You Don’t Own Me: A Conversation with Noel Gallagher

Explaining how he learned to channel his love and disinterest into total musical freedom


    Photography by Philip Cosores

    Noel Gallagher doesn’t give a fuck what you think. For decades, his name has been so closely associated with rumors, conflict, familial strife, insults, and more, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t use social media, doesn’t read the interviews, only barely knows what’s been said. But don’t mistake not paying attention to Twitter and the media with a lack of passion; thanks to some changes in production for his latest album, Who Built the Moon?, Gallagher found a new way to channel his intense care for family, friends, and music into free expression.

    For his third album under the High Flying Birds banner, Gallagher and producer David Holmes intentionally threw away anything connected to what the former Oasis songwriter had done in the past. Instead, Gallagher embraced total freedom, resulting in a batch of tunes full of vim, vigor, and a whole lotta love, as good as any in his already astounding catalog. And while they draw influence as far-ranging as his wife and Kanye West, they come from Gallagher’s own passion: “I don’t want anybody to own me,” he vows, in no uncertain terms.

    Fresh off the release of Who Built the Moon?, Gallagher continues to embrace that freedom of expression. He’s quick to deny public allegations of bullying, refuses to work on assumptions, and doesn’t want to be solely thought of as “Noel Gallagher from Oasis.” To do so, he crafted the perfect retaliation against all the assumptions: a record that he calls “the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.” In a time so riddled with the question of whether we care enough about everything everyone says, it’s a strange, but refreshing experience to encounter someone so detached from it all — but it doesn’t matter what the fuck you or I think, does it?


    who built the moon You Don’t Own Me: A Conversation with Noel Gallagher

    Noel Gallagher: Did you miss me?

    I can’t believe it’s been two years already since we last spoke. I have missed tormenting you.

    Why would you torment me?

    Well, they usually pack your schedule with interviews … so are you having a good time doing all this press stuff again?


    Ha! I wouldn’t say I was having a good time, but I’m not having a bad time. I’m doing a lot of interviews. They’re alright. This one is going to be the best, though.

    In your press release, amidst the list of pull quotes from various places, there’s a quote from you that says, “I’m a fucking genius.”

    A friend of mine wrote that. He’s a very funny man. His name is Matt Morgan, and he’s a scriptwriter.


    But in terms of your development as a person — as a human being — what has been going on with you over the last couple of years as you get older and a little wiser?

    You know, I got to the end of my last tour, and I had a very strong sense of what I’d become, who I was, and where I thought I was going. I decided to put a full-stop on that because I was a little bit fucking bored. And I thought, if you can’t have fun doing things like this when you own your own record label and fund your own records and all of that, then what the fuck are you going to do? I just decided to throw all the cards up in the air and see where they landed.

    So, now you’ve just made Who Built the Moon?, your third solo album. Did you have any rules for yourself when you were creating it? Things to avoid, things to push through?


    Oh, yeah. I worked with a producer, and the one ground rule that we set was I was going to write nothing outside of the studio. I was going to come in with no completed songs, and I was just going to make it in the studio. The whole record is built out of flashes of inspiration and being a little bit silly. One of the songs I decided I was going to write as Kanye West, just to see what would happen. And they all ended up sounding great.

    That was “Fort Knox”, right?

    “Fort Knox” is the one that we’re going to give to Kanye, yeah.

    It does sound fucking great. It’s weird: your self-titled was more cinematic, and that was made with a producer, and then the last album, Chasing Yesterday, I remember we chatted about how that was more like a TV series that you also produced yourself. Where does Who Built the Moon? fit in there?


    I just got to a point where I got a bit bored with the process of being in the studio. I would go in for 16 songs, knowing exactly what it would sound like. And then I would come out with 16 songs sounding exactly like what they would sound like. And I was just doing that for 25 fucking years. I met this guy, David Holmes, who encouraged me to just see it through, follow it through, to just try different things, sing in a different way, and try different instruments. He is the biggest influence on this album.

    After years of being so in control, how did you feel about somebody telling you to get out of your comfort zone? Did you tell him to piss off straight away or have a talk with yourself?

    No. Listen, this image of me being a control freak is mainly been formed by journalists and that fucking idiot brother of mine. I’m not really like that. I’m quite single-minded and I know what I like, but I’m not as bloody-minded as people think. Not that I fucking give a shit, either, you know what I mean? I don’t care what people think. I was kind of in the studio policing myself.


    I feel like your vocals and your voice are so much louder this time around. Was that a product of this change as well? It sounds like you have worked harder on your vocals here.

    [Laughs] I’ve actually worked less!


    Well, I’ve given up smoking. That’s what’s happened.

    When did you give up smoking?

    About two years ago, when we last spoke.

    This might be a weird thought now, but is music all about you? What are you doing it for, still? I know that a lot of the songs on this album are about relationships and love, like “Holy Mountain”, “She Taught Me How to Fly”, “If Love Is the Law”. It’s beautiful. But when you’re writing these songs, is the core you and your experience, your wife, your relationship with your friends?


    Well, it’s indefinable. It’s just where I am now as a person. When I was writing the backing tracks, they just suggested to me that they were going to be spiritually uplifting. I think in this day and age, if you’re dying to strap on a guitar, you’re almost blind to write about the news. Right? It’s fucking boring. Those cunts are boring that write about the news. It’s fucking boring. They just never say anything. It’s just all dark shit and like, “The world is shit.” But the world isn’t shit, man; the only shit thing about the world is just the fucking people in it. The world is fantastic. “Holy Mountain” is almost a revolutionary statement. It’s about the joy of the girl that you love. It’s almost revolutionary. That’s how crazy the world is: if love has become revolutionary, what happened?

