Music

Head-to-head with music’s most loveable arsehole Noel Gallagher

Ahead of his appearance at Bluesfest and headline shows in March, SARAH SMITH goes head-to-head with NOEL GALLAGHER. 

“I’ve had a pretty rough weekend so I’m fucked.”

This is not how you want an interview with Noel Gallagher to begin. Not when you’ve been waiting two decades to speak to the guy whose band soundtracked your early adolescence. The guy to whom you once drunkenly stammered, “Thanks for the album… albums. They were good.” The guy who has said many times over that he loves doing interviews almost as much as he loves playing music.

“Oh, that’s no good. I’ll go easy on you then,” I reply, dejected. 

But Noel is having none of it. “No! Give me your best!”

If there were any doubt that after two decades in the limelight Noel Gallagher is tiring of fronting up to the media, last month’s controversial Esquire profile firmly cemented the singer’s reputation as a human quote machine. In it he managed to slag off Radiohead, Thom Yorke, Alex Turner, his brother Liam and literally every band that has released a record in the last 10 years.

But here’s the thing with Noel, in person (or in this case over the phone) he never actually sounds like an arsehole. His sentences, while vitriolic in print, are coated with mischief, delivered in such a way that makes you believe he really does hate Adele’s music, but is probably more interested in getting a rise out of you than he is slagging off the year’s biggest record. “It just means a lot of single women have bought a fucking shit tune,” he says gleefully when asked for this thought’s on 25’s record-breaking week. He also makes it very hard not to bite back.

Getting off to an uncharacteristically quiet start, our conversation gradually becomes more combative as Noel fires up, egging it along, stoking the fire. Unlike most musicians Noel doesn’t like to be asked questions about his most recent record, or his next record for that matter. But he is more than happy to discuss his former band Oasis or his personal life – including the famously strained relationship between he and his brother Liam. He will also willingly take the piss out of himself. More than anything, however, Noel Gallagher likes to have a bit of a gab. And if you’re prepared to go with him, it can be a great deal of fun.

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Way back in about 1996 I had tickets to my first ever gig which just happened to be an Oasis show, I think it was your first ever tour in Australia which ended up being cancelled and broke my little 12 year-old heart.
Oh no, sorry about that.

I was wondering what your memories are of that period in Oasis, because it’s evidently left a little bit of a mark in my life in some way…
As I recall Bonehead’s [Paul Arthurs, Oasis’ original rhythm guitarist] wife was due to have a child and he felt he couldn’t be [in Australia] because he wanted to be there for the birth of his first child. I remember being pretty gutted about it because we never got to go to Australia for another few years after that. The second time we went it was a fucking disaster.

Why was it a disaster?
Liam got arrested. Which doesn’t help.

I didn’t get to see you the second time around.
You didn’t miss much, it was fucking awful. But the third time we went in 2005, it was amazing. It’s been that way ever since I think.

You don’t strike me as someone who would regret things – but do you have any regrets from your time in Oasis?
No, not at all.

You wouldn’t do anything differently if you had your time around again?
I might do a thousand little things differently. Tiny minute things that wouldn’t really add up to something that would be a great difference. I don’t have any regrets at all. I think if I look back on it; I think we were great. At our best we were great and at our worst we were merely very good. We made some great records and we made some shit records. We did some great gigs and some not so great gigs. So it’s all a very colourful tale which I really like, but I don’t have any regrets, no.

Do you think Oasis has an underrated album? One that you think is good in retrospect but maybe didn’t stand up at the time?
Not really. The first two [Definitely Maybe and What’s The Story Morning Glory] people refer to them as bonafide classics. Don’t Believe The Truth [2005] is a great album and the other stuff has some great moments on. Not every album you do is going to be great. Even all of U2’s albums aren’t all great.

No, the last one wasn’t that good.
The last one was great, what are you talking about? AND you got it for free! What the fuck are you on about? Not even all The Beatles albums are great, so you do your best when you’re in the studio and that’s about it. You leave it in the hands of the people. I’m quite comfortable with how our records are perceived.

Which Beatles album would you call “not great”?
I’m not a fan of … what’s the one with all the fucking… Beatles For Sale, I’m not a fan of that one. I’m not a fan of Abbey Road either if I’m being honest.

Why not?
Don’t know; I don’t like side two. Gets on me tits.

Fair enough. Do you think you and Liam would have a different relationship now if you hadn’t been in the band together?
Oh absolutely. We’d probably be like normal brothers I would’ve thought. Hang on: If neither of us were in the band, or we were in different bands? What kind of dynamic are we talking here?

Let’s say, if you were in different bands from the start?
Depends which band was most successful. I’m probably thinking mine would be so I’d be cool with it. He’d probably fucking hate me. That’s understandable.

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You’re obviously still touring and you seem to get a lot personally out of playing live. Do you still enjoy sitting down and writing songs after all this time?
Of course, that’s what leads me to the stage. That’s what leads me to travel the world and experience new things. I really, really like writing music. I’m currently making a new album at the moment. I’ll never stop doing it. The day I do stop doing it I’ll probably be in a mental hospital.

