Oasis' Noel Gallagher Wants To "Live Forever"
Meet the architect of the Oasis sound
By Jaan Uhelszki Berkeley
Editor's Note: When Oasis came to San Francisco at the beginning of February to headline at the Fillmore Auditorium, their latest American single, the anthemic "Live Forever," was racing up the Alternative charts. With their UK pop star good looks, hook-laden songs and the arrogance of youth, Oasis are the English band of the moment. We sent Senior Editor Jaan Uhelszki to speak with the group's leader, guitarist/producer/songwriter Noel Gallagher. They met up on the afternoon of the Fillmore show. Sitting at a round table near the Fillmore bar before sound-check, Gallagher spoke about everything from his biggest fear to the meaning of fame.
Addicted To Noise: The way the story goes, in order to play at the club where Creation Records owner Alan McGee "discovered" Oasis, you threatened the club-owner. It doesn't seem that your band is one that leaves anything up to fate.
Noel Gallagher: No, but we didn't threaten to burn the venue to the floor, that's for starters. We didn't know that Alan McGee was going to be there, second of all. And he did not jump on stage and sign us upon the stage, thirdly. The only reason we threatened the club owner was because we'd paid so much money to get there. Like, Glasgow is about 600 miles from Manchester and we'd paid a lot of money to get there, so there was no way we were going to leave without playing. We didn't know McGee was going to show up at all, otherwise we wouldn't have gone. [Said charmingly with a stab at modesty]
ATN: Is that the fate part?
Gallagher: Definitely. We did not know he was going to be there at all, so it was total fate. It was on my twenty-fourth birthday as well.
ATN: People say that you and your brother Liam used to get along famously before you got in the band.
Gallagher: Yes, this is true. We just spend too much time with each other. Before we were in the band together I was a roadie, so I was off all over the place, and he was doing his thing. And that was all right. But now, even when we get time off, there's things that have to be done, and so we're still together. It's like any relationship, familiarity breeds contempt. We just had a month off and so we've been on this tour for four days and for the first two days it was great. And then it started getting back to the way it was, you know. Arguing and fighting. It's not like big massive, major rows. It's just like petty things. It's childish.
ATN: Do you come to blows?
Gallagher: Well, yeah, we do.
ATN: What do you fight about?
Gallagher: Anything, everything. The weather.
ATN: And who wins these drag-outs.
Gallagher: I do. After all I am the older.
ATN: Why do you think your band translates so well to an American audience, when Suede or Blur really haven't?
Gallagher: I think that our music, and especially the lyrics are quite universal. Whereas other English bands always like to sing about housing estates, and high rise block flats , and chip shops and things about England. It's all right if you live in England and can relate, it's all the little slang words that they might put in and stuff like that. But I just write, I wouldn't consider myself a great lyricist. I'm not a poet or anything. I just write what I feel. I'm just an average guy. [Grinning sheepishly when he sees I don't buy this] Ah, well not I'm not obviously. I write like an average person would write. "Cigarette and Alcohol" mean the same to some kid in Brooklyn as it would to someone from Belfast. It's the same, go out and get drunk have a good time. That means the same in any language. Bands like Suede and Blur... Bands like Blur and Suede sing about all things English. And I don't consider us an English band. I consider us just a band. I think they are very English. Even in the way they sing with sing with Cockney accents and all. When we sing, we don't sing with any particular accents. Just, I thinks that way. And I think we have a classic rock & roll sound, whereas them other bandsSuede is very David Bowie-ish, and Blur is a bit like the Kinks.
ATN: Did growing up 32 miles from Liverpool, where the Beatles grew up influence you?
Gallagher: The Beatles, to us, were the be-all, end-all. Where it starts and where it finishes. Everything we do is inspired by the Beatles. And our ambition is to go where we want to go as a band. Them and U2, but not U2 musically, just the way they have done things. They started as a working class band and went on to become the biggest band in the world. As did the Beatles. So just the way they have done things and the way they have went about things. I mean Liverpool, we've got the connection, we know a lot of musicians in Liverpool. We recorded some of our first demos in Liverpool. "Supersonic" was recorded in Liverpool so we've got a big connection with the city.
