Noel Gallagher - CNN - 19th July 2002
Gaining an upper hand on the world is a nice thing, as Noel Gallagher of Oasis would tell you. And any rocker with the audacity to release an album titled "Heathen Chemistry" is hardly likely to feel he's fighting an uphill battle.
Nevertheless, fans of Oasis know that, of all bands, finding a chemistry -- even a heathen one -- is no small feat for this famously contentious bunch.
But the drugs are gone, and the drinking is less, according to Gallagher. The brothers' legendary fights have dropped off too, he says. And this latest entry from Oasis, which hit stores July 2, has been received well by critics and fans. The British band's fifth studio album signals a renewal of sorts: two new members, more writing from Noel's brother Liam, and a purer rock 'n' roll spirit overall.
Oasis' new recording, still rolling with the bluesy lows and anthem highs of rock, works hard to live up to its title. Gallagher says he can feel the change in the spirit. "Now it's more like a vocation again," he says.
In keeping with this mood of rejuvenation, Gallagher says his favorite song on "Heathen Chemistry" is the upbeat "Songbird." It "seems to have caught the imagination of everyone," he says. A composition by his brother, it's a laid-back love song for a muse who sends love in return.
On "Songbird," a guitar strums and a simple piano drip-drops: "Talk of better days that have yet to come / Never felt this love from anyone." The tune appears to fit Gallagher's attitude these days. "What we've done with this record is put the past to bed," he says. "It's about to get very special for us."
The Music Room recently caught up with Gallagher to talk about the future of Oasis, and just how the band has made it this far.
TMR: Are you proud of how "Heathen Chemistry" has turned out?
Gallagher: I am just proud that we finished it and had the enthusiasm for making another one. It's been good. I don't want to say fun, because it is a serious business making records. But we had a jolly good time making this record, and it's re-lighted the fire for making music. It got stale for a while; we were treating it as a job. Now, it's more like a vocation again.
TMR: You've got a couple of new members; Andy and Gem. How's the new lineup?
Gallagher: Well, lets start with Gem first. Gem is totally 100 percent into being in a band from looking after things like the artwork and picking songs in set lists. I've never been in a band with someone like that. In the past it was always me and to a lesser extent Liam and no one else took an interest in where the band was going. But Gem will come up with 50 ideas of how a song should be in about a minute. Gem's enthusiasm sort of pushes everyone along.
Andy is the most talented musician out of all of us, and I sometimes feel sorry for him because he lives in Stockholm, which is in Sweden. He arrives to do his bit and then he leaves again. So Andy can seem a bit detached from it all. But he usually says about two or three sentences in an afternoon, but they are probably the most important ones in the whole afternoon.
Alan is keeping up the tradition of the many great drummers where he bangs things for a living. And that is about the top and bottom of it.
And as for Liam; Liam can either make you feel that you are making the greatest record that was ever created in rock and roll history, or he can make you feel that you are doing something as worthless as a Sesame Street song, depending on what mood he's in. Liam is more of a spirit more than anything.
TMR: As the main songwriter for Oasis do you ever turn to your brother and say "Gosh, you're a pretty good songwriter and I've known that for a number of years"?
Gallagher: We don't speak about it, because we're Northern English men! There will be a firm handshake when the album's finished and a "Thank you very much," and that will be it. But Liam's always written songs for maybe two or three years, maybe four years, but I don't think he was ever that bothered. And I don't think he thought he was ever writing anything that could compare to any of my stuff. I saw that comfort in somebody writing songs.
As long as you think that the stuff you are doing is worthy, then you'll push for it to be heard. He's actively pushing the songs at the minute, which is great for me because it means I don't have to write or work as much. I can sit back and pretend to be Liam once in a while, which is actually the easiest job in the world.
TMR: If you and Liam weren't brothers, would Oasis have broken up years ago?
Gallagher: Oh, I don't think it would have gotten past the audition stage. There is not a more difficult person in the world to work with than you could ever imagine. And the flip side of that coin is that there isn't a more honest, more enthusiastic person to work with. So you've got to take him as he comes.
TMR: How is your relationship with your brother at present?
Gallagher: It's good. It's as good as it's ever been. He doesn't drink as much, and I don't do drugs anymore and I think that's the main factor. Having kids helps and Liam is 30 now, thank God! He's getting out of his twenties and he's got kids and stuff like that now, so it makes it easier for us.
See, I could sit here and say it's the greatest it's ever been in terms of our relationship, and then he could walk through that door and say something to me and it would seem exactly the opposite. It is what it is. It's just two brothers who spend a lot of time together who do something that we're completely, utterly passionate about and sometimes we disagree about it, and we disagree passionately about it. And sometimes that gets out of hand and it overflows into verbal disagreement and sometimes physical violence. But it doesn't mean anything.
