The SPIN Interview: Noel Gallagher
"Ten years ago we told everyone with a mic we were the greatest thing ever. Now we just quietly believe it."
A beaming Noel Gallagher strolls across the floor of a North London photo studio enthusing about a new and exciting phase of his life, looking lean and reasonably healthy in everybloke casualwear: blue checked shirt, jeans, and desert boots. It’s not just that he has a seventh Oasis album, Dig Out Your Soul, ready for release or that he has spent a morning playing with his one-year-old son, Donovan, whom he describes as “an absolute diamond.” It’s the fact that he has started sleepwalking.
“Last night I got into bed with me missus and woke up on the middle floor of the house on the couch,” he says. “Amazing! I’m 41 and I’m starting this whole new nocturnal adventure.” He and his girlfriend, Sara Macdonald, were out drinking beer and tequila with British comedian Russell Brand until the early hours — Gallagher doesn’t remember anything after climbing into a rickshaw in London’s Soho district and being cheered through the streets. “Maybe that counts as a drunken stupor,” he muses. “Is that the same as sleepwalking?”
Dig Out Your Soul sounds like you ordered in the ingredients, and all the labels on the jars read “Rock” or “More Rock.”
I’m glad you said that. Yes, we wanted a rock’n’roll album…with grooves. Making records should be fun. I remember seeing Radiohead on the cover of a magazine in the U.K. when In Rainbows came out, and it said, “Radiohead: The Pain.” And I thought, “Won’t you fucking give it a rest, you bunch of moaning children?” The pain? Of making an album? I don’t buy it. If you’re not having a laugh, then don’t do it.
Surely the whole process wasn’t all fun.
Well, no, there was a problem on day one. I had seven songs I was putting forward. They weren’t pop songs; they were bluesy. We had a meeting and I said, “Let’s concentrate more on bass and guitars and have more keyboards and get some remixes done.” Liam immediately had a tantrum in the studio and was dancing round saying, “No one told me we were making a fucking dance album! I’m not having this shit. We’re a rock band.” One day he saw some crew unloading keyboards into the studio and went mad: “What are those fucking keyboards doing in here? That’s too many keyboards for a rock’n’roll band.” How long has Liam been doing this? He has an irrational fear of keyboards.
But this is the man who thought we had gone too dance when I wrote “Wonderwall” because the drums didn’t go boom-boom bap, boom-boom-bap. Liam is very institutionalized by being in Oasis. He’s been doing it for so long. Me, [guitarist] Gem [Archer], and [bassist] Andy [Bell] were helping him arrange his song “I’m Outta Time” and tried to ease him away from the clichés. But in the end, he can’t resist them.
Liam told me he hates “Wonderwall.” It’s the one song he literally hates singing.
That’s interesting, because he would never say that to me. Well, I hate him singing it, too. Liam doesn’t sound like he did ten years ago. Your voice and your body change. We’ve never got it right. It’s too slow or too fast. I think Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got that song right. I’d love to do the Ryan Adams version, but in front of 60,000 Oasis fans that wouldn’t be possible.
Liam is finally pulling his weight in the songwriting department, isn’t he? He wrote three for the new album.
Yeah, he’s a good songwriter. I think he regrets not starting earlier. For years I’ve said, “If you’re so convinced you’re John Lennon, then prove it.”
Why don’t you ever write together?
We don’t see each other very often. And I like writing on my own. Me and Paul Weller first said, “Let’s write a song together,” in 1993, but it took 15 years for it to happen. [Gallagher and Weller cowrote “Echoes Round the Sun” for Weller’s latest album, 22 Dreams.] A few times [Weller and I] made an appointment to meet at so-and-so studio at 11, and it’s painful. We sit there looking blankly at each other. And then we go down to the pub. With Liam, I wouldn’t know where to start.
You quit drugs in the late ’90s. “Bag It Up” sounds quite psychedelic. Are you back on mood-altering substances?
