Noel Gallagher is never half as angry as it seems. The outlandish, outspoken former Oasis guitarist and current High Flying Birds frontman does appear to have an opinion — often loud and expletive-filled — on everything. But as he talks to Rolling Stone right before the start of High Flying Birds’ North American tour kickoff, his tone is more Statler and Waldorf on The Muppet Show than fire and brimstone.
When Gallagher gets especially worked up, he will turn his head to the side and act out a one-man play, barking at the invisible target of his wrath like a Speakers’ Corner polemicist. But if that same person walked into the room, Gallagher would probably just laugh and shrug, ready to take aim at the next victim.
At 47, he hasn’t quite reached “cranky old man” status yet. But with his latest, critically acclaimed second album Chasing Yesterday becoming the U.K.’s fastest-selling LP of the year, Gallagher has slid admirably into both middle-age and post-Oasis success.
After more than 20 years, what thrills you now about being onstage?
The tour is the last payoff of the thing. If I didn’t write any songs, I wouldn’t have made a record. If I hadn’t made a record, I wouldn’t be going on tour. So it’s like one leads into another. It’s not like I’m touring for touring’s sake. This is a big American tour, particularly doing it all in one stretch. The last two tours I’ve done I’ve enjoyed immensely because I know a) I’m going to turn up for the fuckin’ gig; b) I’m going to finish the gig. It’s everything I thought it would be, and if this doesn’t sound too weird, if there’s a part of the tour that I feel slightly uncomfortable with, it’s the bit in the U.K. because it’s so big. They’re huge fuckin’ arenas with a huge stage.
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But you’re used to that more than clubs.
But my point being that I’m very much aware I’m just a guy standing at a mic stand singing these songs. The further afield that I get, the smaller the gigs are, the more intimate they become. I feel more at home when the audience is right there and you can interact with some people who stand right there.
In 2011, you told Rolling Stone, “I don’t want to see anybody’s face…I’m used to people being a mile away. That suits me. It’s more nerve-racking playing in front of people who are two feet away from me.” What’s changed?
We’d been so huge in Oasis for years and then we did this fan club thing in Cologne, Germany, and the crowd was right there and it was the first time we’ve ever done it. There were these German kids and nobody said a word and it was really weird. [Oasis singer] Liam [Gallagher] was getting really stressed about the whole thing. I said, “Well, fuckin’ hell, that was awful.” But the more that I do it, the more I’m really at home with it now. I can engage with the audience and we have a good laugh. So I prefer this now. It’s a funny thing; I’ve grown.
Your friends in U2 will have three stages for their upcoming tour, including ones that light up as “I” and “E” for “Innocence” and “Experience.” Would you ever do something similar?
[Long pause] God bless that band because they do take that side of it very seriously. I’ve been privy to discussions about what they were going to do. Part of me thinks, “Oh, thank God I don’t have to worry about that ’cause I really don’t give a fuck about that side of it.” Get me up there, plug me in. That’s my shit. But because they are the biggest band in the world and they care about their shows and all that kind of thing, they have to keep outdoing themselves, and it’s great for us as fans because you’re getting to see something different every night.
You’ve discussed Morrissey’s role in creating new song “Riverman.” What do you make of his demands on certain venues to go meat-free?
He really fuckin’ believes in the vegetarian thing. [The Fall’s] Mark E. Smith once gave me a bit of advice. He said, “Don’t have any vegetarians in your fuckin’ band.” And I said, “Why is that?” “No fuckin’ stamina” [laughs]. [Oasis bassist] Andy Bell was a vegetarian when he joined, but we soon fuckin’ knocked that out of him. He was fuckin’ biting the heads off chickens in about a month. But I like people like Morrissey who feel passionate enough to do that, but it’s not something I can be fuckin’ bothered about.
“If a man wants to marry another man, that’s up to you. If you both want to recognize each other and go through the fuckin’ pain of divorce, join the fuckin’ club!”
Staying on social issues, have you been following the Supreme Court’s debate over same-sex marriage?
What do these old men in the courtroom think is going to happen? Do they think that depravity is just going to be fuckin’ rained down upon the world because two people from the same sex can recognize each other in a marriage partnership? You have the religious fuckin’ thing in this country and it’s fuckin’ insane. It’s insane. The religious right would go back to stoning doctors in the street who perform abortions. That’s fucked up! If a man wants to marry another man, that’s up to you. If you both want to recognize each other and go through the fuckin’ pain of divorce, fuckin’ good, ’cause the rest of us do, so join the fuckin’ club [laughs]! Yeah. Pre-nup? You deal with that and all.
