When Oasis broke up in 2009, few fans believed the split would last. The Gallagher brothers had bickered before, and besides, how could Liam get by without Noel’s smarts, or Noel without Liam’s sneer? But as Noel releases "Chasing Yesterday," his second de facto solo album as head of the “collective” High Flying Birds, he shows little desire to look back – in anger or otherwise – to his years as the guitar-playing guy on the side of the stage.
"Chasing Yesterday" finds Noel in a slightly punchier mood than on High Flying Birds’ self-titled 2011 debut. Despite its name, it offers a few surprises, including two songs resurrected from an aborted album with psychedelic duo Amorphous Androgynous; the floating jam “The Right Stuff,” complete with burbly bass clarinet, is his biggest yet departure from the Oasis rock template. And while Gallagher has been known to dismiss his own lyrics, he does retain a gift for unraveling magic from the mundane: “We can dance beneath the fireflies on an empty road,” he sings on “Dying of the Light.”
On the phone from London, where he’s been rehearsing for a tour that takes him to North America starting May 3 in Toronto, rock music’s infamous craftsman of hooks and one-liners took time to chat about on self-reliance, how everyone wants to be him, and the birth of the death of rock ‘n’ roll.
You’ve been rehearsing with a choir. Does it give your lyrics a gospel oomph?
Well, you would have to be the judge of that. It just adds more power. I don’t know – I’ve never seen me live. How do I perceive my own music? I have no idea.
Have you ever sat down with a DVD of yourself live?
Oh fuck, for God’s sake, no. No, no, no, no. When gigs are recorded, I don’t listen at all. It would only spoil it for me.
Even the Oasis live releases?
I might have had to fuckin’ sit through that ‘cause there was a record coming out and I was asking people to buy it, but ever since then, I tend not to listen to [these] things. It could never be as good as it sounds in your memory. Plus it tends to be coming out of a speaker which is the size of a fucking bean.
"Chasing Yesterday" rescued a couple of tracks from the album with Amorphous Androgynous you decided not to release. Recently Gaz Cobain from that band said, “I don’t think he wanted to fully interface with the craziness of our music.” Would you agree?
Well, Gaz has one way of putting it; I have another. If somebody delivers me a record that I paid a fucking 100,000 pounds for, then I would assume that I’d have interfaced with it at some point. The tunes themselves were worth resurrecting, and the recordings that I did with Amorphous Androgynous were not worth pursuing any longer, because I felt that they weren’t very focused – a bit like Gaz.
You ended up producing "Chasing Yesterday" yourself, and you’ve said it was “a major pain in the arse.”
Not creatively, clearly, ‘cause the record’s great. It was a pain in the arse having to manage the sessions, keep an eye on the clock and the budget, and all that kind of shit that I don’t really have to think about.
Creatively, did it give you more freedom?
Not really – it just meant that I could have a day off when I wanted. I didn’t find it a mind-blowingly liberating experience, and I didn’t find it debilitating either. I’ve made so many fucking records, I’ve come to the conclusion that after “producing” one myself, I’ve actually produced every fucking record I’ve made; I’ve just given someone else the credit for it. Because if I write the songs, play all the parts, arrange them all, record them all, what the fuck does a producer do?
Does he sit there and suggest, “You might want to work on this bit”?
No, I come in with a song completely finished, and it’s not up for discussion. If a producer’s ever said to me, “I don’t like that song,” then I would say, “Well, I do, so we’re doing it.” What I do like about using producers, and particularly [former Oasis and High Flying Birds producer] Dave Sardy, was he was a great guy, and it was fun to be in the studio with another person who digs your music.
As opposed to, say, if Liam said he wasn’t sure about something you’d written for Oasis?
I don’t think Liam has ever been sure of anything in his entire life, apart from what parka he’s going to wear at one particular point of the day.
Recently, in reference to the many layers on your new song “Riverman,” you said that you pay more attention to detail now than you used to. Why is that?
When you’re in a five-piece band, everybody has their little place in it, so the bass player plays the bass; I play the lead guitar; someone else played the rhythm guitar; and the producer became the referee, and he paid attention to detail. Now, I play the bass and I can play the keyboards, and I can hire the saxophone player, and I’m very specific about what I want. Particularly when a track is as special as “Riverman,” where you can really go to town on the production — I could still make that song sound 50 percent better than it did. I could work on that song for the rest of my life, because it’s that good.
That’s what Yeats said about his poetry — that he would always have trouble saying when a poem was finished; he could always rework lines here and there.
Yeah, but I’m kind of good at knowing when it’s finished. But if somebody said to me, “You have to sit in the studio for the rest of your life and work on ‘Riverman,’” I’d be pretty fuckin’ pleased.
You’d have another album’s worth of different versions of “Riverman.”
Oh, it’s on the way. Don’t worry about that. "Chasing Tomorrow."
You’ve said when you were writing “Gas Panic,” off "Standing on the Shoulder of Giants," you were reading the likes of Kipling and Yeats; were you reading Dylan Thomas when you wrote the new song “Dying of the Light”?
No, I’m aware of that quote, and I may have read it in the past, but I’m not a great reader. I still stick to factual stuff. I do read poetry from time to time; I’m not like Morrissey. I wouldn’t be carrying around a suitcase full of poetry to while away the hours. I’ve got football to watch for that. David Silva [midfielder for Manchester City, of whom Noel is a fan] is poetry in motion.
