Noel Gallagher -Q Special Edition - July 2002
It is a bright, breezy, late spring day in Marylebone as Q heads for the London headquarters of Ignition, Oasis's management, which also serves as home to their Big Brother imprint and Noel's Sourmash label. Outside the pub around the corner, men gather with pints and ties are loosened. Inside the office, girls with a brisk, hearty manner type briskly and heartily, the band's next single, Stop Crying Your Heart Out, weeps grandly from unseen speakers and Andy Bell, looking positively elfin among the folds of an immense, pristine camouflage jacket, talks quietly to a mate about his kids.
Gallagher elder is sprawled on a sofa upstairs, slim and slight and smaller than you'd expect, fresh from the inevitable round of Japanese phone interviews that fall between another Number 1 single and the release of his band's fifth studio album, Heathen Chemistry. He sports a T-shirt that trumpets The Hindu Times as India's biggest selling newspaper. He recognizes that interviews are "part of the job", which means no whingeing (about or during) and answering every question with a methodical earnestness. He is, Q quickly realizes, a very amenable person, reliable in the most noble sense. While he often shies away from big emotional issues, he'll quite often nip "round the back of them" to give you a quick peep. It's these qualities, it seems, that have steered him safely through the last few years, as Oasis felt the full force of the unreliable warp drive of success.
Rock'n'roll's had something of a renaissance since you've been away...
It's great. Rock'n'roll comes in cycles anyway-there wasn't a lot around before Oasis turned up, then there was quite a bit. But yeah, with The Hives, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and The Strokes, it's fucking good. Saying that, on top of all that sit Doves, who I think have made a fucking really special record. Fantastic. It's not rock'n'roll in the sense of Les Pauls and "windmills", but it's mega, mega music. There's not many records that come along in your life-especially these days-when you think, I'm gonna have that 'til the day I die. Like the Coldplay album. Fuckin' special, man.
Does "punk rock" mean anything much now?
It's not the same as rock'n'roll. It's a term that's bandied about quite recklessly. If it was anything, it's an attitude, isn't it? When Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sing, "Whatever happened to my rock and roll?" they don't mean rock'n'roll as music, to me they mean. "Whatever happened to my youth? Whatever happened to my beauty, my purity, my attitude?" They could just as well sing, "Whatever happened to my punk rock?"
Primal Scream are punk rock and rock'n'roll to me-you can never pin one badge on them. It's the breaking of rules. The Prodigy are puck rock. It's not punk rock music, but when you watch it you're in the presence of punk rockers. It certainly doesn't mean black leather jackets and spiky hair.
How's your relationship with Liam changed over the last 10 years?
He's started writing, and I've got a lot more respect for him cos he's actually contributing something to the band other than his attitude and his hairdo.
It is good hair, though?
Fuckin' great! What can I say?! And his attitude is spot on, but after 10 years he's thrown in the fuckin' curveball and started writing songs and they're actually fuckin' great songs, so he's becoming more interesting as a dude.
Liam recently described you as Vera to his Jack Duckworth...
[Laughs] Well... I couldn't possibly agree with him. I know that he's getting at, yeah: two fuckin' old fuckers just moaning at each other all the time. But that's what keeps it interesting.
Jack and Vera might fight, but there's a real affection between them.
'Course there is. I like Liam a lot. I really do. I speak to him every fuckin' day. He phones me at nine in the morning: "Are you watchin' fuckin' Trisha?" Fuckin' knobhead, what's he on? He's a really fuckin' good mate of mine. On top of that he's my brother and on top of all that, he's the singer in the band we're both in, So I do like him a lot. [More quietly] But I don't like publicly stating that. It'll go to his head. He's a fucking cool guy, he is.
When your marriages were falling apart in tandem, did you swap...
Experiences? Like, You're going through it too.
No, no, no, no, no. Certainly not. We're not Christians or anything like that. I knew exactly what he was going through, he didn't have to tell me. We're very, very...y'know, very, very close. Who wants to reiterate how shit your life is to each other? Not that our lives were shit, but the shit you're going through. When we meet up, and we're not in the band, we talk about the same things: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and I'll argue about how great they are. We talk about our kids and stuff, but we don't talk about our past relationships, that would be just fuckin' shite. Done and dusted. Onwards and upwards.
Force Of Nature, on the new LP, seems to echo Where Did It All Go Wrong? and Gas Panic! from ...Giants, your "dark night of the soul" songs.
Force of Nature and Little By Little were written for this film that came out in '98-a British gangster film called Love, Honour And Obey, it's didn't really do much-and we were gonna put them on Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants but Guigs and Bonehead left halfway through, Alan McGee had folded Creation, so we just though, Fuck it, we'll hold them back. They're not autobiographical at all. You'd have to go and get that film out to prove my point. I can understand people looking at the lyrics and thinking, He's singing about his ex or about his drugs hell. My confessional songs have already been on Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants-those two are the ones that document me going, "Why can I not write music that's satisfying to me any more?"
