During 18 years as the guitarist, primary songwriter and sometime vocalist for Oasis, Noel Gallagher became one of the biggest rock icons of his era. His sales and chart statistics were downright gaudy: 23 UK Top 10 singles, seven UK No. 1 albums, concert audiences as large as 125,000 a night, and album sales of over 70 million.
But as anyone who followed the music press knew, the group's alliance of Noel and his younger brother Liam was a fractious and temperamental one from day one. (For context, this YouTube of a legendary NSFW Oasis interview sums it up.) In 2009, just days before the end of an Oasis world tour, Mr. Gallagher and his brother fought one time too many. Noel left the venue, and the band was done.
"My whole attitude toward songs like that is that if you're going to fucking say it, say it. Don't piss around pretending it's a song about a tree when it's really about sex. And I'm talking about Radiohead here." - Noel Gallagher
After nearly two years of quiet, Gallagher re-emerged with a solo project, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds,
last fall. The record showed that Noel's still got quite a knack for a melody, and drew mostly criticalraves
and strong sales worldwide, turning a few months of touring into over a year of travel.
The tour concludes this week with three stops in Texas before a friends and family gig in London, after which Gallagher claims we'll not see him for a while.
CultureMap recently called Gallagher at his Chicago hotel to discuss his solo debut, the Internet, David Bowie and this week's U.S. elections.
CultureMap: It's a strange couple of weeks for you to be in America with the elections and the hurricane. Are you having some interesting conversations on the road?
Noel Gallagher: Yeah, I think this is my third election in a row that I've been in America. I am actually planning on applying for a vote next time since I spend enough fucking time here. I find the whole thing fascinating, American politics is fascinating. It's so confusing and bizarre. I like to watch it play out. But I don't begin to understand it.
But for instance, last night I was watching. You can watch Fox News on one channel and it gives you the exact opposite view of CNN on the other, but using the same figures. And it's insane how it's even legal to do that stuff. You can't do that in England, you know what I mean?
CM: I think for a long time in the U.S., media was supposed to be neutral, but then the UK have always kind of had Rupert Murdoch on one side and The Guardian on the other, and everybody knew their points of view. Now we have more of that here.
NG: Yeah, but the TV station itself — that should be neutral! You can voice any opinion, but the anchor of the program should be neutral. You watch Fox News… I can say it's fucking insane. Fox News is insane.
And then you watch CNBC or something, and they are using the same stories and the same figures but with completely different [results] — they interpret them completely differently, and I mean it's fascinating to watch as somebody from another country. I love it here, I've got to say, I think it's fucking great, but it's very confusing. Who is going to win?
CM: I think Obama is going to win, but I think it's incredibly close, and I think we are all going to stay up half the night to see.
NG: Yeah, I'll be on a tour bus somewhere, but I think I'm definitely going to stay up. It's exciting to be here. Because British politics is very sedate and a bit more subtle and only goes on for two weeks. This has been going on for the last fucking year, hasn't it?
CM: Absolutely. Another difference: There's not as much religion in British politics today, in my experience.
NG: Yeah, and there is an insane fight over the women's vote. The [media] seem to have categorized it, they've herded all women into a group now, like some minority group, and they're [acting like] they are all gonna vote as a group, and they are talking about abortions and birth planning and all that. I don't know. It makes you think it's kind of an archaic way of thinking about women.
I think it's just so far removed from what we are used to in the UK... like all women in America are gonna get together and kind of block vote on one particular issue is ludicrous, isn't it?
CM: I know you have a daughter and I do too, so it's strange to watch all of this play out.
NG: I've seen on Fox news two guys debating what Jesus would say if he walked into a family planning clinic.
NG: I was watching it, with my mouth open going, "What did they just say there?" What would Jesus say? One of them was saying, "Well, I think he'd reconvert them to Christianity because obviously they are not Christian if they are in a birth planning clinic." Another guy was saying he'd give out free condoms, and I was like: "Fuck me."
