If you were alive during the late ’90s and anywhere near a radio, you’re probably familiar with Oasis. Songs like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” were part of the cultural soundtrack, and beaten into our collective memories like commercial jingles. But just as ubiquitous as the music were the bickering siblings who created it. Liam and Noel Gallagher — the singer and lead guitarist, respectively — attacked each other in a seemingly never-ending public feud. For almost a decade, they were the Lockhorns of Britpop. Sometimes it was just a war of words, and sometimes it escalated into actual violence involving cricket bats. It got especially ugly in August of 2009 when, prior to a performance at Paris’ Rock en Seine festival, the brothers got into a backstage brawl that purportedly involved punches and broken guitars. Not long after, Noel announced on the band’s website that he was quitting, claiming that “the level of verbal and violent intimidation towards me … has become intolerable.” It seemed like the end, unless you knew anything at all about the history of Oasis, and then it just seemed like a temporary hiatus — a rock ‘n’ roll “time out,” if you will — until the brothers had a few pints and settled their differences long enough to make another album.
Shockingly, the truce never happened. Instead, Liam teamed up with his former Oasis mates — guitarist Gem Archer, bassist Andy Bell and touring drummer Chris Sharrock — and started a new group called Beady Eye. Their debut album, Different Gear, Still Speeding (out earlier this month) may not be the next (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? But it certainly won’t have Oasis fans screaming, “What the hell is this shit?” The album more or less follows the creative aesthetic of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Time will tell if Beady Eye is the real deal or just a rebound band until Noel and Liam bury the hatchet. Personally, I wouldn’t complain if, at some point during the upcoming Beady Eye tour, Noel walked out on stage mid-set and joined the band for “Acquiesce”, the brothers harmonizing on “We need each other/We believe in one another” before collapsing into each other’s arms for some serious bro hugging. Not likely, sure. But stranger things have happened.
I spoke with Liam Gallagher and Gem Archer about the new band and old grudges. There’s a song on Different Gear, Still Speeding called “Four Letter Word,” in which Liam sings “I don’t know what it is I’m feeling/ A four letter word really gets my meaning.” That pretty much sums up how our conversation went.
What exactly does Beady Eye mean? It doesn’t sound like the most flattering description. Is it like a lazy eye?
Liam Gallagher: Dunno. It’s a phrase or something.
Gem Archer: Yeah, it’s an English phrase. And it can be unflattering. It can be negative or positive. “I’ve got my beady eye on you!”
So it’s a threat?
GA: It can be. It’s what a teacher might say to the funky kid at the back of the class. “I’ve got my beady eye on you!” Nobody’s getting the wool pulled over their eyes.
Why didn’t you guys just continue on as Oasis? You lost one member, but it’s still got a majority of the original band. Pink Floyd went on without Roger Waters. The Who were just Daltrey and Townshend for awhile. I don’t think Lynyrd Skynyrd has anybody from the original lineup anymore. Why can’t you do the same thing?
LG: We could’ve if we wanted, but we’ve got a lot more fucking self-respect. It’s why we don’t fucking play somebody else’s fucking songs when we can make our own.
Will you be playing any Oasis songs on the Beady Eye tour?
LG and GA: [simultaneously] Nope.
You won’t even slip an old favorite into the setlist?
LG: I think it’d be schizophrenic, man. You know what I mean? Jumping from one to the other is fucking weird. It’s just fucking mental. Get over it. Oasis is yesterday. It’s fucking done.
GA: Well, that’s for people who compare Oasis with the Beatles to answer.
But Liam, didn’t you once say that Oasis would be as big as the Beatles, if not bigger?
LG: Not me, mate. I think you’ll find it was the little fellow who said that. But I got blamed for it.
You’ve at least admitted a fondness for John Lennon. And there’s a song on the new album, “Roller”, that sounds vaguely like “Instant Karma.” Is that subconscious, or is it an intentional homage?
LG: It’s not intentional at all. We leave that kind of shit up to Lenny Kravitz and people like that.
GA: I get the comparison. It’s a descending line played on a piano with a double-track vocal. But those are just elements. The other element is, Lennon is as much a part of my DNA as I’m sure Guinness is.
Guinness as in the beer?
GA: Yeah, mate. It’s all in there. All of our influences are in there. I’ve been into Lennon since I was eight years old. So that’s just how it comes out. We don’t hide it. [Laughs] Well, sometimes we do.
Liam, last summer you said that Beady Eye’s debut would be “the best record you’ll hear for the next 50 years.” Do you stand by that prediction?
So you’re saying that every album made in the next 50 years, including any subsequent albums by you or Beady Eye, will be crap by comparison? Are you preemptively announcing your retirement?
LG: No, no, no. I probably just got excited about what we were doing. You know what I’m like. It’s just my way of saying, “It’s a great fucking album, and it’s got some amazing fucking songs.” I hope the next one we do is even better than this one. And I hope it inspires other people to make great records.
