Q&A: Noel Gallagher On Kanye, Beck, Beyoncé, Moz, Jack White, Black Keys, & More
Back when I was first becoming an obsessive music fan, Oasis were big for me. I loved everything: the classic albums, of course, but also the mid-period stuff most people dismiss. As I got older, those last two very underrated albums were special to me, too. I sought out all sorts of Oasis minutiae, from all the excellent B-sides to the best interviews with Liam and Noel Gallagher. These guys are legendary as interviewees, Liam full of hilarious and bizarre antagonisms, Noel perfectly willing to trash talk a bunch himself, but with more wit. My friends and I, for a time, would share the interviews and incorporate particular quotes into our daily conversations the same way we would random ephemera from Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. As a rock fan with a pretty classicist bent, in an era when contemporary rock bands were ceding the limelight, I latched on to Oasis at a young age. In the early ’00s there seemed to be a deficit of rock stars with the outsized personality of the Gallaghers. I love a musician whose personality matches the maximalism of their work.
The Noel of today — who is about to release his forthcoming second outing as a solo artist, Chasing Yesterday — is a bit different than the Noel I grew up with. His new album has a lot of gorgeously meditative, almost spaced-out material on it, and the man who made it is a bit mellower and wiser, but still charming in his idiosyncratically don’t-give-a-shit way. But even if Noel doesn’t mouth off quite as much as he used to, he’s still prone to saying whatever’s on his mind in a way that makes interviewing him more fun than usual. He also said “D’you know what I mean?” a bunch of times, which made the Oasis fan in me happy.
STEREOGUM: How’s it going, man?
GALLAGHER: Hey, man, it’s OK, man. How are you?
STEREOGUM: Not too bad. Are you doing a bunch of interviews today?
GALLAGHER: You know, I just did quite a long interview for some fucking thing called Spotify.
STEREOGUM: I was actually going to ask you about Spotify. Why were you doing an interview with them?
GALLAGHER: I don’t know. Fuck knows. Lord knows they’re not paying me enough fucking money to do it.
STEREOGUM: Do you have many opinions on the whole Spotify thing?
GALLAGHER: I don’t Spotify. I don’t agree with streaming. I prefer to buy my music rather than rent it. I think it’s a generational thing. The generation I was brought up in, music wasn’t for rent. It was for sale.
STEREOGUM: Do you think streaming makes it harder for younger artists to make a living?
GALLAGHER: I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask about the plight of the younger artist, me being neither young nor an artist. I guess if you were a young band you’d rather sell a thousand records than have your song streamed a hundred thousand times. I know I’d rather sell a hundred records than have a thousand streams.
STEREOGUM: On that note, your new record: I’ve seen you already make some comments about not really liking the title Chasing Yesterday.
GALLAGHER: Well, it’s not that I don’t like it. It’s just a title, d’you know what I mean? It’s not the best title in the world, nor is it the worst. You have to fucking go pretty far to come up with a worse one than (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, trust me on that.
STEREOGUM: You don’t like the title (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? anymore?
GALLAGHER: I never liked it in the first place. It’s just a title. They become themselves in the end, don’t they? I wouldn’t say I was rushed into coming up with a title, but I kind of put it off for so long that one of my girls at the office said, “We need a title for the album today at 3.” I said, “Fuck, what time is it now?” She said, “Ten past one.” “Fuck. Fuck.” I quickly scanned through some of the lyrics on the record and that kinda jumped out, not thinking that taken out of context, a line out of a sentence, that Chasing Yesterday would conjure images of nostalgia. I look at it this way: if I hadn’t called it Chasing Yesterday, what the fuck would we have to talk about?
STEREOGUM: When I first saw it I thought about the danger of that nostalgia idea, but then I listened to it and it turns out there’s a lot of stuff on here that’s actually quite a bit different for you. What drew you in this direction?
GALLAGHER: Well, you know … when I make records, I’ve always got at least twenty to twenty-five songs. From those twenty-five songs, there’s usually four or five that are going to make up the core of an album. You record them first, and then you just fill in the gaps to benefit the flow of the record. I don’t know, these are the songs that came out the best. Songs like “The Right Stuff” or “Riverman,” that have saxophones and shit like that, I wasn’t really sitting there like, “Oh, this is going to really fuck with people.” If I ever tried to do something like that, it will always be awful, because I don’t make moves. I’m not good at that. I’m only good at following my instincts. To be quite honest, “The Right Stuff,” although it’s as far removed from “Supersonic” as you’re ever gonna get, it still sounds like me to me.
STEREOGUM: So what was it like working with Johnny Marr on “Ballad Of The Mighty I?”
GALLAGHER: Oh, it was great. He’s just a perpetual ball of energy and enthusiasm and fucking good vibes. And, you know, he’s into the joy of music and he’s very respectful of the song and what his part in the song is and all that. And on top of all that, he was in the fucking Smiths. How cool is that?
