After walking away from Oasis in 2009, Noel Gallagher, the band's chief songwriter, took a few years off before resurfacing in Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. The band's self-titled debut was a hit in the UK, going platinum and becoming one of the best-selling records of 2011. Though the record hasn't fared quite as well stateside, the band is currently on a co-headlining tour with fellow Brits Snow Patrol, which plays the WaMu Theater on Oct. 24th. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we caught up with Gallagher, who phoned us from Nottingham, England, "a place where Robin Hood is alleged to be from," he said. "And Shakespeare." We spoke about his solo debut, the perils of running your own label and why Bjork's music doesn't interest him.
So that was your first choice? I could have gone out under my name. One day I was loading the dishwasher and listening to the radio and it was either "Man of the World" or "Things Are Not So Bad" by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac and I remember thinking, "Wouldn't it be cool if I was called Noel Gallagher's something?" Then a few months later, the Jefferson Airplane thing, and I, like a genius, put them together. I looked it at and thought, "Fucking hell, that might be the coolest name in the history of rock."
Speaking of geniuses, you won this year's Godlike Genius award from NME. For us Yanks, what does that mean? You don't win it, you've got to have been going for about 20 years. It's like a lifetime achievement award in the eyes of the NME. For instance, other Godlike Genii happen to be Paul McCartney, U2, Paul Weller.
Do they do a tear-inducing montage or something when they present it to you? They do a film, which is quite nerve-racking, because you don't get to see it before they do it. And they do it in a theater full of people. Luckily for me, I was really blown away. The people talking about me were Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, they had quotes from Sir George Martin. I was like, "Fuck, that's like my life in music right there!"
I thought they reserved those honors for musicians in their twilight years. Me too. I might be the youngest person ever to receive it.
The songs on your debut feel well edited, in that they're short, catchy and nothing carries on for too long. What's the secret to that? Is being a good editor a skill you've always had or something you've had to learn? I don't think it's anything that I've learned. The more drugs I took, the longer the songs got. They reached their crescendo on Be Here Now, where every song is seven and a half minutes long. I'd lost the knack of editing. I'm always one for trying to make songs shorter anyway. I'll be the first to say, "We don't need to say that bit twice." Most of the best songs are under three and half minutes long. If you can get a song in under three and a half minutes, you're doing pretty well. It really depends on the song itself. Some songs benefit from a bit of length. Like the first track, "Everybody's on the Run" benefits from a bit in the middle where it all goes quiet. But a song like "What a Life" for instance, there's no fat on that song. I guess it's a skill and craft as well.
You've said that you felt musically stunted by Oasis at points. Are there things on the High Flying Birds album that you'd never have been able to get away with? For the record, I never felt stunted musically. We were always allowed to do whatever we wanted to but you fall into a trap of stadium rock.
The thing I'm referring to is a quote from you about a time that you suggested to your brother that you add and horn part to a song or something, which caused him to throw a tantrum. I was surmising a hypothetical situation about a brass section that he would have gone fucking ballistic. I remember him saying to me once about a song we were finishing up in the studio, "It's a bit quirky, isn't it?" And I went, "What's wrong with that?" And he went, "I fucking hate quirky."
Some bands seem to decide that they want to challenge their audience and push themselves forward each time out. Was there ever the thought of having your first solo record be drastically different-sounding from Oasis? I think maybe other bands are self-indulgent and scared of not having success. It's almost like the guy who can never pull a woman because he thinks they're too beautiful so he insults them and gets it out of the way straight up. I think people that make challenging music are given too much credibility. Write a fucking song that means something to someone, never mind leaving yourself chewing a carrot at 4 o'clock in the morning.
Is that to say that there aren't any bands that you enjoy that challenge themselves by pushing their sound forward? Do you know what the enemy of music is? Interesting. Elvis wasn't interesting. The Sex Pistols weren't interesting. The Beatles weren't interesting. They had something that was fucking real and dealt with emotion. Do you know who's interesting? Bjork. Interesting is fucking ridiculous. It annoys me.
I know it was a bit of an adjustment moving from guitar player to frontman but are you feeling more comfortable with it at this point? I'd rehearsed enough that when I did the first gig I knew I could be cool with it. I knew I could carry it, not in a Mick Jagger sense, but I knew I could sing all those songs in a row and it not freak me out. The only last question was what is the audience going to think of it?
Was it just your performance that made you nervous, not all the banter or having to keep the show moving? Yeah, yeah, of course, because they'd only ever seen me at these huge stadium gigs singing two songs here or three songs there. It was more like, what are they going to think when I'm up there for nearly two hours? "Oh right, well fucking hell, actually he's better off being a side man." It wasn't a chosen path for me. I left the band I was in and thought I didn't want to be in another band. I'd already been in a band, what do I want to be in another fucking band for? Lucky for me, people fucking love me.
I read that the album cover photo was snapped with a Polaroid at a Beverly Hills gas station and you liked it because you thought it looked like you were standing beneath some kind of high-flying bird. Was that just a happy accident? Were there other ideas for the cover? I toyed with not being on the cover and everyone was like, "Yeah, you might want to be on the cover." And I was like, "Really, why do I have to be on the cover? My name's on the fucking cover?" And they were like, "That's what you do when you're not a band, you be on the fucking cover." I'm kind of resigned to doing photo shoots like that now. I love the cover, I think it's fucking great.
Have you earned the ability to have the final say in what the product looks and sounds like? I don't have a record company. I front all this myself. I'm an independent artist so I license my records to the music industry now. When I left Oasis I was out of a record deal - and a publishing deal as a matter of fact - so I don't do any of that shit anymore. I'm just me. It was a bit of a gamble trying to fund it all because it cost me a few million to get it off the ground, but I'd been on a major label for 20 years and I thought, "Fuck it, I don't want people taking me to dinner in restaurants telling me what I should be fucking doing." Fuck that. What you see from this day forward, I'm in charge of everything. Every single thing is paid for by me and it stands and falls by all my decisions.
I was talking to a band recently who said they'd stopped putting out their own records because they were spending too much time deciding on the cardstock for the CD inserts, for example. Have you found a way to not get mired in the minutiae of it all? I don't think it works for bands because bands end up having band meetings that last for seven hours talking about the weight of cardboard. This is me so I know what I want. I'm very fucking decisive. I know how long I want to spend in the studio, I know who I want to do it with, I know who I want to play with. I'm not an idiot. I go in there and I don't fuck around. I don't worry about how round the CD is going to be.
Do you remember the first time you played Seattle? Yes, it was our very first U.S. gig I believe. I've always liked Seattle. They've got good guitar shops. It's where Jimi Hendrix is from, what's not to like? We went there when the grunge thing was quite big. You know, scruffy people with holes in their clothes.
What is the setlist like on this tour? Will you play solo stuff and the Oasis hits too? I play all of the new record but one track and I play like four of five B-sides and I play some Oasis songs.
You turn down a lot of opportunities, from the Olympics to X Factor judging, which has to be admired given most artists' penchant for publicity above all else. Do you simply go with your gut when making those kinds of decisions? It literally just depends on what I feel like at the time but it's a gut reaction. It's just one of those things. The Olympics was a great thing for our country. It was a truly special two weeks and it was fantastic but in the end, they wanted me to mime and I didn't want to mime. I thought, "Fuck that, I'm not miming." And then X Factor, I don't want to be a television personality. I don't want that. I don't need that in my life. I'd rather have Saturday nights off to be honest.