Originally published in Guitar World, January 2009
Noel Gallagher and Oasis snap back into shape with Dig Out Your Soul, the Brit-Rockers' fab-tastic album.
"I feel like it's my destiny to be talking to you—to the media—right now,” says Noel Gallagher. The 41-year-old guitarist, main songwriter and sometime singer for Oasis is surprisingly serene, sitting backstage at the Bell Centre in Montreal, ready to dole out 15 years of hits and a few new songs to a sell-out crowd of 9,000. Tonight’s show is a preamble to the year-long worldwide tour of arenas and stadiums that Oasis will soon undertake. “That’s part of my destiny as well,” Gallagher says. “As soon as you pick up a guitar and form a band, whatever is meant to happen is going to happen. Fate’s funny like that.”
It’s also dangerous, as Gallagher discovered two days after our talk, when he was violently attacked onstage in front of 40,000 fans at Toronto’s V Festival. Bum-rushed from behind by 47-year-old Daniel Sullivan, Gallagher fell hard onto his stage monitor and suffered bruised ribs and hips, resulting in the cancellation of several shows. “It felt like a sparring session with [Manchester boxer] Mickey Hatton,” Gallagher has said of the assault. “I can’t say much more than the perpetrator’s gonna get the book thrown at him. Repeatedly. And it was all going so well up until that point n’all.”
Pummelings both onstage and off are nothing new for Gallagher. He and younger brother Liam, Oasis’s mercurial front man, are famous for them. Much of the band’s early press centered around their contentious relationship, but the Canadian episode comes at a time of newfound calm in the guitarist’s life. He spends most mornings tending happily to his kids (daughter Anais, eight, from his first marriage to Meg Matthews; and son Donovan, one, from his current relationship with girlfriend Sara MacDonald). It’s a far cry from the drug-fueled existence that he lived during much Oasis’ early days, and Gallagher admits that he’s enjoying his newfound maturity. “Giving up drugs? What’s the big deal?” he says. “If I was a pathetic geezer in my forties doing coke off some girl’s behind, that’d be a pretty sad story, wouldn’t it? Granted, the press would love to write about it, but it’s my life, and that ain’t the way I plan on living it, thank you very much.”
Gallagher’s current state of bliss even extends to his relationship with Liam, whom he describes as “a man coming into his own, in his own way. He does things his way, I do them mine. We just happen to be in this group together, and that’s where we meet.”
On the band’s newest album, Dig Out Your Soul, their seventh studio release and first for Warner Bros. in the U.S. (the group releases product for SonyBMG elsewhere), Gallagher has turned over much of the songwriting chores to Liam and band members Gem Archer (guitar) and Andy Bell (bass). Whereas early smashes Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? were written entirely by Noel, he’s penned little more than half the new record. “It doesn’t mean I’m getting lazy,” he states. “Shit, I think I worked harder on this record than most. I just choose to concentrate on the songs I’m really excited about, and it’s no one’s business if that’s five or five hundred. The only thing that matters is how good they are.”
On the band’s last album, 2005’s Don’t Believe the Truth, Gallagher admits that he tried to hard to Xerox the raw, basic “Supersonic” sound of the group’s first recordings. “Big mistake. You can’t remake your first records. That’s why they’re your first records.” This time out, he says, he went for “more of a groove approach. I don’t mean trip-hop or anything like that. I just wanted the songs to go where they wanted, instead of forcing them to go somewhere artificial.”
Not that he’s given up on rocking: He lays down howling, dirty guitar throughout cuts like “Waiting for the Rapture,” “The Nature of Reality” and the album’s propulsive, heads-down slammer “The Shock of the Lightning.” As always, the Beatles influences are heavy, from the Lennon-esque piano ballad “I’m Outta Time” to the “Dear Prudence” guitar end of “The Turning” to the “Give Peace a Chance” stomp of “(Get Off Your) High Horse, Lady.” Gallagher is, as usual, unapologetic about nicking bits from the Fab Four. “They were the best. If you’re gonna take something, take from the best. Do I have to teach other bands everything?”
The recent departure of drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo’s son—how’s that for borrowing from the best?) dealt a blow to the Gallaghers, but the quick addition of former Robbie Williams skinsman Chris Sharrock makes Oasis “the steadiest we’ve been in years, probably ever,” says Gallagher. “If that makes us boring to people, I really couldn’t care. They might want us bustin’ chairs over each others’ heads, but fuck that. You gotta grow up sometime. I’m in my forties now. Better now than never.”