ATN: Were your parents big Beatles fans?
Gallagher: Yeah, of course.
ATN: How old are these parents?
Gallagher: My mum's about 50.
ATN: What's with Manchester and this burgeoning band scene. Is there something in the water?
Gallagher: There's absolutely nothing to do in Manchester. Apart from... well if you grow up in Manchester, you either go to work in a factory or you play soccer, or you sell drugs, or you become a musician. I think that's why we have two pretty good soccer teams, and we've got a lot of good factories, we've got a lot of good drug dealers and a lot of good bands, and that's about it really. There's nothing else to do.
I think the people from New York, Detroit, and Chicago to a lesser extent have all sort of got the same attitude towards life: "We know it's shit here so let's just get on with it, and make the best of it because we all can't go off to Hollywood and be in movies. And we're all not talented. So okay, I'm going to work in a factory and I'm going to make sure I'm going to enjoy myself working in a factory, I'm not going to get down about it." People from Manchester have that same kind of attitude towards life. They aspire to get out of there, but if you never do, so what. At least have a good time trying.
ATN: Did you get out?
Gallagher: Oh, yeah. I live in London now. In Chelsea.
ATN: I read where you quoted Keith Richard's on the writing process. He had said that all these songs are whirling around the universe, and all you have to do is pick out some bits and write them down. What happens if they pick out the same bits?
Gallagher: Well they get sued, don't they? (Making sly reference to The New Seekers suing Oasis, claiming they had stolen music from "I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" and used it in "Shakermaker.") The thing is, as people like Keith Richard move on, people who are my age will have been influenced by what he's done. And there are a lot of kids who come to our gigs who would have never have heard of T. Rex if we hadn't took that riff for "Cigarettes & Alcohol." So they go out and buy T. Rex records. It all goes in a circle, like music always does. I think that's why the Beatles are still so big 30 years later . They're as big now as they were then. Because as each generation goes on they take stuff from what has gone before. And then when you read their interviews... Like when I first read Sex Pistols' interviews, for instance, they talked about the Stooges and the MC5, and I'd never heard of those bands, at all. MC5 is a Detroit band. I never heard of those bands and probably would have never gotten into them if it hadn't been for Johnny Rotten mentioning Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Because I didn't know Iggy Pop was in a band called the Stooges. When I was growing up he was just Iggy Pop, The Idiot .
John Lydon used to mention David Bowie as well. When I was growing up all the sixth formers at school were into Bowie, and they all wore long overcoats and floppy hats. It wasn't until I started reading about the Sex Pistols and you go back to the Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars phase, when they were a fucking' excellent rock-and-roll band. They were like a punk band. They were influenced by the Stooges as well. You can see the Stooges and the MC5 influenced David Bowie. I can see that anyway. If you listen to like Diamond Dogs , that's just like MC5 to me. Even the lyrics and all that. [He starts to sing.] "When they pulled you out of the oxygen tent/You asked for the latest pie/Young girl they call that the Diamond Dogs." That's punk rock to me. All music tied in somewhere along the line to it's forebearers. And if it ever stops that's going to me a sad day for music. When people are to scared to pull the bits out of the sky, it's going to be a sad day.
ATN: What about The New Seekers lawsuit? Has anything been resolved yet?
Gallagher: It's still going on.
ATN: I could see where they would sue, but...
Gallagher: No, I can't . I didn't set out to use their song. I hadn't thought about that until the writ landed on the fucking table. It's actually a rip off of "Flying" by the Beatles, that's what it is. I just put lyrics to "Flying" and I came up with "Shakermaker," and then the New Seekers appear and say they're going to sue us for one hundred percent royalties on the single. And they're actually going to reform now after twenty-five years, because of this.
ATN: You said "punk rock is an attitude not a form of music, it's in the mind, not in the music. You're born with it, and you die with it." Do you have it?
