Nearly 15, Oasis Still Swaggering
Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.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 "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. Noel Gallagher, then 24, was a Stone Roses fan who had been turned down as the frontman by another popular local act, Inspiral Carpets, and went to work instead as their roadie. Younger brother Liam was a mere 19. The pair even then was prone to the public sparring that would colorfully punctuate their eventual rock conquest.
The decision by Creation Records founder Alan McGee to sign and champion Oasis produced more than just personal riches. Beginning with the band's debut album, "Definitely Maybe," the Creation collaboration sparked a decade-plus career that has grown into a musical landmark for a generation, first in Britain and then around the world.
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," the Gallaghers 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 that, 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.
What do you recall of the British music scene you gate-crashed in 1994?
Let me see. Suede were the great white hopes. Blur were a f*cking mess. Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine were still getting front covers. It wasn't that long since Ned's Atomic Dustbin. Primal Scream were in absolute limbo, and it was all kind of going down the toilet.
As I remember, nobody looked good, nobody sounded good, nobody was pointing to the sky and going, "Come on, let's have it!" The music press, the writers and photographers were sh*t; it was horrible.
We were in a rehearsal space in Manchester, in a little room at the Boardwalk. We were doing this set with "Live Forever," "Rock & Roll Star," "Bring It on Down" and "I Am the Walrus." And we were just waiting for somebody. We weren't going to go into East West Records or XL and say, "We're the greatest band in England, you've got to sign us," because then you're automatically in debt to them before they've even given you a pound.
We knew that if we got it right, we would wipe the floor with everyone. Added to that, me and Liam were eminently quotable the whole time.
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?
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 -- 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.
But you were very single-minded about going after success, weren't you?
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. But it was just, "F*ck it, man! I want a Rolls Royce!" You're in that position for a couple of years, and then you think, "This is bullsh*t. Who am I?"
Do you think it's possible for a long-running band to be on an upward curve all the time? Don't there have to be bad times?
I wrote the first three Oasis albums all before I had a record deal. So I never had to sit down and reinvent the band until [2000's] "Standing on the Shoulder of Giants," and I kind of took that too far. The band never needed reinventing, it was great as it was. You start using different techniques, like drum loops, and we kind of went away from what we were, and it was difficult to get that back.
All the songs off "Definitely Maybe" and "Morning Glory" I wrote when I was 21, so I was then trying to rewrite the script at the age of 31, and you're a completely different character. I do like all the words on "Giants," but I lost the formula, whatever it was.
After a band achieves the iconic status that you did, is that when you start questioning your motivation?
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 sh*tloads 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?"
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.
So I'd rather be doing something that I think is good. I never even rated that song "Lyla" [the first single off "Don't Believe the Truth"], and then you see 70,000 people going mad to it and singing the song, and you think, "What do I know?" And watching people doing that on the recent tour, they're not just celebrating their favorite band or some of their favorite songs. They respond to Oasis almost as a complete validation of their lives.
You'll look up at the stands, particularly doing "Don't Look Back in Anger" [the band's second British No. 1, in 1996], and there'll be groups of people just hugging each other, not even watching the band, just singing that song to themselves. It's obviously something that means so much to them. Those songs are now kind of part of British culture. It's a great position to be in.
Did it make a big difference working with American producer Dave Sardy on this album?
There's two things to this. We decided early on that we wanted to use a producer, then it was a case of "We're going to let somebody else make all the major decisions." Luckily for us by the time we got to Dave Sardy, we'd already written all the songs and arranged them all, so all he really had to do was put them on tape.
It's opened our eyes a little bit. I was sick of being a songwriter/producer/band member. I just wanted to be in a band again -- I didn't want to be a producer, just the guy that plays guitar and writes a few songs.
Even being the main songwriter and everybody looking to me for approval on everything, it was like, "Hang on, I'm an equal part of this band in songwriting terms now, so it's all our problem if it goes wrong but we'll all share the glory if it goes right." That's why this album being a success, especially with critics in America, it makes it more special.
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?
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 towards 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.
Did starting your own label Big Brother, in 2000, change the way you view the record industry?
Big Brother was started in a haze of ideals: "We're going to sign loads of bands." Then it was like, "How much? F*ck that!" I take all my money out of Big Brother and put it into my own little label, Sour Mash. I've just signed the [Liverpool] band Shack, and I've done a few little things.
But 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.
Have you ever thought seriously about going solo?
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.
What about Liam?
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.
But now, in the United Kingdom, you can't move for bands paying tribute to your influence.
We thought bands would read [our interviews in] NME and immediately form groups, which they did. But it's only becoming apparent now, [with] the likes of Razorlight, the Libertines, the Killers, the Strokes, Kings of Leon and Jet, all these bands are [citing] "Definitely Maybe." They don't even go "Oasis, Oasis" -- it's that 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."
Excerpted from the Aug. 27, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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