Noel Gallagher - Heat - 24th February 2000
January 2000. We're somewhere in the British countryside and Liam Gallagher's voice is blaring out of the car's speakers. The new oasis album, 'Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants', is being played for the first time to a handful of journalists on their way to interview Noel Gallagher in a remote studio where the band are rehearsing for their forthcoming tour.
Wheeler End, one hour away from London, seems to be in the middle of nowhere, a perfect hideaway for reclusive rock stars in need of privacy. It's not surprising Oasis have deposited themselves off the beaten track. A lot has happened to the Brothers Gallagher since the release of the last album, 1997's 'Be Here Now'. There is a lot to talk about. A lot to dissect.
Some things haven't changed, of course. The old rivalry with Blur hasn't been forgotten. When they were recently asked by Radio 1's Evening Session to pull out of a hat one of the songs submitted by the listeners and then cover it, the brothers vetoed 'Country House'. And 'Angels' for that matter. (Thankfully The Who's 'My Generation' came up first.)
But 1999 was also a time of much transformation. There was the departure of band members Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and Paul McGuigan, and the subsequent new line-up featuring guitarist Gem and bassist Andy Bell. Alan McGee, the man who discovered Oasis, went off to start his own multimedia company. And Liam and Noel have become fathers Liam's son Lennon was born in September and Anais, the exotically-monikered daughter of Meg and Noel, arrived in January. In fact, it was the conception of Anais, named after Meg's favourite author Anais Nin, that made Noel and his missus abandon showbiz central, London NW3, for the rural life.
Although Meg had initially been reluctant to leave her London lifestyle and friends behind her, Noel had been suffering worrying panic attacks and was becoming increasingly alarmed at Supernova's transformation into "a nightclub", a bacchanalian hang-out for London's cocaine and champagne supernova set.
He wasn't going to let it continue. He took himself and Meg off on a month-long trip to Thailand, Supernova Heights was sold to Davina Murphy and the one-time king and queen of hardcore hedonism have apparently calmed down. judging from tracks such as "Sunday Morning Call" and "Gas Panic" it's a theme that runs all the way through their third album 'Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants'.
In the last two years you've cleaned up your act. Is 'Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants' the album of maturity?
No. I wouldn't go into it too deeply. I suppose it's just another record really. It's the first one I've written while I was straight. And it was recorded while everyone was sober. I suppose in that sense it's a bit of a first for us. As for being a mature adult, I don't really know what that means.
The lyrics seem to be your most personal to date. Is that because you were clear-headed when you wrote them?
That's exactly true. You become very emotionally stunted when you're on drugs, particularly on coke. With the last bunch of albums when I would eventually come to write the lyrics, I would write any old shit that rhymed really. "Champagne Supernova" for instance. What's all that about? Meaningless lyrics are not uncommon in great pop songs. In the case of "Champagne Supernova" it would be nice if it had some really deep meaningful lyrics but it doesn't really matter in the end because the tune in itself is so good. That's what separates the likes of myself from the likes of Richard Ashcroft and Them Yorke. They can articulate their feelings better than I can, whereas I'm probably better at writing music and melodies. That's a positive thing because that gives me something to strive for.
You've recorded this album with the old gang. Now you've got a new line-up. How different is it for you?
There's a better atmosphere within the band. Everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction. Everybody who's in the band now is completely obsessed with music and just playing well really. And everybody gets on well. We still have a laugh and we still like to go out and have a drink. But the band is the band and the recreational side is something else. We seem to have put everything in its right place now at the right time.
Not so long ago you were talking about doing three more albums and then packing it in. Now you're talking about making ten or 20 more. What made you change your mind?
At the time I didn't feel I could sustain my own interest in rock'n'roll for that long. I knew we were going to become a massive stadium band. That didn't particularly appeal to me, still doesn't. If the other two hadn't left the band, I probably would have left eventually. Now it's like being in a new band. It's almost like starting again. But because this album was recorded before Andy and Gem joined the band, the next album will feel like the actual rebirth of Oasis.
Why did the other two leave?
They said it was to spend more time with their families. I personally think it's for something a bit deeper than that. Whether they didn't like the music or whether they felt they couldn't contribute anything more to the music, I don't know. Anyway, it's all in the past now.
