Noel Gallagher on Guitar Solos, U2 and What to Expect from His New AlbumMusic Features Noel Gallagher
Twenty years ago this spring, Oasis holed up in a recording studio in Wales to create the defining album of the Britpop movement. 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was a yummy grab bag of whistle stop ditties and idealistic rock anthems that became—and remains—the Manchester quintet’s masterpiece and rainmaker. For more than a decade, the hilarity of the band’s antics was as pleasurable as its music: The rival Gallagher brothers (frontman Liam and singer/songwriter/guitarist Noel) duked it out for seven studio albums before pursuing individual projects in the naughts. Mouthpiece Liam formed the group Beady Eye in 2009, and Noel took his writing chops to his own shop with 2011’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. His second solo effort, the self-produced Chasing Yesterday, is out March 3. Below, Noel gabs about football (soccer on this side of the pond), cowbells, coping with the woes of life in the digital age and why he still fantasizes over the perfect guitar solo.
Paste: Your football fandom precedes you. You appeared on the BBC TV show Match of the Day last weekend, which must mean you scheduled your Paste interview early this morning in order to have plenty of time to get to your Manchester City vs. Barcelona game this evening.
Noel Gallagher: Uhhhh … no. What’s that? I’ve got rehearsals today. My tour starts this weekend, you see.
Paste: Ah, right, of course. I’ve just finished listening to your new album, Chasing Yesterday, which you produced yourself. There’s a minute-long guitar solo in “While the Song Remains the Same.” Aren’t guitar solos archaic these days? My teenaged daughter says so.
Gallagher: I don’t think so, clearly—with there being nine of them on my album. It’s what I’m into. But, yes, in the modern rock field, [a guitar solo] is a dying thing, isn’t it?
Paste: To hear a good guitar solo in 2015 feels purely exotic.
Gallagher: Indeed. Hearing guitar solos is a fucking spiritual thing, because the lyrics drop out and something else starts speaking to you in a language that’s only musical notes. Think of all the great guitar solos. Twenty-five years from now, we’ll live a world where there won’t have been a great guitar solo for 25 years.
Paste: Is music less important in people’s lives these days than when Oasis released Definitely Maybe back in 1994?
Gallagher: The planet is now condensed into your mobile device. The planet is the Internet, basically. Music has a place online, but it only occupies [a slice of] space next to social media and other various forms of entertainment. I have a 15-year-old daughter, and if something isn’t on her phone, it fucking doesn’t exist. This is her planet and her future. But when you and I were growing up, we never saw music as entertainment. We saw it as a life-changing force. It could shape the way you dressed, the way you thought, the people you hung out with, the places you went. The music being made in this era will just be entertainment and musicians will just be entertainers. Soon gone will be the days when people wrote whole albums by themselves.
Paste: What did you think of Bono’s recent “A to Z” blog, in which he named 26 things that are important to him? He listed you as the “N” and gave Chasing Yesterday a nice shout-out.
Gallagher: He was one of the first people to hear the album. I think we have a mutual love for each other’s music, each other’s company. I’m a fucking huge U2 fan. I haven’t read [the blog], but I’m sure I would concur with everything he said.
Paste: Speaking of your pal Bono, Fortune Magazine just posted an article about Apple in which it stated that the percentage of iTunes users who listened to U2 in January 2015 was more than double the percentage of users who listened to Taylor Swift. Surprised?
Gallagher: That’s a good thing. But, then again, Apple would have to say that, wouldn’t they? Seeing as they fucking gave [the new U2 album Songs of Innocence] to everybody. In any case, who gives a fuck what Apple thinks? That whole episode of how that album was released is a very modern thing to do. If it works for them, it works for them. I love U2 and I love that record.
Paste: OK, now back to your new songs. You sure use the word “sunshine” a lot.
Gallagher: You’re not the first person to bring that up in the last 23 years, trust me [laughs].
Paste: Specifically, I’m referencing how you twist disillusionment into optimism in your latest sweeping ballad, “The Dying of the Light.” Are you in a happier place now than you were on your solo debut, 2011’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds?
Gallagher: I’m not literally singing about the sunshine! My songs are full of metaphors and symbolism. Am I in a better place than I was the last time? I don’t think it would be possible to get any happier than I was last time. This is going to sound fucking ridiculous, but even though I write the songs, my part in each song is quite minimal. They write themselves. When I look back a decade from now, I will see these two albums as a pair. They have the same mood for me. The first one had a strong narrative and it was like a great movie; this one is like a great TV series. On Chasing Yesterday, however, there are songs about two specific people. Do you know who those people are?
Gallagher: Me and you.
Paste: [sarcastically] That’s a perfect answer.
Gallagher: Thank you very much. I was working on that answer for about 14 seconds. And out it came.
Paste: Recently, you were asked to do some editing on Oasis’s third album, Be Here Now, as part of the Chasing the Sun reissue series, but you didn’t shorten any tracks because you realized you might be messing with somebody’s favorite song. When a song comes to you in the writing process, do you think about its future potential to be a fan’s favorite song?
Gallagher: I guess. I try not to overthink it. The more thought I put into it, the less inspiration is involved and the less instinct I use. I write songs, then I put them to the side, and then I write more. Then I let people like you decide what they mean, including the liberal use of the word sunshine, etc. [laughs] I won’t really know what these songs are about until I get out on the road to play them live. Then I can see how people are reacting to them in a physical way.
Paste: The production on Chasing Yesterday has a 1970s vibe, sort of like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. From the tambourine in “The Right Stuff” to the disco bassline of “Ballad of Mighty I” (featuring guitar by Johnny Marr) you’ve put a lot of instruments and vocal harmonies together, but nothing’s overly slick. Was that intentional?
Gallagher: It wasn’t meant to be [slick]. It was recorded in a very old-school manner. There weren’t a lot of microphones. I have to thank my engineer for that. Paul Stacey is a fucking genius. Having produced an album for the first time, I’ve come to the conclusion that producers might be the biggest group of fucking chancers ever to be involved in the fucking music business. I found it incredibly easy and the most natural thing in the world to produce. I don’t know what the fuck I’ve been doing using a producer for the last 20 years.
Paste: You could have saved so much money by producing all those fancy records yourself.
Gallagher: Exactly. Just think of the shoes I could have bought!
Paste: Who played the cowbell on that bluesy track, “The Mexican”? I’m hoping your answer is Will Ferrell.
Gallagher: Me. I played it. I was trying to get a Mexican to do it, but it’s very hard to find a real one in London.
Paste: What should we expect on your spring tour?
Gallagher: It’s going to be the same personnel with the same songs, played in the same order. I might even wear the same clothes. I have bought some new underwear, though, so that’s gonna change. Really, I think it’s working out to be six songs off the last album, six songs off the new album, and six songs for the moms and dads. But when [the tour comes to Atlanta], I’m not wearing a laminate that says “Shaky Knees.” [laughs] Somebody needs to sort that out.