Noel Gallagher - Guitar World - April 2000
Oasis is a huge deal in the U.K., enormous in the U.S.-and that's as it should be, says band leader Noel Gallagher.
"I think they're all too English for their own good," says Noel Gallagher. "They trade on their Englishness." Oasis' guitarist and sole songwriter is sitting in a Manhattan hotel lobby, nursing a cold with hot tea and pontificating about why his contemporaries in the Brit-Pop scene - Blur, Suede, Stone Roses et al. - have all failed in their efforts to conquer America.
"People in England think that if they're big over there, they have a divine right to be big over here, because the Beatles came from England. But nobody owes anybody anything. It's the songs that matter. Play us a song. Is it any good? No, I didn't think so-fuck off! Next!"
Like so many denizens of the hype-heavy British scene, Gallagher is a self-promoter par excellence. The words "we're better than the Beatles" have passed, without a trace of irony, through his lips more than once. "It's like a game of baseball," he explains. "The press hold the ball, but you hold the bat. So they toss you the ball now and again, and it's up to you to knock it for a home run and run around the stadium."
What sets Manchester's Oasis apart from the rest of the Brit braggarts is that Gallagher's loose cannon is loaded with live ammunition. He writes world-class hooks in the best British Invasion tradition and builds songs around them with deft popcraft, turning a chorus into a three-chord mantra that loops around in one's head all day long. While few would call him a true original-one song on Oasis' new album contains not-so-subtle lifts from Lennon, Dylan and Mott The Hoople-his gift for melody is undeniable. "When we get time off from the band, everyone else goes on `oliday, but I just start writing. I went away once over the summer, and our management wouldn't let me take a guitar with me-they locked 'em all up. They're afraid of me burning myself out."
Noel got his start as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets, also from Manchester, who enjoyed a 15-minute heyday in the early Nineties. While on tour in America, he received a call from his mother who informed him that his younger brother Liam was singing in a band. When Noel returned home and attended one of their gigs, he was thoroughly unimpressed, but saw potential in Liam's snotty tunefulness and cocksure presence. According to legend, he told the band, "You either let me write the songs, and we go for superstardom, or you stay here in Manchester for the rest of your lives like sad cunts."
Noel joined the band and was promptly handed the reins. Two years later, Oasis was signed to Creation. An increasingly successful string of singles set the stage for their 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe, which entered the British charts at #1 and became the fastest-selling debut in UK pop history. That year's (What's The Story) Morning Glory, powered by the impossibly infectious "Wonderwall," is flying off the shelves here in America. In the same way that Led Zeppelin's Norse god posturing was enhanced by their domination of rock radio during the Seventies, Oasis' success fuels their excesses. With every sold-out tour, their anthemic choruses sound less bombastic, and 100,000 albums sold, their arrogance becomes more quaint and romantic.
Your love of certain bands is obvious in your music. Do you consider yourself a fan who writes songs, or a songwriter who happens to be a fan?
A fan who writes songs, definitely. I'm a fan of music who's celebrating that fact in my songwriting. I'm not saying, "I'm the greatest songwriter in the world. Listen to me." Usually, I'm saying, "These are the greatest songwriters in the world. And I'm gonna put them all in this song."
Your chord progressions and melodies bear more resemblance to those of people like John Lennon, Ray Davies and Ian Hunter than to anything that's come out lately.
The only person I have any respect for as a songwriter over the last 10 years is Kurt Cobain. He was the perfect cross between Lennon and McCartney. He belted it out like Lennon, but his melodies were so Paul McCartney. They were dead bouncy up and down-jolly melodies-but he was a miserable fuck at the same time. A lot of people have likened my songwriting style to Kurt Cobain's, which I tend to agree with most of the time. We both use basic chord structures-dead simple, no more than four chords. What's the point in fuckin' about? Then the melody slopes in and out and up. It goes up an extra bit and then down two bits. If you were to write out the music in sheet form, some of Cobain's songs would look exactly like mine, and vice versa.
You have a reputation for "borrowing" a hook or two. Do you ever stick other bands' riffs in a song so people will accuse you of nicking them from somewhere?
Yeah, of course! That's half the game. I want people to know where the inspiration for the song comes from. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. That really winds up other bands in England. They'll go, "Don't you feel guilty about having so much success by blatantly pinching riffs?" I'll go, "No. I don't feel guilty. But you feel pissed off because you didn't do it first." We have a saying: Why write your own songs when you can use someone else's? [laughs] If anyone has any doubt that the end of "Electric" comes from "With a Little Help From My Friends," they're being too generous. They all start off as jokes, but we can't get rid of them in the studio. It's like that Gary Glitter bit in "Hello" - we always meant to change that, but the damn thing wouldn't go away, and in the end we just said fuck it, man. It's a laugh.
What did you listen to as a kid?
