Noel Gallagher: Flying High After Oasis
When the song "Wonderwall" hit the airwaves in 1995, Oasis was arguably the biggest rock band in the world. At the heart of the group were two combustible figures: Noel Gallagher, the main songwriter, and his brother Liam, the main singer. With their fiery tempers and frequent public outbursts, the two were on the covers of the tabloids as often as the top of the charts.
Oasis burned out quite suddenly a few years ago, with a now-famous meltdown backstage before a show in Paris.
"We were backstage waiting to go onstage to 30,000 people in Paris," Noel Gallagher tells NPR's Guy Raz. "The tour manager came in and said, 'Five minutes!' We broke up within that five minutes. I'm not proud of that, but all things come to an end."
Liam Gallagher and the other members of Oasis have kept the band going under a new name, Beady Eye. Noel, however, has stepped out as a solo artist. His first record under the name Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds was released late last year.
"When you're in a band and there's five of you, you have to accommodate five people in every song," Gallagher says. "It was great to free up everything. The simple songs became more simple, and the more elaborate ones became more elaborate.
"I had a very clear idea that I wanted it to sound cinematic, but at the same time intimate and direct," he adds. "When I listen back, I wanted every verse to be like a scene in a film. I've had the best time making this record."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's now time for music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPERSONIC")
OASIS: (Singing) I need to be myself. I can't be no one else.
RAZ: At its height in the mid-1990s, the British band Oasis was the biggest rock act in the world - bigger than U2, bigger even, some argued, than The Beatles. And at the heart of Oasis, two volatile personalities, who happened to be brothers, Noel and Liam Gallagher - Noel, the main songwriter, and Liam, the lead singer. Here's a sample of how they got on.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARGUMENT)
RAZ: And with their fiery tempers and very public spats, the Gallagher brothers made the covers of tabloids as often as they topped the pop charts. But one night three years ago, Oasis burned out, and it happened suddenly, a now-famous meltdown backstage before a show. Oasis never performed that night. The estranged brothers went their separate ways. Liam started his own band, so did Noel. His band's called Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I HAD A GUN")
NOEL GALLAGHER: (Singing) Give you back the dream and show you now what might have been if all the tears you cry will fade away. I'll be by your side, when they come to say goodbye, we will live to fight another day.
RAZ: This past week, Noel Gallagher stopped by our studios to talk about the new record, fatherhood, sibling rivalry and, of course, Oasis. The day after his old band split, a message from Noel on their website read: I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer.
GALLAGHER: Well, that's my manager, actually. That was (unintelligible), because I quit. And I went, and that was it.
GALLAGHER: And they couldn't get hold of me for days. I hired a private jet and took my wife and children off to the south of France, like proper rock stars do. The reason that I left was because I didn't see much of after what - I don't really want to go into specifics about what was said and blah, blah, blah and all that - but in a moment of (unintelligible), I thought, there's no future in this. And I was in the stage (unintelligible) on the gig. We were backstage waiting to go onstage...
RAZ: And this is in Paris.
GALLAGHER: ...to 30,000 people in Paris. And as the tour manager came in and said, five minutes, you know, we broke up within that five minutes. I'm not proud of that. But, you know, all things come to an end. You know, I think the level of success that Liam's and Gem's and Andy's new band have had - Beady Eye - and what I'm doing now proves that it was the right decision for everyone. You know, everybody's a lot happier. And I think it was the right thing, certainly the right thing for me to do.
RAZ: I remember seeing you perform at the Boston Orpheum in 1995 when "Morning Glory" came out, which was a huge record. And it was an amazing show, but it was also this time when, you know, your performances were erratic. I mean, your brother didn't finish the show. He was drunk.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RAZ: He couldn't finish it. You finished it beautifully. And you sang most of the songs that people came to hear. But it was clear that something wasn't right at that time.
GALLAGHER: We all dealt with that level of success and fame in different ways. When the album took off in America, the album "Morning Glory," it was everything that I'd expected, so I knew how I was going to deal with it all. My outlook has never changed. It's like I'm still living someone else's dream. This is the best thing in the world, you know, and long may it continue. It's like, why is The Rolling Stones still doing it at a combined age of 1,050? It's because it's the best thing in world.
RAZ: You and your brother - you have two brothers - and you were essentially raised by a single mom 'cause your dad left when you were kids.
