Liam Gallagher Returns with ‘As You Were’
“I just think you’ve got to go away to come back and be appreciated,” Liam Gallagher tells me when I ask about the generally positive response to his first solo album, As You Were.
But it’s clear during our phone interview that he’s glad to be back and talking about music, rather than the breakup of Oasis, now almost 10 years ago, or the demise of the post-Oasis spinoff Beady Eye, or, certainly, the tabloid circus around the child he had with a New York Times reporter and the subsequent circus surrounding the related legal battle and the messy divorce that followed.
So were those dark times? Is it good to be back in the spotlight for what he’s no doubt best at?
“Yeah, I think the time off that I had was a good thing, though,” Gallagher says, picking up on his earlier thought. “I needed to go away and get out of people’s faces for a bit, do you know what I mean? I’m a rock & roll singer. That’s what I do. That’s what I was meant to do, you know what I mean?”
There’s a lot of “do you know what I means” when you talk to Gallagher, but he’s hardly the man you’ve most likely seen portrayed in the press. “Warm,” “funny,” “relaxed” and “patient” are hardly words you’d associate with a musicain who appeared to be the poster child for overindulged rock star during the heady days of Oasis’ reign in the late-1990s. Spitting on the stage at an MTV awards show? Not showing up for an Unplugged performance after an all-night bender? Swear-laced punch-ups in European after-hours clubs? Those are all what jump to mind when Liam Gallagher is mentioned. But lest we forget, this is the man who delivered the peerless vocals on “Wonderwall,” “Live Forever,” “Rock & Roll Star,” “Supersonic,” “Champagne Supernova” and so many more. He was, and remains, the greatest front man of his generation, and one of the best singers of the late-20th Century.
Still, after a bumpy few years recently, Gallagher’s comeback was hardly a sure thing.
“I know, I’m totally blown away by it, do you know what I mean?” Gallagher says when I mention the rapturous response he’s gotten at both small warm-up shows and summer festival appearances, where he played a mixture of both Oasis classics and as-yet-unreleased new songs from As You Were. But he’s also self-assured without seeming arrogant as to why the new songs are going over so well, even when set against classics like (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
“Being a rock & roll singer? That’s me.”
“You have a lot of people that get their check, go on there and are bollocks. When I go out there — and I think this is why so many young people are out there along with the old fans — they know they’re getting a bit of reality. Whatever it is about being the real thing? Being a real rock & roll singer? That’s me. Listen, I’m just going to play my music — from the new album, too — to reach the new generation, and I feel like they’ll get it.”
So what can you expect from As You Were? Well, the easiest way to describe it is that it’s probably the most classically Oasis-sounding music Gallagher has made since long before Oasis broke up. Produced by Greg Kurstin and Dan Grech-Marguerat, it has a familiar sound that also sounds fresh and modern, while playing to Gallagher’s strengths: his undeniable rock & roll swagger and unapologetic love for vintage, Beatles- and Stones-influenced rock.
The process, Gallagher admits, was a long one.
“It’s hard to explain with songwriting, because, for one, I don’t pass myself off as a songwriter,” Gallagher says emphatically. “I’m getting there, but I cast myself as a rock & roll singer, obviously. Over twenty years [in Oasis] Noel’d done all the writing. In Beady Eye we kind of worked together. On this one, there are songs I’ve done myself — and some co-writes, which I’m fine with, by the way — but honestly, I just get an idea, and if I can play it over and over and just wait for it, because I’m not a great guitar player and I’m limited to only a few chords, I just sit in my room and just let it happen.”
“I’ll start, go away, come back and just write a riff or whatever,” he explains. “I’ll get the melody to a verse, maybe. And then I sort of just keep going around with that. Then I’ll sort of hold my nose and listen to it back and I’ll go, ‘What the fuck am I saying? Am I saying anything? No, I’m not saying anything.’ And then I’ll do it again.”
