SWEARING IT was for good, Noel Gallagher quit Oasis in 2009. His current band, High Flying Birds, is the next logical step for the consummate Britpop composer. By phone from Germany, Gallagher spoke with the Mercury. A version of this conversation was edited and condensed for publication; this here's the whole enchilada.
MERCURY: Noel, greetings. Where are you at the moment?
NOEL GALLAGHER: I am in Frankfurt, Germany.
Is that part of the tour?
Yeah, yeah. There's no way in fucking hell I'd go on vacation here.
All right. Well, as opposed to Europe, and especially the UK, how do you find playing in the US, when you're booked at relatively smaller venues?
Oh yeah. Well, that doesn't happen in the Midwest of America or outside the big cities. I play small places pretty much all over the place, apart from England and South America and Italy, Japan. But that's always been the case in America. I don't really think about it. A gig's a gig. The stage is always the same size.
Some people enjoy that more intimate feeling. Audiences can as well. It doesn't make a difference to you?
Not really. To be quite honest, once you get in to those arena tour things you're playing basically the same gig every night because all the venues are the same size, they all look the same, they all sound the same, they all smell the same, they all attract the same amount of people. At least when you're doing theaters it's a different atmosphere every night because it's a different building, and the building is generally quite an old building. It can be certainly more interesting to play smaller theater venues, sure.
How is touring in the US in general? How do you find the day-to-day here—especially outside of the big cities like LA and New York, in places like Portland?
Well, I like it. When I first went to America when I was in my early 20s, I didn't like it. There were too many rules for me. You couldn't smoke here and you couldn't drink there, you couldn't cross the road there. I thought it was a lot of unnecessary bullshit. I must say, the older that I've gotten, the more I've really connected with it in some way. I like it. I spend a lot of time there now. I don't know why it is. I guess I just got to my 30s and I really enjoyed the atmosphere of it on a day-to-day basis. It's a much slower pace of life than what I'm used to, living in a big city like London. But I've got to say I like it. I really do like it.
Is London the only place you really live? Or do you have houses around the world?
I've got houses all over the fucking place. But really, London is where I live when I'm not touring or recording. I like to be in London, yeah.
When you started this band, how big of a deal was it to be playing with other people, away from habits and players of Oasis?
To be honest, I'm not one of the world's great thinkers. So therefore, I don't overthink any situation I'm ever in. I didn't go into rehearsals, or trying to put a band together I wasn't thinking, "Oh wow, what's this going to be like? It's not Oasis. What's it going to be? How are these people going to be, and what are they going to wear? What are they gonna fucking eat? What if one of 'em's a fucking vegetarian? Fuck me, how's that gonna work?" I just put the band together and we did it. I'm in the process now of coming to an end of doing it, and when I've had a few months off I'll take stock of what I did and then I'll work it out, how creative it was, who was the right person, or what I did wrong and what I did right. I don't really think about things that much, you know what I mean?
Well, looking back now at the beginning, did it give you a rush of creative energy?
In the studio, it was me on my own. The record was great to make. It's very peaceful and I could concentrate on what I wanted or didn't want. It's not a band in any stretch of the imagination in any way, shape, or form. It sounds like a band's name, but it's not. That's just the name of my act. There is no band dynamic in this.
Was there ever a time you were thinking about doing something completely different? Maybe not even music...
I might think about that next time. Having made a record everybody seems to like, I think the cool thing to do, once November comes and I finish the tour, is to do nothing. I don't have much hobbies outside of music and football. I might do some stuff with Russell Brand—basically a radio show with Russell Brand. I might do that a little bit. At least my wife doesn't want any more children so I'm saved—don't have to do that. Might have to move house again. I've already married, I can't do that again. I might get divorced. Yeah.
Music has changed quite a bit since Oasis. What do you think of the more popular trends of today?
Well, I think that technology—for all the great things that internet and all those clever people in your country did with computers and all that—it kind of really rang the bell on death in the music industry.
When was the last great band to appear from either of our countries? A truly great band? Don't mention Oasis—that's a given. I'm struggling to think of one great band that will come out of the digital age. It's all about personality and celebrity now. The biggest stars in the world are all singular people like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, fucking all that mob.