STEREOGUM: That doesn’t hurt. Did you guys talk at all about collaborating more?
GALLAGHER: No, we just did the song and then he’s off. His solo career’s just taking off, so we didn’t talk about it.
STEREOGUM: Would you ever produce a record for him, or something like that?
GALLAGHER: Oh, he doesn’t need a producer. He’s too good. He’s doing what he’s doing.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of collaborations, is there any reality to the idea of you working with Damon Albarn at some point?
GALLAGHER: Well, you know, how that came about was — if, say for instance, it was as naïve and meaningful as this. Say you’ve not seen an old friend for, I don’t know, ten years, and then your parting gesture is, “Hey, next time you’re in town we should go for a drink.” That’s all it was. He said, “Fucking hell, we should do something.” And I said, “Yeah, why not?” And that was it. I’m about to go on tour for two years, he’s making a Gorillaz record, so I hear. [Note: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement of Blur’s new album, Magic Whip]. I don’t know. But I would be up for definitely sitting in the studio with him for a few hours and dicking around, so let’s see what happens. Will it ever go in the diary? I don’t know.
STEREOGUM: What do you think about Paul McCartney and Kanye West collaborating?
GALLAGHER: Oh, I haven’t heard it. I’m not interested.
STEREOGUM: You’re not?
GALLAGHER: Why would I be interested? Without hearing it, I can already hear it.
STEREOGUM: What do you think it sounds like?
GALLAGHER: I don’t know. Is Paul McCartney singing on it?
STEREOGUM: No, he doesn’t. I’m actually not really sure how deeply involved Paul was.
GALLAGHER: If he was singing, somebody would’ve said to me, “Fucking hell, you should check it out.” Nobody in my circle of friends has said to me, apart from a couple of journalists actually. I’m not interested. I fucking love him dearly, but if he was singing with Kanye that’d be different. Is he just like, noodling around on piano?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that’s basically what it is, so far. Since you guys did 20th anniversaries for Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory, were thinking of doing the same treatment for Be Here Now?
GALLAGHER: Yes, yes is the short answer.
STEREOGUM: Has your opinion of that record changed?
GALLAGHER: [laughs] No. I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you this but fuck it I’m going to tell you anyway. There was a meeting about these reissues and my people said to me, “Is there anything you can do with Be Here Now?” I said, “I don’t know, not really.” They reminded me of an interview I had given some time ago where I said I’d really love to get in the studio and edit the songs down, because they were so long. I thought, “Hm, OK, I’ll give it a shot then.” So I went in the studio, we got the record up, we started to do the edits, and you know what, I came to the conclusion that I should just leave it as it is. The madness and the pompousness and the length of the songs is what makes it what it is. So I got as far as maybe the first chorus in “My Big Mouth” and thought, “You know what, just fucking leave it.” I’m not going to be one of those guys kind of remixing Let It Be and all that shit, d’you know what I mean? It is what it is, and that’s the end of it.
STEREOGUM: You recently made some comments about how dull contemporary rock bands are, that they don’t have the personalities of the rock bands of the past. You were talking about mainstream British rock acts like Arctic Monkeys. Do you feel the same way about some of the big names here, like the Black Keys or Jack White?
GALLAGHER: I don’t read their interviews, d’you know what I mean? So I wouldn’t be able to comment. It wouldn’t be fair. I do like their music. I think the Black Keys are great. I think Jack White is a very fucking gifted guitarist. When I’m saying that [today’s rock bands are dull], I’m more talking about Britain, because I read British magazines, d’you know what I mean? I don’t read [Jack White’s or the Black Keys’] interviews. Have they come up with any pearls of wisdom recently?
STEREOGUM: The news with Jack White recently was that his tour rider leaked…
GALLAGHER: Oh, I’ve seen that. [laughs] I’ve seen that, yeah. What was on it, some particular fucking strain of guacamole or something?
STEREOGUM: They could have no bananas anywhere in the venue and it was a very specific recipe for guacamole.
GALLAGHER: Wow, no bananas anywhere in the venue? What’s wrong with bananas?
STEREOGUM: It didn’t say.
GALLAGHER: What happens if you were to turn up at the venue with a banana in your pocket? Would you get thrown out?
STEREOGUM: I guess so?
GALLAGHER: Hell, people should try that. Why is that even news anyway? D’you know what I mean?
STEREOGUM: People find it funny.
GALLAGHER: I don’t understand the culture of people poking fun at artists because they’ve got requirements on the rider which probably, speaking from experience, Jack White probably had very little to fucking do with, d’you know what I mean?
STEREOGUM: Do you pay attention to the music award shows at all?