No, “Bag It Up” is my little artistic statement. Not in the Coldplay sense. In fact, it’s an anti-artistic statement. I spend a lot of time with Serge Pizzorno from Kasabian getting fucking pissed, and he sent me a CD of stuff he was listening to. There was a track by the Pretty Things called “Baron Saturday.” I became obsessed by that pounding rhythm, and I decided to write about acid trips I used to have. Running around being a mad cunt on magic mushrooms was my inspiration for them lyrics. I don’t want people to think it’s art, though.
What do you mean?
Well, Coldplay and Radiohead — they’re artists, aren’t they? Damon Albarn, he’s an artist. They make art. That’s what I keep getting told, anyway. I do like those bands, but they’re all posh boys who went to art school. [Oasis] come off a council estate [public housing]. It comes out of here. [Thumps his heart with a clenched fist.] “Bag It Up” is anti-that. It’s a mongrel.
Your old rival Albarn has done Blur, an album in Mali, the virtual band Gorillaz, the Good, the Bad & the Queen, and now a Chinese opera. Does a part of you think, “I wish I’d taken more risks”?
The only thing I’ve got left to try to do is a solo album with a narrative running through it. Something like Greendale, by Neil Young. That would be as near art as I get. But even if I wanted to, how would I go about writing an opera?
Well, you already have the passionate central relationship, the tragic fallings-out —
I don’t think two blokes having the same fucking argument for 16 years over and over is the stuff of opera. Oasis: The Opera would be very short. The fat lady would refuse to sing it. But I say this with no irony: It must be very nice to be able to turn your hand to anything. I’m not that driven. To go from Britpop and write a Chinese opera about a monkey, hats off to the guy. I couldn’t do it. And it got good reviews, although how you assess whether a Chinese opera about a monkey is any good is beyond me. But in my own defense, Damon isn’t actually in Blur, Gorillaz, or the Good, the Bad & the Queen, is he? He’s got time on his hands. That’s when an opera comes to you.
You said you wanted the new Oasis album to have grooves. And yet you came out and said Jay-Z headlining Glastonbury was “wrong.”
Well, I never said those words. You need verbatim quotes here. I’ve been doing interviews with American magazines, and the way it’s played itself out is that I said Jay-Z had no right to play Glastonbury, which is a crock of horseshit. I got off a plane and someone asked me about the fact that Glastonbury hadn’t sold out for the first time in years, and if it was because of Jay-Z. I innocently mused that that was probably right. From there it grew into this crap that I was standing on an orange crate at Speakers’ Corner saying, “Gather round, brothers and sisters. Have you heard what’s happening at Glastonbury this year?”
But still, you sounded reactionary and old-fashioned.
I have a certain turn of phrase. So if I say, “Chicken sandwiches in McDonald’s are just plain fucking wrong,” it doesn’t mean I’m attacking all chickens or all sandwiches. I’ve hung out with Jay-Z in Tokyo. I’ve seen his show. It’s not my bag, but it’s all right. We have a mutual friend in Chris Martin. So I am a guy who doesn’t like hip-hop — shock, horror. I don’t dislike rappers or hip-hop or people who like it. I went to the Def Jam tour in Manchester in the ’80s when rap was inspirational. Public Enemy were awesome. But it’s all about status and bling now, and it doesn’t say anything to me.
Do you think hip-hop fans could get anything out of Oasis?
Yeah. In England the white working class are feared, and our music is working-class expression. We have a lot in common with hip-hop. Apart from people pumping shotgun pellets into each other.
What’s your biggest regret career-wise?
I wish we’d let (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? settle and go away. It was still No. 5 in the Billboard 100 when we started making Be Here Now. I wish someone who’s paid to be bright and clever had told us to go away and do a bit of living. But we were fueled by youth and cocaine. Everything was going to be bigger and better. We were surrounded by people telling us it was the greatest thing they’d ever heard. When you’re the cash cow that lays the golden goose egg, people are always going to cheer you on, whatever.
What about meeting Tony Blair?