What are you doing with the new album?
What am I doing with it?

Yeah, what direction is it going in?
Oh I don’t talk about things like that. I’m not even sure what that term “direction” [means]. You can only really ask an artist [that] and I’m not an artist.

What are you then if you’re not an artist?
I’m just a shit-kicker.

Do you still get a kick out of playing Oasis songs live? I’ve seen you solo once and you seem to genuinely enjoy it.
Of course. They’re my songs, I wrote them all myself. I don’t recall anybody else being there when I was writing them. To me they’re not Oasis songs; they’re my songs that Oasis performed. Sometimes I miss performing them with Oasis. Some songs off the Oasis catalogue I don’t play because Liam would sound better singing them. On the whole I love playing them, they’re my songs and I love singing them.

If Oasis hadn’t have broken up, where do you think you guys would be today?
We’d have been wherever we were in 2009, that is where we’d be now. With everything kind of levelled out. We weren’t gaining as many new fans as we were losing, so we weren’t going to get any more popular. We weren’t going to get any less popular. We’d kind of made it to the top a long, long time ago. We stayed there for way over 10 to 15 years. It was time to end it.

“I think I met Bowie in the ‘90s but I was way too fucking high to appreciate it”

Is there nothing else left that you would want to do with that band?
There’s nothing else to do.

Have you ever met another musician who has intimidated you?
[Long pause] Hmmmm I’ve never met Bob Dylan. I don’t know what I’d ever say to Bob Dylan if I ever met him. I’m not sure what I’d say to David Bowie either.

You never met Bowie?
I think I did meet him once in the ‘90s but I was way too fucking high to appreciate it.

You recently did an interview with Esquire in which you pretty much said everything you’ll ever say about anything…
[Laughs]

And in it you talked about the idea that we don’t have any rockstars left, and that fame is wasted on the ones we do have. Do you think the world needs rockstars in 2015?
Yeah of course. Music should be made by people who are otherworldly. The charts should not be dominated by people who used to work in a fast food joint and just happen to have a good voice. You know what I mean? I’m talking about people from talent shows here, and boy bands. Rappers, people who can rhyme fridge with midge.

There are some good rappers. I know you’ve spoken about Kanye in the past, and he kind of exudes the rockstar persona.
He’s great. He’s fucking absolutely barking, he’s mad for it. I don’t really know much about [hip-hop] to have an opinion on it but I love all the ‘80s and early ‘90s stuff. I think rock ‘n’ roll stars are pretty fucking thin on the ground. If you think about all the big rock bands today, all of them have been going for about 10 years or more even. Whereas in the ‘90s there was maybe one or two a year coming out, these great rock bands. Now it seems to have dried up a little bit.

Do you think people want that anymore? Adele’s new album has just broken sales records people thought could never be broken. She sold the most albums in a week since they started keeping these records.
Woah woah woah woah woah no she didn’t.

She didn’t?
No she didn’t.

It says here she got the largest single sales week in three decades.
Oh singles? Who gives a fuck about singles?

She broke the record with her album as well.
Oh what’d she do, sit on it?

What do you think is the appeal of Adele if that’s the kind of music people want to buy now?
It’s music for fucking grannies.

Would your children listen to Adele?
It wouldn’t be allowed.

You played on the new Coldplay album – have you heard the whole thing yet?
I’ve heard a couple of tracks, yeah.

What do you think?
I think this album will easily cement their place as the 13th greatest band of all time.

Who’s number one?
The Beatles.

That makes a lot of sense. I know you mentioned this in the Esquire interview but I can’t remember what number Oasis was?
Seven.

“If it wasn’t for the interviews, I probably wouldn’t bother making records.”

I read a feature about you where someone said that the quotes you give in interviews are better than your lyrics. Do you think you’re a good lyric writer?
I really only put out records to promote my interviews anyway. The records are fucking meaningless to me. They’re only a tool that get me interviews. If it wasn’t for the interviews, I probably wouldn’t bother making records. Why would you? It’s really fucking hard to make a record.

Aurora recently put out a cover of ‘Half The World Away‘, an Oasis B-side which has kind of taken on its own life since it was released. I was wondering why you relegated it to a B-side all those years ago?
At the time I was a very young, headstrong gifted songwriter who thought everything I wrote was amazing. My record label would call me up saying: “We’re putting this single out, we need two B-sides. We’ve booked you a studio for next Wednesday, have the songs ready.” Then I would write the songs and that would be it.

Do you ever wish you’d held onto a couple of those for later on?
Oh fucking absolutely! We have an Oasis B-side album out called The Master Plan and if I would’ve been more forward thinking, cooler and surrounded by more business savvy people, that album would’ve made two great albums. As it was, we were all fucking high as kites and having a great time, so really everyone’s a winner.

