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Just before the release of Definitely Maybe, Caspar Llewellyn Smith caught up with Noel Gallagher to find out about scraps with Liam, spats with Suede and why people would still be listening to his band's debut album in 20 years' time. Here, for the first time, we publish the whole interview
Oasis' Noel Gallagher with little brother Liam: 'If he ever acted like Brett Anderson I'd take off my guitar and smack him!'
It was the second week of August 1994 and Oasis were at the Top of the Pops studio in Elstree to perform Live Forever. The band were on a short tour, including a festival date in Sweden (on the same bill as Primal Scream) and a gig the night before at the Astoria in London, where Paul Weller had gatecrashed the aftershow party. The Tories were still in power; no one had heard the term Britpop yet; the band's debut album Definitely Maybe would be released at the end of the month. The others – bassist Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan, guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, drummer Tony McCarroll and singer, Liam Gallagher – left the dressing room while I spoke to 27-year old Noel Gallagher. I think I'm right in saying it was his first broadsheet interview and during the course of it he'd show why he wasn't just the best songwriter in the UK: for the next 15 years, he'd be the best interview in rock music, too.
Caspar Llewellyn Smith: How's this last tour been? Noel Gallagher: Where do I start? Started last Tuesday – so that's a week and one day. So we've had a fucking riot: a broken ankle; we've been barred from two hotels; been to Sweden and made the front page of the national newspaper. They called us "English scum" and told us we weren't allowed back in the country. Throb from Primal Scream's got a broken nose and had to have eight injections in his knee.
CLS: So that's pretty much everything you've ever wanted … Noel: It's been all right. This has been the wildest tour. We thought it'd be boring 'cause this is about the fifth one and we thought it would be just like the others but somehow this one has just got a bit out of hand.
CLS: What's it like doing Top of the Pops? Noel: You've got to do it, you know what I mean? You can be a fucking knob like Joe Strummer and say you're never going to do Top of the Pops. You've got to get on and do it and try and be as fucking big as you can. It's all about ambition, innit?
CLS: Is that your aim? To be the biggest band ever? Noel: You've gotta. If somebody says: "Do you want to be put into how-many-ever fucking million homes on a Thursday night?" it's like, "Yeah." You've got a duty to the people that buy your records. The people that buy your records are going to be sat at home on a Thursday night, and saying to their mams and dads, "See, this is the band I'm into. This is what I like." We don't want to be an indie band from England who've had a couple of hits. We want to go on and be an important band and there's certain things you've got to do. You want to sell 5,000 limited-edition red vinyl seven-inches, that's fine. Make music for a closet full of people in Bradford somewhere ... but it doesn't mean anything to anyone. Phil Collins has got to be chased out of the charts, and Wet Wet Wet. It's the only way to do it, man, to fucking get in there among them and stamp the fuckers out.
CLS: It's a pretty dire time. Noel: There's more bands about now than there has been for the last three or four years. A lot of them are mediocre. A lot of them get press coverage and they're not very good. The only bands I'm into are Paul Weller, the Verve, Primal Scream and that's it.
CLS: Was it weird having Weller at the show last night? Noel: We've met him a couple of times. He's all right. He's older than us and set in his ways. It's like, I totally respect him but he does his thing and we do ours. He likes our band and we love his band. He's a fucking top guy.
Oasis at the Knebworth Festival, 1996. Photograph: Rex Features CLS: What happens if it ends tomorrow? Do you carry on writing songs? Is that what it's really about? Noel: The thing about all this fucking hype shit and press about our tours and drugs, although it's true, they write about it 'cos it sells papers. You've got to get your records out because your records last forever. Press stories last for a week until someone else is doing something else. The songs are what it's about and the albums, gigs, that's what sticks in people's memories – not being bundled off a ferry in Amsterdam. In 20 years' time our album Definitely Maybe will still be in the shops and that's what it's about. In 20 years' time people will buy the album and listen to it for what it is. They won't listen to it because we were rock'n'roll or something like that. That's what matters.
CLS: What's about the stories about rows with your brother? Noel: The thing about brothers, the thing between me and him, is ... he can bullshit to other people and they believe him and I can bullshit to other people, but we can't bullshit to each other because we've known each other for too long. Brothers are always competitive anyway. Aren't they? CLS: Is he happy with all your lyrics? Noel: Yeah. If any of the band ever said, "I'm not singing that or not playing it ..." I'd say, "Right, we'll we're not changing it because that's the fucking song," you know what I mean? Of course he's happy. I mean, why would he not be?
