“These songs never would have ended up on an Oasis record,” Noel Gallagher says about the 10 tracks on Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, his solo debut. For the first time in his 20-year career, Gallagher is stepping beyond the Britpop sound he popularized with Oasis (who split in August 2009) by experimenting with new styles, including New Orleans-style ragtime and 80s dance.
So far, “What a Life” and “The Death of You and Me” have leaked online in advance of the LP’s November 8 U.S. release. To get the stories behind those two songs and four more new tracks, we recently sat down with Gallagher.
“If I Had a Gun”
Gallagher has some unlikely collaborators on this acoustic ballad: his fans. “I was out one night in London and somebody asked me, ‘Have you got a song called ‘If I Had a Gun?” I said, ‘You couldn’t possibly fucking know that.’ He said, ‘I was just listening to it on the internet.’ So I went to YouTube and there it was. It was recorded during soundcheck on Oasis’ 2008 tour of South America, which is where I wrote the song. There was only about a minute of the audio. And while it didn’t have any of the finished words, the basic structure was there, so people started writing their own words and finishing off the song and posting it to YouTube. Those cheeky fuckers. Before I’d even finished writing the song they’re covering it. But it’s flattering, too — a quarter million people watched it.”
“Everybody’s on the Run”
Like “If I Had a Gun,” this gigantic ballad was also bootlegged during soundchecks on Oasis’ South American tour. It’s a dark, propulsive wall of sound with swaying bass, a church choir, and Gallagher’s emotive singing, all set to an echo effect. “I’d more or less finished it when it was posted to YouTube,” says Gallagher. “It’s nice that people still care enough to sneak down and stick it online. The song has a 100-piece choir and 24-piece orchestra. It sets the scene for the rest of the album. It’s about a couple — boyfriend and girlfriend, man and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, best friends, doesn’t matter — that take each other by the hand and say, ‘We’ve got to get out of here.’ Although it’s about two people on the run, the narrator of the song — that being me — is saying, ‘Everybody is on the run from something. Nobody is settled. Nobody is where they’re supposed to be. Everybody is looking for something.'”
“The Death of You and Me”
This orchestral first single from High Flying Birds is indicative of Gallagher’s experimental streak on the LP. “It’s one of my favorite songs because it’s different from what people expect from me,” he says. “There’s trumpet, saxophone, and trombone, and I mouth some of the horn parts as well. It’s all recorded through one really old microphone. I had the melody for the instrumental break and I knew it had to completely change color from a British pop song to something very different. We tried a few instruments that didn’t work, but then all of a sudden it was like … Jazz! It just fit.” Gallagher’s lyrics continued the album’s theme: “[It’s] about two people just saying, ‘Let’s run away.’ When I was writing these songs, I never wrote the lyrics down. They were lodged in my brain. When I went into the studio the engineer, David Sardy (Oasis), said, ‘Have you got any lyric sheets?’ I said [points to his head] ‘they’re all in here!’ I walked up to the mic and they all came out. But the theme of the album didn’t dawn on me until I had finished the record and my publisher said, ‘We need the words,’ and I had to type them out. And as I was typing and reading them, I thought, ‘Wow, there’s a story unfolding here. It’s all about hope, love, escapism, the journey, and the longing to be somewhere else.”
It’s a charging rocker with dramatic gliding guitar, walls of pounding piano, wailing horns, and Gallagher’s accented crooning all meeting in one of those unforgettable hooks that have become his calling card. It’s arguably one of the best tracks on the LP, but it doesn’t have deep meaning to its songwriter: “‘Dream On’ is throwaway-pop,” he laughs. “It’s a great tune, but the lyrics don’t mean a great deal.”
“(I Wanna Live a Dream in My) Record Machine”
This poignant acoustic ballad, featuring mournful strings and audio of children’s laughter, “is about 10 years old,” says Gallagher. “It was written and recorded for both Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul by Oasis, but I never got it to a place where I could accept it as finished.” For High Flying Birds, however, Gallagher tweaked and experimented with it — and it worked. “Compared to the previous demos, the new version is in a different key and slightly quicker. The arrangement, melody, and words are exactly the same, though. It’s about the power of music and how it can transport you to a different place, even if for just three minutes.”
“What a Life”
This driving track started as a simple “acoustic shuffle” inspired by the Kinks, but evolved into something altogether different. “One afternoon I was listening to — not on purpose I might add, but completely by accident — ‘Strings of Life’ by a band called Rhythim is Rhythim (listen here). I stopped at the piano bit at the song’s beginning and thought, ‘Wow. How can something like that bit fit in my song?’ So I got the guitar out and played the song again and thought, ‘Yeah. This is going to work.’ I recorded a demo in the studio with a bass drum and piano, and thought, ‘This is fucking disco! How am I gonna dance to this?’ But I’m a big fan of dance music, like the acid house movement. Between the years of ’87 and 1990, I was completely into running around Manchester high on ecstasy, just being a fucking nutcase. Those were happy days.”