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Noel Gallagher: Never Look Back

After the highs and lows of Oasis, Noel Gallagher is happily carving out a solo career.

Noel Gallagher is biding his time. “I’m in my office,” he says down the line from London. “It’s 9 o’clock in the evening and I’m just about to go to a party.” Having completed his second solo album, Chasing Yesterday, six months prior to its release this month, Gallagher has earnt a moment to reflect. But contrary to the new album’s rose-tinted title, the author of “Don’t Look Back In Anger” refuses to dwell on the past.

As leader of Oasis, Gallagher was personally responsible for soundtracking the lives of several generations. But since effectively ending the group in 2009 following yet another fight with his brother, frontman Liam Gallagher, Noel’s solo career continues to nudge Oasis into the rear view. Despite annual pleas to reunite, especially after last year’s break-up of Liam’s post-Oasis outfit, Beady Eye, Noel is having none of it.

You can hear why on the self-produced Chasing Yesterday, the follow up to his 2011 debut, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Brimming with wild ideas, fresh sounds (saxophone! glockenspiel!) and trademark swagger, it’s his strongest argument yet for moving on. “If you like what I do,” he says, “this is probably gonna be as good as it gets.” It’s no longer characteristic hyperbole to believe he might be right.

When you self-produce an album how do you know when it’s finished?
You just know. It’s not like it’s my first one – I’ve made quite a few. Some people never let it go, they’re always farting about with it even after it’s out. I know when a song is finished and I absolutely know when I’m moving further away. I’m good at that.

There’s a temptation when listening to a self-produced effort to take it as the purest version of what the artist does.
Well the whole thing – I wrote the songs, arranged them, produced them, I’ve even designed the fucking cover, would you believe? – is quite possibly the closest I’m ever going to get to total expression. There’s not much on it that I didn’t do, bar play the drums. And really, it’d have been better if I’d played the fucking drums, truth be told [laughs]. I’m joking.

Is that nerve-racking?
Not at all. Maybe if I’d set out to produce. But I’d taken it to other producers who turned me down, the cheeky bastards. Then I went to see David Holmes – he does film soundtracks, he’s amazing. He said, “Sounds finished. What do you want me to do?”

I said, “What do I want you to do? I want you to do what all producers do! I want you to sit up the back on your iPad,take a quarter of a million fucking dollars off me, order some shit food, then when the record comes out, you take all the glory for it.” And he said, “I can’t do that. I’d feel a bit of a fake.” I said, “You know what? You’re a fucking legend.” And I went back to the studio and finished it off myself.

This is a compliment but it sounds like there was no one around to stop you.
I’ve never felt comfortable with someone else telling me what’s best for my songs. In Oasis, a producer was a referee. That’s all he did – try not to take sides. But now that [self-producing] is something that’s happened by accident, I will certainly aim to do it again.

Despite saying you hated it?
I didn’t say I hated it – I found it difficult to manage the sessions. I’m a creative person. I’m not, “OK, I’ve got to book a saxophone player.” What the fuck? I’m on the phone to people haggling over their fucking fee? That’s not me. I found that side difficult, but the record sounds effortless.

I like picturing you telling a saxophone player what to do.”
He said, “What do you want, man?” We played him Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. He did a few takes and the results were stunning. Then for “The Right Stuff” – it’s actually a bass clarinet – I played him some jazz I’m into.

That’s your “space jazz” song.
Yeah. That was a joke term that we came up with in Oasis. People used to criticise us for not developing and we were like, “Fucking hell, what do they want us to do? Play space jazz?” Unfortunately the Japanese have taken that literally and they think I’ve created a new musical genre. I’ve been doing Japanese interviews where they’ve gone [affects whispered Japanese accent], “So, No-el: what is space jazz?”

Now you can tell them: it’s track six.
I don’t like spoiling it for them. They’re a beautiful people, the Japanese. So I say, “Obviously it’s a genre I’ve created.”

After your first solo album was so well received [No. 1 in the UK, No. 16 in Australia], did it give you a sense of who your audience is? 
That’s probably the biggest downside now. When I was setting off on tour for the first record it was a real sense of adventure. I had a fair idea of what was going to happen but I didn’t 100 per cent know. I went from playing clubs in autumn to arenas in summer. Now I’m back on the treadmill. But I could think of worse things to do for a living. Taxi driver – that’s got to be a shit job, doesn’t it?

That first solo tour must have taught you how to be a frontman.
Ha! Yeah, you’d have thought so wouldn’t you? [Laughs]

Thicker skinned.
I tell you what, man, I refuse to overthink anything. I would literally spend more time thinking about what fucking shoes I was going to wear than anything else. The people that come and see me know all I’ve got is the songs. I haven’t got any moves. There’s no razzle dazzle. I refuse to do audience participation, that is beneath me. “Woo, put your hands together, everybody at the back c’mon.” Fuck that.

The full version of this interview features in the April, 2015 issue (#761).