Monday, March 16, 2015

Currently Reading: Noel Gallagher: The Art of the Interview

The year is no longer 1995 and we live in the United States of America, so it is natural if most readers of this blog are unfamiliar with Noel Gallagher, the former lead songwriter and guitarist for legendary (and now defunct) UK band, Oasis. While still celebrated as one of the greatest rock bands of all time in their home country, they are remembered (if remembered at all) in the US primarily for their monster hit, "Wonderwall." Together with his brother Liam, Gallagher took the music world by storm with the one, two punch of the their freshman and sophomore albums, Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory?. By 2008, however, the brothers's toxic relationship became so unbearable, the band split up( the Gallagher brothers were famously at each other's throats for most of their career, indeed spawning a 14 minute single of the two fighting in studio titled, "Wibbling Rivalry." The single went to number 52 on the UK charts). While Noel Gallagher no longer sits atop the peak of his career these days, his last solo album garnered healthy praise from critics and this newest one, released earlier this month, has won over even more admirers.

But this isn't a blog post about music. No, when Noel Gallagher releases a new album, the music is only part of the reason a fan has to get excited. The other reason is that Noel Gallagher is going to have to do promotion for that album and doing promotions means doing interviews. And if there is one thing that Noel Gallagher exceeds at, it is doing interviews.

A Noel Gallagher interview is a beautiful thing to behold. Devoid of the usual prepared talking points from a team of PR lackeys like most in the music industry, Gallagher is refreshingly honest and brutal in his remarks. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Gallagher was asked about Taylor Swift:

What About Taylor Swift? She's a pop star, but many people praise her talent as a songwriter?
(Laughs) Who says that? Her parents?

Lots of people.
Who's "people"? Name these people. You're fucking lying. She seems like a nice girl, but no one has ever said those words, and you fucking know it.

To Gallagher's critics this may seem like a kettle calling a pot black situation. After all, Gallagher has long been dogged by criticisms of pilfering classic guitar riffs and laying his own, bad lyrics over them.
Which is not to say that Gallagher is lacking in self-awareness. He knows his weaknesses, he just doesn't care. In an interview with Gallagher says this about being an artist, "I don't claim to be a fan of original thought…I'm not an artist like Kate Bush is an artist. I took my cue from punk in the 1970s when it was like you get off your ass and do something for yourself."

And this is one of the most interesting things about a Noel Gallagher interview, his defiantly contrarian streak. While he has created a cottage industry of slagging off his fellow musicians for bad songwriting, Gallagher is equally critical with his own work. In an interview with Wall Street Journal, Gallagher relates his songwriting process, "I write words that sound good and fit the melody that I've written. The melodies come first for me. Quite frankly, I don't give a s--t what they're about. Obviously, they've got to be good. To me, the melody is infinitely more important than the words. The words…who cares about the words?"

It is refreshing to read about a performer who is seemingly so self-aware and comfortable in their own skin. With the what I call "Jimmy Fallon-ing" of mainstream culture, it seems that all of our rock stars are perpetually covered in flop sweat, constantly trying to prove how "normal" or  "fun" they are. When asked by Vogue about his often motionless live performances, Gallagher answered, "Because it's beneath me. Stagecraft is beneath me. That guy from Maroon 5-he needs stagecraft."

Instead of attempting to assimilate into modern culture, Gallagher cantankerously rails against it. When asked about the UK band Alt-J, Gallagher responded that despite buying one of their tracks he was "in no way a fan."

Why Not?
I don't know. On of them's got a mustache, and that's unacceptable.

A lot of people are put off by Gallagher's insults, but as the elder statesman of UK rock, Gallagher has become something of a Don Rickles figure in that you can't really say you've made it as a band unless Gallagher has slagged you off in the press.

However, while reading through the interviews, it becomes clear that the subtext is about the slow death of rock and roll as a popular art form.  Like Phillip Marlowe from Raymond Chandler's popular series of detective novels, Noel Gallagher is a man out of time, looking backwards through a fog of cigarette smoke to an idealized past. The culture is dominated by optimistic bubblegum pop while soaring, raucous, looking up from the gutter rock n' roll has decidedly become old hat.

Indeed, what our culture has seemed to have forgotten is that rock and roll takes more than wearing a tight, leather jacket. With the only exception of Kanye West, few artists allow themselves to start from the arena of diplomacy in interviews, becoming as scripted and rote as a politician on Meet the Press. If artists are afraid to take a chance while being interviewed by Vogue magazine, what chances are they going to take in music studio? It is unclear if too many artists are conscious about saying something politically incorrect  or having their words twisted by opportunistic journalists, but as always, Noel Gallagher has his theories about the timidity displayed by artists these days, "Maybe it's because they're afraid of the internet, or because they're too cool for school. Or maybe, when the charisma was being handed out, I got it all."

-Justin Gray

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