“I’m supposed to go to this gig tonight in Brooklyn, but I don’t know,” Noel Gallagher says, his voice trailing off as we sit down for coffee in the Penthouse café of his Midtown Manhattan hotel, one rainy afternoon recently.
Even Noel Gallagher doesn’t want to go to Brooklyn.
We’ve encountered Gallagher many times since he left Oasis, but he seems more relaxed than ever this time, as we chat about shared interests and mutual friends. In person Noel is short, even slight. But he’s an intense presence, too. Wearing black trousers and an expensive-looking black t-shirt, topped with a gold chain and pendant, it’s the ever-present sunglasses that are seemingly there to keep you in your place.
“I picked them up cheap at Harvey Nichols,” he says, proudly, when we enquire, lightening the mood considerably.
We’re here to talk guitars, and his new EP, Blue Moon Rising, the third in a series that marks a stark departure from his Oasis days, his early solo work, or even his latest, Dave Holmes-produced Who Built The Moon?, from 2017. A mixture of Ibiza-style dance tracks and Bowie, Stone Roses, and Smiths-influenced pop songs, there’s been a love/hate response from his rabid audience.
“I don’t really care,” he waves us off, when we mention the negative chatter amongst some of his oldest, and once loyal, fans. “I’m not really making music for them, am I?”
It’s true, if his brother Liam has made no secret of trying to capture the Oasis nostalgia market with his two solo albums and, especially, his live shows, the elder Gallagher has flexed his creative muscles repeatedly, even on his first solo album, 2013’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
“Before I started that record, I had acoustic demos, and I listened to them for quite a while before I actually recorded them, so by the time I got in there to record them, I had a fair idea of what I wanted to do with them,” he explains. “But I never thought I was making that record for my fans. I was just trying to serve the songs. On the second record, when I played people The Right Stuff, they said, ‘Well, that’s a bit different.’ But I didn’t care. If it’s a good recording of a great tune, that’s all that matters to me. I wasn’t thinking ‘Wow, this will really fuck with people.’ I wouldn’t do that. Because all that matters to me is the song.”
Don’t look back?
Chasing Yesterday, from 2015, was indeed a departure, but still hewed pretty closely to the past in many respects. Who Built The Moon? changed all that. While he’d worked with The Chemical Brothers in the 90s, and never made a secret of his love for Manchester’s Haçienda-era club music, many diehard fans were up in arms at Gallagher’s seeming creative left turn. But for him, it was just part of the process of following the example of his friend and mentor, Paul Weller.
“When I went to make the last album with David Holmes, he famously said to me on the second day, ‘Do you have to play the guitar all the time?’” Gallagher says with a laugh. “I looked at him and I thought, ‘Google my fucking name there for a second.’ I said, ‘What else am I going to play?’ He said, ‘Can you play keyboards?’ I said ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Great. You’re going to play keyboards.’ It seemed mad, but once I’d written a few songs like that, it was actually really fucking liberating. So when I use guitar now, like on the new EPs, they just kind of drift in and out.”
Although the new music he’s making is self-produced, he says he can’t be bothered with the technical aspects of the recording process. “A lot of these new tracks started with a bassline,” he explains. “And I’ll fiddle with the gadgets, because I like a box that makes noise. But I’ll instantly throw the manual away, because it’s just jargon and gobbledygook for me. I can’t fucking stand any of it. I’ll spend an hour trying to switch it on.
“I could eventually work out how to use it, but I’ve got this engineer, Paul Stacey, and this other guy Emre Ramazanoglu, who are absolute fucking wizards on the computer. Emre, he’s not showing me how to do stuff, but when I have these outlandish ideas and I ask, ‘Is it possible to do that?’ – pew – it’s done. Sounds amazing. Like, wow. I’ve been missing out sitting there strumming this fucking J-200.”
Of course, second only to his prowess as a world-class songwriter, Gallagher is known as a formidable melodic guitarist, with an eclectic and fearsome collection of vintage and bespoke guitars.
