Liam Gallagher Is Still Magnetic
The former Oasis frontman on Black Midi, ignoring the haters, connecting with younger fans and his second solo album Why Me? Why Not.Photo by Tom Beard Music Features Liam Gallagher
Liam Gallagher is still the larger-than-life character he’s always been.
“I stand with my parka on, my shades on and put my hands behind my back and clean my teeth,” the former Oasis frontman says over the phone. “Constantly doing that to remind me where I came from.”
Oasis’ rise from Manchester working class heroes to international rock stars is an underdog story that never loses its magic, but Liam Gallagher isn’t plowing on so he can try to relive the glory days like some resentful has-been. Rock ‘n’ roll is all he knows.
It’s been 25 years since Oasis released their classic debut album Definitely Maybe, and the Gallagher brothers are still massive. They haven’t met face-to-face since Oasis’ notoriously violent backstage split in 2009, but audiences across the world still crave the pair’s charismatic personalities and communal rock ‘n’ roll. Now solo, Liam just rounded out some American tour dates with The Who and made an appearance on The Tonight Show while Noel, who performs as Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, recently concluded a U.S. tour with Smashing Pumpkins, released two EPs of his own and guested on the wildly popular celebrity interview series Hot Ones. Liam, now 47, just released his second solo LP, Why Me? Why Not., his second consecutive U.K. number one album. He’s also the subject of a new documentary, As It Was, which shines a light on the breakup of Oasis, his short stint with Beady Eye, the decision to go solo and his personal life.
Liam represents a brand of no frills rock ‘n’ roll that may as well be from Mars when compared to the popular music of today, but, impressively, he’s not only retained his original ’90s fanbase, he’s also connected with younger generations in a way that’s almost unprecedented. His shows, particularly in the U.K., are packed with rambunctious teenagers, many of whom dress like him and sport one of his various mod mop tops. What other 50-year-old rock stars are pulling massive crowds of 16-year-olds? Gallagher’s recent shows are a testament to the religious response to his music that has never dwindled in his near three-decade career. For Gallagher, this validates the original mantra Oasis espoused in 1994’s “Live Forever.”
“I’d be devastated,” Gallagher says when asked how he’d feel if he didn’t have young fans. “What’s the point? You make music to live forever. You make music to go round and round in cycles. If it stops at one generation, then it obviously wasn’t that good, was it? The music only lives on through generations. If it’s only one generation that likes it, that will die at some point, so therefore your music dies with them, so fucking too right, man!”
His recent album Why Me? Why Not. (which gets its name from two John Lennon art prints) largely follows the blueprint of his 2017 solo debut As You Were, which consisted of stomping ’60s rock ‘n’ roll with swelling choruses and his surly, nasal vocals. Though his sophomore release embraces strings more fully, he stays in his lane. Gallagher isn’t about to employ the commonly-used rock veteran pivot to synth-pop or start a cartoon experimental outfit à la Gorillaz. His rock roots run deep, and he thinks he’s boiled down the key ingredients of a great tune.
“Well, you need a good rock ‘n’ roll singer to put it in the back of the net,” Gallagher says. “I’d say guitars, melody, lyrics with a bit of bite. You need the singer to spit it out. You don’t want to hear a rock ‘n’ roll song politely sung. I think that’s the problem that a lot of these singers have got today. None of them can spit it out.”
But Gallagher’s successful solo career wouldn’t have been possible without the help of professional songwriters. Greg Kurstin (Adele, Maggie Rogers, Sia) and Andrew Wyatt (Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Beck), who both contributed to As You Were, co-wrote the lion’s share of this album alongside Gallagher with additional help from Amen Dunes’ Damon McMahon and Cherry Ghost’s Simon Aldred. Although Noel called out Liam for his “army of songwriters,” Liam doesn’t see it that way.
“If you write a song, you write a song,” Gallagher says. “What’s a professional songwriter? Noel Gallagher’s a professional songwriter, but he seems to give a fuck about other people being professional. They’re just songwriters, you know what I mean? There’s two styles of songwriters. There’s good ones and shit ones. It’s simple as that.”
While many people are probably itching to hear an album entirely penned by “our kid,” Liam just doesn’t think his writing skills are up to snuff.
“I’ve tried,” Gallagher says. “It wouldn’t happen. I’m good at verses. I can bang out verses all day long, but when it comes to the choruses, I need someone else to do that. That’s only because of the guitar playing really, so I prefer to pass it on for the choruses.”
Why Me? Why Not. is led by tunes like the ascendant ballad “Once” (“It’s got a bit of the Floyd thing. It’s got a bit of Bowie, a bit of Lennon. It’s just classic, man!”) and the Dig Out Your Soul-style romp “The River” (“It’s a beast. It sounds horrible in a good way, you know what I mean?”). The deluxe version even offers a surprising nugget—and perhaps the most happy-go-lucky pop song he’s ever sung—“Glimmer” (“It is what it is, but I like it.”).
It seems like a significant change that Gallagher is now calling the shots and it’s his name plastered on marquees, but he doesn’t approach things any differently.
“I’m not thinking [about] it as a solo thing,” Gallagher says. “I know it’s my name that’s above the door and that, but when I get on stage, I’m surrounded by the band. The gigs I’ve been doing in England, they’re like Oasis gigs. People are losing their shit and kicking the fuck out of each other, a bit of violence down in front. People are getting moved, so I don’t feel like it’s any different than being in Oasis except for that Noel’s not there.”
Before going solo and landing a record deal, Gallagher had a bevy of personal challenges to overcome, whether it was divorce and child support lawsuits or the dismantling of two bands that meant the world to him. But his family and friends, who are prominently featured in As It Was, keep Gallagher grounded, and he’s never been one to care about what others think of him.
“I’ve slipped up before and we got by,” Gallagher says. “It’s not us against the world. I think there’s a lot of love. I’m sure there’s a few people out there that are not happy in the way it’s going and they’re probably waiting for me to fuck it up, but I don’t really pay attention to those fucking clowns. I just get on with my life.”
Gallagher makes sure to keep things light, especially with his kids who love music too. His son Gene (“Gene’s got the piss-taking side”) likes grime and his other son Lennon (“Lennon’s got the zen side”) is into bands like Fat White Family and Black Midi, the latter of which Liam amusingly weighed in on (“Some of it’s alright and I’ve seen them on stage. It’s not for me, man. It’s a bit strange.”). Liam’s never been in danger of taking himself too seriously.
“I know how to take the piss out of myself,” he says. “Music is serious. Being on stage is a serious thing. I don’t take that lightly, but for the rest of it, before you go on and after you come off, it’s a mad house, innit?”
All these years later, you can still walk into a Halloween party wearing a parka and sunglasses with a tambourine in hand, and everyone will know you’re Liam Gallagher. You don’t even need the full getup—you can just throw your arms behind your back, bend your knees and do your best Mancunian snarl, and people will guess the cocksure vocalist who has a habit of asking “D’you know what I mean?” every five words and dubbing his brother, Noel, a “potato.” Gallagher is still a character, through and through, and whether it’s his humor or his thunderous rock songs, people still hang on his every word.
Why Me? Why Not. is available now via Warner Records