You could sit here and be shocked at some of the things we could say to each other, but to me and him it's just because we've known each other all our lives and we're just mouthing off.
TMR: And you make great music together.
Gallagher: That's the main thing. As long as the records are good and we can play it live and people find it interesting, then I don't think we've ever really suffered from it.
TMR: How did you come up with the title for "Heathen Chemistry?"
Gallagher: I can't remember the night that I thought of it, but I thought of it previous to it being an album title. I've got a feeling that I've seen it on a T-shirt for some reason, and I don't know why. And I just said "Heathen Chemistry" and everyone went "Wow." It's just two words that go together and it conjures up so many images.
The funny thing is about that and the single "The Hindu Times" is these things just come of the cuff to me. Then I spend nine months trying to come up with wacky stories to keep people entertained when really they don't mean anything.
TMR: You said you had fun making this record. Is that a reflection of the band's state of mind right now?
Gallagher: I think all records are documents. I think with all the records I've been involved in, I can look back and vividly remember the state of mind that I was in. Yeah, we had a great time making this record. It is something we all enjoy, especially me and Gem. We get obsessive with the recording process and that's what I enjoy the most, the creativeness of it. We weren't just down in the studio drinking and having fun. It inspired most of us.
TMR: Has the British music scene changed a lot in the past 10 years?
Gallagher: It hasn't. In England it really doesn't because British people fear change. We're very set in our ways. When we first started to put records out, the biggest bands in the country then were Blur, Radiohead, and Suede. Ten years on it's still the same.
The American scene is so transient and that's good. Five years from now a band like us could not last 10 years in America, like we have done. Liam would be in a penitentiary; I'd be running for president. Something crazy like that. There's a lot of longevity in England. It's very slow to change, very slow to catch on to any new music.
TMR: Are you satisfied with Oasis' place within American music, or do you want more?
Gallagher: I don't think I'd like to be as famous in America as I am in England. When I got on the plane to come (to America) yesterday, it was a great sense of relief because I knew when I got off the other end there wasn't going to be a cameraman waiting and there wasn't going to be someone with a microphone saying, "What do you think about such and such?" I can go walk up Santa Monica, and go walk around the shops and nobody bats an eyelid. I can't even go out the front door in England without someone running down the street or going through my dustbins. It's quite comical sometimes.
TMR: You guys have sold a lot of albums in the U.S.
Gallagher: It's a big place though. I've tried to explain this to people at home. We've sold maybe six or seven million albums. I couldn't give you the exact figure, and still people (in America) don't know who we are. And that's fantastic! In England you sell 100,000 albums and you get an idol these days. I think we get a lot more respect in the U.S. for being musicians, as opposed to in England where we are known more as celebrities.
TMR: When you're on stage in front of thousands of people do you still get the same rush now as you did?
Gallagher: I've got to tell you that I have to stop myself getting that thing, because I will literally get carried away with the whole thing, and I'll forget what I'm doing. I'll forget that I'm actually paid to play and sing, and I'll just be concentrating on the people down in front, and I'll be singing out and cheering. I'll be playing the wrong thing, just because I'll be having such a good time. So I'm at this stage now where I have to stare out in the distance and go somewhere else and make sure I sing and cheer and play the right songs at the right time.
TMR: Is it true that Oasis will not perform the single "Wonderwall" live?
Gallagher: We could never get that song right. The first time we came to America I would do it alone; just sit on a stool and sing it. I didn't feel that that was right 'cause Liam sings it on the album. I didn't think it was right because that's the song everybody's waiting for on the set list. And I'd walk out with an acoustic guitar, and everybody would go mad.
But we could never get it right as a band. It was either too fast or too slow. And we don't like playing it on accoustic guitar so we'd play it on electric guitar, and then it would sound like a rock and roll song.
Do you know Ryan Adams? I went to see him in Manchester and they were on and I'd never met this kid before. I hadn't heard anything about him. He gets midway through his set and he stops and he plays "Wonderwall." And the place went silent, and I went to see him afterwards and I said, "You can have that song because we could never play it live anyway". His version was so superior to ours. It was just beautiful.
TMR: Do you agree that Oasis hasn't produced its best work yet?
Gallagher: No, I don't agree with that. I think that the next album will be our best work. What we've done with this record is put the past to bed. I never really felt comfortable enough when I've produced a new album to go and play most of it live, because the stuff on Morning Glory casts such a massive shadow over anything that we've ever done. But with this album we've finally got a band that the songwriting deserves. We've finally got a singer who's more interested in singing than drinking. It's about to get very special for us. I can feel it now. I think the next album, is going to be some of the best work that anybody's band has ever done.
CNN's Patrick Cooper and Joanne Suh contributed to this report.