The other side is arguing, in part, that it’s more about the “biological bond” of children than emotional commitment.
What about a man and a woman that get married who can’t have kids? Marriage is not about that; it’s about a commitment between two people spending their lives with each other. They’ll throw the procreation thing in there to muddy the waters a little bit. It is all old men who sit on these committees. They’re part of the old world and they’ll be fuckin’ gone soon, so fuck ’em.
You have a 15-year-old daughter. Do you share any musical interests?
My daughter has probably read enough of my interviews to think, “I’m not going to [listen] to 5 Seconds of Summer with him just yet.” But she’s starting to come into the light. She’ll text me, “Who are the Stone Roses?” And I’ll say, “Ahh, OK. Well, the Stone Roses were the second-best band to ever come out of Manchester” [laughs]. I wouldn’t have expected her to be into anything other than One Direction when she was 12. If she’s into One Direction when she’s 22, she’s getting shunned.
On Zayn Malik: “You can be fucking anything that moves and gettin’ paid half a million dollars a week, you fuckin’ idiot. You want to be a normal 22-year-old?”
Do have any advice for Zayn Malik, who recently left the group?
I’ve never met him. I’ve only met Harry, who orbits in social circles where sometimes we end up at the same parties. Harry’s not got a great deal to say for himself, but he’s a good lad! For Zayn, though, I’d say, “Fuckin’ get a good accountant because life is very fuckin’ long.”
It’s a strange thing for that lad to have done at that age. The greatest quote was — I laughed out loud when I read it — “I just want to be a normal 22-year-old.” Pfft. Who wants to be a normal 22-year-old?! Hang on a minute. You can be fucking anything that moves and gettin’ paid half a million dollars a week, you fuckin’ idiot. You want to be a normal 22-year-old? Have you met any normal 22-year-olds? They’re fuckin’ shit-for-brains. What are you talking about, you fuckin’ idiot? God. All those young Japanese girls suckin’ me cock. [Sarcastically] So shallow and meaningless. I’ll say this to you, Zayn: You might have wanted to be a normal 22-year-old, but you won’t want to be a normal 25-year-old [laughs].
Listen to Noel Gallagher’s Career Advice for Zayn Malik
You’ve been open about past drug use. What do you make of the movement to legalize marijuana in the United States?
[Long pause] I really think that the legalization of drugs — taking a long-term view of it — over 25 years probably would be a great thing because it would take the romance and the rebel element out of it for kids. But that 25-year [period] would be fuckin’ utter chaos and disaster and scandal after fuckin’ drug-addled scandal. Eventually, it would level out and probably be a good thing. But it only takes one kid to fuckin’ die and it’s just morally out of the window.
Given the volume of your usage, did you ever legitimately think you were going to die?
There was once in Detroit in 1994. I’d been up for a couple of days and I thought I was having a fuckin’ stroke. I was worried enough to call an ambulance. I remember being taken to a hospital in Detroit and there is nothing…in the world…whilst you’re thinking you’re having a stroke…like walking into a hospital and someone saying, “If you’d just like to go through the metal detectors, sir.” And you’re just like, “Aww.” “Do you have any weapons on you?” “I think I’m going to die.” “OK, but you need to go through the metal detectors first.” What kind of fucked up country am I in?
But I’ve never really sailed that close to the wind. I’m not a power drinker. I used [drugs] at parties and had the knack and the stamina to go further than anybody else, but I never injected anything. It was the classic, traditional methods.
Let’s shift to some digital issues. You’re one of the most opinionated musicians, yet your Twitter page is mainly show promotion and media appearances. It seems like it’d be a perfect medium for you.
I’m only opinionated in interviews if I’m asked a question. Twitter has never fascinated me. I have an Instagram account, but my fans know it’s just me trying to sell them some shit. I’m pretty open about this: Here’s a picture of me, and by the way, buy a fuckin’ T-shirt, will ya? I’m not one to be there watching TV going, “Fuckin’ hell, the Queen’s a bell-end, isn’t she?” Life’s too short for that shit.
“[Tidal] were like, ‘We’re going to fuckin’ save the music business.’ And I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘You might want to write a decent chorus for a fuckin’ start.'”
You’ve said in the past that you want people to own music instead of stream it. What’s your take on Tidal?