Gallagher: That's not for me to say. I'd like to think so. The reason I said that quote was because R.E.M. was saying that their new album, Monster , was a punk album. And I'm afraid you can't go from playing a mandolin and being a sort of folkie alternative band, to then claiming yourself a punk rock band in few years. You can't. You can't go from losing your religion to being a punk rocker. You can't. You're either that when you start, and that's it. And for Michael Stipe to say it himself, that's worse.
ATN: Do you remember the ones who said you couldn't do it?
Gallagher: Plenty of people. Yeah. We had people around Manchester who just dismissed us immediately as just another band. And we said we're going to be massive, and they said, "No, Manchester is dead." I think a lot of people in Manchester just gave up after the Manchester thing, and sat on their asses and didn't do anything. There's a lot of musicians who are just wasting away in Manchester. There are a lot of great singers and guitarists, and bands who are just sitting around doing nothing, just wallowing in their own self-pity.
ATN: You seem to have this intense work ethic. You'll do anything to make it.
Gallagher: Well there's no point in being a band if you're not going to be out there. Myths don't sell records. Or they do to a certain extent. But people have got to hear you, and people have got to see you. And they have to be able to read about you, and they have to be able to see your photograph. Or what's the fucking' point. You only last... you get five years. If you haven't built up a big fan base to carry it through to the rest of your career, then you're fucked. I think that you have to do it in your first five years. Or else you just become a mediocre band for the rest of your career.
ATN: What's been memorable about your success? What has fame brought to you?
Gallagher: Nothing. It's not the money thing. I mean it's nice to get noticed. I could never understand pop stars who go on about fame. I like it... no I wouldn't say I like it, but I mean it gives you a good feeling when you're walking down the street and somebody stops you and says, "Can I have your autograph?" If you can't enjoy that there's no point in being in a fucking band. Or like people will come up to me and will say, "Can I take a photograph with you?" And I always say, "Well, yeah." That's what I'm in a band for. I'm not in a band to sit at home and hide under the blankets and be ashamed of what I am. I'm in it to be on the cover of every single magazine. On the telly 24 hours a day. Total Oasis, 24 hours a day.
ATN: Well if you're using the Beatles as a role model, they did try to launch all Beatles radio.
Gallagher: Yeah. There's no point in getting ashamed of being a rock star. When someone says, "Are you in that band," and you go "No," what's that about? It's fucking' insanity. I think people just look into it too deeply. It's no big deal, really when you think about it. But a lot of people well, for the finest example: Kurt Cobain. I don't mean to say I'm slagging him off. I loved the man. I loved his band and I thought it was really sad when he shot himself. But fame is not that big of deal. People say your life is not your own anymore, but I'm sorry, it is . If you're going to go walking down the street, people are going to stare at you. But I mean you go in and shut your front door, and your life is your own. It's like people say, "I can't go out." But you can go out. All these people sit outside your house, but if you just go up to them and say, "Excuse me, could you have a bit of respect for the fact that I want to go shopping today," and they all walk off and leave you alone. Pop stars end up being imprisoned in their homes because it's them that imprison themselves. It's not the kids. All the kids want is an autograph and a picture, and they'll piss off. As soon as you give them an autograph, they'll go. If you don't give them an autograph or a picture, they'll stay there. That's the way I see it.
ATN: So you would say there's no price of fame.
Gallagher: The price of fame is you don't get to spend as much time with the people that you love. Girlfriends, or family, or friends for that matter. You tend to lose contact with them. If there are true friends they'll be there when it's all over anyway. It's only a small part of your life. It's like five years, six years out of your life, so it's not that big of a price to pay.
ATN: Has this fame wreaked hell on your relationships? You write songs about your ex-girlfriends.
Gallagher: Yeah, but it's good material for songs.
ATN: You write a tremendous amount. Will Oasis ever do covers?
Gallagher: We do "I Am the Walrus" by the Beatles. It was a B-side in England, and we do it live. In fact we'll end with it tonight. I'd like to do a covers version album. I can sit for hours and hours and hours playing covers on the guitar. I'd like to do a covers album, but not next. It's paying the people who influenced you homage, isn't it?
