Featured in Australian Guitar issue #108
Tonight, he’s a rock’n’roll star. The man behind your favourite Oasis tracks steps out on his own for his second solo outing.
Back in 2009, Noel Gallagher seized a moment when he left Oasis, the Britpop heavyweight act he’d helped front for the better part of two decades. Casting years of brotherly feuding aside, Gallagher picked up his axe and started Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, who released their first album in 2011. The man who penned “Wonderwall”, “Supersonic”, “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and to be honest, much of Oasis’ back catalogue, was stepping out under his own banner for the first time.
Fast-forward to 2015 and he’s set to do it all again. It’s no secret that Gallagher has been critiqued over the years for wearing the sounds of his past heroes on his sleeves – Johnny Marr, Paul Weller, Keith Richards et al. – and here, as only a Gallagher could, he thumbs his nose at the world once more, titling his solo follow-up Chasing Yesterday and leading with a lyric pinched from The Beatles classic “Something”. For the amount of styles it incorporates, Chasing Yesterday is an instantly familiar, cohesive listen, a composite of Gallagher’s varied influences from ‘70s psychedelia to classic rock and to space jazz of all things. With his biting wit and a healthy dose of narcissism colouring much of our interview, the man talks us through following up a successful solo debut in the wake of an even more successful career with Oasis. What a life it’s been indeed.
Chasing Yesterday is set for release in the coming weeks, so how’s it sitting with you now that it’s out of your hands?
It’s strange… We’ve been in rehearsals for the last two weeks and all the songs that I thought were gonna be pretty straight-forward to play live have proved to be very difficult, slippery little bastards, and all the ones I thought were gonna be quite difficult, like “Riverman” and “Ballad Of The Mighty I”, they’ve proved to be a breeze. I like this part, ‘cos the album now? It’s gone for me. The recorded version is gone and now I really get to know the ins and outs of the songs ‘cos once you start playing them live with a band, you get to understand what the essence of the song is and really strip it back. As for the record itself, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, but then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Listening to it, you’ve managed to seamlessly blend this assortment of styles and influences into something that works well as a whole.
Getting to produce it myself, I look at it this way: when you’re with a producer, he’s making a record with you and then six weeks later, he’s making a record with someone else. So you’re in a producer’s diary, and they’re making five records that year. In making Chasing Yesterday myself… it was just very calm, joyous, and I had more than enough time to finish it. I wasn’t really worried about styles or fashion or where it fitted in with radio and that kinda thing; I was just doing it for myself and I had the most serene time making it.
Now that you’ve had a taste of it, is taking on the producer role something you’d want to do again?
Well I’d do it for me again; I don’t think I’d do it for another band, although if it was Coldplay or U2 clearly I’d give it a bash. But I enjoy the creative side of it and I enjoyed the making of the music and seeing something form; what I found frustrating was managing the time, because for the last 10 years I’ve recorded in Los Angeles and I’ve recorded on my own and you’re there, you’re focused, it’s f***ing work. While you’re in the studio, the rest of England is asleep so you’re not getting minded on the phone. This record I made in London and it’s like a f***ing Disneyland for a person who smokes, drinks and still likes to party. I managed, somehow, to combine the two: my social life did not suffer – at all – and I made a f***ing great record. Unbelievable [laughs]. If I don’t win a f***ing Grammy for it, I’ll be disgusted. I’ve managed to pull off the greatest trick of all time.
I must admit, I wasn’t expecting that psychedelic, Santana-esque solo on the opening track “Riverman”. Where did that come from?