I don’t have a crystal ball. I didn’t see he was going to turn into a cunt. I was 30, off me head on drugs, and everyone telling me we were the greatest band since who knows. Then the prime minister invites you round for a glass of wine. It all becomes part of the high. Why not? I thought it would give me mum a laugh. I didn’t go thinking, “I endorse this government’s policies in every respect.” I went to have a look at the curtains.
After 1997’s Be Here Now, the euphoric, hedonistic Oasis music stopped. What happened?
I took a long look around my living room at Supernova Heights and realized 20 to 30 people were there all the time. None of them were my mates. Also, I was starting not to feel well, getting edgy and twitchy. I decided to kick drink and drugs for a week. One week became two and then six. And then I got addicted to being sober. After that, I said to various people, “You have to leave — you’re getting divorced.” Between ’95 and ’97 was mental and great. But unsustainable.
What great Oasis songs were not written on drugs?
None. Before 1997, I hadn’t written a song without the aid of the old Colombian marching gear. Don’t forget, I was on drugs before I was even in a band. I was a roadie for three years with Inspiral Carpets. What do you think I was doing then? Drinking mineral water and eating Twiglets? The whole of the first three albums were written on drugs. I remember being off my nut and going into the back room and setting the goal of writing a song in ten minutes. That was “Supersonic.” All those albums and all the B-sides were written on drugs. That’s why they’re so good. And that pisses me off. I think, “Maybe I should get back into taking drugs, and then it would be brilliant again.” But that thought lasts less than a second.
Is that sad? Your best work was conceived off your nut?
No. The first two albums are widely regarded as two of the greatest British albums of all time. But Be Here Now isn’t my best work. I’ve got kids now. Dad cannot be a drug addict. That’s bollocks. It’s not right.
There are many classic Oasis tunes, but sometimes the lyrics just spoil them: “The Masterplan,” “Champagne Supernova,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” Do you ever wish you’d spent more time making sense?
What’s wrong with “The Masterplan?”
“And cast your words away upon the waves / Bring them back with Acquiesce on a ship of hope today.”
It’s possible to sail away on a ship of that name — when you’re off your nut on drugs! What the fuck do Thom Yorke’s lyrics mean? Apart from “Creep,” which is the anthem for all freaks and weirdos and students. Good for them. But you’re not telling me “Live Forever” is shit, are you? Nothing wrong with those words.
The new album title, Dig Out Your Soul —
It’s a reference to party DJs putting on soul music: “Dig out your soul, because here we go.” But it can also be about finding yourself. Don’t give me a hard time about the album title. Come on, In Rainbows? What the fuck does that mean? Can you be in a rainbow? All the action is supposed to be at the end of the rainbow, isn’t it? Maybe that’s where Radiohead are fucking going wrong. Thom has led them into the rainbow, when all the laughs and the good times are at the end. That’s why you’re in pain, lads.
Radiohead have made it in America in a way you never managed. Is that frustrating?
No. Good luck to them. I mean it. But I have to say, we look like we’re having more fun. How do you feel the morning after a Radiohead show? I bet you feel better after an Oasis one.
What are you most ashamed of?
I regret going to the Caribbean island of Mustique with Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Johnny Depp, and Kate Moss and trying to write Be Here Now. I was doing it for the wrong reasons. And that’s how you get a situation where at the beginning of “D’You Know What I Mean?” there’s no music for the first minute.
It’s the sound of an airplane landing, which we recorded on the airstrip outside the house I was renting. And, of course, we thought it was the most amaaaazing thing we’d ever recorded. We took the tapes back to Sony in London, and you’ve got all the suits sitting round the boardroom stereo thinking, “These fucking jokers are riding on the biggest expectations of any band this decade, and they have recorded a plane landing.”
Didn’t Sir Mick step in and offer any sage advice?
No, he was spending too much time trying to get off with Kate Moss to be arsed.
Standing on the Shoulder of Giants was the comedown album. It sounds quite dark now.
It was definitely a comedown — by about eight million copies. But the lyrics were written from a place of truth. “Gas Panic!” perfectly captures the jitters and fears you get coming off cocaine. It sold 600,000 copies. People bought nine million copies of the coke-fueled ranting that was Be Here Now.
