Noel Gallagher Reinvents Himself on ‘Who Built the Moon?’

Noel Gallagher Reinvents Himself on ‘Who Built the Moon?’

“How he works is he gets involved from the ground up, which is from literally nothing,” former Oasis kingpin Noel Gallagher said recently of David Holmes, the producer of his new album, Who Built the Moon?

“I went to his studio in Belfast,” Gallagher added. “He told me not to bring any songs. Not any ideas. ‘Just bring your guitar and some effects pedals.’ And we sat in the studio on the first day and went, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ The whole thing is borne out of conversation, really, and playing records. Of him saying, ‘I think you should do stuff like this!’ And he would play some obscure fucking French jazz shit. And then I’d be going, ‘Really? What? Really? You know, oo la la…’ And we would just jam it out. It was a fascinating project. There was not a great deal going on for a year and a half. We didn’t do anything. There was no music. It was just a lot of talking. And eventually it kind of formed and here we are.”

Gallagher was in typically hilarious and self-deprecating form as he greeted all manner of press, as well as the usual “tastemaker” faces, for a wide-ranging Q&A and one-on-one interviews at a private listening event at The Box, in New York City’s fashionable SoHo, as well as at a similar event last month in Los Angeles. But he also seemed intensely sincere about how proud he was of what he and Holmes had accomplished with Who Built the Moon?, his third solo album under the High Flying Birds moniker since the demise of Oasis in 2009.

As a result, Gallagher was as fascinating as always, giving great insight into the making of the album that rips up the tried and true formulas he’d honed as the man who steered his former band to more than 70 million albums sold and uncontested, if brief, world domination in the mid-1990s.

“When I was making my last record, I’d got it to a point where it needed a producer to kind of be in the studio with me,” Gallagher explained of the genesis of Who Built the Moon?, way back in 2014. “I’d met David a year previously and he came to London and I played him the demos of the songs. He listened to them and said, ‘They sound finished to me.’ Which was a shock to me, because I haden’t even started and he thought it was finished. I wasn’t aware then of how he works, but he said, ‘You should finish that record. But if you want to make a record with me we should do one from scratch.’”

With his sights set on finishing what became 2015’s Chasing Yesterdayand the massive world tour that followed — which would together elevate Gallagher to top-tier status as an artist in his own right — he filed the conversation away and got down to business. But Holmes’ challenge gnawed at him, and soon Gallagher found himself at Holmes’ studio in Belfast, indeed starting from scratch.

“It wasn’t so much telling me what to do,” Gallagher explained of the approach of the producer took with him. Holmes is known for his work with acts like U2, Orbital, Primal Scream, Ice Cube and on innumerable soundtracks. “It was kind of like him saying, you know, we would make tiny little bits of music that were maybe a bar long, and I would be playing guitar and kind of trying to find out what it was, and right then he kind of stop me from time to time to say, ‘It sounds a bit like Oasis now.’ And I’d be like, ‘Fucking good though, right?’ And he’d say, ‘Well, no. Yeah, but let’s play something different.’ So then I’d fuck around for another hour and a half and he’d say, ‘It’s starting to sound like High Flying Birds now.’ And I’d be like, ‘Equally as fucking good, right?’ And he’d be like, ‘No, let’s try something different.’ And eventually something different would come.”

But Gallagher was also sure about where he didn’t want to go, artistically, even in this heated political climate.

“I think that it’s very easy for guys with guitars to pick up those guitars these days and just sing about what’s on the news, and I don’t know what the point of all that is,” he said. “I think that to write songs in this day and age that are full of joy and hope is almost revolutionary and I think that guitar music has become more about fucking shouting. Like Dave Grohl. What’s he yelling about? Or Green Day? Or the guy from Queens of Stone Age? What are they shouting about? They’re shouting about the fucking news. Who wants to sing about the news? The news is boring. Donald Trump is fucking boring. Politics is boring. The little fat guy from North Korea? He looks funny, but he’s fucking boring. He is. So what would you want to write music about that for? I think to write songs about joy and hope is fucking revolutionary.”

Pause.

“There, I just said it: I’m revolutionary.”

Not surprisingly, Gallagher had some pointed words, too, for the current state of the music business.

“It’s either nostalgia or meaningless pop music, with that fucking awful American influence to it,” he said, going on to take perhaps a not-so-thinly veiled jibe at his brother Liam, who used a host of well-known co-writers in seeing his solo debut As You Were to fruition. “There’s a reason all pop music sounds the same: because it’s all written by the same six fucking guys, because nobody writes their own songs anymore. There is literally not one person left like me in the music business. Everybody co-writes with everybody else. It’s a fucking disgrace. So you don’t really get to know the artist that you’re into. You don’t really get to know what they’re about, because they’re singing somebody else’s fucking words.”

