Liam Gallagher & Andy Bell - Globeandmail.com - 21st June 2005
Gallagher's reputation precedes him, to say the least. Over the 12 years Oasis has been at it, Gallagher's public brawls with older brother Noel, troubled past marriage to actress Patsy Kensit and paparazzi-ready swagger have served as a kind of Coronation Street for the Mojo magazine crowd. Compulsory viewing.
The stories are numerous. The singer has walked out on the band mid-performance (as recently as last week in Italy) and insulted audiences. He once flicked cigarette ashes in Mick Jagger's hair at a British awards show.
And early in the band's career, Gallagher was kept in a holding cell on a ferry for being too unruly while travelling to a gig in Holland. He spent the trip standing up as a bucket of his urine sloshed at his feet.
So how does this jibe with the sight of a serenely calm Liam Gallagher in the Toronto hotel? With his two sons and Ontario-born fiancée Nicole Appleton in tow and using the Toronto concert as an excuse to visit family, Gallagher looks like a hip, wealthy dad returning from vacation, smiling in cut-off khakis and updated, Yoko Ono-like wraparound sunglasses.
He's stouter than expected, and at 32, with deepening wrinkles, he looks on the cusp of entering his aging, modish rock-star phase. Once finally sitting down for a brief interview, there's none of the aggressive blankness he's known for. He shocks with his congeniality, even while berating others.
"I'd hate to be in U2 or Coldplay or these other drab bands, where the fans go, 'Oh, there's the record. I'll buy that.' I'm glad our fans expect more. It shows there's passion," he says, expletives removed.
Oasis's sixth studio album, Don't Believe the Truth, is being praised by many as a return to form, even while the title carries on Oasis's penchant for meaningless phrases. And like the band's massive-selling debut, 1994's Definitely Maybe, recording Don't Believe the Truth was arduous. "The spark wasn't there, man," Gallagher says.
The band had tried to record in the same studio as the first album, Sawmills, in Cornwall, with the electronica duo Death in Vegas producing. But it wasn't working. Meanwhile, drummer Alan White, Gallagher's old drinking pal who hadn't shown up for group meetings, had been asked to leave. Recording resumed in Los Angeles with producer Dave Sardy (Hot Hot Heat, Marilyn Manson) and Zac Starkey (Ringo's son) on drums.
The record's not going to reach Definitely Maybe-calibre sales, Gallagher says, struggling to contain himself in his chair. "But totally, 100-per-cent, everyone of us is right behind the record," he adds.
"We take our influence from the greats, man. You don't get that from day one?" The inner swagger is revving. "Who are we going to get it from, Nick Drake or some idiots? We're the Who, the Kinks, the Beatles, the Stones, the Sex Pistols, the early Bee Gees. That's all you need."
But then the criticism is that Oasis remains bent on classic-rock rehash. One theory for this self-limiting sound is that Noel, the main songwriter in the band, who penned such stadium anthems as Live Forever and Wonderwall, basically only had a few dozen songs in him, and that he now has had to cede more of the song-writing to his brother and newer band members Andy Bell and Gem Archer because he has run dry and can't write the way he did in the mid-1990s.
"It's definitely not dry," Liam Gallagher says, quashing that myth. "We've got more songs than we've had ever. The nineties were the nineties, and that is that. And people have got to get over that. We are in a different place. The passion's there, and there is nothing going dry. Noel can write five great songs, instead of a load of . . . others."
Bell, the band's bassist, sitting in on the interview, adds with a much softer voice, "With the bunch of songs that we've written for this album and demoed, we could have easily gotten a Noel album out of it, or a great Liam album out of it."
Noel stays clear of writing songs he feels are too predictable, Liam insists. "And I admire him for that, instead of putting out what people expect him to put out."
"Admire?" It is the most surprising comment in the interview.
At one point Gallagher gives the finger to an imaginary Noel, for remarks the brother apparently made that the singer only wants to tour for the media attention. "For the record, I couldn't give a . . . whether I'm in the papers or not. He's the man that's out, him and his bird."
But then on the subject of brotherly rivalry, the singer adds: "There's no problem, man. There never has been really. People say, 'It's because you don't hang out together.' But why would you want to hang out with your brother? I see enough of [him] on stage."
Indeed, while performing in Toronto, both barely notice the other's presence, only taking musical cues. Swaggering with more of a barrel chest now, Liam rises from his crouched singing position and stands around, idly spinning the cymbals of his tambourine. He also still likes to show off his skill of balancing the cresent-shaped tambourine on his head.
Between songs, he bends down and turns large cheat sheets of song lyrics resting on his stage monitors. There's a line in an older Oasis song about Gallagher forgetting the words. But with his voice in top form, his physically demanding stance on stage, his head bobbing up and down for breath like someone doing the breaststroke on Live Forever, and the sight of a roadie on the side pumping his fist in the air with each line Gallagher sings, the band's performance and their joyous songs become all the more gratifying.
"We're on the ball, man. We go on stage five minutes before we're supposed to because we're into it! We're there before the producer, because we're into it," Gallagher says in the hotel.
"The biggest shock when I joined the band was how on time they were," Bell adds.
Gallagher then jumps out of the chair as he tells a story of how it drives him mad when people are late. This from a father who wakes up at 6 every morning back at home to get his kids off to school.
"I'd have been on the scene before the nineties, man, if it weren't for me ma and dad, man." He's on a roll, time-travelling into classic rock history. "I'd have been in the sixties, seventies; I'd have been a glitter head, the lot, man, but for these . . . people assing around!"
The energy is riling up, more emotion than coherence. It's the side that probably gives him his reputation, but which has also kept Oasis going for all these years.