It’s an old question when it comes to pop stars and celebrities in general. Not rhetorical at all, but a real procedural, albeit aesthetic conundrum whose answer — either flamboyant or conversely simplified — can often have disastrous long-term results on the career of the said performer. You’ll recall all the terrible stylistic cul de sacs that the truly overrated producer Rick Rubin has pushed his post-Licensed to Ill proteges down, (Pete Yorn, Jake Bugg, and Nicole Atkins, to name a few), with the tepid results sucking out all of the vibrant momenta their music was building at the time. No empathy for the individual artist at all. But no one wants to question his clumsy sonic shifts because he’s, like, a quotation-fingered “genius,” right? And, like, surely he knows best what makes a hit record, right? Wrong. And to paraphrase the always on-point Pink Floyd, “Hey! Rubin! Leave those kids alone!”
Imagine the difficulty, then, of Liam Gallagher’s situation. At 47, he’s already proven himself to be one of the most commanding vocalists in rock history, via the unique John Lennon-nasal drawl he perfected alongside his guitarist brother Noel in the UK super group Oasis. But after constant feuding led to an inevitable break up in 2009 — with Noel forming High Flying Birds and his sibling soldiering on with Beady Eye — the singer was cast adrift, in a way. And without being poked in the ribs, metaphorically, by Noel’s blistering leads, it was doubtful that he’d reach venomous Hindu Times heights again.
Such is the blessing — and the curse — of family bands. Their members often understand each other far too well. Thus Beady Eye folded after only two albums, leaving its frontman in uncharted new territory. Like Frank Sinatra before him, Gallagher had a distinct, people-pleasing talent far beyond that of most of his contemporaries. But what, exactly, should he be doing with it? Draping it in the richest velvet? Strip it down to its most basic metallic gears? Or perhaps settle for someplace safely in between? The answer — as posited on his 2017 solo bow, As You Were and clarified on this year’s follow-up, Why Me? Why Not. — is a resounding ‘none of the above.’
Gallagher could have taken out a full-page song solicitation for himself in any London daily, and Britain’s most brilliant composers would flock to his aid. With, admittedly, sketchbooks full of tunes that would suspiciously sound like Oasis, Jr. It’s to be expected.
Instead, he chose another path. He put his faith mainly in two key collaborators, Adele alum Greg Kurstin and cohort Andrew Wyatt, a relationship that revved to life with the honking debut single ”Wall of Glass” in 2017 (sort of a Hindu Times lite) and continuing into the folkier new “Why Me? Why Not” (named for two original John Lennon drawings Gallagher owns), which merely succeeds by not straining to clutter Esch mix with Oasis bombast. And the vocalist co-penned every last track.
The set opens on the gruff harmonica-edged stomper “Shockwave,” a karmic fable that’s already topped the charts overseas. No, it’s not Oasis, but it easily parallels it in rumbling megawatt intensity, believe it or not. A subtly orchestrated ‘60s-ish ballad, “One of Us” follows, and somehow it makes perfect sense, as does the proceeding slapback-glossed reminiscence “Once,” which encapsulates more of his life philosophy than fans have ever been privy to.
And so it goes, song to song, Gallagher bravely trying on new sonic suits that all wind up looking chic, contemporary and becoming. From pop (“Now that I’ve Found You”) to roadhouse rock (“Halo,” with a sly wink to T Rex), to Beatles homages (“Meadow”) and regulation anthems like the title cut. It’s Liam, Mach 2. Liam reimagined. Liam, ready to take on the world again with his stellar gift, every bit the equal of his estranged brother. And sure, in a perfect world, these two would shake hands, bury the hatchet, and spark Oasis to life again. But Liam Gallagher is rapidly making a case for himself as his own man, with his own story to tell. Which, of course, is what becomes a legend most. A shockwave, indeed. And he’s happy to explain his motivations…
IE: What have you learned over the past couple of years?
LIAM GALLAGHER: What have I learned? Hmmm. I’ve learned to live in the now and not worry about the future or the past. I mean, take little bits and bobs from it, but take each day as it comes, man. Because yeah, we’re getting older. But we’re also getting closer to what it’s really all about.
IE: How do you stay grounded?
LG: Well, I’m not chasing anything, d’ya know what I mean? I’m not chasing anything in life.
IE: And you jog, too, right?