CM: You grew up in a Catholic family, if I'm remembering correctly.
NG: That's correct.
CM: Does it ever strike you — were things ever this extreme when you were growing up in Manchester?
NG: I was thinking about that this morning, but I don't know whether in England… it's the same, but it's slightly more subtle. I mean, the message was the same, but you don't really notice that you are receiving it. I mean, America is very in your face. I've gotta say, religion isn't as massive an issue when it comes to the election. Religion isn't a massive issue in the UK anyway, you know what I mean?
I don't think many people 'do' religion any more. There's not so many where there's a serious obsession with it. The people who are into it in America are obsessed by it and they're obsessed about what the religious right think and what rights they have and all that kind of thing. I guess that's the same with any extremists, you know? There are Christian extremists and Catholic ones, all of that is fuckin' as mad as Muslim extremists, you know what I mean?
CM: It's crazy. I think we all may have too much information. It's too easy to get angry with people that are different than you.
NG: Well yeah! I mean, of course! I don't think it's any coincidence that all the wrongs of the world have coincided with the birth of the Internet, you know what I mean?
CM: I wanted to ask you about that. I lived in London in 1995 when the second Oasis record came out, and I remember the joy of walking down to HMV when you put out a new single because I wanted to see what B-sides you'd thrown on it. And, you know, nobody knew. You'd go and you'd take it home and listen. Do you feel like some of that record store magic or some of that attentive music listening that we both grew up with is gone now?
NG: Yeah, of course. And the software was invented by people that didn't go to record shops. You got some guys in fucking Seattle or wherever these guys with bald heads and glasses sit, they're thinking: "I don't want to fucking go to record stores, I want the record stores to come to me." The Internet, for all the great things it has given us, because people are connected all around the world — it has destroyed magic. It's destroyed word of mouth.
You know, particularly in the music industry, before a record is out, an opinion is formed. It's destroyed the ability of people to think for themselves. Like you, we were in London in 1995, and the single was out on that day, and you didn't even know what it sounded like unless you caught it on the radio. But there was no forum to tell you. It wasn't pre-leaked. There wasn't a free download before.
You went and you took it home and you formed your own opinion. You probably didn't have a mobile phone in 1995. So the next time you would talk about it is when you actually met somebody down the pub or something and said, "Fucking hell, have you heard that track 'Listen Up' on the B-side?" There would be no "I'll press the little wheel on the computer and go, um, it's alright." You know.
CM: What do you think that means for young musicians now? I know you're a fan of Jake Bugg and have brought him out on the road with you. What does it mean to someone like that, who is good but is living in a different world than you did?
NG: Well, he's growing up with it. He's fully immersed in the machine now as it is, you know? For the likes of me and every artist from the '90s, we had to make the transition. So it was difficult. Young acts now, they're kinda brought up in the machine, so they don't know any different. I was talking with him the other night, and he was saying that it was mind blowing to him that [Oasis] sold 700,000 albums in three days in England. And you wouldn't even sell that now with people on their computers.
He said, "How would you manage to shift all those people down to the record shop?" Well, it's just magic, you know. I mean, that kind of magic is gone now. You know, music has now become... I don't think it's a force now. I mean there's still nerds who believe in it, like me and you and other people. And that's who you make music for.
But, you know, now people will have bought my album and put it on a blank CD to listen to it at a dinner party and just chuck it away like it is worth nothing to them. You know what I mean? 'Cause it's just a piece of plastic.
CM: I get the feeling that not many people are going to get rich making music anymore. That it's becoming more of a working class gig where you live in the bus or the van and that's how you earn a living.
NG: Well, absolutely. Trust me on this: The days of Led Zeppelin and David Bowie and fucking Marc Bolan and all that — they're all gone. Those flamboyant rock stars flying around in fucking jets. There won't be another Rolling Stones, there won't be another David Bowie, that's for sure. Because the industry doesn't want that. They don't want a guy like David Bowie completely murdering Ziggy Stardust to go off and become another character.
