An encounter with Mr Noel Gallagher
On the agenda: his spacey new direction, the need for a live scissors player, the importance of Vossi Bop, milking dry the Oasis cash cow and no questions about Liam (but we asked anyway).
Noel Gallagher starts as he always starts: taking charge and asking questions. “What you been up to?” and “What you listening to?” he enquires, genuinely interested in the answers. The musician is lean, sharp, clad all in black, fitted leather jacket staying firmly on as we plonk ourselves on couches in a hotel in Park Lane, still the richest, bluest bit on the London property Monopoly board.
And what’s the former Oasis man been up to? Recording and releasing This Is The Place, the second of three planned EPs for 2019, its predecessor being Black Star Dancing, on which the lead track was thrillingly sinuous future-funk. Not a sound you might have ever expected from the classic-rock loving man responsible for Peak Oasis (and then, later, Trough Oasis).
Let’s call all this The Further Cosmic Adventures of Our Kid, an out-there odyssey that began with Who Built The Moon?, 2017’s third solo album, the experimentalism kickstarted and shaped by Northern Irish DJ/electronic producer/soundtrack maestro David Holmes. Forget Britpop, this is Britpsych.
Noel has also been building a new studio near King’s Cross train station, while simultaneously moving out of London, to Hampshire. He and his wife Sara are keen to “prolong the childhood” of sons Donovan, 12, and Sonny, who’s nine this week.
And what’s the 52-year-old been listening to? Young Fathers and Jungle (“musically, I want to be in that world”), and Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point, which he classes as “one of their lost albums, innit? Everyone goes on about Screamadelica or XTRMNTR, but Vanishing Point is fucking far out.”
As for new stuff, “one of the guys who was in Jagwar Ma, Gabe, he’s going under the name Golf Alpha Bravo and he’s got this tune out that’s called something fucking pish like Groovy Baby [close – it’s called Groove Baby Groove]. It’s really great, though.”
And apart from its “unsophisticated” nature, what does he think of the new music from younger brother Liam (with whom he is, of course, engaged in an almighty feud)?
“I’ve heard Shockwave – five people wrote that song by all accounts. Don’t you think that’s amazing?” comes the sarky reply. “I’ve not heard this new one that’s about me.”
You mean tuneful nostalgia-fest singalong One of Us? It’s quite moving. There’s a line where Liam sings, “you said we’d live forever”.
Oh, really? Ha ha! Well, I’m sure the other four people were moved. I wondered if they had pictures of me in the studio when they were writing that shit… But isn’t there an Oasis line in all of his songs? I remember once in the Oasis days, he’d been up the studio on his own and every line in the song was the title of an Oasis song. It was some incidental blues nonsense. It went: “You said we were gonna live forever, and now that things are getting better…” And I asked him what it was called. And you know what it was called? Untitled, ha ha!
Are you picking up yet on any tunes that your sons are into?
No, they’re way too urban for me. They’re into anything urban, grime and all that kind of thing.
What do they think of dad’s music?
They like the gigs, but they’re not massive fans. They’ve shown more interest in the latest stuff, ’cause it’s a bit more electronic. But they never mention Oasis. They’re all on Spotify and [in charge of] the speaker system round the house, so every time I walk in, Stormzy’s playing and one of them is dancing past me like a madman, doing the Vossi Bop.
How’s your Vossi Bop?
Funnily enough, when I was watching Stormzy at Glastonbury on the telly and I heard that tune, I thought: “Ah, that’s what the fuck he’s been going on about for the previous six months, dancing round the kitchen singing this song.” I’d been thinking: what’s a fucking Vossi Bop? Has he made this shit up? And if he has made it up, I’m ripping it off. The next thing I know, there’s 100,000 people going berserk to it in a field.
You say David Holmes “changed my musical life”. In what ways?
Two main things. First, writing in the studio: “Don’t come into the studio with any ideas. If you have any, keep ’em at home.” I was like: “Fucking hell, alright, bossy boots!” And the next thing was: we decided we were gonna do a track like Can or someone, with a drum machine, and I picked up the guitar. And he said: “Answer me this: why do you always pick up the guitar first?” “‘Cause I’m a fucking guitarist.” “Well, let’s leave that. Can you play the keyboards?” “Not really”. “Great, let’s start with that.”
Who or what else has been inspiring you?
I’ve been taking a lot from David Bowie, how he would approach music. His thing was: try anything. Just throw as much shit at the wall as you can.