CLS: The story is that he formed the band. It seemed that you needed that to get you off your arse... Noel: Totally. I didn't know anybody else who I would desire to be in a band with, except these four guys. It's as simple as that. It's fate I suppose.
CLS: Is writing songs the most important thing in your life? Noel: Totally. Writing songs, that's what gets me going. Not the drugs or the sex or the rock'n'roll behaviour, it's the music. I write all the time. I've got the attention span of a fucking gnat so if I'm not doing something like writing or doing interviews I just sit there vegetating, fucking taking drugs. CLS: How would you describe your sound to someone who's never heard you before? Noel: I'd just say, all the best bits of every band that anyone's ever liked. We sound like all the important bands. People slag us off and say we sound like the Beatles, T-Rex, the Stones, Jam, Sex Pistols, but it's better than sounding like Spandau Ballet.
CLS: What's the best thing that you've written? Noel: On the album I'd say Slide Away, personally. I remember the times when we recorded Supersonic and it was supposed to be a B-side and it ended up being the first single. That's my favourite for that reason. Married with Children, because it's funny. Sad Song, because I sing it. But Slide Away is probably the best song I've ever written. At the moment.
CLS: One of the things I love about your band is the sense of humour. Noel: Most of the bands in England are just too inward looking. Bollocks! Music should be like TV. Turn it on, it entertains you. That's what we're about. The lyrics do mean certain things. I don't like talking about it 'cause it's too difficult for me. Each line in a song means something else. They mean what they mean to people. [But] we don't aspire to be deep like Suede or the Smiths. A lot of people want to go out and change people's lives and dictate to them what they should be doing and what they should be wearing and who they should be voting for. Our music has changed people's lives, I know it has, Live Forever has, but all the songs on that album were written when I was on the dole and I had fuck all going for me. I was writing about escaping. I wasn't writing about being on the dole and how shit it was. I was writing about how great it could be if we were in a band. That's what [people] – especially the people who come to the gigs – can relate to cause we're singing about them. If it takes you out of your surroundings, if you're listening to it at work or on the bus, then that's what it's all about.
CLS: Do you not find it weird with pop music … it's not like an advert. That entertains you but it's just so what. [Pop is] three minutes of ... a bit of magic. Noel: Yeah. If you try too hard you're never going to get there. Most of the pop stars today ... Blur are trying to be entertaining but they're trying too hard. Their music just doesn't mean anything. They get people to gigs and sell out and that's fine. They're a working band and play live. Fucking great, I've got respect for them but it sounds like they're trying too hard. What we do is just completely natural. I sit there and just pick up a guitar and I wait and I wait and I wait and then something goes and it fucking comes out. I don't try to write songs about things. Like Girls and Boys about being on holiday in Spain. I ain't the voice of a generation for anyone and neither is anyone in the band. We're not figureheads of any movement and we don't aspire to be. People are saying we're the most important band since blah blah blah and that's their opinion. We're not going to say, "No we're not". If you say we're the most important band since the Smiths then fine. But I'm not going to go and say, "I'm the most important songwriter since John Lennon". It's not within me to say that.
CLS: What were you doing before [you joined the band]? Roadying? Noel: Yeah. For a Manchester band. Fucking about. Before that? Fucking fish-tank maker. I worked in a bakery. As a signwriter. As a labourer. Worked in a dry cleaners. You fucking name it, I done it. I only done it because I had to. I only did it for the money, I only did it because that's what I had to do. Why the fuck would I aspire to be a fucking fish-tank maker? Beyond me. I was 16, 17. You do what you have to do, because your mam boots you out of bed at 11 o'clock in the morning and says, "Get down the fucking job centre!".
CLS: Do you think you are special in that you've got this ability? Noel: If it was that easy every fucker would be doing it. If it was that easy, you'd be doing it. I believe people have got certain talents. Not everyone can write songs, that is special 'cause you're communicating with people. If it's for building walls or plastering or painting or something like that, then that's a fucking talent. You can't build a house yourself, you've got to get someone to build it for you. I believe everyone's got special talents, it's just a matter of finding it, realising what it is and then getting on with it and doing it. I was always told when I was young, there's no point in playing that guitar because you're just going to end up working in Maccy D's. It was like, no. Fuck that.