GUITAR WORLD In the past, you’ve never shied away from touting the brilliance of your past albums. [Gallagher laughs] But you’ve been fairly low-key about Dig Out Your Soul. You even said in one interview that there were no hit singles on it. What is this, some kind of reverse marketing strategy?
NOEL GALLAGHER No, that’s just my opinion. I’m entitled to it, am I not?
GW Of course.
GALLAGHER Yep, well, that’s how I feel. I don’t see any singles in the traditional sense. I mean, there’s still going to be four or five singles, but whether they’re hits or not, who knows? Who cares? I certainly don’t.
GW You don’t care if you have hit singles?
GALLAGHER I care about writing great songs. A great song isn’t always what gets on the radio. A great song…you know what a great song is. I don’t have to tell you what a great song is, do I?
GW No. The overall sound of the album is heavier, fuller and less trebly than the previous records. Was this something you wanted to work on?
GALLAGHER No. We’ve got our producer, Dave Sardy, who looks after that side of things. We just concentrate on getting the songs right. I don’t get into the whole science of sound and all the technicalities in the studio. I just do my thing. My part to play is to write the songs and to make ’em be as best as possible. It’s up to other people to twiddle the knobs on the desk and do that kind of thing.
GW You’ve made records with a number of producers over the years. How is working with Dave Sardy different?
GALLAGHER To be honest, we haven’t worked with any producers—ever. I’ve co-produced all the records up to this point. Owen Morris, who’d done the first two records, he was more like an engineer. It’s a new thing for us, havin’ a producer for the last two records, and I have to say, I wish we’d done it sooner. It’s been a massive lift, and it’s taken a great deal of weight off of my shoulders and the rest of the boys in the band. Now we can just concentrate on being a band instead of trying to be producers. It can be quite exhausting.
GW Have there been producers that you wanted to work with, but for whatever reason you weren’t able to?
GALLAGHER No. I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean. I’m not even sure what they do. I mean, you ask me that question and I say, why would an artist work with such-and-such a producer? What would you gain from it? What, you think that if you get to work with George Martin that you’re gonna sound like the Beatles? [laughs] I don’t think so.
GW Why so long between records these days? When Oasis started out, the records came out fairly quickly, one after the other.
GALLAGHER Yeah, well, we didn’t have any children then. We’ve all got two kids apiece now, so you’ve gotta make the time for them. You’ve gotta balance out your life in a way which allows you to be a rock star. It’s not fair on the kids if you’re on tour for a year, then you’ve got six weeks off and you’re back in the studio again. We don’t even wanna do that anyway—that’s fucking boring! We work to live; we don’t live to work. In any case, I don’t have to put out a record every year. I’m better than that.
GW Aside from its history, why did you choose to record at Abbey Road Studios? Also, can’t you just make albums at home nowadays?
GALLAGHER I guess we could make records at home, but I’m not sure what my kids would have to say about it. Who wants a bunch of guitar leads running down the hallways and microphones in the bathroom and all that?
And the reason we used Abbey Road was purely out of circumstance. I’d just had a baby boy so I had to stay in London. Abbey Road was the only studio available in London, funnily enough. Look, I love the Beatles, but it’s not like Abbey Road will make your record sound better than anywhere else. A room’s a room, you know? A console is a console. Write a great song—that’s the only thing that’s gonna give you a good record. You write shit songs, you’re gonna have a shit record. Simple as that.
GW Let’s talk about some of the new songs. In both “The Turning” and “Waiting for the Rapture,” obviously, you use that word, “rapture.” Is this something that’s on your mind?
GALLAGHER No, not really. There’s a lot of Biblical references on the record, but they’re completely coincidental. We didn’t even notice them till we were making the record, really. But again, the references are by accident. I’m not religious. I don’t know about anybody else.
GW “Rapture” is somewhat Doorsy. The beat, the riff, the distorted bass—they recall the song “Five to One.” Are you a big Doors fan?
GALLAGHER I’m a fan; I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan. I do like The Best of the Doors. I’m not familiar with all of their stuff, but the greatest hits things are amazing.