Is that a risky undertaking for you, with your fanbase of (largely) old Oasis fans?
Well, I had to not have the fear of knowing that a healthy portion of my fanbase is going to listen to Black Star Dancing for under 30 seconds and go: “Well, he can fuck off.”
And that doesn’t bother you?
OK: when [first Who Built the Moon? single] Holy Mountain came out – which, to me, is like an Oasis single – with some of the reactions, I was so shocked that it was funny. I was like: “Wow, that’s mental. ’Cause if you don’t like this, then fucking hell, we’re gonna have fun over the next couple of years.” ’Cause I knew what I was going to try and do. You just have to have faith. If a thousand people a day listen to your new track, and 900 of them bin it after 30 seconds, that’s fine. You have to focus on the 100 people who’ll see it to the end.
Going by Spotify streams, your most popular tracks are Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back In Anger, Champagne Supernova, Live Forever… and Stand By Me.
Is it really? Wow. Going by audience reaction, I’d have said The Masterplan. See, my biggest solo song on Spotify is In The Heat of the Moment. Fucking what? It’s not been synced somewhere; couldn’t tell you why that is. Funnily enough, I’ve just done a tour in America with Smashing Pumpkins, and the sight of two goths, one in a Rancid t‑shirt, one in a Kiss t‑shirt, with their arms around each other, singing Wonderwall in Arkansas, is not something you see every day! And with no reaction to any other single song that we did! What is it about that song? It’s crazy.
Likewise, Definitely Maybe won’t go away – Oasis’s debut album, released all the way back in 1994, was just in the Top 10 again.
I know! The taxi driver who brought me to the train station today said his 14-year-old son is a huge fan of that album. And he said: “Does it piss you off that people still listen to it?” “Fucking no, mate! It pays the bills!”
How do you feel about the celebrating – and re-celebrating– of the album, given that it was a 25th anniversary campaign that was responsible for it being in the Top 10?
Well, the poor girl in my office that looks after that stuff, I’ve driven her mad. When we did the 10-year anniversary, I was a bit like, “really?” OK, we did a DVD as well. Then the 20th anniversary we did another DVD and we remastered it again. And this time I said to her: “What the fucking hell do you want me to say this time?”’ But I guess it’s about redefining it for a new generation. But this is the fourth time it’s been out. Thank God the music speaks for itself.
In what way exactly?
I guess it’s a lesson in the power of songwriting about universal truths, that are not tied to any particular time. It was written by a young guy – I was 24 – about being a young guy, in the inner cities, who had nothing, and nothing to do. It was all about projecting your future on to some escapist dream that you had in the park, when you were pissed and stoned. That’s gonna pass down through the ages to everybody, really.
But as soon as you start writing with an eye to posterity, you’ve had it.
Right. This is why I moved on to doing what I’m doing now. Now I’m in a place where I’m thinking: why the fuck was I trying to rewrite (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? for the best part of 15 years? But the fact is, it was a huge big fucking cash cow, and I wish I’d have had the foresight to throw it all up in the air. But I have no doubt in my mind that if Oasis were still together today, we’d still be doing that.
Really? “Right. Stop. We’re going this way now” – surely you’d have had the authority to say that?
[Sighs] No, because it was a strange dynamic in the band. Everybody wrote songs. I don’t think I’d even have got [fairly trad] The Death of You and Me past “The Committee”, far less [relatively rad] Black Star Dancing. Now, I don’t understand people from the Nineties that are just trying to just carry on the thing they did then.
Are you talking about Liam?
No, no, no. There’s loads of us from the Nineties. Damon’s not, to be fair. He’s always doing some mad shit, an opera about a monkey with a walking stick.
So you’re having a go, too?
Well, I’ve got two French girls in the band, one of them’s playing the fucking scissors, the other one’s African. Three-piece brass section. And I think that’s as far away from [the past] as it gets!
But given that spirit of adventurism, why didn’t you drag the band in a new direction after, say, third Oasis album Be Here Now, which was a bit of a plateau?
I was never in a band where we were all pulling in the same direction. Which is what made Oasis exciting. For example: Primal Scream. I know there’s only two of them [original members] now, but at least the two of them are singing from the same hymn sheet most of the time. Whereas in Oasis, one of us would deliberately not sing from the same hymn sheet as a point of principle. He’d say: “I’m not getting involved in that, because you’re a cunt.”