Do you want to go ahead and predict a few Grammy nominations for Different Gear, Still Speeding?
GA: Awards never really cross our minds.
LG: Clutter. You know what it is? It’s just clutter!
Is that why last year when you got a BRIT Award, you threw it into the crowd?
LG: I didn’t throw it at anybody. I underarmed it and passed it to them. It’s more the fan’s award than mine anyway. If I fucking threw something at somebody, you’d fucking know about it. I gently threw it towards them and said, “You have it. It’s your fucking award.”
Liam, you’ve said in the past that you don’t know what your songs are about. Does that include Beady Eye songs?
LG: It does. That’s entirely accurate. I don’t know what they’re about.
What about “Beatles and Stones”? “I’m gonna stand the test of time, like the Beatles and Stones.” That seems pretty self-explanatory.
LG: That one, sure. But in general, I don’t want to know what they’re about. I’d rather other people tell me what they’re about.
How do you come up with lyrics? Is it free association? Do you just sing the first thing that pops into your head, or do you sit down with a pad of paper and think it through?
LG: If I decided to sit down and write a song, I’d fucking still be there right now, working on the first line. I don’t do it that way.
Does the band write collectively, when you’re all in the same room?
GA: We all write individually and bring in our ideas. In general, Liam will play us something on his laptop or whatever, and we’ll sit around with our guitars and decide how to dress it up. What kind of drumbeat will it be? Does it need a guitar solo? So yeah, it’s very collective.
A lot of the excitement and creative energy in Oasis was the tension between Liam and Noel. Where’s the tension in this band?
GA: We don’t have any of that tension anymore. It’s useless. It’s just fucking rubbish.
LG: I don’t think tension makes for great records. That’s a load of bollocks.
What about the Rolling Stones? Keith Richards and Mick Jagger weren’t exactly giving each other back rubs. Keith said some pretty nasty things about Mick in his memoir.
LG: Yeah, and what have they fucking done for the last twenty-five fucking years?
GA: I get the thing about creative tension. And I understand it. But I’ve worked with Jimmy Miller (who produced classic Stones albums like Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St.) and he says they were ready to clean up their act when they started working on those albums. They put the fucking petty shit aside and focused on the music. They didn’t bring it into the studio or on the stage.
How about other bands? Oasis had a long-standing rivalry with Blur. Do you have a musical arch-nemesis for 2011?
LG: Naw, man. That shit is just a wind-up, isn’t it? Just to see what they’re fucking made of. And they were made of fuck all. [At this point, Liam launched into a tirade that was likely hilarious and poignant, but was spoken in a dialectic I can only describe as a “Manchester Grumble.” I listened to the tape repeatedly, using the most advanced technology, and I still have no clue what he was saying. The only words I was able to identify were variations on “fuck,” used in at least a dozen instances. And at one point, I’m almost positive he said, “It makes me want to fucking throw up!” But I can’t be sure. Journalistic integrity forbids me from making educated guesses. So use your imagination, and be sure to include plenty of expletives.] You know what I mean?
[Long, awkward pause] I … think so.
LG: I was just like, “Fuck off!” Makes me want to laugh.
Let’s talk about Noel. You’ve said repeatedly that Oasis is finished. But is there any chance for a reconciliation?
LG: No. It’s done, mate. It’s over.
There’s no circumstance in which you’d reconsider?
LG: I’m not money driven, and I wouldn’t cheat myself or anybody else out of being the real deal. We’re not going back, we’re going forward.
Well sure, but in the Beady Eye song “Kill For A Dream,” you say “Life’s too short not to forgive/You can carry regrets but they won’t let you live/I’m here if you wanna call.” Does that not apply to Noel?
LG: I’m not getting Oasis back together! We did everything we were supposed to do. That’s the legacy, and we have the fucking balls enough to leave it alone.
Even if he calls and says, “I fucked up, Liam, I’m sorry?”
LG: Even if he brought me fucking cheesecake.
As a fan, it’s hard not to be nostalgic for the old songs. You call yourselves Beady Eyes, but you look almost exactly like Oasis. All we want is a little “Champagne Supernova.” You can’t help us out?
Even a few chords, just for old time’s sake?
Pretty please with sugar on top?
LG: No! I wouldn’t insult the fans or ourselves by doing that. That shit is over. We moved on. You want to hear the old stuff, I’m sure our kid (Liam’s nickname for Noel) will be playing somewhere.
What about artists who cover Oasis songs? Do you care for any of it? What did you think about Ryan Adams’ version of “Wonderwall”?
LG: It’s shit to me, man. I like Ryan Adams and I like some of his songs. But I hated what he did with “Wonderwall.”
GA: He’s done a lot of really great tunes. He’s the real deal. But I agree with what Liam said, it didn’t ring true at all.
LG: It’s not his fault. To be quite honest, I’ve never really cared for the original either.
[Liam and Gem burst into laughter.]