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Interview:
Oasis' Noel Gallagher flying high as solo artist
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

Noel Gallagher is not a guy who scares easily.

The former guitarist and chief songwriter for Oasis is unabashedly, and unapologetically, brash and outspoken. He’s never hesitated to sing his own, and his band’s, praises, nor to insult any other musician he felt was overrated.

And he’s maintained a running feud with his younger brother, Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, that has at times bordered on the homicidal.

“I’m just cursed with an absolutely endless stream of one-liners,” acknowledges Gallagher, 44, who most recently has run up against PETA for comments he made about throwing “stuff” at cows as a youth.

“People say it’s the way I talk in interviews that makes people interested. But they just mean I’m honest — ‘Oh, he’s got a way with honesty, that lad.’ How depressing is that?”

But Gallagher fesses up to being a bit nervous, if not outright afraid, of his new role as solo artist.

“I’ve been gobsmacked up to this point,” says Gallagher, whose solo debut, “Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds,” debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts when it was released in October, and at No. 28 in the U.S.

“I don’t think it can possibly be more fun being a front man than it is being a guitarist and a backing vocalist. That’s the greatest f***ing gig in rock ... You don’t really have to do anything but play the guitar really f***ing loud and sing harmony. That’s easy. That’s amazing.

“To be a front man is going to be a new experience for me. I mean, (performing) is always daunting even at the best of times. Even when you’ve been playing guitar in the same band for 20 years, it’s still slightly nerve-racking.”

It was his time in that band, however, that gave Gallagher the stature to be able to go it alone.

Starting with 1994’s “Definitely Maybe,” Oasis ushered a new wave of Britpop into the world. The group’s domination included 70 million albums sold worldwide, with eight titles that went No. 1 in its homeland and three that hit the Top 5 in the U.S.

Its songs — including “Wonderwall,” “Some Might Say,” “Roll with It,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Champagne Supernova” — and albums spent a combined 756 weeks in the Top 75 of the charts, which snagged a Guinness World Records citation for the Best Band Britain Has Produced in the Last Decade (1995-2005).

In 2007 the group also won a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, while 1995’s “What’s the Story Morning Glory?” was named the Best Brit Album of the Last 30 Years at the 2010 Brit Awards.

Oasis’ run was also marked by feuds with other bands — particularly Blur and Radiohead — and erratic behavior that the Gallagher brothers have confessed was often due to substance abuse. They played out their own rivalry in the press, with Noel often referring to Liam as “the singer,” usually with a profane adjective attached.

Things came to a final head on Aug. 28, 2009, when the brothers had a violent argument backstage at the Rock en Seine festival in Paris. The group canceled the show shortly before they were to go on and bowed out of a subsequent European tour, and later that night Noel posted a message on the band’s web site stating that “with some sadness and great relief ... I quit Oasis tonight ... I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer.”

Liam Gallagher got a bit of revenge a few months later. Accepting the 2010 Brit Awards citation alone, he pointedly did not mention his brother in the speech, then threw the award into the audience. The brothers have also traded libel suits since the breakup.

Noel Gallagher — who during his time in Oasis had also collaborated with Paul Weller, the Chemical Brothers and Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown — wasted little time moving on from the band. While the rest of Oasis regrouped to form their own new group, Beady Eye, he played solo at the 2010 Teenage Cancer Trust benefit concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall (accompanied by Oasis’ Gem Archer), but his primary goal was to return to the studio.

“Recording is easy,” he notes. “There’s nobody there who has paid money to come and see you do it in front of an audience, you know? It’s your thing. You’re the only one putting pressure on yourself.

“So it’s nice to start again and shape things from the bottom up as opposed to being stuck with whatever Oasis was and had been. I loved that, but this is new, and it’s nice.”

Gallagher hedged his bets a bit as a solo artist, however, creating Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds as an entity to record his first album even though there was no formally established group lineup.

“It kind of serves two purposes,” Gallagher explains. “If I ever do get a settled lineup, I’ve already introduced ‘the band.’ And it’s also got my name, so it’s like a solo thing, too. All sorts of options are on the table, really.”

