Oasis spent the better part of the '90s wowing the world with old-school rock star bravado and wooing pop aficionados with a calculated mixture of British Invasion cool and alt-rock edge. But with an impressive trail of tabloid exploits and a string of maddeningly catchy singles behind them, Noel and Liam Gallagher face the new decade with a new album (Standing On the Shoulder of Giants), new families (last year Liam became a dad, and on January 27th, Noel followed suit), new bandmates (bassist Andy Bell (ex-guitarist for Ride)) and guitarist Gem Archer, who replaced Paul McGuigan (aka Bonehead) and Paul Arthurs after Standing was completed), and, most impressively, a new attitude. The brothers' infamous sibling rivalry may still be alive and well, but they've taken steps to work around it, conducting interviews separately in order to minimize friction and cultivating a more diplomatic view of their relationship.
Musically, Standing isn't a huge departure from the band's earlier work. The familiar Beatles references (lyrical and sonic) waft unabashedly about, but it's a more focused set of songs than 1997's sprawling Be Here Now, and the hero worship packs a more contemporary wallop; "Put Yer Money" and "I Can See A Liar" are more akin to the Black Crowes' take on the Small Faces than the Small Faces itself.
A few days after Oasis' December appearance at KROQ-FM's Almost Acoustic Christmas Noel Gallagher settled into a plush seaside hotel in Santa Monica to reflect upon the (not so very) long and (somewhat) winding road that led to Oasis's success.
Guitar.com: Do you read press about Oasis or do you try to ignore it?
Noel Gallagher: Actually, I read as much as I can. It's something to do when you're on tour, innit?
Guitar.com: I once read an interview with Pete Townshend where he talked about how odd it was to have Roger Daltrey sing his own barbed sentiments back to him. But part of what made the Who's music exciting was that tension. Do you ever have that feeling?
Gallagher: There's not really that much [tension] in the band. I wouldn't demean my songwriting to make backhanded comments about Liam or anything. I write songs for the people not just for my own catharsis.
Guitar.com: Was there one particular experience that made you become a musician?
Gallagher: There were loads, really. It gradually built up from first listening to the Beatles when I was very, very young to listening to punk rock, and then when I was getting gradually older, picking up the guitar and copying all my favorite bands, and then sort of putting it all into practice with Oasis. I'm not a musical innovator, but every day I learn something new about songwriting.
Guitar.com: Like what?
Gallagher: Oh, I'll watch other people play guitar and I think, "I wonder how he does that?" Then I'll try it and I'll go, "Fucking hell, I can do that!" I'm still learning, you know? I don't feel like I've got to the point where I think I know it all. I think as soon as you do that, its over. And I'm still trying to write the perfect pop song. Still trying to write the perfect album. So there's lots of things to keep me interested. But if there were one [experience], if I could pick one song it would probably be "Ticket to Ride" by the Beatles which I think is my favorite pop song of all time.
Guitar.com: Do you remember the first time you heard it?
Gallagher: No, 'cause I used to listen to them so much. I suppose one day after I listened to it for the 50th time I just went, "That's a great song." The Stone Roses were a big influence, because before that time my heroes were [people] like Johnny Marr, Paul Weller, Lennon and McCartney, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and Townshend and the Pistols. And I used to think, "Well they're obviously legends and I could never really do what they've done." And then the first day I'd seen the Stone Roses I thought, "Oh, well I could do that." That switched the light on and made me think I could make something out of this. So that would be another defining musical moment.
Guitar.com: Did you take lessons?
Gallagher: No. I've actually done it all the wrong way round. Like, I'm actually left-handed and I play guitar right-handed -- cause I didn't know they'd invented a left-handed guitar until after I was playing a right-handed guitar. It was quite weird at first, but I persevered and learned. Then someone said they make left handed guitars. So I picked up a left-handed one thinking it would be easier, but I can't play left-handed at all. It's completely alien to me. And I never took music lessons or anything like that. I always think, "Why would you want to take a musical lesson?" 'Cause then what you perform is what you've been taught, whereas I know that whatever I do comes from within me so it's totally mine even though I'm not innovative. Nobody taught me how to play guitar, nobody taught me how to write songs. I taught myself.
Guitar.com: Some critics have gotten very analytical about your lyrics, but I read a story where you admitted you use a rhyming dictionary and confessed that you never really wanted to be a lyricist.
Gallagher: When people come up to me and say, "Well that song's about such and such, I always agree with what everyone says 'cause I don't want to spoil the mystery. Half the time the things they're saying about the songs are far more interesting than what they're actually about. So I just say, "Hey, you've got it right." In the past, [the lyrics] have generally been just a good slogan or something like that, using the lyrics as a musical element just so they sound correct. They're not really saying anything, the words. Whereas, I feel that on this record they're saying a lot more and it still works. They still sound good. I find it very difficult when people analyze it line by line. I always think, "Well it meant so much to me the day I was writing it and it sounds really naff now." But they are what they are and people should just take them at face value. If they [mean] something to you it doesn't really matter what it's actually about. Bill Haley never actually rocked around the clock, did he? And Elvis never wore blue suede shoes. It's all metaphors, isn't it?
Guitar.com: Are you a methodical player with a strict practice regimen?
Gallagher: Not really. I just write songs when I feel like writing. And then when you've got a bunch of songs, you go, "I might as well go and record an album now." But I've not got a regimen. I don't practice, really. I should really practice a bit more. I think the more you play an instrument, the more familiar it becomes and then you just get bored of it, so I just practice when I'm on stage. It's the best way to do it. It works.
Guitar.com: Gets the job done?
Gallagher: Pays the bills.