Well I play and arrange completely by feel and instinct; I was playing it to someone the other day and he went, “Oh wow, f***ing hell! A guitar solo comes in in between the two verses!” and I’m shaking my head going, “Does it? Really?” – and this is another producer – he’s kind of going, “Oh that’s a really strange arrangement”. To me, I didn’t know what he was f***ing talkin’ about. I’m just like, “That’s what felt right to me” and I don’t ever overthink anything. You’re right, you’re the first person that’s mentioned Santana about the guitar solo – and it’s very Pink Floyd as well. I f***ing love it; I can’t get enough of that shit. Over the last maybe five or six years, I’ve managed to discover psychedelic jazz. Not the shit jazz you hear in f***in’ bars, but like Sun Ra and stuff like that. And I wouldn’t say I listen to it regularly, but what I’ve heard, I’ve really liked, and there’s a bit of that in “The Right Stuff”. I was following my instincts and when it came to the saxophone bits – with “The Right Stuff” and “Riverman” – it wasn’t a plan before the song started, but when it came to the big break in “Riverman”, I heard a saxophone in my head, and my engineer was going, “Really? F***in’ hell. Seriously?” and I was going, “Yeah, just do a saxophone”. I’m pretty pleased with how those two tracks turned out.
I know you’ve had your ES-355 for years now, but what’s your guitar rig looking like these days?
My amp setup is a Hiwatt Custom 100 combo, it was a prototype and it was made for me, though Fender have put it into production since I started using it. It’s f***ing amazing. And that’s it really; I just plug in for that and I’ve got various pedals, I think it’s called a SIB Electronics Echo Drive, and for my guitar solos I use a Pete Cornish Soft Sustain and a Boss Digital Delay. My other guitarist who plays alongside me, f*** me… He’s got so much gear it’s unbelievable. But when I’m in the studio and for this record in particular, I started playing Nash Guitars recently and they’re f***in’ amazin’. There’s a Nash ‘63 Strat on a great deal of the songs and I’ve got a great ‘60s Fender Deluxe, a blackface one. Other than that, really the technological side is kind of wasted on me, d’you know what I mean? Because I’m a composer, and all the things that I use live, they’re just tools to make me feel comfortable on stage really. I’m as comfortable with just an acoustic guitar standing up there just me, and that’s it, nothing else. I don’t like lots of effects and all that because I think it’s for squares if I’m being honest.
What’s your guitar habit like? Are you the sort of player that needs to be fiddling around on it each day?
I’m still completely addicted to it. ‘Cos I don’t have a studio, I don’t even have a music room where all my stuff is, so I’ve got a guitar in my lounge and if I get 30 seconds during a commercial break while watching the football, I’ll pick the guitar up. Because I’m of that school of thought that you know, songs are floating around in the air all the time and if you’re not playing the guitar, someone else is f***in’ catching that song. And I play it most of the day out of fear that I’ll miss “the song”, the great song – the greatest song ever written. If I’m not writing it, some other bastard’s writing it. F***ing that dude from Coldplay will probably be writing it.
Going into the High Flying Birds project, obviously that debut went immensely well and cemented your solo career, but what did you initially want to get out of it when you started gathering songs? Did you expect it would become as big as it has?
In a word: no. The beauty of that period was, I didn’t know what to expect. And it brought me back to the time of [Oasis’] Definitely Maybe coming out, when I didn’t know what to expect there either. I knew Definitely Maybe was great, the band all thought it was great, we were very, very, f***in’ sure of ourselves, but you still didn’t know how it was gonna go and I felt the same at the beginning of the High Flying Birds album cycle. All the way through that tour I was determined to enjoy it because it will turn out to be such a special moment in my life, and it will never be able to be recreated. You don’t really get the chance to be in a band as great as Oasis and then start your f***ing musical life again, you know, at the age of 43. I’m so lucky to have had that and thankfully everybody got it, the record blew up on the road, and we toured until we f***ing dropped. I mean a second chance is one thing, but like… you know, it’s not like I blew it in Oasis; I was in one of the greatest f***in’ things ever to come out of England, and then to just walk away from that and say, “Right, I’m gonna make a record now and see what happens” and for that to be received in the way it was, it really is amazing. “The Right Stuff” is probably as far removed from [Oasis’] “Supersonic” as you’re ever likely to get, and it’s liberating in the sense that I can just follow my instincts and for now, they’re paying off. I’m absolutely f***ing well aware of this [laughs]. This honeymoon period won’t last forever; it never does.