GALLAGHER: I’m aware of our mate Kanye being a bit of a buffoon at one of them, yeah. Didn’t he say Beck should “respect artistry” and pass the award on to Beyoncé?
STEREOGUM: At first. He wound up backtracking.
GALLAGHER: Well, No. 1, somebody should buy that boy a dictionary. And he needs to look up the fucking term “artistry” and then see if it reminds him, in any way, of Beyoncé. If shaking your ass for a living is considered art, then she’s right up there, no? Can I also point out: Beck can play the banjo. The banjo. That makes him a genius.
STEREOGUM: Did you ever try to play the banjo?
GALLAGHER: I’ve been known to play the banjo from time to time.
STEREOGUM: Why does him knowing how to play the banjo make him a genius?
GALLAGHER: Because I play the banjo and I’m a genius. If he plays the banjo, he must be a fucking genius, too. No? That’s how it works.
STEREOGUM: I can see the logic there. That was how the debate unfolded actually. People were pointing to the fact that Beck played all these instruments on Morning Phase.
GALLAGHER: We could boil this down to two separate things. Beck writes all his own music, OK? There you go, the end. You have to employ a fucking team of songwriters and eight producers and nine engineers, or you can sing it, hum it, play it yourself, I don’t know. You decide. I know what side of the fence I’m on.
STEREOGUM: What did you think about Morrissey’s recent comments about the Brit Awards?
GALLAGHER: Morrissey’s always got a point. Always. He always has a point. He’s right, in a way. I’m a bit amazed that he’s actually that fucking bothered about an awards ceremony. To me, they’re just fucking TV shows anyway, particularly the Brits. Particularly fucking awful. They’re not even good nights out anymore. But he’s got a point.
STEREOGUM: Definitely Maybe turned 20 last year, and Morning Glory turns 20 this year. How do you feel about that milestone?
GALLAGHER: Particularly the Definitely Maybe one made me feel very, very proud, because I’m amazed at what extraordinary fucking life that album has had. And it’s still showing no signs of giving up just yet, you know? It’s funny to think that I wrote that album when I was unemployed, on welfare. I wrote that album on fucking welfare, and it went on to change people’s lives. I think it’s a wonderful thing, and I think it spans so many generations now that you can’t even thank one particular demographic of people for it. It kind of belongs to the world. It’s a wonderful thing.
STEREOGUM: Did it affect where your head was at making music now, having these two classics turning 20?
GALLAGHER: Oh, no, no, no. I mean, if I could write something like “Live Forever” and “Supersonic” again … fucking hell, I’d be happy then. To write those songs, you have to be that person in that life. I’m not that person living that life anymore, d’you know what I mean? I’m glad I wrote them. I don’t really pine for going back to those times of being broke again. Fuck that.
STEREOGUM: Didn’t you say “Riverman” is one of your favorite songs you’ve ever written?
GALLAGHER: Yeah, of course.
STEREOGUM: It just kind of sounded like you were downplaying your new stuff there.
GALLAGHER: No, no, not at all. I’m just saying … you cannot in any way compare what you were doing at 25 to what you do at 47. How could you? I mean, not unless you’re a fucking asshole, d’you know what I mean? I don’t write the same music now as I did then. Thank God. There has to be some kind of development, whether it being developed in one way or another, whether you’re pushing it forward or moving it left or right, d’you know what I mean? If people are into what you’re doing and have followed you for a certain length of time, you can’t just carry on writing the same old fucking rock music, can you? I know lots of bands do, but … not for me.
STEREOGUM: Recently you said you’d give Liam songs if he wanted to go solo. Do you think that might happen?
GALLAGHER: I don’t think he’s the kind of person that would ask. Somebody said to me, “Would you consider writing songs for Liam?” What am I supposed to say? “No, fuck off.” OK. So it’s just like, “Yeah, I guess.” Is it likely to happen? No, me and Damon making a double album is probably more likely to happen.
STEREOGUM: I would take that. That sounds pretty good to me.
GALLAGHER: Is [giving songs to Liam] on the table? No, not remotely. Could it happen? Yes, well, anything could happen.
STEREOGUM: Well thanks for talking today, Noel. I’m looking forward to seeing you play at Governor’s Ball.
GALLAGHER: Oh, yeah, I’m playing with the Black Keys right?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, you are, they’ll be there.
GALLAGHER: My wife has become pretty friendly with one of their wives. I’ve seen them … hang on where I have seen them? They’re good, I like them. They’re the best band on shuffle in the history of rock music. I’ve been at many, many, many parties. Thousands. There’s just something on, it’s on shuffle. Every time the Black Keys come on, everyone goes, “Hey, who’s this?” “That’s the Black Keys.” They’re the greatest shuffle band of all time. I’m looking forward to playing with them.
Chasing Yesterday is out 3/2 via Sour Mash Records.
[Photo by Samir Hussein/Wireimage.]