ATN: The January issue of Select magazine was dedicated to "What happened to Evan Dando?" and you and your band seemed to play a big part in his, should I say, fall from grace. So I ask again, What's wrong with Evan Dando, and what does it have to do with Oasis?
Gallagher: He's a friend. [Said a bit tartly, and defensively] It's actually quite a factual piece. He's a total laugh. We can't wait to bump into him somewhere out here, on tour. He's fucking' mad . But he's really a laid back sweet guy, and he makes me laugh for a start. Plus the amount of times I've ended in a hotel rooms with just him and me and just an acoustic guitar... I could sit and listen to him for days. He's got a great voice and he sings great songs.
ATN: Where did the name Oasis come from?
Gallagher: I joined the band two months after it got going. Liam just got it off a poster on a wall.
ATN: Did you have an early premonition that this would happen to you?
Gallagher: Yeah. When I realized I was good at absolutely nothing else apart from playing guitar. I knew from an early age that it was always going to happen. You can't keep a good man down. It doesn't matter if you have a dream and you never get there, that's all right. The worst is having a dream and never even trying to fulfill it. That must be the worst feeling. As long as you tried, you know you tried and you failed in life. You know if you gave it your best shot, fine. So be it. I've met lots of people who say, "I can write as good as songs as you can." And I say, are you in a band? And they say, "No." Well, do you record them? "No, no, no, I just play them in my own bedroom."
To me you don't exist. There's no point. I can say I'm the greatest painter of all time. And someone says, "Can I see some of your paintings?" and I say I actually haven't painted any, but I know that I'm the greatest. That doesn't count for fucking' all in my book.
ATN: Is there an Oasis song that is most you?
Gallagher: Yeah. "Slide Away," "Live Forever," "Rock and Roll Star," "Married With Children," some of the new stuff is really me.
ATN: So they do tend to be autobiographical.
Gallagher: You can't really help it.
ATN: So your ex-girlfriend really did say those lines "all your music is shit."
Gallagher: Yeah she did.
ATN: Is the current girlfriend more supportive of your music?
Gallagher: Yeah, a little bit more. But they all hate my music in the end. It always comes to that.
ATN: In one interview you said your lyrics are meaningless. How did you mean that?
Gallagher: Well they all mean a lot to me, because I wrote them obviously. But I'm not one for... Certain people who write songs will sit there and try to convince you that they have created the great art form. They love talking about themselves. I don't particularly like talking about me . I would never go around and say what a great guy I am, or I think I'm the best lyricist on and on. Regardless of what I think of those songs [I write] it's meaningless. It doesn't matter what I think of them. What my songs mean to me is lots of kids queue up in the pouring rain the day the day a single comes out and buy it. That's what it means to me. It doesn't matter what I think of my songs, it's what you think. It's more important than what I think because I'm not going to go out and buy the records. Obviously I think they're the greatest pieces of music ever recorded. But I'm not going to say this is the greatest song since "Strawberry Fields Forever" because it means, blah, blah blah, and that line means blah, blah, blah. I don't really like talking about things like that.
ATN: Is there a line that keeps running through your head. Like a personal creed or motto?
Gallagher: Yeah. "Make It Happen." And the Keith Richard's line "Be Awake." Be aware, and always look back as well as forward.
ATN: Is there something you still need to learn?
Gallagher: I need to learn to play guitar. I need to learn how to operate a mixing desk. I need to learn to say no a lot more. I say yes to everything. I can't say no.
ATN: Records that really mattered?
Gallagher: All the Beatles records.
ATN: What's your favorite?
Gallagher: If I had to pick one track it would be "Ticket to Ride" or "Paperback Writer." If I had to pick an album, it would be the red one and the blue one. You know the compilations, 1962 to 1967, and 1967 to 1970. Because they've got all the singles on them. That's why they're the best.
ATN: I was interested in knowing why you consider "Helter Skelter" the beginning of the punk movement.
Gallagher: Because it was exactly a year after that, that the Stooges and the MC5 came out. In 1969. "Helter Skelter" was recorded at the back end of 1967, and that was the first. If you listen to "Helter Skelter" and listen to the MC5 and the Stooges, it's that sound. They sound exactly like that record. And song, the way it's played, is the birth of punk rock as we know it.
