For nearly two decades Noel Gallagher was the songwriting genius behind Oasis, penning radio-ruling classics like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” while his younger brother Liam became Britpop’s most volatile frontman. That all ended in August 2009, when a fight backstage before a gig in Paris split the brothers and their band for good.
Now Noel is returning as a solo artist, stepping into the role of frontman for an album, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (U.S. release: November 8), that looks to merge Oasis-like hooks with experimental flourishes like the New Orleans-style ragtime brass section on the first single. He’ll continue his comeback next year with an even more adventurous second solo release, a yet-to-be-titled psychedelic rock effort recorded with British electronic duo Amorphous Androgynous.
SPIN met with Noel recently at Manhattan’s Bowery Hotel to chat…
What’s the most difficult part of going solo?
“That will be getting up onstage, when I have to be a frontman. Part of me still wishes I had the safety blanket of four guys. I don’t have the genetic make up of a frontman, but I’m learning how to do it.”
How does it feel to answer only to yourself for the first time in your career?
“I’m relieved that I don’t have to explain the sounds to anybody. I don’t have to endlessly say, ‘Okay, what I’m talking about is… ragtime music!’ I don’t have to say, ‘No, this is how you play it!””
Sounds like you’ve been liberated.
“These songs never would have ended up on an Oasis record. But I wasn’t frustrated in Oasis. I directed everything that went on in that band. But Oasis was a stadium-rock band so I wrote stadium-rock music. Now it’s different. Doing the new solo album was fucking great. It was serene. I could take it at my own pace. But in another way it wasn’t a relief.”
“Well, I like being in bands. I loved being in Oasis. But circumstances ran out of everybody’s control, ya know what I mean?”
Most Oasis fans wouldn’t expect Noel Gallagher to experiment with ragtime horns or dance music.
“In their essence these songs don’t sound like a weird departure. People will still get them. The songs haven’t suffered because of the style. When a lot of musicians change styles their songwriting suffers because they want to be different. I don’t want to be different. I still write great songs, and if I stumble across a different avenue then I’ll go with it. Other than that, I’m not looking to be stylistically different.”
What about your album with British electronic and psych-rock duo Amorphous Androgynous?
“It sounds a bit like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The sound is similar to High Flying Birds, but more psychedelic and tripped out. It’s not an electronic project. People are jumping to that conclusion because Amorphous Androgynous used to be an electronic outfit. I’m not even sure what the album’s title is going to be yet. I’m just fucking about with the mixes now. When will it be out? In my head, next summer. But if High Flying Birds is a success, then not until next winter.”
How do your new solo songs compare to the Oasis classics?
“They stack up easily. But people have such a different perception of those classic songs, like ‘Rock N Roll Star’ and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and ‘Wonderwall.’ So I have to be honest with myself. The likes of ‘What a Life’ and ‘The Death of You and Me’ are easily up there with the best things that I’ve written, particularly in the last 10 years. Whether 10 years from now we’re still talking about those new songs in the same breath as ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger,’ well… only time will tell, won’t it?”
Are you a better writer now?
“I’m a better songwriter now than I was 10 years ago, absolutely. But I went backwards at some point. From the start of Be Here Now to Don’t Believe the Truth I didn’t know what I was doing, songwriting-wise. I didn’t have any particular inspiration or direction. I was writing songs for the sake of it and just waiting for something to happen. Then I wrote ‘The Importance of Being Idle’ and ‘Lyla’ and it went up from there. It comes and goes with me. I have good patches and then I go through great lengths of time where I fucking think I’ve never played the guitar or written a song before.”
Did going solo ever cross your mind earlier in your career?
“Solo project, yes. Solo career, never.”
Do you have to prove yourself all over again as a solo artist?
“I don’t have to do anything. I could easily and justifiably never make another record — not have made these records. People would have said, ‘Oh well. He’s retired and with his family. Good luck to him.’ I’m doing it because I write songs and I think they’re pretty good. I’m an independent artist now. I’ve got enough money to make my own records.”
After Oasis’ split in August 2009 you weren’t sprinting out of the gate to release an album…
“I don’t live to work; I work to live. Being in Oasis was great, and I enjoyed every single last second of it. Well, maybe not the last five minutes [laughs]. It was nice to get off tour, go home and sit in a chair and wait for the kids to come home from school. I did that for two years. What’s not to fucking like about that? There’s enough music in the world. There are enough rock stars. I would never want to chase fame or success, like, ‘I’ve got to do something or people will forget about me.’ I was hoping people would forget about me.”
Are you concerned about the success of the solo album?
“It would be great if it sells 11-fucking-thousand-million, but I’m not that concerned about it. I can’t make people like it. I only hope that the people that do buy it love it. I’d be disappointed if somebody got really excited about it, went out to buy it, and then took it home and thought, ‘This is a fucking waste of money.’ I’d be disappointed if that happened. But the sales, no.”
Is there any competition with Liam’s Beady Eye?
“No, no. They’re into their rock’n’roll thing. Their live shows will be far better than mine. They’ve got more power than I have. I don’t feel any competition because they’re on their way to being a stadium-rock thing. We’re playing two different kinds of music. I don’t want to limit myself to being one thing or another anymore. That’s where I’m at musically right now.”
Do you feel like you’ve outgrown stadium-rock?
“I fucking loved it. I loved it. Anybody that’s stood on a stage at a rock gig in a stadium will tell you it’s a fucking spectacle. I don’t feel like I’ve outgrown it. Maybe I’ll play stadiums again one day. But right now I’m more interested in something that’s a little more intimate and human.”
Noel Gallagher Tour Dates:
11/7, Toronto, ON (Massey Hall)
11/8, Toronto, ON (Massey Hall)
11/11, Philadelphia, PA (Academy of Music)
11/12, Boston, MA (Wang Theatre)
11/14, New York, NY (Beacon Theatre)
11/17, Los Angeles, CA (Royce Hall)
11/19, San Francisco, CA (Orpheum Theatre)