I notice there’s a certain amount of setting the record straight on the new album, too. “Ain’t Got Nothin’ ” is about Liam being attacked in a Munich hotel bar in December 2002 and —
How much I fucking laughed?
Well, no. He is genuinely aggrieved that he was attacked, got hurt, and yet he got all the blame.
So he says. How many of them were in that bar? Eleven drunk Mancunians in a German bar at 5 a.m. Nobody knows what really happened. All we do know is that there was a fracas on the dance floor, and Liam ended up getting his teeth kicked in.
But it’s not enough that your own brother is moved to write a song about it and say, “I am innocent”? You don’t believe him?
What? Are you fucking serious? He’s a born fucking liar. I wasn’t there at that bar in Munich, so I won’t cast aspersions. But I ask you, do you think Liam was helping clear away the glasses or assisting an old lady up the stairs when it all kicked off? I leave that for you to decide.
Why don’t you talk to Ray Davies of the Kinks or the Black Crowes about sibling issues?
Oh, fuck that. We handle it pretty well. We’ve got through 18 years of it. In the middle of the Definitely Maybe tour, they gave us till Christmas. I’ve only seriously tried to kill him once. I think that’s a pretty good record. In fact, I think I deserve some sort of commendation. I’ve kept Liam in legal employment for nearly two decades. Where would he be otherwise? He’d need fucking round-the-clock care without Oasis.
Does he still call you at four in the morning ranting and raving?
Yeah, he does. Random drunken ravings. Also, he’s just mastered the use of the mobile phone, so I’m getting texts, as well. I know when I wake up in the morning and my phone has 12 messages, it’s him. What are they? Things like “666.” And I’ll speak to him the next day and say, “The strangest thing happened last night — I got a load of texts from the Devil.” And he’ll claim he has no recollection of any of it. But the subtext of his messages is always the same: “You’re a cunt.”
He is generally perceived as “the soul” of the band, isn’t he?
Yes, there is an assumption that Liam feels, while I stand back and think about it all.
You are the business-minded Mick Jagger to his freewheeling Keith Richards?
Don’t fucking say things like that, even in jest. I’m not Mick Jagger. I’m not Keith Richards, either. I’m a shit businessman. I hand it over to people I trust implicitly. I’d keep all my contracts in a shopping bag under the bed if I had my way. I’m not interested in making money. It’s just that with my talent, I’m cursed with it.
Liam believes that while visiting Yoko Ono at the Dakota in New York, something happened to him. Do you think he takes the “Lennon reborn” thing a bit too far?
A bit? Are you joking? He told me he thought a cold chill had touched him in Yoko’s apartment. I put it to him it was the fucking air-conditioning. Yoko’s getting on a bit now; she probably has it set on minus 16. But Liam is very romantic about all that. I’m more skeptical. Gem is a bit like that, too. He thinks recording in Abbey Road is special because of the Beatles. I think it’s a studio with shit gear in it. We had to bring all our own, for fuck’s sake.
Do you own any Beatles memorabilia?
I think I bought a rug that used to be in John Lennon’s house in Weybridge. But I’ve got no idea where it is now. When you first get your royalties, you do stupid things with money. I do own a pair of Elvis’ headphones. I bought them from Sotheby’s, and I don’t know what I was expecting to hear — maybe a voice saying [in a deep Elvis drawl], “Fangyew very much.” And then you realize they’re just a pair of crappy old headphones.
What’s your proudest achievement?
That I stuck it out. There have been ten moments when it would have been easy to do a Richard Ashcroft and say, “Fuck you, you, and you, I’m off.” But I didn’t. And you know what? I’m still in love with making records.
The Verve. The Police. Led Zeppelin. You could teach them all a thing or two about squabbles, splits, and reunions, no?
Have the fight, by all means. But why walk off and sulk for ten years afterward and then reunite? That’s daft. Me and Liam are in a bad marriage — we accept that. We’ve stayed together for the sake of the kids.