CLS: What was school like? Noel: I wish somebody had actually taken the time to realise that I could actually play the guitar and could write songs and took me to one side and gave me a bit of fucking time. They always take the best footballers and put them in their own little class and they get treated better at school. There should be more emphasis put on music and the arts. The education system doesn't understand musicians ... doesn't understand music except classical music. Classical music means fucking diddle in this country to the kids.
CLS: What's this about you saying you'd like to move about a bit more on stage? Noel: But I can't because I'm concentrating too much on playing guitar. Yeah. I'd hate to be like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix who actually mastered the guitar. Then I'd just go, "Pfft, fucking hell, it's just not exciting anymore". I learn new chords everyday. I'll get dead excited and fucking be like, "here, check that out for a chord. Fucking ace!" Someone will be like, "Oh yeah, G minor flat suspended". "I just invented that chord! And it's called N!"
CLS: What about your brother on stage? He stands dead still. Noel: Well, I mean, he shakes the tambourine, doesn't he? Sings the songs. Not that much else to do really. Unless you want to be Brett Anderson.
CLS: Is he never tempted to do a Jagger or Bobby Gillespie number? Noel: Us lot would all laugh at him. That's him. He is his own man. It's as simple as that. He just doesn't do them sort of things. He doesn't talk to the crowd. That's him. If he started acting like Brett Anderson I'd fucking take my guitar off and I'd fucking smack him round the back of his head.
CLS: Has it all come naturally to him? Noel: I'd imagine so.
CLS: Does he get nervous? Noel: Him? Oh yeah, absolutely fucking terrified. But he'd never admit it to anyone. You see that look of fear in his eyes before he goes out on stage. The shitbag. But that's him. He doesn't scare me. CLS: What if he wants to start writing songs himself? Noel: Erm ... I suppose we cross that bridge when we come to it. If they're all right songs, then fine, but he won't be writing them for this band. It's taken us three years to get where we are today and I'm not going to hand over the reins ... You can keep your songs and stick 'em up your arse. When the band splits up or runs its course, then you can write your own songs, but it was me who got us where we are.
CLS: The music you seem to like, it's all white rock guitar bands, isn't it? Noel: When it first kicked off in 88, 89, I was at the Hacienda every night, into dance music and hip-hop and all that. But I got bored of it 'cos it ran its course, and now it's just 2 Unlimited and the Prodigy and it's too fast and it's lost its groove. I'm not really a dance music fan. But people who are into it are into it ... and people who are into dance music can't understand people like us.
CLS: Does it bother you that it's not like the 60s, when everyone liked the Beatles and the Stones? Does it upset you that it's never going to be like that again? Noel: Totally. It upsets me that Suede have to all intents and purposes split up. Blur are a musical joke. So really there's only us that are a new young band doing anything and there should be six or seven of us, but there ain't. People are trying to build up Shed Seven against us but Shed Seven couldn't tie my shoelaces. They go on in the press saying, "Oasis stole our thunder". But thunder belongs to no one ... it belongs to the kids. If it wasn't for us, fucking Echobelly and Shed Seven would be the most important bands in Britain and that would be a farce.
CLS: Can you ever see yourself settling down with a couple of kids? Noel: No, fucking never.
CLS: A nice semi in the country? A big mansion in LA? Noel: Well, that's the general plan! Buy an island ... build a big fence, keep the fuckers out. Maybe I'll wake up one day and think I'll want two kids and a wife but I can't see it, I'm too selfish. When I'm 50, am I going to be bankrupt and in rehab? I don't think about that. I just think about today and tomorrow. I don't believe in that ethic of live fast and die young – which is what the song Live Forever is about – I hope to live to be 390. But what will be will be. I believe everything is mapped out for you anyway. Nothing gets me down about life in general, nothing pisses me off. I'm ambidextrous, I write with my left hand and I play guitar with my right. I'm right-footed, I'm double-jointed in one elbow: I'm the most bizarre character ever. So nothing amazes me. If I see a spaceship land I won't get freaked out. I'll just say, "What kept ya?". As long as people keep buying the records and coming to the gigs, there's no point in being down about anything. We're not deep people, we don't worry about what's going to happen in five years' time. I might get up in the morning and inclination might take me to say, "Fuck it, I don't want to be in a band no more". You live and die by your decisions and I'll live and die by whatever decisions I make. But I'll still be laughing.