They would want Ziggy Stardust for the rest of his fucking life, you know. But it serves the industry right, I think. You know what I mean? Because for starters, they overcharged for music in the first place. So there was a quest by young people to get music for what they felt was the right price. And in the end, they're getting it for free now. So it serves the industry right.
CM: Were you surprised that Oasis actually lasted as long as it did? That it took until 2009 to wind down and you to leave?
NG: Yeah. I mean, we tried. You know, to our credit, we tried to keep it going for as long as possible. We were never... with all the various members of the band, it was kinda fractious, and there were cliques, and it was never quite a happy ship at any point in the 18 years.
But to our credit, all of us, we all tried to keep it going for as long as possible. And then there just came a point for me, where I just thought, "This is never gonna change. And it's time for a change." But I think we did pretty fucking good, you know. I've got to say, I think we did pretty good.
CM: When you left Oasis, you laid low for a solid year-and-a-half or so. What do you do with your time off?
NG: Well, I got married, I had another baby. I moved house.
CM: That pretty much takes care of it.
NG: It's just life, you know what I mean? I'm not really driven as an artist. I don't get back after a tour and sit down and think like, "What's my next project?" I just think, right, let's go back to being a regular fucking guy for a while. Because I like sitting around the house, you know what I mean? And I don't really ever wanna overdo it, because I don't want to have contempt for my job, so to speak.
So the guys in my band now, well, they're not in my band, they're just guys that play with me on the road. They're kind of fishing for what's gonna be there in the next couple of years. I've got to say, "Don't fucking hang around waiting for me," because I could conceivably not make a record for the next five years. I just do things when I feel like it, and I might not feel like it for a few years, and that's great. And I don't really believe in saying anything unless you've got something to say. And at the moment, I've got nothing to say. You know, in regards to doing a new record.
CM: I read something by George Harrison once, where he said that money doesn't buy you happiness, but it does buy you options. It gives you the ability to take some time away and just do whatever you want.
NG: Absolutely. What I did at the end of the Oasis thing, my first thought was I knew exactly what I was gonna do. And that was doing nothing. And then I was going to wait for the call from somewhere. That call might be that two songs might come in a row that excite you and you think, now I've got an album. And I wait for that kind of call.
So one night I went to bed, and I wasn't thinking of music, I wasn't that bothered. I'd just moved house, it was all fucking great and lovely, and my son was growing up. Then the next morning I got up and I was having breakfast and I thought, I'm gonna book a studio. And I don't know why. So I wait for that call. And whenever that'll come will be whenever it will be.
CM: There were always rumors during Oasis' earlier days that you would squirrel away songs and save them for later. A couple of things that had been kicking around for a long time made it on to this record. Any reason that you chose those two songs? Because I'm sure there are more.
NG: You mean "Record Machine" and "Stop The Clocks"? I just thought they were great songs and I thought…if I don't put them out now, there's no point in putting them out. Those two songs are kind of the bookend of the Oasis story, really. I mean the bottom line is I thought they were great songs. I've got to say, I do tend to write — I'm either in two stages of writing. I'm either writing lots of songs or I'm writing none.
I don't really keep it ticking over. I haven't written anything for months now. But before that, I wrote a lot of songs. So I do always have a backlog. And every record that I make is never really quite representative of where I am at that moment, because I have got such a backlog of songs from over the years. That is what I do. That's my style.
CM: Where are you today musically? What are you listening to or influenced by?
NG: I have become heavily obsessed with David Bowie again. Don't know why.
CM: That's a crazy catalog to get into. You can kind of dig deep and get lost.
NG: Yeah, yeah, yeah. On the road, I've been listening to him regularly. I always thought he was great, but I never really thought he was as great as I think he is now. I think he is up there with John Lennon and fucking Bob Dylan and those guys.