GW The beat of “The Shock of the Lightning is very much like one of Oasis’ first hits, “Rock N’ Roll Star.” Was that intentional?
GALLAGHER It’s kind of like Krautrock. I guess it’s the most energetic thing we’ve done for a single in a long time. I have to say, with all the songs, nothing was really intentional; they all kind of happened in the studio. We went in and kind of made this Roman idol. That’s really all there is: You go into the studio and you do it. It’s either good or it’s bad. There’s not a lot more to say about music other than that.
GW The song “I’m Outta Time” is quite beautiful. I notice that it’s one of Liam’s compositions. Were you surprised that he could write something so profound?
GALLAGHER Uh, no, not really. I kinda…I like his songs. I wasn’t surprised. I’m indifferent to a lot of those things, but in a good way, you know? He’s expected to write brilliant songs. He’s in Oasis!
GW In the beginning, you were the only one writing the songs. Gradually, other members are contributing, more and more it seems. Is that because you’re not writing as much or because their songwriting is getting better?
GALLAGHER A little bit of both. I just got sick and tired of always having to be in the process of writing. Even when we were on tour I was required to write because there was stuff needed for B-sides and shit like that. So when Andy and Gem joined, it was put to them that they would be required to write songs—Liam also. Luckily enough, they write good tunes, which really helps flesh out the records.
GW On “I’m Outta Time,” you use a clip of John Lennon speaking during one of his last interviews. But it’s barely audible…
GALLAGHER Yeah, well, talk to Liam about that. I would’ve had it twice as loud, but it’s not my tune, so I have to take a backseat when that kind of shit’s goin’ on. I say it should be twice as loud or not in at all.
GW Are you playing an actual sitar on the song “To Be Where There’s Life”?
GALLAGHER Yep. I’d played a sitar maybe once before. Not on a record, though. They’re quite heavy. It’s pretty difficult to sit down with the fucking things! They're hard to play, but I was only working one note anyway. I wasn’t doing something complicated.
GW What guitars did you use on the album? Were they your mainstays: the Les Pauls, the 335s, the Rivieras?
GALLAGHER Actually, my main guitar is a 1960 355. The Les Pauls, I only use them live when I’m playing stuff from Definitely Maybe. But for this record, I used the 355 and two Epiphone Casinos. One is an original 1964 which has been sanded down, so it’s blonde; and the other is one of the John Lennon reissues that came out a few years ago. Using those guitars isn’t really my style, really—I don’t usually record with hollow body guitars with P90s—but they seemed to work best in the studio this time around.
GW I’ve never seen you use Strats onstage, although you do play them in the studio.
GALLAGHER Yeah, I’ve got a really nice white 1963 Strat, which is fucking amazing. It sounds like the end of the world, that guitar. Live, I don’t know. I put them on and they don’t feel comfortable.
GW But they’re little guitars. And since you’re of medium height, I would think they’d feel pretty good to you.
GALLAGHER Yeah, but…I don’t know. I put one on and I don’t feel as manly. [laughs]
GW Also, I’ve seen you recently playing Sixties-style Teles with retro-fitted humbuckers.
GALLAGHER Yeah, the first one I did that to, I did it myself—on a 1970 Telecaster that I put some 1959 Les Paul pickups on it. My guitar guy in London routed out some other Teles and put humbuckers on them. Funnily enough, they sound like Les Pauls.
GW You’ve used Marshall stacks live, but what do you use in the studio?
GALLAGHER Actually, I was using Marshall cabinets, but the amps were Vox AC30s. That’s what you were seeing. In the studio for this record, I used a Fender 1960 blackface Deluxe Reverb. Actually, I might’ve used a Marshall amp in the studio. But a stack? No thanks. Too fucking loud.
GW What was the deal with Zak Starkey leaving the band?
GALLAGHER Well, he’s got personal stuff going on back in England, stuff with his family. This time around, he couldn’t commit to the best part of two years on the road. So, with very heavy hearts, we had to say, “Well, fucking hell.” And then we had to get another new drummer. It was a shame, really. Zak’s an incredible drummer.
GW Yeah, on songs like “Bag It Up”…
GALLAGHER That’s me playing on that track.
GALLAGHER Me and Zak both play together on “Bag It Up” and “Waiting for the Rapture,” and I play by myself on “Soldier On.”