Are you talking about Liam?
Well, actually, saying that, I’m doing myself a disservice, because when Liam floated the idea of working with Death In Vegas, I was all for it. Sadly it amounted to fuck-all. But there was a lot of being a cunt for being a cunt’s sake. I played a huge part in that, of course.
On the subject of songwriting, I recently interviewed Liam, and he said his dream in Oasis was to write with you, and have writing credits that said “Gallagher-Gallagher”. It was quite sweet, actually.
Well, there could have been “Gallagher-Gallagher”, but he wasn’t into it. But it’s down to that thing: if you all turn up at a session and I’ve written 26 songs, and everyone else has got fuck-all, and you’re sat with a producer who’s actually got to wrap this album up within three months, what’s he gonna do? Sit around watching everybody acting like a chimp’s tea party? Is he fuck. He’s gonna go: “Well, [Noel’s] got it all written already.”
So if you’d been creatively challenged in Oasis, things could have turned out differently?
Mmm, absolutely. I mean, I’ve never been great in a writing partnership. I’ve sat with Weller and Johnny Marr and various people down the years, and as I understand it, there can’t be two alpha males writing a song. I’ve known Paul Weller for 25 years and we must have sat together in studios a thousand times, and literally come up with two songs. He’ll be looking at me, thinking: “That’s fucking shit.” And I’ll be looking at him, thinking: “That’s fucking shit.” ’Cause you’ve got to alpha fucking songwriters. So it just doesn’t work.
Any ultra-alpha writer you could work with? Bono, for example?
Eh, I’d like to. ’Cause his lyrics are great. I’d like to write a song with Morrissey.
See, when I say that, people always go: “Really? What about what he’s been saying?” I don’t give a fuck what he’s been saying. So what?
No, you have to care about what Morrissey is saying.
Well, no, he’s mad, right? He’s saying mad shit, right? It’s like the fucking thing with whether radio should still play Michael Jackson. Well hang on a minute – the album Thriller has not committed a crime. When I say I want to write a song with Morrissey, I’m talking about the guy who was in The Smiths. I’m not talking about whatever he’s up to now with his stance on politics. Because his voice is embedded in my youth, in my bedroom. I would love to write a song with. Because he’s got a great voice.
Speaking of politics: given the state of the world, do you see yourself writing a more politicised lyric?
I’m no good at it. I’m good at the universal truth. That’s my thing. Maybe the odd line here and there. I remember when Alan McGee first heard Cigarettes and Alcohol, he said: “Oh, that’s social commentary, that.” “What bit?” “That bit about not finding a job.” “Oh, right. I distinctly remember making that up while I was watching Coronation Street.” “No, it’s social commentary.” “Right, well, don’t spread that about, though.”
You got a bit political recently, though, when you called Scotland a “third world country” by way of having a dig at Lewis Capaldi. What did your Scottish wife make of that?
I got a bollocking. But I was only having a laugh. Nobody told me that Lewis Capaldi was one of my daughter’s best friends.
What have you got against Capaldi?
Nothing! He just sells more records than me. Same as any fucker who’s more successful than I am: they’re cunts. By definition. It was like the story about me slagging all these faceless singer-songwriters…
Who, often as not these days, are songwriting by committee…
Yeah. Two people writing a song is an argument. These have got five people writing a song – how do five people write a song? [The likes of] Rag’n’Bone Man… and then there’s another guy with a beard and a woolly hat.
Tom Walker. The Brits’ Critics’ Choice winner 2019.
Him. All that mob. I was watching the Brits this year, and they all brought their nans. And I’ve never seen so many fizzy drinks on a table at the Brits in my life. Fucking hell! I remember in ’94, cocaine everywhere! Everyfuckingwhere. EVERYWHERE! Mountain of booze under table, we must have spent ten grand on booze. And here’s James Corden: “Who’s this?” “It’s me nan!” Do the poor woman a favour and leave her at home! And who’s drinking all that Coke? No booze! No fucking need for that, mate.
Finally: you freely admit that This Is The Place “didn’t take off at radio at all”. Does having hits still matter to you?
If that bothers you, you’d be an idiot. Am I writing a song to please other people, or a guy at 6 Music? Or have I in fact spent 25 years doing all that, thank you very much, and now I’m just pleasing myself? But it’s not like I’m Tom Waits, making challenging music. It’s pop music. I’m not that intellectual. I’m not trying to bamboozle people!