I wouldn't say its necessarily an American thing—the dubstep thing came from your country. Now, it's been said before, and you've said this yourself a few years ago, that guitar music would never die. Is that still true?
I don't think it will ever die. I base all my thoughts on record sales and charts. There are great bands playing in pubs—they're playing somewhere—but who gives a fuck about those? Guitar music as a force for being the biggest shit in the world is fucking over for now, you know what I mean? In the mid '90s there was Oasis, Nirvana, fucking you name it. Radiohead are still going, but you know what I mean. My battleground is the charts, and guitar music at the top of the charts is virtually nonexistent unless you fucking count Green Day, which nobody should.
Why put so much stake in the charts?
Because that's what counts. Popular culture is what counts. Anything else is just—who wants to be a cult band? Fuck that. You know what I mean? There are a thousand great records written a day that nobody owns. I still think bands should aim to be the Beatles, not fucking, I don't know, Pavement.
Any up-and-coming bands that you enjoy?
There's this songwriter, Jake Bugg, who's going to be in town with us the night we play for you people. He's great. But as for bands, the last two great bands to come out of England were Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys, and that was over 10 years ago now. And in 10 years England hasn't produced, never mind a great band, not even a good one. It's sad if you think about England as the center of the musical universe—no great bands in 10 years. What a load of shit.
Same in America?
I only mind of American culture what's exported. I'm sure there's great stuff out there. But like, American rock, it's Green Day [cracks up]. Holy fuck. Really?
If Oasis were starting today would they even have a chance to break through?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I don't think we would be as successful—maybe we would be more successful—I don't think the story would be the same. A fucking great song is a great song, do you know what I mean? And I—I would've gotten it out there, eventually. Because I was ambitious enough to do it. I would've used, maybe, the internet and the technology to my advantage.
But with all the great bands, there is no "if" with great music like U2 and stuff like that. That always comes out because it's fucking great.
A few years ago you dogged Jack White for doing a song for a Coca Cola ad, calling him "Zorro on donuts." As the internet and downloading has cut artist revenues it's become much more acceptable for bands to license their music for ads. What kind of risk, or what does that mean for artists?
It's become absolutely 100 percent acceptable to have your music used in ads for washing machines and cars and shit like that. That's because, I guess, people don't buy records in the quantities that they used to. How the fuck are you supposed to keep your wine cellar topped off if you don't make any money?
Has your feeling about that changed?
My music has been used in adverts, yeah. That's just the name of the game now, I'm afraid. I wouldn't be that pig-headed or stubborn to die poor with my principles intact. Fuck that.
Is there a line? Would you do one for a washing machine?
I wouldn't do fizzy drinks. That's no good, is it?
How has your music changed as you've gotten older?
It's becoming more considered, I think, and less vague and more direct. But I've got to say as I get older, I don't think I've got a lot of music left.
No. I don't think so. I don't think I've got a lot left in the tank, either physically or artistically.
Does that mean songs come less frequently for you now?
I don't have any trouble writing. It's trying to constantly be better than you've been before. There's no point in just trying to put out music for the sake of it, so I can go do a gig in fucking bugger-town somewhere and have half a million dollars. You've got to be proud of what you do. And up to this point I can look, I can browse my own record collection on iTunes and think, "Yeah man, that's fucking good."
Now that I'm in a position where I'm not in a band and I don't worry about anybody else, I could see my records becoming fewer and farther between.
Would you still be picking up the guitar at home, still writing?
Oh yeah! The best gigs I ever do are the ones where I'm just at home. The best songs I write are just spontaneous things, where I just get in a fucking trance at home with the guitar. And then I forget about them immediately and I wake up the next day and think, "What the fuck was that I was playing last night?" Oh yeah, of course. I wouldn't put the guitar in the case and be like, "Well, I used to be a musician, now I'm a full-time farmer." I wouldn't do that. But making records, artist statements, it's a big fucking deal. It's not something that you should enter into lightly in any way.
You don't see yourself being trotted out onstage at 65 to play the hits?
I'm gonna see how far Neil Young takes it and that'll be the benchmark.
Well, certainly he has away of keeping it more respectable, and he continues to write. But you see the Rolling Stones trotting out there and I think it's a fucking joke, like they're their own cover band.
Well, who wants to do what the Rolling Stones do? Not me, not anybody else. But I wouldn't be in a band when I was 65. I couldn't be in a band when I was 65. I couldn't have been in a band when I was 45, let alone 65.
