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Noel Gallagher: New Music, Old Music and Why ‘I’m a Better Front Man in America Than I Am in Europe’
Noel Gallagher is one of the best interviews in rock and roll. In the countless times we’ve met up since he left Oasis, he’s never been less than willing to talk about anything under the sun, and is always hilarious in his inimitably witty, Mancunian way. But today, although he seems relaxed, he’s nursing, he says, either jetlag or a hangover — or both — and thus leaves his sunglasses on as we sit down for coffees in his New York hotel.
We’re here to about his new E.P., Blue Moon Rising, the third in a series that couldn’t be further from the music he made in his Oasis days, or even his early solo work. If anything, it picks up where his last album, the Dave Holmes-produced Who Built The Moon?, from 2017, left off. The songs he’s released in 2019, and now 2020, are a mixture of Ibiza-style dance tracks and Bowie, Stones Roses, and Smiths-influenced pop songs. Not surprisingly, many of his oldest fans have balked.
Meanwhile, Gallagher’s brother Liam has hired a team of L.A. songwriters and producers in an effort to try to capture the Oasis nostalgia market via his two solo albums, not to mention his raucous his live shows, and has been rewarded for his efforts.
The elder Gallagher is, not surprisingly, unimpressed.
But as we begin our conversation for this month’s Rock Cellar, hangover cures are on Noel Gallagher’s mind, anyway.
Rock Cellar: So do you have any surefire hangover cures?
Noel Gallagher: Solpadeine max! You know they’re great, because when you buy them, the guy at the counter says, “You’ve taken these before?” Because it’s like painkillers. And when I say, “Yes.” They always very sternly say, “Don’t take it for three days in a row.” So I’ll say, as a joke, “I’ve been taking them every day for three years now. That’s why I’m here.” They are very, very strong. They’re good for the headache.
But then really the only cure for a hangover is the hair of the dog. A Bloody Mary and a pint of Guinness is always good.
Rock Cellar: Guinness is like bread.
Noel Gallagher: Yeah. It’s like toast.
Rock Cellar: Well, let’s dig in. When we first talked about your solo career, I think you were still working on the first record. Maybe the first single had come out. We were talking about how you’d never been a front guy before. And you said, “Talk to me in six months.” And there’s definitely been an evolution. I saw you a year or so ago and you’re like a completely different person up front than you were five or six years ago.
Noel Gallagher: I’ve got to say, I’m a better front man in America than I am in Europe.
Rock Cellar: Why is that?
Noel Gallagher: Because it’s smaller gigs, and there’s no barrier between you and the audience. So there can be some genuinely funny exchanges with the crowd. In Europe, there’s big gigs and the crowds are over there. [Points in the distance.] In Europe, my songs have got to be twice as good as everybody else’s, because I don’t naturally own a stage. But I’m getting better.
I don’t think about it, though, because I always think, “Right, when I go to gigs, I don’t care what Neil Young says, and I genuinely couldn’t care less what Bob Dylan says.”
Rock Cellar: He doesn’t say anything.
Noel Gallagher: Fucking blow me away, mate. I don’t give a fuck what you’re wearing or what you’re saying.
Rock Cellar: What’s your favorite song to play acoustic live? Or does it change?
Noel Gallagher: I’ve got to say, right now, “Stop Crying Your Heart Out.” Because it’s new to the set so we haven’t done it a lot. And I like doing “Champagne Supernova” acoustically. And “Dead in the Water,” I suppose, because it just appeared out of nowhere.
Rock Cellar: Are there underappreciated or underrated Oasis songs or solo songs?
Noel Gallagher: Oh yeah, of course. Loads.
Rock Cellar: Songs that you rate highly that people haven’t really taken notice of. Because Ringo talked to me for 10 minutes about his drumming on “Rain” and how he feels it’s a song people really haven’t taken notice of.
Noel Gallagher: If Ringo Starr thinks no one appreciates the track “Rain,” then he might want to fucking get out more.
Rock Cellar: There was a band named after it, after all.
Noel Gallagher: It’s one of their greatest moments. And Paul McCartney’s bass! Anyway, I guess there are. When I sit at home, and I listen to my stuff to work on the set lists or whatever, the ones that I think are underrated are the ones I don’t play or can’t play. Like, I’ve never played “The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes” off Chasing Yesterday. Never played that.
Rock Cellar: That’s a great tune.
Noel Gallagher: Good fucking song.
Rock Cellar: Could be great live, too.
Noel Gallagher: Yeah, and I’ve never quite got around to playing it. And “The Right Stuff” we only started doing on the last tour. But actually, I’ve got a great song called “Alone on the Rope,” which, when I play it, the entire fucking night falls down flat. I love it, but it’s a song that you have to listen to alone, I guess.