We were talking before about Adele breaking records – whether or not she did is still up for debate – but do you think in the climate we’re in now Oasis would have achieved the same success in 2015 as you were able to in the ‘90s?
I’m not sure it would’ve been the same. It would’ve been different because the internet’s changed everything. I always said this at the time; I felt we’d be the last of the traditional great rock bands that did it the traditional way. That came up through clubs and shit. We did it without the internet, and it’s impossible to do it without the internet now. Maybe. You can’t seriously suggest that if a band was to come along today and had songs like ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and all that kind of thing, they wouldn’t be successful? Of course they would.

I don’t know if they’d beat Adele in breaking records…
The breaking records thing is really irrelevant isn’t it? What does it mean? It just means a lot of single women have bought a fucking shit tune.

Do you listen to contemporary records; will you go out and still buy music?
It depends. When I’m on the road I’ll probably buy more records than I do at home. When I’m at home I’m kind of working and when I’m on the road I’ve got a lot of spare time so I’ll go down to record shops. But not really. If I’m being honest, I’m really not fucking interested in music.

Why not?
Because it’s shit.

Everyone else’s music is shit or you just do too much of it yourself?
Not everyone else’s music is shit but… what was the last great record you heard?

Probably Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, who you’re playing with at Bluesfest actually.
Oh Jesus. Okay.

Have you heard the record?
I’m going to blow your mind here.

Go on.
No I haven’t. No I haven’t.

That’s probably my favourite record of the year.
Why? What kind of music is it?

It’s rap, it’s just a really interesting record that…
See now you’ve just said the most disgraceful word in the fucking history of rock and roll.

Interesting?
Interesting. If music is interesting it’s automatically shit. Yeah.

“If music is interesting it’s automatically shit”

Well that would explain why you don’t like Radiohead. I understand. What was the last great record you heard then?
The last great song, and I’m just thinking off the top of my head, it’s by that guy The Weeknd. The one that goes [starts singing] “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you/because I love it.” That was fucking great.

It’s probably the best song of the year.
You just said Adele was; what the fuck are you talking about?

I don’t like Adele. I said lots of other people like Adele.
Okay, but I bet you’ll be playing that fucking shit as soon as you put the phone down. Sending a text to your ex-boyfriend. I like that Weeknd track. Some of the new Chemical Brothers stuff is great. The track that I played on the Coldplay is somewhat predictably amazing.

Can you explain that please?
I have played guitar on the album. When you listen to the album, all the great guitar you hear in there is mine.

Did you write anything for the Coldplay record?
No, no, no. I just happened to be in LA when they were recording and as we are all very close friends, Chris [Martin] said, “Can you come to the studio and elevate this album somehow and try and get us in the top 13 bands of all time?” I said “I’m not a fucking miracle worker but I’ll do me best.”

Would you let Chris play on one of your records?
Absolutely. The man’s a fucking wizard, he’s a genius.

A video posted by Coldplay (@coldplay) on

Do you think if Beady Eye had been more successful than Oasis, you would have been happy for Liam? Or would that have been weird for you to watch?
No it would not. I was desperate for them to be successful. I know how much they all wanted it to be successful. Regardless of what you think might’ve been said in the press and all that shit, they’re still my mates. Me and Liam fell out but the rest of them were still my mates. I really wanted it to work and I want my friends to do well. But the fact they didn’t, what shocked me the most was that the last album they did was kind of heading in the right direction. I was really looking forward to hearing the next one and then of course Liam goes and quits for some unspecified reason. I was pretty sad for them really.

Do you think Liam will ever put out a solo record?
The thing about Liam is this. He’s predictably unpredictable. So fuck knows what he’s going to do next. I have no idea. We could maybe see him join the Jihad in Syria. Who knows?

You don’t strike me as someone who ever doubts himself – but before you released your solo album, did you ever wonder whether it might not work?
Before I even go into a recording studio, I always have the song written. Completely done, all of it. So I’m not leaving anything to chance. So the fact that I’m in a studio means that I’ve got a bunch of songs I really believe in. It was just a case of getting the right recordings. The first album that I made subsequently did have to be recorded a couple of times because I fucked it up the first time. There was no pressure really. If you think about all the bands down the years that have split up, who goes on when the band splits and the singer and the guitarist fall out? Who is it that goes on to have great success? Fucking not the guitarist. There was nobody really expecting a great deal. I just knew it was a great record when I was making it, and the only problem was going to be my position on the stage trying to sell it to people. I thought once I got over that barrier, I’ll be fucking bigger than Jesus. And here we are!

“Liam’s predictably unpredictable… we could maybe see him join the Jihad in Syria”

One last question. You mentioned earlier that you don’t really like music, so what does make you happy these days?
[Long whistling sound] What makes me happy? It’s the little things in life that make me happy. My children make me happy. My wife makes me happy. Socialising with my friends makes me happy. My football team when they win, that makes me happy. Watching TV, going on holiday. Doing interviews of course. What else? Buying trainers. Finding a jacket down the back of the wardrobe that you thought you’d lost in fucking ‘95 and it still fits you. Shit like that makes me happy.

Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds’ tour

Saturday, March 26 – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Tuesday, March 29 – Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
Wednesday, March 30 – AEC Theatre, Adelaide
Friday, April 1 – Crown Theatre, Perth