“If I’m in the studio I can definitely write a song. I do it in my head, because I can hold a song or a melody, and honestly I like that instead of just me getting down on the guitar and playing it. But that’s what I did with ‘Bold’ and ‘Greedy Soul.’”
The two songs are standouts, and when they came Gallagher knew he was on to something.
“It was no good me sitting around the house,” he confesses. “I’d go for a run in the morning, but by lunch I’d be down the pub, and then… Well, you can guess how that ends up. But I got two songs together, and Warner [Bros., my label] signed me based on that. Then they suggested me doing co-writes. That was fine by me.”
He flew to Los Angeles, not sure what to expect.
“I’d never met Greg or Andrew before,” Gallagher says of Kurstin and Andrew Wyatt, who also contributed to the songs on As You Were. “I sent Greg ‘Bold’ and ‘Greedy Soul,’ and I said, ‘Look, this is the kind of stuff I want to do, in theory.’ So I got there and we had a cup of tea and I said, ‘Can I play this song that I’ve got this kind of riff for?’ And I played it and they went, ‘Cool!’ And we built it up that way. Andrew was writing a couple of words down, and we started writing a few bits down together. And not writing them down, just putting them out there, we got a couple of verses together. Then I went in and I sang it. There were a few phrases that Andrew had, and I was going, ‘Maybe I’ll sing it like this?’ And he was going, ‘Yeah!’ It kind of just went from there. After lunch we had a go again, and that was ‘Wall of Glass.’ It was easy, man. We just sort of did it.”
“Rock & roll is guitar music. It’s not there to be studied.”
Gallagher agrees that over the course of the last batch of albums he’s been involved with, whether with Oasis or Beady Eye, some of the spontaneity he thinks is so crucial to making the great, urgent rock & roll he loves so dearly was in short supply.
“Yeah, we worked fast,” he says, recalling the sessions for As You Were. “In the studio you can overthink it, get over-analytical… When you spend a lot of time on stuff you can lose what I love about rock & roll. Personally, to me, proper rock & roll music is guitar music. It’s not there to be studied. This album has got power and energy. It’s aggressive. But it’s full of good songs with a good vibe, too. That’s what I needed to come back with, know what I mean?”
It’s hard to argue with Gallagher. First of all, as he takes over the conversation, his enthusiasm, energy and self-confidence are contagious. But As You Were is strong, too, and will go a long way toward silencing critics who, without even having heard the album, have said his brother’s presence would surely be missed.
“Co-writing is no skin off my nose,” Liam says, in defense of criticism he’s faced in the British press. “I’m the first to admit I’m not the greatest songwriter in the world. But I’m getting there, and working with Greg and Andrew has really opened up a new world for me. Fucking put my voice on it, anyway, and that’s the fucking icing, know what I mean?”
“If they’re not bored of me already, they get bored of it very soon.”
But Gallagher is also realistic. He knows that he and his brother shared an undeniable balance of duties and creative gifts in Oasis, and that keeps both his eye on the prize and his goals realistic.
“People will get bored of this,” he says, when I mention the myriad interviews I’d read with him in preparation for our chat, and we both laugh. “They will! Trust me. If they’re not bored of me already, they’ll get bored of it very soon. But I think the album is good and we’re just going to ram it down people’s throats and do as many gigs as we can. But if it’s not connecting — if it’s not meaning anything to people — I guess there’s no fucking point in doing another one. I’m certainly not going to change genres of music to stay relevant. This is what I do, and I don’t think I can do it any better, so hopefully — fingers crossed — it’ll mean something to people and we’ll do another one, one record at a time.”
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Jeff Slate is a New York City-based songwriter and journalist who has contributed articles to TIDAL since 2014. He is an Esquire columnist, the co-author of The Authorized Roy Orbison and contributed liner notes to the 50th anniversary reissue of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, as well as to albums by the Small Faces, Shawn Colvin and for the STAX Records 60th anniversary reissue series, among others, and has appeared on radio and TV around the world as both a performer and music expert. Jeff is an avid collector of original vinyl, video, bootlegs and books on rock and roll, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Monty Python.
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