Rock Cellar: But die-hards love that song. So would you want your kids to pursue a career in music?
Noel Gallagher: I wouldn’t mind. If they were good enough. [Laughter.] I mean, Bono’s son Eli has just started a band. Have you heard of them yet? Inhaler. They’re fucking great.
Rock Cellar: Oh, yeah. Very cool, and evolving, already.
Noel Gallagher: They’re fucking great. So if one of my kids were to do something like that and they were good, they’d have my blessing, sure.
Rock Cellar: Would you take them aside if they sucked and give them the, “Whoa, slow your roll. Let’s work on this a little bit” routine?
Noel Gallagher: I kind of would prefer it if they sucked.
Rock Cellar: No competition in that?
Noel Gallagher: I’d be like, “Yeah, it’s really fucking good, buddy.”
Rock Cellar: Would you ever work with Rick Rubin?
Noel Gallagher: Oasis came quite close. I’d give it a shot. He’s a great guy.
Rock Cellar: Like Dave Holmes, he has a very defined way of working with his artists.
Noel Gallagher: Yeah. Rick Rubin definitely has a defined way, which is not getting involved at all and kind of turning up once and going, “Yeah good song.” I’d give it a shot. You know what, I’ve never worked with a producer before Dave Holmes where I just said, “Alright, what are we doing?”
Rock Cellar: Because you almost produced everything to that point.
Noel Gallagher: I’m good at it. I don’t mind.
Rock Cellar: Well, you have a vision.
Noel Gallagher: The thing with David Holmes was such an eye-opening experience. So I can work with anybody now. I would love to work with Brian Eno. He’s the one I’d love to work with.
Rock Cellar: Well, I’m guessing your pal Bono knows him.
Noel Gallagher: I was out with him the other night. It was great. But I’d love to work with him, because he’s such a calming, lovely influence.
Rock Cellar: So what is it he brings as a producer, do you think? The encouragement; that enthusiasm?
Noel Gallagher: I could only know by speaking to Bono and Chris Martin. And they just say everything that you think that you know about your music, forget about it when you work with him. So it’s a David Holmes thing. He’ll get you to put that guitar down and play something like AC/DC, but play it on a fucking keyboard. He’s got the cards and all that shit, too.
Rock Cellar: I have an app with those cards.
Noel Gallagher: Have you really?
Rock Cellar: Yes. I do.
Noel Gallagher: No way. I’m going to get that. What’s it called, the oblique strategy app?
Rock Cellar: Yeah. It is.
Noel Gallagher: I’m going to do that later.
Rock Cellar: He has an app called Bloom, which creates ambient music on your iPhone, too.
Noel Gallagher: Oh, wow.
Rock Cellar: But best $5 I ever spent. You just sit there and create Brian Eno music with one finger. So is this an experimental period or phase? Or is this here to stay, do you think? Because it sounds as though, from our conversation before we sat down, that for the next record you’re doing proper demos and you’re sitting with an acoustic guitar and writing.
Noel Gallagher: The only rule I’ve got moving forward for my next album is that I’m going to continue writing on the bass. I haven’t written any of the songs on the guitar. So that’s the thing.
I was just making a list of all the ideas for songs I’ve got on the bass, in fact. But moving forward, yeah, it’ll be more in this vein, I think. I’m not sure, of course. I have got a few tunes that are kind of rocking. But I’ll get around to them eventually. This way of working, for me, now, is way more interesting and inspiring. I was talking to Paul Weller about this the other day. He’s been through it before.
Rock Cellar: Many times.
Noel Gallagher: Every songwriter’s been through it, where every time I’ve been in the studio for the past — since November last year, actually — every day’s been amazing. And every day I’ve come away with something that’s inspired something else. I worked for years where I went into the studio, I know what I’m going to record, I’m going to get to the end of the day, and it’s not going to sound as good as I thought, but it sounds okay. I’m in this place now where everything I’m writing and recording is coming out great.
Rock Cellar: Weller’s in that period too.
Noel Gallagher: You’ve just got to keep it going and keep it going. So that’s what I’m going to keep doing.
Rock Cellar: This era is certainly crazy. It begs the question of art versus the artist. Morrissey is a great example; you’re a big fan. But he is really hard to like sometimes, you have to admit. His politics does taint the music for me. Can you divorce those?
Noel Gallagher: There was all this talk about Michael Jackson being banned from British radio, right? And there was a whole debate about it. My question to that was, well, Thriller didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just a record. So the art itself, that’s untouchable. “Billie Jean” is untouchable. Thriller’s untouchable.
Rock Cellar: Off the Wall.
Noel Gallagher: Yeah. Now, I would agree that Morrissey is very difficult. But he gives less of a fuck than I do. Everything you want to know about him is in his music. But why should I, as a public person, be populist? There’s too much of that in the world.