RAZ: You grew up in a counsel state, what we would call housing project. Not an easy upbringing in Manchester.
GALLAGHER: No. But at the time, my mom and all my aunties and my cousins all lived within the same five-mile radius. They worked in factories. So your whole world is there. So you don't know there's another world outside of this where people are middle class and stuff like that. So at the time, it wasn't a hard life. It was just life. But, you know, that gave you something else. That gave you a toughness, in a sense that, you know, if I'm on the tour bus in America and, you know, I've got to go to another show and I'm not feeling too well, I just think back to those days and think, well, you know, I lived in a house with bare floorboards, right? Before, bare floorboards, were trendy.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RAZ: And your mom still lives there, right?
GALLAGHER: She still lives in the same house. She's got carpet now, though, obviously. But she still lives in the same house.
RAZ: You were married a few years ago. Your wife is - her name is Sarah. You've got two children, right?
GALLAGHER: I was married last summer.
RAZ: Forgive me, last summer. I'm sorry. But you were together for so long that I...
GALLAGHER: We've been together for 12 years, yeah. I've got two boys.
RAZ: One is about 4; one is a little bit more than 1, right?
GALLAGHER: One is 4, one is 1 and a bit, yes.
RAZ: Given that you really didn't grow up with a dad, how did you learn how to be a father?
GALLAGHER: I don't think you ever learn. I just think you kind of - there are lots of books when you go into book shops about parenting.
RAZ: Yes, there are.
GALLAGHER: None of them are warranted, and none of them is the Bible or the truth, because, really, there are no set rules. You just bumble along and hopefully, you know, you just love your children. Ronnie Wood said that to me once. Sorry to namedrop, but I was at a party at Ronnie Wood's house, sorry.
RAZ: Of The Stones, yeah.
GALLAGHER: And it was at his 50th. He had kids, loads of kids, and he just said: The one thing you do is just love them. Everything else comes from that. That's it. And it's a beautiful, hippy '60s attitude, but it's true. I mean, I'm - luckily enough, the worst I've got to say is when I'm packing to leave and my older lad can sense what's going on.
RAZ: You're going. Yeah. You're gone this around for like seven weeks.
GALLAGHER: Yeah. And then when the cases are going into the car, he starts grabbing your ankles and going, no, dad. You know, that is really tough. But you have to say to him, look, it's just - the longer I'm away, the more toys you're going to get when I come back. And he's like, oh.
RAZ: And there are great toys in America.
GALLAGHER: Well, he thinks - I've convinced him, which I didn't realize this would come back to haunt me, but I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles making this record. I was there for about three months on and off. And every time I came back, I'd bring him more toys. And I told him as a joke one night that Los Angeles was where they made all the toys in the world. He's coming to Los Angeles for the first time in his life on holiday, and he's going, Los Angeles, that's where they make all the toys.
And I was like, really? Who told you that? And he said, you told me that's where they make all these toys. And I was like - and he said, can we go to the place where they make them? I might have told them I knew the guy that made the toys. And I was like, well, strictly, that's not true. They do sell a lot of toys in Los Angeles. They sell them, you know, but he's going to have the time of his life, I think.
RAZ: I'm speaking with Noel Gallagher, formerly of the band Oasis. His latest solo album is called "Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds." When you sat down to write this record and began to sort of arrange it, what did you set out to do? What did you want this record to sound like?
GALLAGHER: I had a very clear idea that I wanted it to sound cinematic but at the same time intimate and direct. It was very liberating. When you're in a band and there's five of you, you have to accommodate five people in every song. And it became very difficult in Oasis. So everybody has to have their little bit. It was great just to free up everything, just the most direct songs you could just - there's no need for three or four guitars. It was just me and a voice and a guitar and - do you know what I mean? So the simple songs became very simple, and the more elaborate ones became more elaborate. And I've had the best time making this record.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY'S ON THE RUN")
GALLAGHER: (Singing) You can't fight the feeling, and all is the same, the pouring rain. You know, you know. It's coming out of the ceiling, falling from above, falling in and out of love. A broken heart is still beating...
RAZ: Do you talk to other, you know, for lack of a better term, rock stars about coping with what happens when you transition to...
GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, I was always of the opinion of, like, how hard could it be? You know, people take music and their role in it so seriously. And I think what I've tried to do is just take a step back and go, it's only music. And I kept saying these things as I was making the record. It's only a record. Everybody's like, oh, it's his first solo record. Oh, my God. What's he going to do? And it's like, but it's only a record. If people don't like it, I'll make another one. So it's only a gig. You know, it's not like everybody's waiting for me to come up with the cure for cancer and me deliver it and it doesn't work and everybody go, you know, well, that didn't work, so, you know, see you later. And it's like, it's only music. When we were actually the biggest bona fide band in the world, I never took that too seriously, because it's a ludicrous position to be in.
RAZ: Even though your songs were, I mean, life changing for many, many people.
GALLAGHER: Yeah. But you see, we - it became to us so quickly that when "Morning Glory" blew up and it was on its 18 million sale and we were in the States, you know, America is a very corporate country, and the American music business is very corporate. They really didn't get what we were about as people because we - it was too soon from us being unemployed to being the biggest band in the world for us to care, do you know what I mean? So we're kind of - sat in these offices in New York, we'd only signed off unemployment benefit, like, 18 months before. So we're still in that mindset of, like, this is just some giant party that we've all been - we've gate crashed somehow.
RAZ: You are on tour, obviously, in the U.S. right now. Are you performing Oasis material?
GALLAGHER: Yeah. Of course, yeah. I'm not going to throw that stuff away. When I was rehearsing for the tour, I played every single song off the album, except one, and all the B sides. And I thought, well, that'll do. And I throw in a few Oasis numbers at the end. You know, I'm not going be let out a venue without doing at least all the (unintelligible).
(Unintelligible), and it was like, 38 minutes, and it's like, (unintelligible) charge an extortionate amount of money for that, so we're going to have to pump this out somehow. And they're my songs. Oasis didn't write them. I wrote those myself - all the words, all the arrangements, everything was written by me. So I don't feel guilty like I'm cheating on my girlfriend with someone, you know? And I'd do like seven or eight, but I'm not going to throw that stuff away. It's kind of me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SALLY CAN WAIT")
OASIS: (Singing) So Sally can wait. She knows it's too late as we're walking on by. Her soul slides away, but don't look back in anger, I heard you say.
RAZ: Do you talk to your brother, by the way, regularly?
GALLAGHER: No, I spoke to him at Christmas.
RAZ: Were you guys always - I mean, he's your younger brother. So presumably, part of it is he looked up to you as a kid and...
GALLAGHER: I guess. I mean, I can't speak for Liam. So, I mean - but I can only put my own view and all. I was like, I was grateful for the dynamic that we had. I thought it was great.
RAZ: Does your mom ever intervene?
GALLAGHER: Oh, of course. All the time. She can't help but interfere. She's Irish. That's what she does. She gets up in the morning, she has breakfast, she sticks her nose into our (beep). That's what they do.
RAZ: You sure she's not Jewish?
GALLAGHER: She could well have the Jewish gene, yeah.
RAZ: Yeah. Like my mom.
RAZ: She gives you grief for not calling her.
GALLAGHER: All the - she's sort of relentless. And another thing my mom likes to do, and bless her, is she'll call you up and say: Remember such and such a person who lived next door when you were, like, 4 years old? And you go: No. And she goes: Yes, you do. Yes, you do. Her mother was (unintelligible). No, I really don't. Yes, you do. They had a big, black dog called Bimbo. I really don't. Yes, you do. You used to knock around with their (unintelligible). And it would go on for ages. So in the end, you just say, yes, just to shut her up. And you go: Oh, yes, that woman. She'd say: Yeah, well, she's dead.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GALLAGHER: I know, right? Well, this is 10 to 8:00 in the morning. That's a nice thought for the day. Is there anything else I can do for you? No.
RAZ: That's Noel Gallagher. He's the founding member of the band Oasis. His latest solo record is called "Noah Gallagher's High Flying Birds." You can hear a few tracks at our website, nprmusic.org. Noel Gallagher, thank you so much.
GALLAGHER: Been a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONDERWALL")
OASIS: (Singing) I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now. And all the roads that lead you there are winding. And all the lights that light the way are blinding. There are many things that I would like to say to you but I don't know how. I said maybe...
RAZ: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. We're back with a whole new hour of radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.