    Yeah, if that’s what we need to turn to? That makes a lot of sense. I didn’t really think of it like that because obviously people will always question what you’re not saying as opposed to what you’re saying.


    noel gallagher 3 You Don’t Own Me: A Conversation with Noel Gallagher


    So, because the political situation and landscape that people want to talk about is so deeply dire and overwhelmingly heavy, I suppose it makes total sense for you not to want to enter into that and make something that’s a bit of an escape. This album does feel like that, but your music has always felt like that, really. I mean, come on, that’s not a new thing. You have tried to do that before.

    No, I know. But maybe the songs are better this time. They’re quite uptempo. The kind of thing I don’t usually do is uptempo songs. They just came out like that. There’s a strong female influence on the record. There’s a lot of girls on the record. My wife’s on the cover for crying out loud.

    I love how you sing about your wife. It’s really beautiful. Do you write and sing solely about her, or do you sing about love in a more metaphorical sense?


    Well, a song might just be about some heroic woman, and I would turn and look to her and project all those thoughts onto her. It’s not specifically written about my wife. If I’m ever in a place where I need a female role model to write about, then I would look to my missus who is fucking gorgeous and beautiful and everything that your loved one should be, and I project all those things onto her.

    Did the process revitalize you from your creative boredom?

    I don’t know. I felt like that during the last album cycle, but I didn’t have these songs. These songs arrived in the studio because my producer told me not to write any songs at home. Every time I would write something that was sounding a bit like what I’d done before, he’d just stop me and say, “No, no, no, you’ve done that before. Try something different.”

    And some of the songs were born out of conversations. I would say, “Well, what do you mean by different?” And he would say, “Oh, what would Blondie do?” And we would sit there and listen to Blondie, and he’d go: “Write a song like Blondie.”


    Have you ever met Debbie and Chris?

    Yes, I have.

    They’re remarkable.

    Yeah, she’s the best. The fucking best. I fucking love that woman. I’ve met her a couple of times, and, funnily enough, the two times I met her were at the airport.

    That’s a very rock star thing to have happen. Speaking of, now that you’ve been pushed toward an uptempo sound, how has your perspective changed about rock ‘n’ roll? Obviously there’s “The Man Who Built the Moon”, which is bookended with those two instrumentals, and the stripped-down bonus track, “Dead in the Water”. But what do you feel is rock ‘n’ roll now?


    I think when all is said and done, this is my most rock ‘n’ roll record ever. I’ll tell you why I think that: rock ‘n’ roll is not a sound. It’s not a beat. It’s not an electric guitar. Rock ‘n’ roll is freedom. It’s freedom of expression and freedom of thought. I was completely free when I was in the studio: free of who I was, what I had become. I didn’t care. I’d been Noel Gallagher from Oasis for 30 years, and I fucking loved it, and I still do love it. But when I was in the studio, I was just in this moment of free expression. That to me is the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.

    noel gallagher 1 You Don’t Own Me: A Conversation with Noel GallagherAre you ever tired of that connection to your past? I was wondering if you were going to make music without High Flying Birds and just be Noel Gallagher, and obviously there’s the narrative with your brother having an album out about the same time as you and having everyone looking at his Twitter where he’s talking about him and you. Is there ever any point where you’re just like, “Fuck, I just want to be talking about my music”?

    Of course. But my brother’s a fucking moron. I have to deal with that every day.

    And still sometimes you’re the one who is labeled as a bully, even if it’s him often tweeting about you.


    Of course.

    What do you mean “of course?” Was that always the case, even when you were younger?

    You know, he’s been like that since he became famous. Generally speaking, I don’t fucking care what people think about me. I don’t care. I don’t care what people think about him. I don’t fucking care.

    I know that success is something that can create confidence in your songwriting and your passion, but…


    No, let me stop you there. I don’t have any social media accounts. So, it doesn’t reach me in any way.

    So, you don’t ever read his tweets about you?

    No. I don’t have anything on my phone. I don’t have a laptop. I’ve got an iPad and a fucking phone, and I have no social media accounts. I’m aware of what people are saying because my daughter will come in from school and say, “Look at this. Look at what these people are saying.” And then we’ll laugh about it. It just means nothing to me.

    That’s so bizarre because the picture that’s painted is so different — and I know it isn’t you because I listen to your music, which I think is the best way to get to know you. But there’s this huge misconception, as you mentioned, that you’re either a bully or a control freak. But being passionate isn’t the same thing, which must be why you don’t have the urge to retaliate.


    This album is the best retaliation. This album and its joy, its uplift, its female influence are the biggest middle finger to all those people. Like, “I don’t fucking care what you think. You don’t own me.” You might own Liam because he lives in the past and he’s a coward in musical terms, so he must go around getting other people to write the Oasis sound for him. That’s fine. Whatever you have to do to survive is what you have to do. My entire life has been spent not being interested. I don’t want anybody to own me. I don’t.

    What do you care about, then?

    I care about my immediate family: my wife, my three children, my niece, my friends, my mum, and my fucking music, the people in my band, and the people who work in my office. That’s it. I don’t care about anything else.


    Is that how you want to be remembered 30 years from now: just about the music and your family instead of all the opinions? It seems all artists are dogged by so many more opinions than ever before, because it is such a loud society now. It’s challenging to not get affected.

    All the people that know me will remember me how they remember me. I don’t give a fuck. You’ll remember me fondly because you’re a very nice lady. But somebody who’s never met me, how they remember me, frankly, I wouldn’t give it more than a two-second thought.