GW Good job.
GALLAGHERMmmm. I’m not bad. It’s good fun playing the drums. Every guitar player should give ’em a bash.
GW What’s your process for demoing? Do you have a home studio? Do you make fairly elaborate demos?
GALLAGHER Well, I have my own fully functioning studio with an EMI Mark II desk and a really cool Neve desk. But I kind of got sick of them because the demos were starting to sound better than the records. Now we actually do our demos in [guitarist] Gem [Archer]’s bedroom, on his computer using GarageBand. [laughs] We fell into this trap of making these demos for albums, then going off to America to record, and we’d end up preferring the demos. We’d try to marry the two, which is why Don’t Believe the Truth took about four years. So now we do real scratchy, lo-fi, shitty demos, knowing that there’s no way we can do any worse.
GW What advice do you have for young budding songwriters?
GALLAGHER Don’t be afraid of your influences. And just play from the heart. No matter what, be true to yourself musically. Don’t pay attention to people saying, “Oh, it sounds like this or it sounds like that.” Ultimately, it sounds like you, because you’re playing it. Do you know what I mean? Don’t run away from your influences, though. That’s the main thing.
GW Speaking of influences, your rhythm guitar playing bears the unmistakable mark of John Lennon. Do you ever say to yourself, “That’s too Beatlesy. I’m not going there.”
GALLAGHER No. [laughs] Make it more Beatlesy is what I say. It can never be too Beatlesy for me. If it’s Beatlesy, then you know it’s fucking good.
GW At the same time, your lead guitar work at times sounds like George Harrison.
GALLAGHER Well, thank you very much. People used to say Mick Ronson, but I’ll take George Harrison. The funny thing is, I don’t like playing lead guitar. That’s not my strength. My strength is writing songs. But because nobody else was taking that bull by the horns, the songwriting was left up to me. I wish I could play better lead guitar. I guess I’m all right.
GW But you do play great lead guitar. In fact, on one of the new songs, “The Nature of Reality you play a fantastic, crazed solo at the end, but it fades much too quickly.
GALLAGHER Yeah, it does finish too soon, but again, that’s not my song. Whenever we’re doing a song in the studio, whoever it’s written by, that person is in charge of how it appears on the album. I just play my part and leave.
GW Do you ever practice the guitar, as in sit down and formally go through scales and exercises?
GALLAGHER No. I mean, I’ve always got an electric guitar sitting around. On the stand at home I have a 1967 Trini Lopez; if I get five minutes, I’m strumming it. But I don’t do guitar practice; I practice in rehearsals. That’s what rehearsals are for, right?
GW So I take it you’ve never watched an instructional video?
GALLAGHER [laughs] No. [laughs again] I’ve never had a lesson in my life. I’ve never had a guitar lesson, a keyboard lesson, a drum lesson… Again, that would be more advice to young people: Don’t let anybody tell you what to do. Just pick up the guitar, and whatever comes out is what comes out of your soul. If you’re learning it from a book or a tutor, they can always say, “Oh, you’re doing this wrong” or “You’re doing that wrong.” And how do they fucking know? Who puts them in charge of what sounds good? Fuck that. You’re in charge of what sounds fucking good. If you play something and it sounds fucking good, then it’s good. Simple as that.
GW Going back to George Harrison for a second: did it sting when he slagged Oasis back in the mid Nineties?
GALLAGHER I think he was just slamming Liam, which was fine. I don’t think he was slamming the band. Actually, I met George. We hung out at a party one night and had a couple of cans of Heinekens, discussing Carl Perkins.
GW So everything was cool then?
GALLAGHER Yeah. What’s not cool about George?
GW Not a thing. So tell me, when did you think you’d written your first great song?
GALLAGHER When I wrote “Live Forever.” That would’ve been 1992, or ’93.
GW Does songwriting come easily to you? Do songs come in an instant, or do you labor over them for weeks and months and years even?
GALLAGHER Both. I’ve got songs that fly out of me, like “The Importance of Being Idle” or “The Shock of the Lightning” or “Falling Down.” And then I’ve got songs that I’ve been working on for years. So it kind of depends on the alignment of the moon.
GW We’re going to go in a totally different direction here. So what do you think of the new Metallica record?