Gallagher says working on his own “didn’t really affect the way I approached the writing,” but it did impact the kinds of songs he wrote for the High Flying Birds project.

“It affected the way that I deliver the songs,” he explains, “because if I’m singing a song that tells a story and the story is about, let’s say, a girl, then I know who that girl is and I know what the story is, so I can deliver that song in a different way” than if he turned it over to another singer.

“But everything else is quite similar, I would think,” he adds.

The album does include a pair of songs — “(I Wanna Live In A Dream) In My Record Machine” and “Stop The Clocks” — that were demoed for Oasis but never recorded by the band. Gallagher, nevertheless, felt they “were great songs, and I thought, ‘Well, if I don’t put them out now I’ll never put them out, so now is the time.’”

Some of the album’s other tracks, meanwhile, were written while he was still in Oasis, but you won’t find Gallagher slinging nasty musical bon mots in his former band’s direction.

“I’m not that kind of guy, really,” Gallagher explains. “My first instinct when I write songs is not a negative one. It’s something positive. ... Everything I’ve ever done has some form of hope in it, I think. So I wouldn’t write a song about my feelings towards anyone in, let’s call them Beady Eye, because I actually like those people ... except for the singer.”

Gallagher does feel that every song on the High Flying Birds album is “quite autobiographical to a certain extent, but not so much that you couldn’t relate to them yourself, you know?” Particularly intriguing is the track “AKA ... What a Life!” a club-worthy dance song that sounds contemporary but also harks back to some of his roots in early ’90s Manchester.

Gallagher says that song was an offshoot of another of the album’s songs, “The Death of You and Me.”

“I just had what I would call a ‘Eureka!’ moment where I was listening to some old-school electronic dance music from Detroit,” Gallagher says. “There’s a track called ‘Strings of Life’ by (Derrick May’s) Rhythim is Rhythim, and it’s quite similar.

“So I thought, ‘Wow, maybe if I started to sing my song off of it ... ’ So I tried that, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to work,’ so I reworked it into a different style and kind of got two songs off of one idea.”

Gallagher has hit the road with the High Flying Birds, albeit with a different lineup of musicians than recorded the album. He says he plans to “play and tour endlessly,” and the shows include both the solo material and Oasis songs.

“I don’t think of them as Oasis songs anymore. They’re my songs,” he explains. “Every song that I play I wrote by myself ... I won’t be doing anything that’s synonymous with Liam’s voice. I’ll only be doing songs that I’ve sang on records, so it should be OK.”

Gallagher will compile the new album’s B-sides onto an EP called “Songs From the Great White North” for Record Store Day on April 21. Meanwhile, he also has a second album in the can, a collaboration with the Future Sound of London spin-off Amorphous Androgynous that includes re-recorded versions of four of the “High Flying Birds” songs, which he says sound “very different.” He hopes to release the new collection some time this year.

“I don’t want to say too much about it yet,” Gallagher explains. “But it’s not an electronic album; it’s a psychedelic rock-pop album, and I’m not quite sure how people are going to take it. It’s less structured than my traditional English pop music.”

He adds he’d like to make another album with Amorphous Androgynous “because I think we were just getting to know each other’s ways of working when the project ended.”

The specter of Oasis remains, however. Liam Gallagher, who plans to make a film about the group’s career, predicted an inevitable reunion because, he told British reporters, Noel is “not that good” without him. And he also held out an olive branch of sorts by voicing a desire to get Oasis back together in 2015 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory.” Noel rejected the notion, however, though he gave his brother “permission” to play the album without his involvement.

“I’m just going to carry on making records, really,” says the twice-married Gallagher, who has three children. “I’ve never lost the sense of wonder of writing a song. When I finish a song it’s like I’ve given birth and there’s a new child in the family.

“I don’t see it as a job, and fortunately for me I’ve got people all over the world that are interested in what I do and listen to it, and that’s comforting and nice to know. So that’s the main thing — I still really enjoy it, as much now as I ever have, so I want to just keep moving forward and not look back.”

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Mona perform Saturday, March 31, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 day of show. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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