Interview: Former Oasis Guitarst Gem Archer Discusses Beady Eye's New Album, 'Different Gear, Still Speeding'
Anyone who is familiar with British rock knows all too well the antics of the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel. Their love/hate relationship made for great music — and press — during Oasis' 18-year run.
But in August 2009, the brothers put an end to Oasis, and Beady Eye was born.
Beady Eye is Liam Gallagher, Gem Archer, Andy Bell and Chris Sharrock — essentially Oasis minus Noel Gallagher. Their debut album, Different Gear, Still Speeding, was released in February.
Archer — whose first name is pronounced with a hard G, as in guitar — had been with Oasis since the original band lost a few founding members in 2000. Before Oasis, he was the singer/songwriter/guitarist for Heavy Stereo, so he added something of an all-star feel, as did Bell, the founder of Ride, when he joined Oasis.
Archer comes across as the sort of guy you’d share a beer with while watching soccer. Sorry — football. Guitar World spoke to him before Beady Eye's recent show in Toronto.
GUITAR WORLD: How have the shows been going?
Truly fantastic, man. We played Chicago the other night, and it was kind of like playing to a home crowd. It was mega. It reminded us of Manchester or Glasgow. It was great.
Are you guys hoping to pick up more dates in the U.S.?
Yeah. I mean the whole tour has been kind of bit by bit. It's not like we booked it like we would've in the old days, you know, booking an 18-month tour. This is segment by segment. We definitely want to come back, but also keep it special, and these gigs, we already noticed a lot of people traveled. The Chicago show wasn't full of people from Chicago.
How long after Oasis broke up did you guys know you were going to stick together?
Well, it was that night. It really was. We all just sat around in a hotel in Paris, looking at each other, going, "Well, I'm not done with music, and it ain't done with us." And it wasn't like we were going to retrain ourselves and become hairdressers. You could tell. It was kind of coming. You know what it's like — something in the air. Also, we hadn't recorded with Chris [Sharrock, drummer] yet, so that was definitely something to get involved with.
It seems this album came about quickly. Is that an accurate assessment?
It felt really fast, but it wasn't rushed. I think we all kind of felt that if we didn't get on with it, it may have been harder — if we had left it for a year or something. We'd just done a long tour, and that was straight on the back of recording the previous album, so we thought we'd have a month off. But we literally had a few drinks one night and went, "Ah fuck, should we just start on Monday?" It was about six weeks to record and six weeks to mix. And that was it.
In terms of writing, did you do a lot of it together, or did members bring songs to the band individually?
We all write individually, but when we start demoing, the songs just become all of ours. And that's why we used the joint songwriting credit, because that way, you can't be precious. Anything can be changed at any time. And usually we work backwards from Liam, from the vocals, because he's the guy who's got to sing them. That was one of the things with this one; when we were recording it, we got the vocals down as soon as possible, and a few of them were live takes. We're all just pitching in all the time.
Was that a big change from Oasis?
Yeah, because Noel being the main songwriter, he would have a vision for his tune and an overall vision for an album — the feel, the vibe, what songs would fit. But with this, everything we did was pretty natural. Very intuitive. That's the word I keep coming back to.
Did you already have new songs lined up for the album?
All musicians have songs over the years that have just cropped up, but for whatever reason never came out, it just wasn't their time or something. So we'd do one of Andy's, one of Liam's, one of mine, one of Andy's, one of Liam's — just like that. Which was great, because you knew your turn was coming around again. So you had to get your shit together.
In the new band, is it competitive or is it friendly, like, "Hey, I can learn something from this guy"?
It was mega, man. There's enough changes in there, as well. I had never recorded with Chris before. Andy is now on guitar. And even now, we didn't pay any thought to it, because it might not have even worked. I mean in playing together. We're different enough as guitarists, as well, to fit together. And we were so involved in the production. I mean, we almost recorded the album in sequence. We had it all mapped out. That was great, because all you do in the studio is perform it. You're not worried about, "Fuck, should we change the key?" It was all about being there.
How would you describe the changes in your overall sound?
I suppose the simple thing is that we are working backwards from Liam. So once the vocal is on, sometimes you don't need a lot of stuff. It's not that wall of sound we would do before. I suppose the guitars are a lot clearer; some of the songs have only two guitars on them. One by me, one by Andy, so there was a lot of space, and I think it's got a spring in its step.
It also seems to have a little more rawness to it.
Yeah, because we didn't want to make a "studio album" kind of thing. It just so happens you've got to go into the studio and record it, but it wasn't a concept. We knew it was going to be a debut, and we knew we were going to have to play these songs live.
Like recording in the '60s.
Yeah, it's mad, you know, but it just felt right. It was great. Hopefully it'll be the same next time around.
And considering the music industry as a whole, do people even have the patience to wait as long as they used to?
It's ridiculously fast now, isn't it? The turnover. It's all about the next thing. And there's so many changes. The other day, I picked up a magazine, because Blondie was one of my bands when I was a kid, and I picked up this magazine, and something fell out of it, and it's the record in the magazine and it's like 15 quid or something. So, there's a new one.