Was there ever a point when you though, I just want to get off this ride?
No, no, it's never been like that. The fat lady hadn't started singing but she was definitely clearing her throat. Definitely having her lemon and honey. Definitely doing her scales. But she'd not started the performance. You could be dramatic and say we came this close, but you can't really say, "Another six weeks and we'd have packed it in", cos this is our life, it's not a business we run. I will never make records without Liam. I'll do stuff with The Chemical Brothers and he'll do stuff with Death In Vegas and the Prodigy but that's just him doing his own thing. I'll never be in another band except this one and I'll never go solo because I don't like being surrounded by session musicians.
That's been a recurring question...
Yeah. There was a point when Liam was being a bit annoying. He was taking his personal shit that was going on at home and bringing it in to the rehearsal room and sorta taking it out on everybody else. I though, Well, fuckin' can I be arsed with the cunt any more? But once you take six months off you stand back and [think], Do I really wanna be in the studio when I'm not sure about a song and see a load of people who are paid to agree? Or do I wanna see my mates who are in this for the same reason? If I ask, "Am I doing the right thing here?" do I want people saying "Yes, Robbie, you are." Again, I never weighed that up-but looking at it now, I wouldn't want that. I respect Liam's opinion more than anybody else's on the planet.
That's a good reason.
It's the only reason. Six months sat on a beach will soon sort your head out. The anger at Liam and all that...you think, Yeah, he's been a bit of an arsehole, but you live in hope that he's gonna change. He hits 30 this year, so, cool, man.
You've often been quite self-deprecating about your own songwriting.
I'm just honest. It's not for effect. I'm not being honest for your benefit, or for the readers' benefit... I don't give a fuck what they think about my music: I'm being honest with myself. We'd been two weeks recording Be Here Now and somebody collared me outside Abbey Road and said, "What's it like?" and I said, "Pub rob bollocks". That wasn't me giving a humorous anecdote to the person with the tape recorder. I can loot at myself in the mirror every fuckin' morning when I'm having a shave. Liam's always saying, "There's no need for you to be like that." But I have to be comfortable with me. I can't dress my music up into something that it's not.
I don't sit down and go, "I'm gonna make music that's gonna be sung by the gods of fuckin' Uranus for the next 5000 aeons." What can I say to ya? I fuckin' play guitar in a fuckin' rock'n'roll. You can take it or leave it.
Do you get frustrated by being judged against The Beatles?
That's all come about because we're the biggest Beatles fans that ever lived, and we still are. It is unfair cos we don't sound like The Beatles. We're somehow required by the faceless masses to produce forward thinking music.
If we were the only band in the world that could actually play guitars, I would feel somehow indebted to do some different kinds of music. If you want fuckin' prog rock, fuckin' space jazz, death metal techno, it's all there for you in HMV. But we do what we do. It you want rock'n'roll that can lift you up out of your everyday life but not so far that it makes you want to slash your fuckin' wrists, if you want songs to drink to, if you want songs to put your arm 'round your girlfriend or your best mat to, then it doesn't get any beter than us. If you want reggae, there's Bob Marley. If you want progressive fuckin's forward-thinking rock music, there's Radiohead. If you want melancholy, introspective stuff there's Coldplay and Travis. I do stuff that makes my bollocks tingle, and what makes my bollocks tingle are The Stooges, the Pistols, The Beatles, and the Stones and The Stone Roses. As soon as we change out musical direction the first thing people say is, "What the fuck have you done that for?"
What makes you decide to keep a song for yourself to sing?
Liam. The reason Liam didn't sing Little By Little was that he had a go, and if Liam can't give it 110 per cent and then some, he just goes, "I'm not gonna fuckin' do it." I wanted him to sing it cos I wanted that to be the first single, and he was going, "That's one of the best fuckin' vocals you've ever sang, why do you want me to sing it?" And I was like, "You're the fuckin' singer" and he said, "I'm not gonna get it any better." It's his favourite ever Oasis song, and he came to singing it and he was gutted. I've seen him put his head in his hands on the mixing desk and he'll know. There are verses that are amazing that he sang, but he is his own boss. We're lucky we've got two frontmen. And when he says he can't sing it, I just go [gleefully] "Brilliant!" I just think, Well, that's a fuckin' shame, but they don't get consigned to the dustbin, I just get me headphones on and go, "Fuckin; right!"
Do you still have ambitions?