As for why Who Built the Moon? is being released, like his previous solo efforts, on his own Sour Mash Records imprint, Gallagher was typically blunt.

“When I left Oasis I sat down and thought about what I wanted to do. The thought of going to get a record deal just didn’t appeal to me at all. I thought, ‘I’ve earned enough money now to run my own record label, so what the fuck.’ Being on a major label? Just doesn’t suit me. Then I’ve got to deal with idiots who you know they want to know what you’re up to. If I had delivered this record to a major record label, you know what they would have done? They would have given it to me back and said, ‘Can you not write something like “Wonderwall” or “Don’t Look Back in Anger”?’

“Record labels, to be honest, they’re only ever a bank,” he continued. “They’re only where you go to to borrow money from, and even then you don’t own your own rights to your songs, so what the fuck? Why would you fucking bother?”

The results Gallagher achieved with Holmes are remarkable, with Who Built the Moon? unlike anything he’s done previously in his nearly 30-year career. The opening track — the near-instrumental “Fort Knox” — is a prime example of how far Gallagher has strayed from the tried and true Oasis template, and he happily told the story of how he’d found inspiration in a most unpredictable place.

“‘Fort Knox’ was one of the last things we did,” Gallagher elaborated. “What happened was, on the day that Kanye released that track ‘Fade,’ it fucking blew my mind, alright. And I go into the studio, ‘Wow, have you fuckin’ heard this Kanye track?’ And we were chatting away and we put on the speakers — I’ve always loved that track by him called ‘The Power’ — and we were talking about that and David said, ‘You should do a track like that.’ And I was like, ‘What? You are fucking joking? Are you?’ I mean, I’m no rapper. I don’t know if many people know that, but I’m not very good at rapping. And he had the idea that, ‘Well, let’s pretend we’re doing a track for Kanye and we’re going to send it to him.’ And as it was going along I was going, ‘He’s not getting ahold of this. This is amazing. He’s not getting this.’ So the reason that there’s no singing on it is because we had this idea we were going to send it to Kanye, but then fuck him, you know what I mean? Look, clearly the lad could do with a fucking bit of a lift in the music business, so if he wants, [he can] give me a call.”

As for recent single “It’s a Beautiful World,” it’s another dose of almost anti-Oasis eminently danceable rock & roll music, with a passage from the artist Charlotte Courbe in French that is sure to raise the hackles of the front man of Gallagher’s former band.

My French is not great, I’ve got to say, as in it’s fucking non-existent,” Gallagher said, mock-serious expression, as always, firmly in place.

“But we had the backing track and there was a huge gap, where Charlotte says her thing, and for about a year there was nothing going on there,” he said. “And then a deadline was set where we had to finish this record, and we kind of were like, ‘What are we going to do in this gap?’ And I thought it felt like it needed an announcement. And David had found this announcement from a French jazz gig in the ‘50s of a French woman announcing that everyone was to stay in their seats, that the act that they’ve come to see is going to be coming on in a minute, so we flew it in and it sounded great but we couldn’t clear the sample. So he knew this girl Charlotte and he said, ‘I’ll get her down and she can do something.’ So she had the track and the sample, she went to this live room and she said, ‘What do you want me to say?’ And we were like, ‘Well, say anything you want.’ So she is doing a thing in French. None of us in the studio can speak French, so none of us knew what she’s going on about. And then when it came to the translation it’s like this list of the end of the world, and I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I don’t really agree with any of that.’ Do you know what I mean? So I had to go back and rewrite some of the lyrics and, yeah, it’s great, and everyone that heard it was blown away. But the people blown away the most was my French record label. They were saying, ‘You know, you’re going to be really famous in France.’ Fantastique!”

Frequent TIDAL contributor Jeff Slate is a New York City-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He contributed the essay “Sgt. Pepper In America” to the recent 50th anniversary reissue of The Beatles’ 1967 album, has written intimate portraits of The Beatles as a group and as solo artists, and about many other rock legends, for publications like EsquireRolling Stone and the fanzine Beatlefan, and is a go-to expert for many Beatles-related radio shows. Jeff has appeared at Beatles events and conventions in New York and Liverpool and is a well-known collector of rock ‘n’ roll books and bootlegs, with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and The Beatles.

(Photo credit: Lawrence Watson)

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