[Long pause] I thought that the people on the stage might want to be a little bit aware that they don’t look like Jay Z’s minions. Madonna was pretty cool the way she cocked her leg up on that desk and signed the [declaration]. I think ultimately that the spiel they came out with, it was like, “Do these people think they’re the fuckin’ Avengers? They’re going to save the fuckin’ [world].” I was speaking to Chris [Martin] the day after, and I said, “Are you after a Nobel Peace Prize? Is that what you’re after?” They were like, “We’re going to fuckin’ save the music business.” And I’m just sitting there, thinking [imitates smoking weed] you might want to write a decent chorus for a fuckin’ start. Never mind fuckin’ royalties and the “power of music.” Write a tune. Fuckin’ start with that.
Listen to Noel Gallagher Share His Thoughts on Tidal
I’m surprised you watched the press conference.
[Laughs] I only watched it because someone was like, “Get on these bunch of cunts on here.” And I went, “Who?” “Fuckin’ your mate Chris Martin and all these cunts.” I got on YouTube and was like, [makes crinkled face] “Oh. Ohhh. Ohhhhhh.” Alicia Keys made a speech that really should have been at the U.N. “We’re all aware of the power of music!” But I don’t think you are. I quote Nietzche regularly too, but only when I’m talking about downloading [laughs].
You mentioned last week digging two new Blur songs. Have you heard the album?
I haven’t heard the whole album, but I’ve heard those tracks. They’re making the reunion thing work for them, which makes me think the reason why they split up in the first place couldn’t have been that controversial. It would’ve been a traditional, “[Guitarist] Graham [Coxon] needed to do his thing. [singer] Damon [Albarn] needed to do his thing,” etc.
Whatever happened with your rumored collaboration with Damon Albarn?
It was as flippant as somebody saying, “Hey, next time you’re in town, we should go for a drink.” It wasn’t like [looks left and right conspiratorially and whispers] “I think we should make an album” and I go, “You know what? I think you’re fuckin’ right.” I’d be amazed if our schedules [aligned] where we ever had six months off at the same time. When I finish this tour as Damon finishes Blur, he’s bound to be going off doing some Vietnamese opera about chickens. But if one day we ever ended up in the studio, it’d be great. I think he’s a super-talented dude and a good lad.
Your brother Liam posted a picture of himself wearing a High Flying Birds backstage pass and the caption, “Keeping it in the family.” Does he go to your shows a lot?
Well, it wasn’t his pass. He wasn’t there. It was my other brother’s pass. If he’d had been at one of my gigs, you would’ve known about it because he’d have made his way onstage and started acting like a fuckin’ gobshite. He’s being a bit disingenuous to Oasis fans in the sense that he always gets their hopes up.
There was a rumor last week that we’ve had a gentleman’s agreement [to reform the band], but that rumor’s come from his people. It’s a “source close to him,” and I’ll tell you how close it is: She probably wakes up with him every morning. It’s always left to me in an interview to let the kids down. People say, “You’re breaking these kids’ hearts.” Well, what the fuck, man?
[Editor’s note: Liam Gallagher responded to brother Noel’s claims, referencing controversial UK columnist Katie Hopkins. “I see Noel Katie Hopkins Gallagher is talking out of his slack arse again,” Gallagher tweeted. “Go and polish your SAXAPHONE [sic] Ha ha”]
How did you personally define success after Definitely Maybe blew up, and how has that changed in 2015?
For me, success is when the expectation levels of your audience rise to a level that you feel like you can never compare to. I wasn’t bothered about success until [Oasis’ third album] Be Here Now, and then it was like I’d gotten away with writing those two albums without the world watching. From that moment on, it’s like the world is literally sitting there watching you write songs. To react to having money and all that goes with it and still try to keep a lid on drugs; and on top of all that, it was all on me. I was writing all the songs. But all you can do is not overthink it and keep on going as you would. My advice to anybody is to play the fuckin’ long game. Success doesn’t last forever.
Today, [success] is still being around. When somebody says, “Your gig in New York is sold out.” It’s like, “Fuckin’ wow.” There’s not many people my age that get to do that. So success now is defined by just keeping going. I’ll get to the end of this tour next year and the record will be successful enough for me to have the means to make another one. I’m already quite a way into it. But there’s always personal hurdles to overcome. Do I still want to do it? Do I still want to write another album? And it’s always, “Yes, yes, yes.”