Everything I'd like to do I'm going to do. We're gonna go into fifth gear; the next record will happen very quickly. It might be overly fuckin' psychedelic, it might not be. The music that I've started to do, demos of little instrumental bits, it's more of the same but not as grandiose. I'd like to use a proper big-name producer-not that I think anyone could get an extra 10 per cent out of us, but just to see what it was like. We're at a stage now where if it's not working, we can go back to our own studio. We're quite capable of it. Once you've played Knebworth and sold 18 million copies of Morning Glory-they're all factual things, just statistics-there are no more records to be broken. It'd be nice to have a Number 1 album in America, but it's not something I would chase around the fuckin' room like a fuckin' chicken [imitates strangled chicken noise]. I'd like to cover one of George Harrison's songs, It's All Too Much, as a band. Just covers really. [Burt Bacharach's] This Guy's In Love With You.
You're quite loved up at the moment, aren't you?
[Slightly defensive] Not overly loved up, no. I've always loved that song. [Returning briskly to previous question] I've met all my heroes and they were all cool. I sang that song with Burt Bacharach onstage with a fuckin' 50 piece orchestra-it doesn't get any better for me. I personally know Neil Young, he likes my fuckin' records. I've giggles with him and he's cool. Paul Weller's one of me best mates, I know Ian Brown and I know Johnny Marr. There's nothing really that's missing from my life in musical terms.
How easy was it to give up almost half an album to other people?
It's wasn't "giving up". Really. After the six I've got on the album, I only wrote another thee or four songs. Usually I'd write 18, an album and B-sides. I didn't go askin' the band, "Can you help me out?" Liam had got a load of songs together and went up to the studio with the boys and did a session with all his tunes. Three songs stood out. He didn't say, "Is it alright if we do some of my tunes?" I was like, "Fuckin' Songbird is a major tune, man, but I think you're playing it wrong, and Born On A Different Cloud is brilliant, don't change any of that, and Better Man is really great but we can get it better." Gem and Andy never said [timidly] "Could we possibly do one of mine?" When you're in the studio people start playing. It's all very natural. Saying that, next time I might write all the songs. I might not write any. It's very fluid.
How has the dynamic in the band changed?
It's just very natural. No-one's trying to edge anybody else out for the guitar parts or the harmonies or anything like that. I've always been of the opinion that we are all slaves to the record. Regardless of who has written it or who's producing it, the record is in charge. Of course, if it's my song and I think one part sounds great and everyone else thinks that it sounds shit, if I believe in it 250 per cent, then it ends up being the way that I want it. If I'm doing something that I think sounds really great and everybody else thinks it sounds shit, and I'm in two minds, then I'd go with them-cos Liam, Andy and Gem, I'd take their opinion over anybody's.
Would you write with Liam or the others?
I helped him out on Better Man, and we all helped out of Different Cloud, but, see, I've never actually sat down and... Me and Paul Weller, on a number of occasions, have tried to sit down [thinking] "We should write a song cos it would be great" but for whatever reason the magic's not been in the air. So I don't think it's something you could plan. It would be great to have a Gallagher/Gallagher composition at Number 1, it would be fuckin' great, it would be great for music. It would be... the natural thing. But again, I wouldn't do it for the sake of it.
Do the other writers in the band consciously try to write Oasis songs?
I don't know whether they do, but I certainly hope they do, cos we don't do space jazz. We do psychedelia and stuff like that sometimes, when it suits us, but we're not claiming to be pushing the boundaries of music forward here. We make music that we listen to. We make music that we like to listen to. We like rock'n'roll. We like electric guitars. But saying that, there were no guidelines set down for anybody, apart from, "Don't fuckin' come in here with a reggae song, because I won't even listen to it." That's it, really. Anyway, Gem was in Heavy Stereo, they were a rock'n'roll group. And Andy's musical influence are more broad than anybody's-Buffalo Springfield and lots of Krautrock and stuff like that. That may well come out in his songwriting, I certainly hope it will. But the rest of us have all got virtually identical record collections.
Has your daughter Anais started to respond to music yet?
She does like a dance-to the Tweenies, I have to admit. I went to Wembley Arena to see the Tweenies with her and she was having a bit of a boogie. It's actually very confusing for her at the minute because she thinks that I live in the television. I think she finds it quite odd. She thinks [mimes toddle viewing dad in the flesh with amused suspicion] "Hmmm." She's two and a half now and she's coming on fuckin; great, man. She's absolutely hilarious. Funnily enough, she can already decipher between happy songs and sad songs. She'll be running 'round the house like a madhead, and I'll just be strumming away, and she'll stop and go, [very small, sweet voice] "play a happy song," and I'll play Roll With It and she'll have a dance. I'm sure she'll take the path of any normal adolescent: Robbie Williams, Britney Spears, Eminem.
Would you mind her playing Robbie Williams around the house?
If she gets something from Robbie Williams, great. Music's there to be enjoyed. If she's genuinely interested, which I hope she will be, I cannot wait to sit down and go, "Right. White Album. Fuckin' check this out". Or the Doves' album. If not, that's fine. It'd be great if she was, though.