Has anyone in the history of the world ever read the dull paragraph of introduction preceding a Q&A with Noel Gallagher, the former Oasis songwriter who might be more delightfully quotable than Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, and Vito Corleone combined? I doubt it, but if you haven't skipped ahead to the interview yet, you should know that Gallagher will release a very good new solo album, Chasing Yesterday, the follow-up to 2011's Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, on March 2. I spoke to him on Wednesday about Yesterday, the price tag for an Oasis reunion, and what he thinks should have happened at the Grammys.
This is the first album you’ve ever produced without help from a co-producer. Why did you go it alone this time?
It was by necessity. I took the songs in demo form to my producer of the last ten years, Dave Sardy. And he passed because he’s getting into the film industry, because obviously the music industry is dying on its fucking ass. Then I was meeting with the producer David Holmes, and I played him a few songs, and he said, “What do you want me to do? It’s already finished.” So I thought, Oh, okay! He gave me the confidence, and I went back in and finished it off.
This has been pointed out elsewhere, but the first chords on the first song of Chasing Yesterday, “Riverman,” sound a little like “Wonderwall.”
I absolutely don’t get that at all, because, for one thing, it’s an open chord [and I use a capo for “Wonderwall”]. Also, it’s one chord and “Wonderwall” is four chords. It’s similar in that it’s an acoustic guitar and I wrote it, and that’s it. If I were worried about a song sounding similar to another one, I would have never made records in the first place. I write songs from a place of freedom, about what’s true to me. It’s for other people to decide what it sounds like. I don’t give a fuck. You guys, journalists, think about stuff. I do, you think.
So is it annoying that you can’t play a minor chord without someone accusing you of self-plagiarism? I remember when “D’You Know What I Mean?” came out in 1997 and people pointed out that that song had a chord progression similar to “Wonderwall.”
Oh, yeah, that is identical. It’s the same chords.
You used to brag about lifting melodies from other songs. “Live Forever” sounds like the Rolling Stones’ “Shine a Light” and “Half a World Away” is Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love With You.” Do you still write like that, or did it get too expensive?
Well, I’ve never ever been sued. If you look at all the credits on my songs, I think I’ve given away songwriting credit on “Step Out” [to Stevie Wonder, because of the song’s similarity to “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”], which was an honor. And, oh, yeah, that well-known fucking child-molester guy [Gary Glitter] has his name in brackets on “Hello.” And Neil Innes is credited on “Whatever.” That’s three songs out of about a thousand. I’m a product of my record collection. I don’t claim to be a fan of original thought. If I learned to play the guitar by strumming along to the Sex Pistols, or the Kinks, or the Beatles, what do you think I’m going to sound like? I’m not an artist like Kate Bush is an artist. I took my cue from punk in the late '70s when it was like, You get off your ass and you do something for yourself. I don’t give a fuck about the way people think I write.
Sam Smith recently had to give Tom Petty a songwriting credit*…
So you don’t have any sympathy for him?
I would imagine, speaking from experience, that Sam Smith wasn’t listening to “Wont Back Down” and thinking I’m gonna copy that. I get it all the time, when people say [one of my songs] sounds a bit like [someone else’s song]. But it’s not like I was sitting down listening to T. Rex one afternoon – actually that’s not true, I was sitting down listening to T. Rex one afternoon ...
Is it harder or easier for you to write songs now than it was 20 year ago?
If I’m in love with the work, it’s easier. I found it very difficult in the late '90s and the early 2000s to write, because I wasn’t in love with the work anymore. It became a chore, and coming off of those two, or three, humungous albums, it was like, What the fuck am I writing for? I’ve done it all and I had to let it go so I could find it again. Also, I wouldn’t write a song about my personal life. It would be boring.
Speaking of the late ’90s, you’ve always been critical of Oasis’s third album, Be Here Now, which I still love. You called it “fucking shit” a few times. Has your opinion changed any?
Well, there’s a new reissue of it coming out next year, and the people at the record label were like, “Do you want to do something with it?” And I said, “Not really.” But they reminded me of an interview where I’d said that I’d love to edit it down, because I thought the songs were too long, and they asked if I’d be interested in that. I thought, that sounds interesting. So I went to the studio and it dawned on me after an hour that it’s the chaos and the length of the songs that makes the album what it is. I started to edit one song, and I thought, what’s the point? I like it the way it is. It’s not my favorite record, but listening to it brought me back to the best of times — that tour was the greatest fucking party. And that’s somebody’s favorite record, and for that I’m proud. I could have butchered it, but I’ll fucking leave it as it is. It’s all right.
You just said that you’d only reunite with Oasis for the money. How much money would it take?
Half a billion.
If somebody puts that on the table, I’ll pack my bags in the morning and say, “How many gigs do you want?” The thing that slightly annoys me is — and I know I’m the only one doing interviews — people assume it’s up to me. Let’s say I get up tomorrow morning, have a stretch, and say to my wife, “How about this Oasis thing?” It’s not up to me. Who knows if Liam wants to do it? He probably does, but I don’t know. It’s not on my radar at all. I’m very happy with what I’m doing.