Considering the popularity of single-song downloads, what do you think about the future of albums in general?
I think it is evolving, and there's something about a collection of songs that happen together and age. It's a record of the time you made it, so I'm unhappy about that side of things disappearing. A classic album is a classic album for a reason, as opposed to a bunch of tunes that have been stitched together from different eras.
We probably grew up the same way — you buy the album, you get the lyrics, you get the artwork, you listen to it front to back. It's strange to me, considering how kids consume music now. They don't often think of music like that.
Oh, man, it's mad, It really is. My kids, they still have their iPods, and they love them. I'm constantly getting the my iTunes report, and it's like, "What the fuck have you been buying?" So I'm always getting hit with "Glee" and shit like that. It's just evolving, man. There are massive positives, as well; for instance, this is the YouTube generation, isn't it, which is mega. We'd be in Japan, and we'd be stocking up on bootlegs and vids and all that stuff, all the obscure shit. And now it's all there.
When did you start playing guitar?
When I was about 7. I used to play the violin at school. My teacher was great; I mean I suppose he was like Elmore James. And then they stuck me on the cello, and the teacher was rubbish, and he was like a proper stuffy geezer, playing the piano and everything. And I wanted to pack it all in, but I had a guitar by then, and he was like, "No, you can't. One day, you'll thank me when you're travelling around the world playing your cello." All I did was play "Satisfaction" by the Stones for about a year. Just on the one string. And that was it, really. And then I suppose like all kids, you make that choice. Is it going to be football or is going to be music?
Did you feel you had a signature sound, and what influenced your playing style?
I was just a little too young for punk, but my bands were The Jam and Blondie and The Ramones and stuff like that. It's just songs, really, at the end of the day. It's always about songs. I don't even see myself as a guitarist anymore; it just happens to be what I do when I'm on stage. It's whatever it takes to do the song.
Is it different when it's your song versus someone else's, because you can picture your own song in your head?
Yeah, it is different. But this is why I love being in a band, and I love bouncing off people. No one knows everything. It's just great. Andy will come up with something I would never think of. And the other thing, once you've written a song, when Liam sings it, it just becomes something else.
How do you know when something — a song, an album — is done?
You never know. But you can't beat yourself up. Get over yourself. Don't be too precious. Once it's out, it's out. It's about communicating, isn't it? That's what it is. Nothing's perfect. You can't make a statement and stand back. How do you know when something's done? That's the thing John Lennon said: He would've really done them all again and freaked George Martin right out. My favorite record is "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix, but I never tried to learn any of it because I don't want to spoil it. I don't want to be "in" there.
It's funny that you mentioned John Lennon, because "The Roller" reminds me of his music.
Yeah, of course. Because ever since I've been 8 years old or whatever, it's just in us. It's in us all. We're really not the kind of band that would ever cover our tracks, hide our influences. You're not fooling anybody, man. We're massive Beatle heads. So, that's in there, even though — I think it was Chris who went, "You know, this sounds like 'Instant Karma.' He says, "I never thought of that for a minute when were doing it." So, there you go. And he's a Scouse, so he should know.
But that John Lennon stuff is really raw, and I wonder if we would have heard something similar to a solo Lennon song coming from Oasis, because of its rawness.
Yeah, I don't know. It's kind of a descending chord, so you can fill it. I suppose the melody is like "Three Blind Mice." It's all in us, that's what I'm saying. And that's how we communicate with each other. We had a version of "Bring the Light" that I thought sounded like early Roxy Music, and Liam said, "Look, I think we just go fucking Jerry Lee Lewis, man." We were just having fun, and that's when he came up with the idea. I got a text from him: "I want to stick some Tina Turner kind of backing vocals on it." I was just like, fucking mega, man, let's do it.
Has your setup — amps and pedals — changed over the years? Do you stick with what's worked in the past?
It does evolve, but I'm not really a gear head. I don't think any of us are. I know a lot of people are always getting the newest pedal or whatever, but I have guitars I've had for years. And I've got a few favorite things. I've got a Fender Deluxe amp, and it's just the bullocks, man.
What do you take on the road?
Basically I play through the Fender Deluxe and a VOX AC-30. One's for the top end of the sound and the other is for the body, and that's about it. I think the AC-30 is rented.
What do you write with when you're on the road?
We always have acoustics, and you're always working. I'm hearing Liam's songs evolve, and Andy's too, but now because of laptops, you can have tons of stuff on them that you've got to work on. So you bring your lyric book, and I'm always conscious of not checking it in. It's always in my hand luggage. You just try to get on with it. But it is a different head space, on the road, writing. It's hard, man. Nobody wants to write a song about being on the road.
Is there any chance the Oasis situation is just a publicity stunt and you guys will be getting back together?
No, no, no. You know by now that there's nothing constructed or fake about Oasis, and that's that. But you know what? I think Liam and Noel have given enough — 18 years. And it's just the arc, the natural curve, isn't it? And music goes on. I think Noel will knock out a fucking mega album. I think our album is mega. And music wins.