Interview: Noel Gallagher
The BBC recently gave ex-Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, a lifelong fan of English Premier League whipping boys-turned-superpowers Manchester City, a chance to interview the club's controversial forward Mario Balotelli. A Tyson-esque loose cannon with talent to match his eccentricity, Balotelli seems like the perfect foil for Gallagher, half of one of the most volatile singer-songwriter partnership/sibling rivalries in rock.
"I don't think I'll take up a career in interviewing. I'd much rather be answering the questions," Gallagher said. "Asking questions is not my forte. Giving stupid answers is my forte."
When I called him in Hamburg to preview his tour stop this Thursday at LC Pavilion, give answers he did - some of them stupid, some of them insightful, most of them accented by F-bombs and the occasional "D'you know what I mean?" Over the course of 30 minutes, we covered everything from his take on brother Liam's new band Beady Eye to American sports and politics to Gallagher's home life as a father of three.
Alive: I guess you're coming to play for us here in Columbus, Ohio.
Noel Gallagher: Are you excited? Are the people of Columbus excited?
I am! I can't remember the last time Oasis played here, so I'm not sure if you've ever been through here before. (Note: I later learned Oasis played the Palace Theatre on April 24, 2000. As a nerdy high schooler at the time, I should have remembered this. The setlist was rad.)
It will be a first, then, having a Gallagher in your town.
Unless you can think of a time you've been through that I don't know about.
Doesn't ring any bells, I've got to say. I mean, I know I've been there. I don't recall any scandal. Were there scandals? No?
No, I can't think of any.
What's it famous for?
Oh, then absolutely not.
But you're more into British football. I just read about you interviewing Mario Balotelli.
Yes! Big deal. Big news.
How was that for you?
Slightly awkward. Yeah, you know. We come from two very different parts of the world. But it was good, though! I like him. I f---ing love him. What am I saying, "I like him?" I love him. Yeah. I don't think I'll take up a career in interviewing people anytime soon.
Was that the first time you've interviewed somebody?
Yes. Anybody. I'd much rather be answering the questions.
Did you find it was difficult to come up with questions for him?
Oh, no! I had the questions all written out. (laughs) It's just, uh, you know, asking questions is not my forte. Giving stupid answers is my forte. I enjoyed the experience, and it was great to meet him. Yeah, it was good fun. Good laughs.
You've been a die-hard City fan for your whole life, right?
Oh yes. 40 years.
I guess that's really paying off for you at last.
Yeah, at long last. (laughs) No, it's all good at the moment with City. We're doing OK. We're homing in on the title.
I guess one thing you and Balotelli have in common is having crazy tabloid stories written about you. I've been reading lately that if Obama doesn't win re-election, you'll run yourself.
(laughs) Don't f---ing tell me that was written in America.
Ha! Jesus Christ! Well, it would be one of the greatest f---ups in the entire history of politics if Obama can't beat these other two f---ing jokers that I've been watching on television.
So you pay pretty close attention to what's going on with all that?
Well, I mean, I watch the news. American politics is big news. It might as well be, when they're choosing an American president, it's almost like they're choosing the president of the world. When it's on, I'd like to figure these two guys out. Is it Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich?
There's also Rick Santorum.
Yeah, Rick Santorum looks like, I don't know, a character from "The Simpsons." And the other two just look like the two dodgiest motherf---ers you've ever set eyes on.
That's probably accurate.
(laughs) What's Ohio? Am I offending anybody by saying this? Are you Republicans or Democrats?
Ohio? We're the state that everybody wants to win because you never know which way it's going to go.
OK, so Ohio's one of the battlegrounds. Good for you people! Shows a bit of soul.
Shows a bit of soul?
Yeah. Well, yeah! I mean, I've been in America when the election's on. I was in California. There might as well not have been any f---ing election because you couldn't really tell. Because everybody's decided that that's what they're going to vote, and that's the end of it. There's no posters up anywhere. There's no atmosphere. And then, obviously you go to the battleground states and that's where all the real s--- happens. Good for you.
Yeah, well, there's never any shortage of ads playing or posters up here.
I love those ads. I like being in America when there's political things going on because it's f---ing insane.
And the things people say in debates and in the ads- I mean, you talk about giving stupid answers...