Everybody wants to fucking mean all things to all people. That’s what’s wrong with the world. Nobody is saying, “You know what? I’m a bit of a cunt. Fucking deal with it.”
Rock Cellar: Well, that’s exactly what he’s saying. And he’s saying it daily. He probably says it to himself.
So you’ve got most of the latter-day Oasis lineup in your band now. But you’ve also got three women, scissors, horns. How did the idea for the solo band develop for you? Because I saw your very first gigs as a solo artist, and several lineups since, and it seems you’re presenting a very different Noel Gallagher than in, say, 2012?
Noel Gallagher: I’d like to tell you that it was all thought out. But honestly, with my American guitarist, Tim Smith, once Beady Eye broke up, he knew that Gem Archer’s been my friend for a long time. So even Tim said “I’m not coming back, am I?” And I was like, “No, you’re not.” But he used to sing the third-part harmonies, and would sing, as well.
So I was like, Gem’s my mate, I’ve got to look after him, but he can’t fucking sing. I don’t want to get another guy playing guitar, so I’m getting a girl to sing, and she’s going to play keyboards. So then Jessica Greenfield appeared, and she’s just great.
And then, of course, Charlotte Courbe did her bit on the album, and that song was so great, she had to come on tour. Then all of a sudden, she developed this role within the band where she was part of the band. And then YSee, well, that fucking girl. It didn’t really dawn on me until about six months into it, when a gig had been recorded and I had to approve the sound, which I hate doing it, but no one else was available to do it.
I had to sit through three or four songs from this gig and say, “Yeah, that’s all right.” It only struck me then, that when we all walked off stage, I was like, “She looks fucking amazing. And this band, it now looks really modern.” It’s like my version of the Style Council or Fleetwood Mac. Actually, I was watching a thing on British television about Style Council. And I was thinking, “That’s what it is!”
Rock Cellar: But it’s got to be financially taxing to maintain that size band.
Noel Gallagher: Oh, I don’t pay them.
Rock Cellar: I know you do.
Noel Gallagher: They don’t get any fucking money. [Laugher.] It is, but you know what? I’ve got enough fucking money.
Rock Cellar: But the scale of things has changed. It has to be difficult.
Noel Gallagher: I wouldn’t be doing it if I couldn’t afford it. And I’ve got to say, I’m out on the road most of the time. I’m not sitting in an office worrying about that.
Rock Cellar: Well, that begs the question. It’s been 25 years since Definitely Maybe, and Maine Road. Seminal points in your life. But lots has changed. Touring has taken over for physical media, and the way the music business operates. CDs and tapes have given away to MP3 downloads and streaming, and even if vinyl’s back. How has that affected the way you do business, but also the way you create? Or is it more simply down to working with a producer like Dave Holmes, who says, “Throw out the rulebook?”
Noel Gallagher: It’s affected profoundly how you get it out there. The creative process will always be people in a studio, jamming it out. Of course, there’s the computer now; there’s no tape machines anymore. I mean, at first, with downloading music, everyone was a bit like, “Ooh.” But now, I think, thank God people are downloading music.
Thank God people are still listening to music. Because it’s getting so marginalized by social media. So you’ve just got to go with it.
And if you’re starting off now, this whole conversation wouldn’t be a thing. But because you and I were born in the sixties, and grew up in the seventies and eighties, and started bands in the nineties, we’ve got all that with us.
Then you end up a grumpy old man saying, “Why did they fucking do that?”
Rock Cellar: Roger Daltrey has been railing on about that.
Noel Gallagher: It’s terrible to be like that. But if that’s the way you feel, then you completely become that way as you get older.
Rock Cellar: Do you think much about how you’re perceived. Do you care?
Noel Gallagher: I don’t care until I look back at photographs and I think, “What the fuck?”
Rock Cellar: “What was I wearing?”
Noel Gallagher: “Did I just fucking roll out of bed?” So then I’ll regret not actually trying to make the effort. But I got to a point where I was 50, right, and I just thought, “You know what? I don’t give a fuck anymore.” I’ve written and rewritten ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Wonderwall.’ And it was David Holmes who said, “Look. You can do that for the rest of your life and be the best at it. Or you could do something different.”
And I’d never thought of it. It was him that opened the gate. And I kind of tiptoed through it. Now, people say, “Your songs are very different.” Well, if you’re a half-decent musician, you should be able to make any record. If they say, “Do reggae,” you should be able to do reggae. But it’s not about changing musical styles. It’s about changing your mindset. So now, there’s barely a guitar in the studio. There may be one, and there’ll be a fucking lot of synths and pedals knocking around.
So it’s a case of not using the guitar to lean on as a crutch and try to do something else.
October 26, 2020
October 20, 2020