GALLAGHER [laughs] Uh…I like everything about that band except the music. You know, I know Lars. He’s a friend of the band. I’ve met Metallica and hung out with them, and they’re really cool. But metal is not my thing, man. Do you know why?
GALLAGHER Black drum sticks. No need.
GW Lars has credited you recently with his decision to give up cocaine.
GALLAGHER Good boy.
GW Did the two of you have a discussion about this?
GALLAGHER No, no, nothing like that. But I’m…I’m sure he’s become a better person. That’s usually what happens.
GW How much of a drinker are you these days?
GALLAGHER Yeah, I drink. My girlfriend thinks I drink too much. I personally think I drink just enough.
GW What was the last record that made a good impression on you?
GALLAGHER There’s a record by a band called Black Mountain. It’s called…something about the future [In the Future, released 2008].
GW And what was the last record you just loathed?
GALLAGHER Um, see, I don’t really buy records on-the-hoof, you know what I mean? I buy things that are recommended to me. I don’t buy records by bands I don’t like. I mean, I wouldn’t go out and buy a Bloc Party record, ’cause I know it’d be shit.
GW In the past, you’ve bashed your share of bands. But is there one band you despise so completely that you’d like to banish them the planet?
GALLAGHER Fucking most of them. I know it looks bad in print. It’s just ’cause people ask me for my opinion and I give a straight answer. Sometimes that comes out the wrong way—not the wrong way for me, but for other people. But I can’t help that. If somebody asks me, “What do you think of such-and-such?” I’m not gonna go, “Oh, I think they’re amazing” if they’re not. If I’m asked for my opinion, I’m gonna give it. Admittedly, it’s an extreme opinion, but that’s the kind of guy I am.
GW Speaking of opinions, in a 2005 interview with the London Observer, you said you despised hip-hop. You called Eminem an idiot and said that 50 Cent was the most distasteful character you’d come across in your life…
GALLAGHER Did I?
GW That’s what I read.
GALLAGHER Well, okay then.
GW And of course you were quite critical of Jay-Z’s appearance at the Glastonbury Festival. Now, however, you say that you like Jay-Z. What brought about your change of heart?
GALLAGHER Well, in the case of the latter, I never had anything to say about Jay-Z per se. I was asked a question on a completely different subject, and it came out sounding like it sounded. I actually don’t mind Jay-Z, but hip-hop’s not my thing. I don’t dislike it. See, my turn of phrase gets me into trouble a great deal. I don’t dislike hip-hop, but I never have that moment where I go, “Let’s put on a bit of Ice-T.” I think the golden age of hip-hop is well and truly gone. I love stuff from the Eighties and the late Seventies—I think that stuff is vital. But I’m not a big fan of the stuff you hear nowadays. It’s all about status and bling and bitches, you know what I mean? That’s not really my bag.
GW What do you think of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games?
GALLAGHER If they put little plastic guitars into kids’ hands and helps fire their imaginations, I think that’s a good thing. I guess it’s harmless fun, isn’t it? I’d rather that genre of video game than somebody getting their fucking head chopped off with a Samurai sword while getting fucked up the ass by a goblin with a laser. Do you know what I mean? [laughs] Try looking that up on a web site. But like I said, if it gets kids interested in playing the guitar…wow! It’s better than trying to behead aliens.
GW How are you and Liam getting along these days?
GALLAGHER Yeah, you know, we haven’t spoken since 1964.
GW No, really, how is your relationship?
GALLAGHER Ah, you know, so much has been said…just write whatever you wanna write. It’s of no consequence to either one of us. It’s just like…whatever, dude.
GW Well, that’s not being very specific. How are you two? Are you okay, are you fighting, are you…
GALLAGHER We’re getting along the same as we ever did. It’s like so fucking…I mean, let me ask you, do you have a brother?
GW I have a sister.
GALLAGHER Well, I didn’t ask you that, now did I? So see? You wouldn’t understand. It’s like…our relationship can be difficult, but then it can be great. If we relied on each other to…like if I couldn’t write lyrics and he couldn’t play the guitar, I guess that would be fascinating. At the moment, our relationship is what it is. It isn’t bad, it isn’t good, it isn’t fucked up, it isn’t anything. We’re just in this band called Oasis, and it’s a band we really like being in. End of story.