One thing it brings on too is that the world over, politicians are lying motherf---ers, and they'll do anything to get a vote. Anything to get a f---ing vote! And then we as ordinary people are shocked when we find out that power corrupts them. And it's like, hang on a minute, did we think that they got into politics for our benefit? And they want to do some f---ing good for us? That's insane, right? There's only one candidate.
OK, let's talk about your music. Obviously you sang on a bunch of songs for Oasis, but this new band, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, puts you up front all the time. Has that been harder on your voice doing lead vocals every night?
Well, yeah. I've really had to f---ng control the partying and the smoking and the drinking. That's really the biggest sacrifice that I've made. It's been worth it because I've never really, I don't think I've done a bad show, d'you know what I mean? When I was in Oasis, I was living the dream, d'you know what I mean? It was like, me and my other guitarist, Gem, were like Keith and Ronnie, d'you know what I mean? We had a f---ing great time. We drank our way around America. And now it's, now I can't do that anymore because drinking leads to smoking, which leads to, you know, throat infections and all that shite. So I've had to cut my intake of cigarettes and alcohol. In fact, the alcohol is virtually nonexistent now.
Wow! Does that affect the feeling on stage?
No, the feeling's great! I mean, obviously you substitute that with the adrenaline that you get from singing, which is like a drug anyway, d'you know what I mean? But it just means if I get two weeks off, then I'm going to f---ing hit it hard, like so hard. Then I'm going to be like, I don't know, like Perry Farrell in the f---ing 90s, like go insane. And then I'll have to rein it in when I'm on the road. So it's like my partying wings have been clipped. It's like instead of me being out every night, it's kind of like once a month, really.
The songs themselves on this record - it's really well done, by the way.
I was listening through and they were all grabbing me. It seems to me like they're, even though they're big, loud, rock songs, they seem to have a melancholy feel to them. Is that accurate?
Yeah. totally. When I was in Oasis, we were a stadium rock band, and I used to write stadium rock songs that were very inclusive of the audience. And it was them and us, and the songs were all about them and us. This time it's a bit more personal and a bit more melancholy because life isn't great, d'you know what I mean? And although I have a f---ing good life, yes, but I know what it's like to not be able to pay the rent. I know what it's like to be sad and have your heart broken. I know what it's like to be in a place where you wish you belonged somewhere else, d'you know what I mean? So now I can write for myself. I don't have to kind of sell it to the singer, you know, which was where 90 percent of the problems always started.
So Liam wanted it to be one way, and you another?
I would say, "Here's the song. It goes like this." And he would say, "Alright, well, I'm going to sing it like that." And I'd say, "Yeah, but hang on a minute. It f---ing goes like this" "Yeah, but I'm singing it like that." And then I would say, "IT F---ING GOES LIKE THIS!" And then we would repeat that until, you know, somebody went to sleep.
Was there somebody who typically won those kind of battles?
In the end, it was always like, "You know what? F---ing sing it like that if you want... But it still goes like this."
Was that really the source of 90 percent of the fighting? Just fighting about how songs were going to go?
Well yeah. Not specific to songs. But I would just want us to do one thing; he just wanted to f--- it up all the time.
Obviously you've heard Beady Eye. Any thoughts on it?
I think they're the best rock and roll band in the world. And that's the whole world. Not just America or England. In Tanzania. And Paraguay. And Mogadishu. And Turkey. There are no better rock ''n' roll bands than Beady Eye.
So now that it's not your songs, you don't feel like he's f---ing them up as much?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I was talking about the singing in general. No, the songs, everybody did their best, d'you know what I mean? Artistically, people have their own opinions about the way something should go. But the writer actually knows how it f---ing goes, from writing it. But I mean, like Oasis, the big picture: I was always trying to get it to go one way, and he would always be generally trying to f--- it up.
So doing music now without that constant conflict, I assume it's a better experience?
Yeah! All the cons of this, like I'm on my own, and I'm not really a frontman, and I've got to do singing every night, and I can't smoke as much, and I can't drink as much, it's all offset by the fact that it's just nice and easy, and the record was a serene process, and I'm not nervous going on stage any night. I mean, if I want to spend five minutes talking to a fat girl in the crowd about how she looks like a cousin of mine, I can do that without somebody f---ing tapping their watch, d'you know what I mean? So it's all good. It's all good.
It is f---ing cool, particularly for the fat girl. (laughs)
Obviously you're still touring behind this record, but do you have plans for more stuff in the works?
