Noel Gallagher in the studio with Johnny Marr, one of his heroes. The guitarists collaborate on the latest High Flying Birds release. Photo by Lawrence Watson
How did you come to produce yourself on Chasing Yesterday?
It was kind of accidental. When I thought I had finished the demos, I took them to one producer, who said they needed more work. Then when I took them to another producer, and he said that the album was already finished. So I didn’t really have a chance to second-guess myself. I could have gone and tinkered with the album, but I bravely left it alone.
It sounds like a lot of thought went into the arrangements, with details like the occasional string section, harmonized female vocals, and even a bass clarinet.
Yeah. I usually record a demo of a song, just with me playing acoustic, and then I’ll listen to it over and over until I follow my instincts and fill in all the details. Listening back, I think, “What if we add a girl here?” or “The thing this needs is strings.” Nothing is ever off the table.
Who plays the great guitar solo on “Riverman”?
That’s Paul Stacey, who also plays the solos on “The Girl with X-Ray Eyes” and “The Right Stuff.” If I can’t quite play the solo I want, I’ll give it to Paul, and he’ll nail it in one live take. Paul is fucking amazing.
You used to favor Marshall stacks, but now you use lower-powered amps. When and why did this shift happen?
For the last 10 years I’ve used Custom Hiwatt heads, and in the studio for this record I used a great blackface Fender Deluxe. At home I play a [Fender] Blues Junior. Once you hit 35, you just can’t use a Marshall stack anymore. It’s against the law—if you play one, then you’re a fucking asshole. It’s just the same when it comes to lifestyle. When you’re in your twenties, you have the power, drive, ambition, and arrogance to change the world—a lot of unrealistic shit going on. Then you get older. I loved all the sex and drugs and rock and roll when I was younger, but if at 47 you’re still living the same as when you were 27, then you’re a fucking asshole.
Talk about your affinity for the Gibson ES-355.
I’ve got two or three, and some ES-345s, too. My 1960 ES-355 is the greatest guitar I’ve ever played. It can do anything, and it’s become a part of me. [Ex-Smiths guitarist] Johnny Marr no less picked it up in the studio, then looked like a startled wizard because of how great the guitar is. I got the 355 a while back for 4,000 pounds, and it’s the best 4,000 pounds I’ve ever spent. I’ve taken the guitar on four or five world tours and beat the living daylights out of it, but it still sounds and plays incredible. I’m in awe of the guitar. I put it second to my wife only because I can have sex with her. If I could have sex with that guitar, I’m not sure which I’d choose.
What was it like to work with Marr, one of your personal heroes, on “Ballad of the Mighty I”?
It was great—he’s a genius. He didn’t do any preparatory work before he came to the studio, didn’t want to hear the backing track in advance, or even anything about the song at all. He just came in and without any direction played immediately the right thing—what you hear on the record, beautiful stuff that I myself couldn’t have pulled off.
What other guitars do you play on the record?
I’ve got two Nash guitars that might be the best Fender-style guitars I’ve ever played. One, a cream 1963 Strat, is all over the record, and the other, a ’72 Deluxe Tele, delivers an amazing sound. Whoever built these guitars is brilliant.
What about acoustics?
I played the same Gibson J-150 I’ve had for about 20 years and a newer Martin D-28, a fucking brilliant, beautiful guitar with a Baggs pickup system. I bought the Martin brand-new just before my first solo world tour. When it arrived it sounded like a great guitar, but now, even though it’s just four years old, it’s completely broken in and sounds incredible. I haven’t been precious with it, and when people see it, they assume it’s an old guitar. There’s a tip for the youngsters: You have to play your guitar every night instead of just leaving it in the case. Otherwise, what’s it for?
What’s with the electric washboard mentioned in the album credits?
It’s not true—just a joke to fuck with the British press, who are assholes with their ridiculous questions about what you ate for lunch and where you hang out.
Yeah! I love it. Back when it started, I was maybe the only person watching it in England. I love all the characters and the secondary characters. It’s an amazing piece of televisual art. But I’m glad it bowed out when it did. All TV things seem to go on too long these days. I’ve got all of the episodes at home, and if I have 30 minutes with nothing to do, I pull one out. Even though I know all the jokes and I know what’s coming, they still make me laugh after 25 years.
Noel Gallagher plays a new song, “Ballad of the Mighty I,” and is interviewed on BBC’s The Graham Norton Show.