal and bright channels and common bass, treble, and presence controls. Tubes are one 5U4/GZ37, two 6L6WGB/5881s, two 12AX7s, and one 12AY7. For more information on Clark amps, check out clarkamplification.com.