You’ve said “While the Song Remains the Same” was inspired by walking through Manchester and seeing how the old pubs turned into restaurants and health clubs. There’s been a change in the way people are being asked to socialize, with the decline of the English pub –
Oh, for sure.
Could that have anything to do with the decline of bands, and people just retreating into their bedrooms to make dance music?
Well, of course. In your bedroom now, you can have a recording studio and a record-pressing plant. You can virtually have one on your fucking phone, d’you know what I mean? I read a quote from somebody saying, “Back in the day, when you were given a CD, it was because a group of people thought it was that good that they put this person in a studio to record it, whereas now you can get given a CD by a guy who just recorded it at home, and only he thinks it’s fucking good.” I think the decline of the English pub has got a lot to do with the smoking ban – you shouldn’t ever be able to buy food in a pub. What’s all that about? Pubs are now gastropubs; they’ve turned into restaurants, and I don’t like ‘em. The decline of bands playing in pubs is fucking sad, but I guess this is the birth of the death of rock ‘n’ roll.
Do you think rock ‘n’ roll still stands a chance of coming back?
There’s this fucking term now that I hate: “modern rock.” Bleurgh! What does that mean? That just conjures up facial hair and fucking shit shoes. “Modern rock”: what a load of fucking nonsense. I think that modern rock will survive because it will have its little place in the digital world. But trust me, when all the greats die: Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Iggy Pop — it’s fucking gone.
Here we are talking here in 2015, and the two rock albums that people are most anticipating are yours and the new one by Blur.
Right, yeah. [laughs] Fuckin’ ‘ell. Well, that, to me, says it all.
Does it please you on one level?
Erm, well, of course. Blur making a record is exciting, right? Obviously me making a record is extremely exciting, but does it please me? In a way, it would make me and Damon probably slightly more arrogant than we already are, and in another way, it’s quite sad.
Have you tried to mentor the younger generation of people making music with guitars?
Not really. All young guys that I meet who want to be in bands, what they want more than anything is success. Everyone wants to be me, d’you know what I mean? “You did this in your band.” It’s like, “That’s a once in a fuckin’ lifetime thing. Concentrate on being good. Never mind looking good.”
Is that part of the problem with rock ‘n’ roll, the lack of spirit and creativity?
The people don’t want it anymore. The people are quite happy staring into a computer screen, listening to music on a speaker the size of a fucking flea, and renting music. Renting music! They don’t fucking own it anymore. They rent it off Spotify. Nonsense.
Is there any hope?
You would like to think you will live long enough to see the phoenix rise from the ashes. Will there ever be another Oasis? I fucking doubt it, but I really do hope so.
Is that part of why you wouldn’t want to reform Oasis – because you would prefer that someone else would actually come up and do what you have done?
I wouldn’t reform Oasis because the singer gets on my fucking nerves. Let’s be clear about that.
At a creative level, would you say, “We’ve already been there. We’ve done that. Someone else should come in and try.”
Look, I was in that band for 20 years, and it was fuckin’ great, and I loved every minute of it, and it’s like, if you split up with your wife and get divorced, you don’t want to go on holiday with her every fucking year. You’ve got to go and get a new woman! So I’m in the process of fuckin’ the arse off my solo career right at the minute, thank you very much.
There’s a British election coming up, and so much was made back in the day of your support of Tony Blair; now, in 2015, Ed Miliband is doing his best to try and woo young voters. Do you see any parallels?
[Coughs meaningfully] No. Quite frankly, no. I think Tony Blair was a brilliant politician who managed somehow to get it right, and kept all the plates spinning in the air, until those nasty fuckin’ Taliban fellows ruined the world, and Ed Miliband, I don’t fuckin’ trust him. I don’t think he can run a corner shop, far less a fuckin’ country. I’d probably do a better job myself, and I’m not even joking when I say that.
Is it like the death of rock ‘n’ roll? Is there a void now, a dearth of good politicians?
Of course! There is no politics left in the world, is there? Even Barack Obama kind of fizzled out. He was great in opposition, and then he’s not been as stunning a speaker as he was when he was on his way up, has he?
He’s also got the Republican majority trying to stop everything he tries to put through.
Looking at the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of "Chasing Yesterday," you’ve said you decided not to put “Revolution Song,” which you wrote in the Oasis days, on the album proper because you called it “a blast from the past,” and you didn’t put “Do the Damage” on there because it sounded like Oasis’ more “punk” material. Are you consciously trying to move forward with your music?
No. I take it song by song. I don’t really sit down and think, “Right, I’m going to write a song with a saxophone solo just to fuck with people.” I just write songs on an electric guitar that’s not plugged in at home, and it’s only when I get into the studio that the sound begins to take shape, [depending on] what I feel like that day. I don’t feel the need to sound different, and I’m not scared of sounding the same. “The Dying of the Light,” for instance, could have been on "Morning Glory"; it could have been on "Be Here Now." It’s just a fucking great song, and that’s it. I have a style of writing and of playing the guitar, and I work within those parameters. I know what my limitations are, for sure. I’m actually not that good.
What, compared to whom?
Compared to, uh, Taylor Swift, for instance, or what’s that fucking lunatic hip-hop dude called? Kanye.
Do I sense a hint of irony here?