“Gibson is doing a signature model of that one,” Gallagher says, when we ask about the J-200 he was referring to, the infamous sunburst model from his Oasis days, with the Adidas sticker above the soundhole. “I sent it there to be photographed, the grain and the whole thing. It’s not even a J-200, you know. It’s a J-150 that I just took off the shelf in London, played it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’ I never thought anything of it. But I’ve written some great fucking songs on that guitar.
“They only made them for a couple of years. In fact, just this year I found a blonde one, which I got off Reverb.com. I try not to buy guitars off the internet, because you’ve got to fucking hold them first, and it was a bit expensive, but I thought, ‘Fuck it. I’ll just go for it.’ It arrived and it was amazing. I’m playing it on tour with U2.”
Of course, he’s also got several guitars that pal, and early Oasis booster, Johnny Marr lent him back in the earliest days of the band. “I never gave them back,” he says with a chuckle. “He’s given me three or four guitars over the years. The first one was a Les Paul that belonged to Pete Townshend. That one got damaged, so then he gave me the black Les Paul that was the guitar he used on The Queen Is Dead. And he gave me a Stratocaster that I wrote and recorded Don’t Look Back In Anger on. He’s not getting them now.”
And while he used to arrive at the studio in the Oasis days to an array of guitars to choose from – culled from his formidable arsenal, based on his mood at the time, or the sonic direction in which he felt the songs he had written should go – now he says he simply takes one guitar and a bag of pedals.
Back to basics
“I’m making a different kind of music now,” Noel Gallagher confesses. “Who Built The Moon? is all a Nash Strat and a brand-new Fender silverface Princeton. And on the three new EPs that I’ve done, I used one guitar. It’s The Edge’s signature Strat, by Fender. It’s fucking amazing. It’s a copy of his 1974 Strat, the black one. And it’s hands-down one of the best guitars I’ve ever played in my life.”
At home, Gallagher confesses, he likes to rotate his guitars.
“I don’t have a go-to guitar that I write on,” he explains. “I’ll have a guitar for a couple of years, but then it’ll feel like it’s all used up, so I’ll send that one back to my lock-up. I’ve got a lot there, so I’ll just pick one at random, because I think all guitars have got songs in them. Sometimes I’ll want to have an acoustic. For a while it was a Nash Strat. Lately I’ve been playing bass around the house, endlessly, and that’s how most of the new songs started, in fact.”
On tour, along with the blonde Gibson J-150, Gallagher is in some ways back to basics.
“I’m playing Jazzmasters, both by Fender and Nash,” he says. “You know, I was never a fan of Strats or offset guitars. But I was on tour, and I saw this Nash Jazzmaster – a natural one – and I bought it. And I’ve since got to know Bill Nash, and now I’ve got about 20 of his guitars. And I swear by them. His Teles are amazing, too. And Fender’s new Vintera series is really good. I don’t like the far-out fucking designs. I like the real simple ones.”
So is there one guitar, we ask Gallagher as we wrap up, that he simply couldn’t live without?
“My favourite electric guitar I bought in the 90s,” he says without hesitation. “It’s the 1960 Gibson 355 that I played in Oasis. I don’t play it so much nowadays, because the music I’m writing is different and I’m going for a different sound. But if push came to shove, that guitar is priceless for the amount of tunes that I wrote on it.”
As we part, we ask Gallagher if, now that the third of the trifecta of EPs is due for imminent release, we’ll be getting an album proper from him in the near future.
“Apart from the odd festival date next summer, I think I’m going to try to take 2020 off,” he tells us. “Now, that being said, my missus may have something to say about that. Plus, I’ve got a load of songs, they’ve just got to be knocked into shape. On the way down to meet you I was working on them on my iPad, making another list. I have a list of things – ‘I must do that’ – but actually, once the Christmas EP is out of the way, I’m going to take a step back.
“I just need to get away from it for a bit. So I don’t think I’ll start to make an album seriously till 2021. The thing is, there’s a generation now, between 15 and 18 years old, that have just got into the Oasis thing. They’ve never heard most of what I’ve done, that’s for sure. But really, they have no idea what was going on before. So for those little pricks, I’ll take great pleasure in ruining their days.”
For more information about Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, click here.