The Sex Pistols, the Jam, the Beatles, the Who, the Damned, the Stooges, Small Faces. The first gig I went to was the Damned at the Manchester Apollo in 1980. I couldn't believe how loud it was and how tall the stage was. I'd only seen concerts on TV, where the camera is level with the band. When I saw the stage all the way up there, I was really struck. That was the moment when I said, "This is what I want to do."
After you joined Oasis, how long did it take to get to the point where you felt ready?
We were ready straight away! But we played to virtually nobody for two years before we got signed. And after we got signed we still played for nobody for almost six months. Then it sorta went [snaps his fingers] like that. We've done our apprenticeship, if you like.
Many of the songs on (What's The Story) Morning Glory? are played at a slow and dragging tempo.
Everything's so hundred-miles-an-hour these days. Everyone should slow down and get back into the groove. I always loved the pace of "I Am the Walrus." That's ace. Anyone can dance to that - "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be," too. But if you put 10 tracks like that on an album, it's gonna sound boring. That's why we try to change the pace. But we never go super-ballistic-over-the-top fast.
You have a very lyrical lead guitar style, not unlike [Mott The Hoople guitarist] Mick Ralphs or a latter-period George Harrison.
Yeah, some people say it's like Mick Ronson, too. I take them all as compliments! When I can, I follow the vocal melody. Or on something like "Champagne Supernova," I go completely over the top. When we're in the studio, the solo is the last thing to get worked out. For "Don't Look Back in Anger," I sat down and did it in one take. But I'm getting quite bored of hearing my guitar playing at the moment-it's really doing me in. I might start taking lessons or something. I always end up playing the same fookin' thing all the time. Everyone goes, "No, no! You're a great guitarist!" but I've jammed with [ex-Jam leader] Paul Weller, man, who is fookin' phenomenal, and it puts me to shame. I sit there thinking, "I wish I could play guitar like that."
Have you always played Les Pauls?
I've dodged between Les Pauls and Epiphone Rivieras. I've gone back to Rivieras at the moment.
Do you stuff them with cotton to keep them from feeding back?
I love feedback! Some people tape up the f-holes, don't they? I don't do anything like that.
You use a number of full Marshall stacks live. What do you record with?
I've got a lot of amplifiers. For most of the guitar parts, I use a WEM Dominator-a little 25-watt English amp that David Bowie used to use - a Marshall Bluesbreaker and a Vox AC30, which I use for all the rhythm parts. For the solos, I play a customized Firebird through Marshall stacks, to get that sustain. I've got a guy in England, Bill Puplett, who makes pickups for us. I brought him these Seymour Duncans that were the loudest fookin' things I'd ever heard. I said to him, "Make me ones just like these, only louder." I've got them in my Les Paul, and they're great. I regret having put them in my Firebird, though - I shouldn't have fooked with the guitar, man. I was gonna get some fitted into my Riviera, but that would just be too mental.
Your second album followed closely on the heels of the first. Do you feel you're racing against time?
If the songs are in there, I've got to get them out before I forget them all. I'm probably the only songwriter in the history of rock and roll who can't operate a four-track machine. I've got no recording devices at home at all.
Not even a one-track?
I don't even use that! I sit down, get a chord structure, then a melody and keep playing it every morning when I get up, or every spare moment, until it's locked in there [taps his head]. Then I write the words. The record company bought me an eight-track in a massive flight case. But I never use it. It took me two days to switch it on!
In many of your interviews around the time of Definitely Maybe you guys were a little, shall I say, immodest.
[pauses] You mean we were a bit arrogant? Well, yeah! In England, in that little NME [New Musical Express], Melody Maker world, you're supposed to be happy with your lot and ashamed of success. And that's been bred into kids and reinforced by the likes of Eddie Vedder-feeling guilty for selling millions of records. We were the first ones to come along and say, "What the hell is wrong with that? I'm selling millions of records, and I've got loads of money in the bank." If you've earned it, why feel guilty about it? If someone's making money, it might as well be me. But more than that, we were the first band to come along and go [points around the room] "You're shit, you're shit, you're overpaid for a start, you've got one song, and you, you're not ever gonna write even one of my worst songs." And people were like, "You can't say that!" We turned the whole thing upside down. [laughs] Of course, now everyone's getting into it. But I think it's OK; bands should be honest. We went a bit over the top - 30% was tongue in cheek, but 70% we meant.
Morning Glory got some negative reviews in England. Do you feel any kind of backlash coming?
Well, they're trying their hardest to start one, but fuck it, who cares? [laughs]
Do you want to ride this out for as long as you can?
I want to ride it out for as long as I think I'm good enough to do it. When I see myself slipping, or when I've written two bad records in a row, then I'll probably call it a day. But until I've written a bad record, I probably won't even think about giving it up. I'll know when the time comes. I want to get bored of it.