Wasn't it a bit like part of the family going away?
It was never a family. All that romantic notion about Oasis being a gang was all bullshit. I lived in London on my own for two years, the rest of the band lived in Manchester. It was never a gang. I never hung out with them, they never hung out with me. We never had the same circle of friends. We never drank in the same places. I was always a bit of a loner anyway.
How important is the success of the new album to you?
The album is already a success because we actually got the fucking thing finished. It's inspired me to make more music. That's how I define success. Whether it sells as much as 'Morning Glory' is debatable, it probably won't. Whether it even sells as many as 'Be Here Now' is debatable. But if we make enough money on this record to go and make another one and it doesn't cost us any money, then financially it's been a success. Spiritually and professionally it's already a success.
Why do you doubt it's going to be successful?
I hope that it will but I wouldn't bank on it. I think it's a better record but that doesn't mean that it's going to sell lots. Phil Collins sells a lot of records but he makes shit albums. Velvet Underground didn't sell any records but they were one of the greatest bands of all time. So fucking work that one out.
What was the decisive factor that made you give up drugs?
My health was suffering really badly. I didn't look well. I didn't feel well. You can lie to all the people around you pretending that you're fine but deep down inside you know that you're not going to last. It's just a case of accepting the facts.
In the past touring has brought a lot of problems within the band. Is it going to be different now?
To me touring is now like going to work, whereas two years ago going on the road was basically like going on an extended drinking session. Usually before we go out on the road nobody really wants to go but we have to because we've made a record. So everybody drowns their sorrows by getting absolutely wasted every day. That's not gonna happen to me this time. I intend to do a lot of sight-seeing on this tour. I've been in some of the greatest cities in the world and just sat in the fucking hotel room doing drugs and drinking.
Keith Richards once said everybody wants to be famous until they are.
I agree with that. Fame is great for about a year. Then it just becomes too much. And you can't back out, you're stuck with it. So you've got to learn how to adapt and to live with it as best you can. One of the ways I dealt with it was by moving out of London and into this part of the country. Not a lot of people live here and know who I am because it's a very rural lifestyle. The other thing is I stay in a lot. By doing that I can devote more time to what it is I actually like - writing music.
So you don't go down to your local in your wellies.
No. I used to go to the local all the time when I lived in London which is one of the reasons why I moved - there's too many distractions in London.
Is it true you bought Mike Oldfield's house in Ibiza?
Yeah, I wanted somewhere for Meg and the kid when I'm on the road. A holiday home that's nice and hot. They're going to spend quite a lot of time on their own. England is not a very pleasant place to live at the best of times, especially if you're a mother with a kid. It's a better quality of life over there, it's less dangerous than London.
What would you have done if you'd drawn 'Country House' on the Radio 1 Evening Session?
I would have gone into the studio, taken the lyric sheet and recited it while I was sitting on the toilet. We told Radio 1 that if we pulled out 'Country House' we wouldn't be announcing it on the air, so we would keep pulling out songs until we found the right one. There's no way I was gonna do 'Country House' or 'Angels', fuck that. I've got better things to do with my time.
So you and Robbie are not friends any more then?
I've never been his friend. He was Liam's friend. Liam used to invite him to the gigs and stuff like that. I've been in dressing rooms with him, I've had conversations with him but I wouldn't even consider him to be a friend of mine. Why? Because he was in Take That! He's a fat dancer from Take That. Somebody who danced for a living! Stick to what you're good at, that's what I always say.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I'd change everything. I've made mistakes every day that I've lived. But I've never made the same mistake twice. I'd probably not have said so many stupid things in interviews. I probably wouldn't have courted fame. I'd change everything except the music. That stands for itself.
Knowing what you know now, would you still have gone to that party in Downing Street?
I wouldn't do that again. But considering that out of anybody I probably pay the most tax in England, I think it's my divine right to see what's behind that No 10 Downing Street door. So I went and had a look around and had a few drinks and left. If I'd known, I'd probably have stayed in that night. I wouldn't have gone because it wasn't a cool thing to do. But then again I've never been concerned about being cool.