Oh yeah, of course! Yeah, I don't know when that will be. I mean, I've already got another album recorded, but I've got to mix it yet. Yeah, and this tour's really gone on longer than anybody expected. It'll go on now through November. So, you know, I'll just keep doing what I do and hopefully never stop, d'you know what I mean, until one of my legs gives way or something. And even then I'll just get a new leg. I'll have the body of a 75-year-old, but I'll have the legs of a 20-year-old athlete.
Speaking of athletics: What do you think about American soccer? Are they any good?
Well, I went to see some MLS when I was in LA. I went to see the LA Galaxy. And the level of football is not as good as England, but England is the best league in the f---ing world, the best players in the world, so it's not really right for me to comment on that. But what I will say is I was amazed at the size of the stadiums and the amount of people that attended these matches. It was like, it's a big f---ing deal man, d'you know what I mean? It's a big deal. And I was expecting it to be little more than, you know, a kick about in an athletic stadium with a few people attending. And I went to see the Galaxy and they were playing some team from Philadelphia, and it was real, d'you know what I mean? And the fans were all great, and it was a great atmosphere. But it's not right to compare the MLS to the Premier League because the Premier League's the greatest league that's ever been. Barring Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, we have all the greatest players in the world are playing there. So it's really not fair to judge it because it's like the seventh sport in America. There's lots of other things. Like American football, which I do take a keen interest in, is the king over there. And then there's baseball and hockey and basketball, and even more people attend f---ing wrestling matches, d'you know what I mean?
Yeah, and mixed martial arts and all that.
Yeah. But it's like, you know, your football, the NFL, I mean that's f---ing great. That's great. The playoffs and the Super Bowl this year was incredible.
So you follow all that?
I mean, don't start throwing names at me. But when the big games are on, I understand the rules. I understand most of the stats. I understand how the game is played, and it's a f---ing brilliant spectacle to watch, d'you know what I mean?
The reason I ask is we have an MLS team in Columbus. That's one other thing we have.
Are you called the Columbus Raw?
Columbus Crew! Right, the Columbus Crew. And are you any good?
We were good about 2008, 2009. We've been on the steady decline ever since.
Do you get many people at the games?
No, that's part of the problem. Even when they were good, they didn't get many people. Back in the 90s they used to draw huge crowds, though.
It's very much seen as a children's sport in America, isn't it? By the jocks?
It depends on who you talk to. But I think the other thing is with the access to watch the Premier League now - that didn't used to be on TV here, and I think Americans like to think they're getting the best possible.
What is fascinating to me is that the American national team can do well in the World Cup says more about Americans themselves than their football league. Cause, you know, you put 12 Americans on a football pitch, they'll want to beat the other guys, they'll f---ing do whatever it takes. But what fascinates me about American sport is it's all played with the hands. Football is played with the feet, and it's more artistic. Americans haven't taken to it. Whereas you put it in the hands - holy s---, rule the f---ing world! D'you know what I mean? You play your football with the hands, basketball, baseball. All the major sports are played with the hands. That fascinates me. It's like, "Sport with your feet? (adopts an American accent) F--- THAT!"
Nice American accent there. One more thing: Obviously you said you like Beady Eye. What other bands are you excited about right now?
Uh, I like Kasabian. There's not really anything new coming out of England. Um, The Vaccines are pretty good. I like them. I like Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys but they've been going for a while now. I mean, I'm still discovering old stuff from the 60s. D'you know what I mean? I'm still not finished with that decade yet.
So that stuff's more exciting for you than new stuff?
Yeah. I mean, we're doing Coachella festival this year, so we'll catch up with some of the new bands. But, you know, new music is not supposed to be for 45-year-old fathers of three, is it? You know, so a lot of it I don't understand. A lot of it is just f---ing rubbish anyway and I don't care to understand it. But I do hear the odd band like The Vaccines, I've just done some things with those, and I thought they were pretty good.
Any bands from America you like?
I'm trying to think of new. I mean, I do like a lot of American music, I like a lot of American bands. America's more about the solo artist isn't it? So I'm not really a fan of American bands at the moment. So I guess the Strokes? Kings of Leon? I used to like Kings of Leon but f---ing hell! The Strokes, though, I do like.
Fair enough. Back to English music. What about stuff like James Blake? Do you have an opinion on that?
I've heard of James Blake, never anything by him. I'd imagine it's very singer-songwritery.