ATN: Any records besides Beatles records that really matter to you?
Gallagher: The Stooges first album, Kick Out the Jams, and then there was Never Mind the Bollocks , Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. A lot of the Jam's records. A lot of the Smith's records. And the Stone Roses' first album. I think they were quite important records, at least for me anyway. And for British music in general.
ATN: What's your most valued possession?
Gallagher: My guitar. Any single one of my guitars.
ATN: How many are there now?
Gallagher: There's 18. Quite a few.
ATN: The best piece of advice anyone ever gave you.
Gallagher: I went to my first and only guitar lesson in school. And I'm left-handed, but I play guitar right-handed. And my guitar teacher gave me a left-handed guitar, and he said, "You've got to play it this way, because you're left-handed." And I said, "I can play it right- handed" and he said, "No, no, you can't." And then my mom just took me out of the class, and she bought me a guitar, and said, "You go out and play it however you want to play it." And that was the best piece of advice I ever got.
ATN: Who was your favorite Beatle?
Gallagher: John Lennon. I don't really separate any of them. Because when they all went solo, they were fuckin' rubbish anyway. So, John Lennon to a lesser extent, when he first left the Beatles, he was all right. And George was all right for a while. They were the Beatles and as soon as they split, then it meant it was done. The magic was gone.
ATN: What comes first words or music?
ATN: Do you feel more attached to one more than the other?
Gallagher: Music no doubt. I'd rather not write lyrics, if someone else in the band would do it, then I wouldn't do it. I find it very difficult to write lyrics. I find it really easy to write melodies and music. But to actually physically write it all down, and make it all make sensemean somethingand not make it sound ridiculously light, like you wrote all the lines together and make it all tie into the last line, is really difficult. And to make the chorus make some sense with the verses.
ATN: Do you always labor over them?
Gallagher: No. Sometimes they come out in 20 minutes. Like "Rock 'n' Roll Star" took fucking hours to write. Hours and hours and hours and hours. And "Live Forever" took 20 minutes. And "Slide Away" took 20 minutes. Also all the ones that are about real feelings, songs like "Live Forever" and "Slide Away," "Married With Children" come real easy because you just write down what you feel. What you've lived. But if you're trying to write about rock-and-roll stars, trying to write about trying to be a rock-and-roll star, that usually takes quite a while.
ATN: Things that you've been hit with on-stage.
Gallagher: A fist in Newcastle. A bottle in Preston. And various plastic glasses. Water. Beer.
ATN: Is there somebody you didn't want to meet, but you're glad you did?
Gallagher: Paul Weller. I idolized him so much. When you idolize them, they're like gods, and you worry if you meet them, they could be a twat, or he could just tell me to piss off. But not him. Because he's one of my best friends now.
ATN: Your biggest fear?
ATN: The truest words ever said are
Gallagher: I'd have to say : "Fucking shove this up there, sonny it'll make you a better person." Umm, I'd say when John Lennon said, "We're more popular than Jesus now."
ATN: Something you want to do, but haven't done yet.
Gallagher: Have a number one single. Play for Manchester City F.C. Play with U2. Meet George Harrison. Meet Paul McCartney. Meet Mick Jagger. Play with the Stones. All musical things really. I played with Crazy Horse. And I played on Paul Weller's new album that's coming out this year, so I'm getting there. I'm crossing them off one by one.
ATN: Questions you can't answer?
Gallagher: What's the meaning of life?
ATN: Is there an event in history that you wish you had witnessed?
Gallagher: The Beatles last ever gig . Or first ever gig. Or any Beatles gig. Or any Sex Pistols gig. I've seen the video of the last Sex Pistol gig. I'd like to have seen the Stones in about 1969. I'd like to have witnessed the Rock 'n' Roll Circus. I'd like to have witnessed Manchester City winning any fucking' trophy, whatsoever.
ATN: Anything you want to say to folks at home?
Gallagher: Buy my albums, make me a millionaire.
ATN: You're not millionaires yet?
Gallagher: No fucking' way. God no.