You wrote all the best Oasis songs, and you’ve got a great voice. What did you ever need Liam for in the first place?
He’s a good-looking boy. And he provided the rock, you know? To be in a band is the most powerful thing in the world, and he was fucking great. Oasis was equally the five of us, and no one should underestimate his part in it, but he never helped me write a single fucking song. So, artistically speaking, I don’t need any of them. And once you’ve been in a band for 20 years and then you leave, why would you go back?
What do you think about Paul McCartney collaborating with Kanye West? Have you heard “Only One?”
I haven’t heard it. Somebody told me about it, and I asked if [McCartney] was singing, and they said no. I’m not interested if he’s not singing. It could be anyone – he’s playing the piano, right? If he were singing, I’d have a listen.
Do you think McCartney did this because he's worried about the kids who don’t know who he is?
I’ve met him loads of times and he’s just a dude that likes to do shit. I think he’s inquisitive enough and brave just to do it. I don’t really think he gives a shit about being relevant. But maybe Kanye asked him. What are you gonna do? Say no? I mean, I would.
Did you see Kanye tell Beck to give his Album of the Year Grammy to Beyoncé?
I did. If I were Beck, I’d have handed Kanye the award and a dictionary and said, “Have a look at the word artistry and see if it applies to Beyoncé.” If artistry is shaking your ass onstage, she’s fucking great. Can I also point out that Beck can play the banjo? That’s worthy of any fucking Grammy. You have to be cool to play the banjo. I should know, because I play the banjo, and it’s hard.
Have you played banjo on an album?
Not on this record, but on “The Death of You and Me” [from Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds]. I don’t like to admit that I play [banjo], but if I had known it would get me a Grammy …
The trend right now is to release albums by surprise without any pre-announcement. Beyoncé, Björk, and Thom Yorke have all done it. What do you think about that, and would you ever do it?
No. I’m a traditionalist. If you go back to the dawn the internet, I thought music was great the way it was. People would actually go into record shops and spend two hours there. I don’t think the record industry was broken until Apple decided to destroy it. I don’t agree with free music. I don’t agree with bonus this, or deluxe that, or added content, or streaming music. Here’s the record, there’s the money, you take the record, thank you very much. When it comes to the gigs, you pay, I play, you clap, and then you leave.
So you’re probably not a Spotify customer?
No, I like to own my music. My music’s not for rent. You can’t rent Bob Dylan. When I was 15 and I used to go around to people’s houses, their albums were right there — and do you know what album covers were? That was the poor man’s art collection. That got lost with the CD, because then there was the CD rack and you could just see the spine, but you could still see what that had. That’s gonna fucking die. People are gonna go to other people’s houses, and it’s gonna be like, Where’s your record collection? Oh, already directly downloaded to your brain. It’s unbelievable. So my point is, Spotify, no thanks. I like to own my music.
Damon Albarn said last year that the two of you were discussing a collaborative album. Would that ever happen? [Note: This interview happened on Wednesday, so Noel couldn't comment on the new album Blur announced on Thursday.]
Well, first I’ll tell you how the discussion took place, and then I’ll tell you at the end if I will do it or not. You live in New York, so it’s like if your friend from California says he’s coming for the weekend, and you say, “We should go for a drink.” That’s as flippant as [Albarn] saying, “Hey, we should do something one day.” Now, would I do it? Absolutely. I would spend a couple days in his studio fucking about, seeing if we could come up with anything. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than that. But will it happen? I’ll be fucking amazed if our [schedules] ever have the same day off. But I like him.
I heard you wrote 60 songs for Chasing Yesterday. Do you write that many for every album?
Well, there weren’t 60 songs. I don’t know where that number came from. Whenever I go into the studio, I have twenty-five to thirty songs in various states of completion. This time, I have about 15 left over, but by the time I make another record, which will be in three years, I’ll have written 12 to 15 more songs. So I’ll always have a wealth of unreleased material. The one thing I am worried about is having a stroke and then 30 songs will never go out. They’re all pretty good.
Would you ever release a box set?
They’re too fucking big. I got the Neil Young one and I just thought, what the hell? When am I ever gonna get the time to listen to all this shit? I’ve got three kids, that’s fucking crazy. They look great on the shelf, though. The Neil Young one looks particularly great, because his name goes around it, and there are two letters on each side, and one side has the letters “NG,” and people think it’s my box set. But it would take me four years to listen to it all. I don’t like box sets.
You recently said that you would rather drink gas than listen to an interview with the Arctic Monkeys, who are lethally boring, I agree. As someone who gives great interviews, why do you think it's so hard for other artists?
People don’t have a lot to say these days. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of the internet, or because they’re too cool for school. Or, maybe, when the charisma was being handed out, I got it all.
*A previous version of this post said that Tom Petty sued Sam Smith over songwriting credit. Turns out they settled before it got as far as a lawsuit.