Are you still out on tour getting wild? Or are you not taking drugs anymore?
Not wild. No. Not, fuck, no way, not as near as wild as what it was 15 years ago. Nowhere near as wild as it was five years ago. There's only so long that you can behave like that without being a bit of a joke, really. I still drink and I still smoke and I still talk fucking shit from time to time. But really, it's not as wild.
What would you make of it if this new band had a hit on the level of Oasis? Or even bigger?
If we had a hit like "Wonderwall" or something? Well, I would be over the fucking moon, obviously. A hit isn't going to happen accidentally. If I ever had a hit as big as "Wonderwall," it would be because I'd put it out there, so I would be be fucking overjoyed and I would ride it until the fucking wheels came off. But my time on American radio is well and truly fucking gone. I'm not under any illusions about that. I do it now for the enjoyment of, just, it. I do it when I feel like it, and when I feel like it, it feels good. And as long as it feels good, then that's great. But I never sit and worry about things like that. And the great thing now is I don't have a record deal—I put out my records myself—so I'm not really bound by any fucking ludicrous record label politics, someone saying, "You've got to do this and you've got to do that." I do what I want, when I fucking want.
Does it matter to you what happens to Liam's band, Beady Eye?
Well, I hope that they come good on their claim to being the biggest band in the world in the next five years. I really, really do. It'll fucking stop people asking me about an Oasis reformation.
Is that just nonstop?
Yeah. It's a daily occurrence, that happens. But I understand—there's only so many times you can say, "Wow, fucking no!" I've done it already so I've no plans to do it again.
It seems like reunions have become a bigger thing in general. A lot ring phony to me. Especially when guys are dead or well older and the moment has passed.
For instance, the Stone Roses one, I can understand that, because they never really got paid. They were kind of dogged by bad management, bad record deals, and those guys deservedly made a lot of money out of that and that's great. Take them to one side.
I don't see the point in it. What's the point? What would be the point in Pink Floyd reforming? They don't need the fucking money. They don't need to prove how great they are, or were. They don't need to do 16 nights at Wembley. What would be the point? To please a promoter or to sell a load of T-shirts? That's just bullshit. It's like, the thing should be left well enough alone.
Even if you have all the members, the energy can be a bastard of what it was before.
Well, of course. I don't think you can. The only fucking way people stop ask you about a reunion is to actually do it. And then they stop asking you. I don't fucking know.
I went to see Led Zeppelin at the O2 a couple of years ago. They were pretty good, but it wasn't the Led Zeppelin, because John Bonham wasn't there, obviously. I don't know.
Where is your relationship with Liam at? Do you speak at all?
Well, I've seen him recently. I seen him for the first time in about two years at a party after the Olympics in London. He did his usual thing: He kind of insulted me as he walked past. And that was that. There's no change there.
What did you make of the Olympics, especially the music like Paul McCartney and Blur.
I dunno. Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves. I'd been on tour. I was in Japan at the time. I saw the closing ceremony and it was good. There's a lot of pressure on artists to be involved in all that shit. Everybody gets very patriotic about it and it's difficult to say no. I think everybody did all right. People enjoyed themselves.
Difficult to say no—were people asking you?
Oh yeah, I was asked. I turned it down. I said no. I don't buy into that kind of show business, do you know what I mean? I'm not very patriotic when it comes to music.
You've said that you "fucking despise hiphop."
Well, let me amend that slightly. I love hiphop, up until the very early '90s. From the very early '90s onward it all got a bit, uh, all the gangster shit and all the "bitches" and all that kind of money and all that, but from the late '70s to the early '90s, I have a vast collection of hiphop tunes. With that in mind, carry on.
Okay, well, what do you find more despicable—that era of hiphop or the new dubstep, techno, and dance that's going on?
If I'm being honest, I don't find any of it despicable, if you know what I mean. The hiphop thing was mainly about the videos, the way women are portrayed in the videos—it's not great. I don't give a fuck what anybody says. It's not the best. Woman don't come out looking great in the hiphop scene. And that's not for me. I've got a daughter who's 15 years of age, and maybe that's just me being a concerned father. But I don't despise any of it. Nobody will ever be as good as Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys.