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Noel Gallagher’s post-icon rock star life

It’s about more than cocaine and leather trousers for the Oasis star
/ Source: Billboard

It has often been a rocky decade, but Oasis has rolled with it.

Reinvigorating the dreary British music scene of the pre-Britpop 1990s, these dropouts hailing from a Manchester, England, housing project sparkled and soared like the champagne supernova of their famous song.

Steadfast in the belief that it is better to risk a bad opinion than excite no opinion at all, the band raced up the rankings in U.K. rock without looking back. When it hit the top 10 for the first time in the summer of 1994 with the song “Live Forever,” fans knew the title was no empty promise.

The swagger of Oasis’ first chart singles earlier that year, “Supersonic” and “Shakermaker,” presented an offer that a somnambulant British music industry could not, and did not, want to resist.

But the group’s braggadocio was founded in hard work, endless rehearsals and gigs with little glamour from as early as 1991.

The history of a truly larger-than-life British rock band has unfolded in the last 10 years. Working with a variety of band members from that day through to the release of their current album, “Don’t Believe the Truth,” brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher have walked it exactly as they’ve talked it.

Except, of course, on those occasions when either or both of the brothers do not care to talk at all and fail to show for interviews. It is a frustration this writer already has experienced and one which, true to form, Liam chose to reprise for this report.

Nevertheless, his older brother was in an expansive yet thoughtful mood as he reflected on the past, present and future of Oasis.

Billboard: Now that you have become a long-serving band, does that help you to understand better the motivation behind groups like U2, R.E.M. and even the Rolling Stones?

Gallagher: I’m a massive fan of the Stones, and I don’t think anybody should deny them the right to carry on making music. I just wish they wouldn’t wear leggings.

In the case of R.E.M., I don’t own any of their records, but we kind of meet them on the road every now and again. Peter Buck and the bass player are great. But it’s the big blue stripe (makeup that frontman Michael Stipe sometimes wears) — there’s no need for that.

U2, I love, I grew up listening to them, and I own all their albums. I remember going to see them on the Zoo TV tour and Bono in his alter ego as the Fly was ridiculing the guy with the mullet and the campaigning rock star. It’s funny how it’s now come full circle, and he’s back.

The longer you go on, it magnifies more of what you are. The longer we do it, the more we look like where we come from.

In the case of me and Liam, who’ve been there the longest, we look like a couple of guys from a council estate in Burnage and always will be. We never went to college, we were kicked out of school and went straight onto building sites. There was no time for pretension.

Billboard: But you were very single-minded about going after success, weren’t you?

Gallagher: When we started off, we wanted the girls, the cocaine, the fur coats ... we never got to the leather trousers though, thank God. It wasn’t like an act, it was almost like working-class people winning the pools. We went bananas. I’ve got a fleet of cars I bought at that period, and I’ve never had a driving license, ever.

Billboard: After a band achieves the iconic status that you did, is that when you start questioning your motivation?

Gallagher: There are periods where you think, “What am I doing?” or “What am I doing it for?”; that’s a more scary question. “I’ve made s---loads of money, I’ve left my mark in music, why am I still doing this?,” and it takes a while to answer that question. It comes back every time we’re at the end of a tour and you have three or four months off and then you’ve got to get back on the saddle. More often than not, the answer that comes back from me is, “What else are you going to do?”

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I struggle with this conundrum. It’s not a very noble thing to carry on, it’s not very dashing. But I often meet people who’ve been in great bands and you go, “What are you doing now?” and they say, “I’m not doing anything,” and I think that’s more sad.

Billboard: Your trials and tribulations with band in-fighting and canceled tours soured your reputation, especially in America. Do you feel more well-disposed toward the American market now?

Gallagher: I’ve never had a blatant disregard for it in the first place. It’s just that America is a really delicate flower that needs a lot of attention, and we’re not those kind of people.

The reason U2 and R.E.M. and Coldplay are the biggest white rock bands in America is because of their frontmen. Not being negative toward Liam, he’s just not Chris Martin, he’s not Bono, he’s not Michael Stipe. He’s Liam. For all intents and purposes, Americans don’t get Liams. I think we’re musically as strong as those three bands put together, but as characters we’re different.

Billboard: Did starting your own label, Big Brother, in 2000, change the way you view the record industry?

Gallagher: The thing about bands these days is everybody wants to be the next Oasis, and that doesn’t mean slogging it out around the toilet [gigs], it means, “Give me the check, I need to go to the Levis shop and I need a 1960s Gibson.”

It’s all about advances these days, and most managers of these new bands are idiots. We signed to Creation for 50 grand, and we didn’t get any money for about three years. You tell that to a kid these days, and they’ll vomit.

Billboard: Have you ever thought seriously about going solo?

Gallagher: I think about it all the time. I’m doing a bit of a soundtrack for some film that’s coming out next year. But because I enjoy time off so much, by the time I’ve had my time off, it’s time to do Oasis again. I always think I’ll write the songs on the road, come back and in the six months Oasis are not doing anything, I’ll put out a solo album. But because I’m [lazy], it never gets done, and by the time I want to start doing stuff, it’s Oasis time. I hope it happens before I’m 40, but I’m 38 now.

Billboard: What about Liam?

Gallagher: I think he’ll do it before I will. He’s got more songs, and he’s a lot more driven in that department, because although he’s 30-odd, he’s only just started writing songs, so he’s kind of where I was when I was 21.

Billboard: Now, in the United Kingdom, you can’t move for bands paying tribute to your influence.

Gallagher: Razorlight, the Libertines, the Killers, the Strokes, Kings of Leon and Jet, all these bands are [citing] “Definitely Maybe” [the band’s 1994 debut album].

We were the first people to come out and say, “The world’s a great place, life is for living. Forget grunge music. Get a pint of Guinness down your neck, and pick that guitar up.”