His recorded output is fucking phenomenal. But every single style of music that he attempted, whether it be pop in the '60s and this glam rock thing in the '70s and the avant-garde electronic music in the late '70s and then, like, electro-pop in the '80s. All fucking truly amazing. And it's beginning to blow me away, so I've been listening to it lots recently.
CM: When I lived in New York, I was able to see him a couple of times, and it was really good. It makes me sad that he's walked away from live performance.
NG: Yeah. I think he's been ill. There was a picture of him in the UK papers a few months back. I guess if you're David Bowie and you're gonna get up on the stage, people are expecting you to be fucking brilliant, you know what I mean? And if you can't give it a hundred percent and be the David Bowie that everybody expects, then I guess there's no point in doing it. I would hate to go and see David Bowie and just be like, "Wow, I'm so disappointed."
CM: Speaking of which, there have been so many reunions of classic, beloved bands as of late. Have you gone to see, say, The Stone Roses or Led Zeppelin or any of the bands you really like that have done that?
NG: I did see Led Zeppelin and I did see The Stone Roses, yeah. I've seen them both.
CM: How did you think it turned out in either case?
NG: Well, you know, the Zeppelin thing was a one-off gig and it was great. It wasn't John Bonham who was there, so obviously it wasn't really Led Zeppelin. But that was great. It was an event, that moment. The Stone Roses thing — I've seen them five times and I've seen them do two truly great shows. They're friends of mine, and I think it's turned out good for them, you know what I mean.
CM: Yeah. It didn't end so well the first time, so that may have been more about fence mending.
NG: Well, I guess, and it's a financial thing. I don't think they made much money the first time around, and who doesn't wanna make a few fucking million dollars, you know? But The Stone Roses are playing now, and actually, I wouldn't go to see them again, you know what I mean.
CM: Yeah. I don't think we'll see Led Zeppelin again. Robert Plant's actually been living here in Austin. We've been seeing him around at the coffee shops.
NG: You know, I've been hoping I might bump into him in the pharmacy somewhere.
CM: On your tour set list, you have about a half dozen Oasis songs sprinkled in among your solo record. You probably have a hundred Oasis tunes. How do you actually decide what 25 minutes of Oasis you're gonna put in there?
NG: I've gotta say, it's fucking difficult. I've had over 15 months now of people shouting out Oasis songs, not one of which is on the set list. First and foremost, I put together what I wanted to do of my new stuff and that amounted to about 45 minutes. So we're just filing it out, really, but I don't expect to do any more than half a dozen next time. But I guess it's just what feels right at the time.
I guess people are always gonna expect to hear "Don't Look Back In Anger," so that's kind of a given. But, I like the more obscure stuff that I did. They were always hidden away on B-sides, because Liam couldn't sing them or wouldn't sing them, and they should've been album tracks. A lot of them would've been great Oasis songs if only the singer could be arsed. They are about to take a new lease on life, I think.
CM: To end in the present, on the new record, "If I Had A Gun" may be one of the best songs you've ever written. It feels pretty direct compared to some of the other ballads you've done. Is there a good origin story for that song?
NG: When I put together a set of chords and a melody and it lends itself to being a romantic song, I always go back to the first night that I met my wife. She was then my girlfriend, you know, and she's since become my wife. And so I remember what that felt like. And what those first few weeks felt like. You know what I mean?
NG: And then try and make it as believable as possible. And just really, if you're gonna write a love song, write it from the heart. And write it about someone you actually love. I'm not going to mention her name, because people don't know her, but I make it as universal as possible. My whole attitude toward songs like that is that if you're going to fucking say it, say it. Don't piss around pretending it's a song about a tree when it's really about sex. And I'm talking about Radiohead here.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Snow Patrol, and Jake Bugg conclude their U.S. tour at Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Wednesday, Austin Music Hall on Thursday, and Bayou Music Centre in Houston on Friday.