Liam Gallagher Is Making the Most Trenchant Music of His Career
Now two solo outings into a phenomenal comeback, Gallagher has moved beyond the well-publicized breakup of Oasis to reclaim his place as one of Britain’s most outspoken, and beloved, rock stars.
Liam Gallagher is prowling the rainy streets of Seattle, his mood almost disarmingly upbeat. Given that he's opening for the Who on their highly touted “Moving On!" tour, his enthusiasm is more than understandable—it's downright infectious. “It's amazing, man," he gushes. “I used to listen to them growing up. They're one of the first bands I got into, obviously, with the Stones, the Kinks, the Beatles—all that stuff. We've had a couple of little chats in the corridor, but their knowledge on music would blow my mind. I'm not getting into anything with them on that shit, do you know what I mean? No, they're proper musicians, they're beautifully British, and I love it."
Love in all its splendor has guided Gallagher to where he finds himself today. Now 47, at heart he's still the same scrappy rock-and-roller from blue-collar Manchester, but he's also an introspective, Zen-like family man—a pretty far cry from the brash, arrogant, hard-partying waif who once fronted the Brit-rock juggernaut Oasis. Together with his older brother Noel, they dominated the turn of the 21st century with brain-searing lyrics and molten guitar riffs, from the now-classic “Wonderwall" to their final barn-burner “Falling Down," before they literally smashed the band to pieces in an epic backstage row at the 2009 Rock en Seine festival in Paris. When the dust had settled, two prized guitars were in splinters—Liam's Gibson J-200, a gift from his wife at the time, along with Noel's Gibson ES-355—and two battered and bruised egos were itching to go their separate ways.
Now two solo albums deep and building on an impressive comeback that started in 2015, Liam Gallagher has moved beyond the infamous falling out, turning out some of the most incisive songs of his career, with producers Greg Kurstin and Andrew Wyatt giving Gallagher's bareknuckle riffs a classic-rock sheen on his latest album, Why Me? Why Not.
But as chronicled in the just-released documentary As It Was, the road back for Liam hasn't been easy.
To this day, he has spoken little, if at all, to his brother, although the two trade barbs regularly in the press, while the din grows louder for an Oasis reunion. Beady Eye, the band Liam built from the ashes of Oasis, lasted two albums before cancelling their 2014 Coachella appearance; Gallagher later announced their breakup on his Twitter feed without ceremony. He spent the following year on a bit of a wander, licking his wounds but still writing lyrics and strumming his guitar “when his guard was down," as his then-girlfriend, manager, and now fiancée Debbie Gwyther describes it, until one day he made a fateful visit to a pub called JJ Finan's, in Ireland's County Mayo.
“Someone had a guitar, and then the band come in and started playing," he recalls. “I was at the bar having a drink—well, you know what it's like after you've had a couple of pints. You feel like Eric Clapton, don't you? So I just grabbed a guitar, and that was the end of that. I don't look back at it, because I'm too embarrassed, but it is what it is. I just thought, 'I'll give it a twirl and see what people think.'"
Gallagher knocked out a verse and chorus from a song he'd just penned called “Bold," and a cell-phone video of the pub jam went viral. Before long, Phil Christie from Warner Brothers U.K. came calling, and Gallagher had himself a solo deal. The ensuing album As You Were, a collaboration with producers Dan Grech-Marguerat, Kurstin, and Wyatt, debuted at No. 1 on the British charts in 2017. In advance of the album's release, Gallagher came home to Manchester—the city was still reeling after the May 22, 2017, bombing outside Ariana Grande's Manchester Arena concert—and performed an exultant set for a hungry crowd that seemed desperate to pour out its emotions.
“It's always hard work," he says, “going back to your hometown and doing a gig with a new album. But with the stuff that had gone down, it was super heavy, do you know what I mean? In times of need, music is the one, man. We just wanted to show respect and put on a good gig for them—as much as you can."
Two years later, Gallagher is reaping the fruit of his labors with yet another album that brings mega-producers Kurstin and Wyatt, both impressive multi-instrumentalists and string-pullers themselves, back into the fold. Why Me? Why Not. picks up where As You Were left off, but with an even heavier guitar presence, aided and abetted by Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner and session ace Mike Moore (who, along with former Kasabian and Beady Eye axe-slinger Jay Mehler, plays in Gallagher's current touring band). Pivoting on gems like the Bowie-esque ballad “Once," the hard-chugging “Shockwave," the pop-kissed “Now That I've Found You," and the mud-thick anthem “The River," it's meat-and-potatoes British rock with multiple nods to the Jam, the Faces, T. Rex, Pink Floyd, and yes, the Beatles. (An entire string section, recorded at Abbey Road's legendary Studio 2, appears on several songs, including the sublime album closer “Gone," produced by Wyatt.) Straight up, this is Liam Gallagher in full throat, open and honest, with a swagger that harks back to his best moments with Oasis.
Liam Gallagher's second solo album, Why Me? Why Not., debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. Albums Chart. The album's lead single, “Shockwave," is currently the best-selling vinyl single of 2019 in the United Kingdom.
But he's also quick to stress that the album was a team effort. “Obviously, I'm collaborating with Andrew and Greg again, so they had a few ideas, and it was very much the same as last time, do you know what I mean? It was like look, let's make another album, but with the songs just a bit better. That's what you always try to go into the studio and do, is write better songs."
“For me though, the genre of music will always be the same," he continues, and here he seizes the opportunity to throw some shade in his brother's direction. “I'm never gonna go off-roading and write some fucking pop album. But it's always going to have some sort of vibe going on. It's always going to remind you of something classic—like a Lennon vibe or something classic-sounding, because I think that's what the people want to hear from me. Unlike my brother, I'm not writing music just for me. I'm not selfish like that. I don't want people to come wanking and stand there and just fucking not get it. I want them to jump around and have a good time."
Gallagher's approach to songwriting is about as loose as it gets, but he does have a method. Keen eyes will notice he touts several different Gibson acoustics in As It Was, including a Hummingbird, a vintage L-48, and a well-worn B-25. (For plugging in, he owns up to a vintage Gretsch Country Gentleman, in deference to George Harrison.) He usually keeps a capo at the 4th fret because it suits the range of his voice, particularly in Ab.
“Mainly the ideas come at home, when I'm sitting about playing the guitar," he says. “I could never sit down and write about anything specific, because it would just turn out shit. So I just mess about on the verses, and then I turn me mind off, and a melody comes. I always have a few different melodies to choose from, and then I write down the first line, and then that opens it up, and before you know it, you've got a little story going on. But it's the first line I always find the hardest."
In the studio, the collaborative approach with Kurstin and Wyatt was crucial to shaping a song's sound and structure. “They know exactly what I'm about," Gallagher says, citing as an example the hard work and patience that went into giving “Meadow" the feel of a churchy, hypnotic classic. “I wanted it to sound a bit like the Faces, and it started off like that, but then it ended up sounding like Bon Jovi, so we scrapped that. Then Greg got on the Mellotron or the Wurlitzer, or one of them fucking things, and it turned out with a bit more of a 'Blue Jay Way' [Beatles] vibe, so that was a happy accident. I'm always one for trying things, because I think you get beautifully surprised sometimes." As if to accentuate the point, Kurstin takes a brilliant Harrison-like guitar solo midway through the song, setting the mood for a trippy organ coda laden with wondrous sheets of Echoplex.
Wyatt in particular gives “The River," the album's second single, a dreamlike orchestral sheen, with layers of guitar and bass, that reflects his best work with Miike Snow. The song even seems to elevate into the stratosphere on the wings of the guitars by Moore and Zinner, with Zinner laying into a wispy, psychedelic solo that sounds like a page straight out of his preference for a vintage Strat, whipped up by a phalanx of Line 6 and Eventide delays as it sidewinds its way out of a cranked-up Vox AC30.
For all the rock-star bombast and bluster that underpins most of Why Me? Why Not., Gallagher still allows himself the humility to marvel at the sheer level of talent he's assembled. On tour, with Mehler and Moore on guitars, Christian Madden on keyboards, Drew McConnell on bass, and Dan McDougall on drums, he has an A-list band behind him with nearly five years together as a unit. “They're good lads," he says with admiration. “They just come out and they kill, man. So I'm quite happy being a singer, do you know what I mean? I played guitar a little bit on the last album, just to get the feel and that, but I'm sort of limited. I'd rather get in the ring with that kind of raw guitar as a singer, because I think it suits my voice. Not many singers can give it back when you've got guitars that raw."
With that sentiment, he laments the state of rock music today, and reasserts his love of the classics. “The Beatles and the Stones were the first bands I got into," he says, “but I mean, I got into the Stone Roses, too. And obviously you listen to your favorites, and you read their interviews, and they say, 'Oh this is what we got into,' the Pistols, the Clash, Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel. And you go out and buy the records, and before you know it, the first couple of bands, they shape your record collection, because you want to hear more like that, and you think, 'Oh I hear a bit of this. I hear Jimi Hendrix, or John Squire's guitar playing,' do you know what I mean?"
Of course, there's another band out there that still exerts its own sphere of influence, even if its founding members can never reconcile their differences. For his part, Liam Gallagher insists that Oasis is still a going concern, and if his remarks to Radio X's Chris Moyles in 2017 are any indication, he still holds out hope that there's a chance for a reunion down the road.
“I mean, I'm proud of Oasis. I'm still proud of it, do you know what I mean? It was like, we did what we meant to do. Obviously, we don't do it as much, but Oasis is still alive, without a fucking doubt. It's not been put out yet. Someone's tried to put it out many times, but at any given point, if you threw something on it, it would fucking go up again. Those songs will never die."