It is. It's electronic, but it's basically singer-songwriter electronic.
Oh, well that sounds interesting. I might go check that out. But no, I'm not really... You know, to be honest, I don't really devour new music. I don't really give a s--- about it to be honest. If somebody insists, I listen. D'you know what I mean? Are you aware of a guy called Paul Weller?
Yeah, he's my neighbor. He'll kind of buy me CDs and say "You should listen to this." And I give them a listen. But other than that, I don't casually just listen to music, d'you know what I mean? I've got three kids. I'm usually in the f---ing corner, quivering.
Do you live in Manchester?
Oh, I've lived in London for about 20 years.
I know you make it to the City games when you can, so I wasn't sure.
Oh, yeah. It's only a two-hour train ride.
You mentioned a couple times being a father. Does that make it harder to be out on the road, or do they come with you?
They're coming to Coachella this year because it coincides with school holidays. So they're going to come and hang out in California for a bit. But yeah, it makes it difficult. I don't like leaving them behind because I've missed their first steps, and I've missed all their first steps and all that kind of - the milestones in their lives. I don't hear them say their first words or anything like that. But you know. And they cry when I leave. I just kind of point to the boxes of toys. "See that stuff there? Who f---ing pays for that? Do you think it gets bought by itself?" And they shake their heads, and I go, "Right. Somebody's got to pay for it, so I'm going to work. And you're going to bed. Goodnight." And that's it. And I leave.
I would think that probably have enough money from Oasis that you could afford not to keep making money if you wanted to, right?
Yeah, I think it's - if you're a creative person, and you can do it, then you should do it. Because you're only putting out good things into the world. And there's enough s--- in the world, that if all the creative people decided, "Well, I've got enough money now, so I don't have to do it," there'd be nothing left! D'you know what I mean? People always say that to you, about, "Well you've got enough money now." The people who say that to you is people who have jobs. See, I don't have a job. D'you know what I mean? If you earned enough money to retire from your job, you would, because it's a job. Mine is a calling. It's just, I can't not write music. I wish sometimes I could say, "You know what, f--- it. I don't want to play this game anymore." But you know what? You know, months might pass, and I'll write a song and I'll think "Wow, this is great!" And I'll play it for someone and they'll say, "Oh, f---ing hell, that's great!" And I'll say, "Do you want to write another one?" Then we start the dance again. D'you know what I mean? If music was just a case of "Well I'll just do this and then I'll have enough money and then I'll retire," what kind of a person would that be?
Another thing about that is you have continued to make good music. We didn't hear as much about Oasis over here in the second half of the band's career, but I know you were still releasing albums and making hits, and the new album with High Flying Birds is good. A lot of people fall off. So how do you keep a high level of quality?
Every act has a different dynamic. I'm self-sufficient in the sense that I don't need anybody else to help me make music. Some guys who are great lyricists need a great musician, and - Johnny Marr and Morrissey, for instance, d'you know what I mean? With the best will in the world, they would probably concede that they were both good for each other, d'you know what I mean? And maybe the older you get, people just depart from each other's lives, and you're not really in that band anymore or you don't work with that person anymore or that producer moved on or - it depends. I'm in my own unique place where you just give me an acoustic guitar and a pipe tuner and a microphone, that's it. I rely on my own inspiration and that's it. I've never had a studio in my house, so I've never treated it like a job-job, d'you know what I mean? Do you know in my house I haven't even got a music room? I don't even have a f---ing room with a desk which has sprawls of paper lying around with all my lyrics on a guitar in the corner. I don't even have that. Do you know why?
Because my f---ing kids have taken over my house. That's why. So when I kind of, you know, I write music in my spare time. It's still like a hobby, d'you know what I mean? And I don't have a record label. I'm an independent artist, so I've not got somebody calling me up saying, "Hey, we need that album." So I'll do it in my spare time and for the joy of doing it, and I'll put it out when I feel like it. I often thought when I was growing up how f---ing cool it must have been to be Neil Young, and I'm getting a sense of how that must be like. Not that I'm in any way putting myself up at the same level as Neil Young, but he always seemed to me like he just worked at his own pace and did whatever he wanted, and he always seemed to enjoy it. And he gigged from time to time, and you looked at him and you thought, "Man, this is f---ing real. That's him. Neil Young. There he is." That's what I'd like people think about me, d'you know what I mean?