LG: Yeah. But I’ve got a little bit of arthritis kicking-in these days, so I don’t run as much as I’d like to. But I did a lot of running up in Seattle and across the Golden Gate Bridge, too. I loved doing that, and I did it all in just one go. And then I couldn’t walk for several days.
IE: My motto is ‘Everybody has an agenda, and it rarely includes you.’ You don’t seem very trusting either, so how tough was it to invite new people like Greg Kurstin into your circle?
LG: I don’t think I invited him — it sort of just happened. And then me, him and Andrew all got on together. We just wanted to make music, and that’s what you’ve got to do — it’s a business kind of relationship, so we just go in and do what we do, and I’m really happy with the results. But I like him as people, even though I haven’t spent much time with him.
IE: How does an average day begin for you guys?
LG: Well, how it all started was when I met Greg, and he had a song for me on the last album called Wall of Glass. And he said, “Do you like this kind of riff?” And I said, “I do indeed!” And he said, “Right then — let’s get fuckin’ cracking!” So I wrote some lyrics, we messed about with a few melodies, and before we knew it, we had a song. And that’s what happened on this album. I can send over the few bits that I’ve got knocking about, and they’ll take it from there. Not everything I do stays on every song> No one’s got a massive ego — if an idea gets bent out of shape, we’ll just start from scratch. That’s how it works.
IE: Your sound can go anywhere now.
LG: Yeah, anything IS possible now. But I’m not a nerd about recording — if it sounds good, we’ll do it and move on. But I like making the type of music I loved as a kid, so I don’t think I’ll ever do anything too left field. I can sing on anything, and it’ll still sound like me, d’ya know what I mean?
IE: When you opened for The Who a few weeks ago, and people kept going out to get drinks during your set, you reportedly got a little testy onstage.
LG: I’m not doing this to gain any more fans — I’m here because I wanted to be. I knew I wasn’t going to make any money — I’m just here to sell my record. So I’m here to do a few tunes because I love The Who and I love Pete Townshend, and I love Roger Daltrey, so it was a bit of a holiday because I was bringing my kids over. So if people are eating food or whatever…a lot of people keep turning up, and if they’re sitting there with food in their mouths, it doesn’t bother me. Even if no one turns up, it doesn’t matter, because I’m having a ball out there. So I’m not here for promotion — I’m here just to have a crack at it.
IE: Did you get to hang with The Who?
LG: I’ve met ‘em before — we’d done some gigs for the Teenage Cancer Trust in London. But I didn’t get to really speak to ‘em that much. I mean, they’re on another level, The Who, I’m just a singer in a band — I don’t classify myself as a songwriter or a musician. I’m just a singer, so we don’t get into any of the deep stuff. But I like them, and they seem to like me.
IE: Even going back to your early songwriting experiments like “Songbird,” there’s more in you that’s been tapped yet.
LG: Yeah, there is. But I’m quite happy collaborating — I think we get a lot more done. If they let me just sit there and write a load of songs on my own, I’d still be doing it, because I’m too self-conscious about it, about the words and what I want to say. I want to make some albums and get out there on tour. And working with other people, they can say, “Look — it sounds good. Let’s move on.”
IE: Thematically, what did you find yourself writing about on this new record? Obviously, you avoided Brexit.
LG: Yeah. I’m not a politically-driven man. I keep getting asked about all that shit, and I just don’t have much to say. I don’t know what all we were writing about — love, life, hate, everything. I’ve certainly got no time to be writing about Boris fucking Johnson. Or Theresa May.
IE: But you do have a lot of opinions. You were back in the news getting into it with Suede’s Brett Anderson, who was dismissive of the whole Britpop movement.
LG: What I’m saying is, I think he’s wrong, but I never paid too much attention to him — we were on another level, and all that shit was going on around us. But we were going in a different direction. We were more classic; d’ya know what I mean? With Britpop, there were lots and lots of music, lots of bands, and some nice songs. And some good bands, too. But the whole fucking scene was just a load of fucking idiots in fucking Camden, as far as I’m concerned. Menswear. Where are they today? All them fucking city bands. There were some good tunes and some solitary decent bands. But there was no real fucking shit. The only bands that were making decent albums were us and The Verve, and that’s the end of it. People will go on and on about Blur, but that’s not for me. Nobody else even came close to The Verve, in my opinion.
IE: What advice have you given your son Gene, now that he’s started joining your recording sessions?
LG: No advice, man — I’m not into advice. And when you’re young, you don’t take it in, do you? I’m only starting to take things in now. And when you’re in a bubble, you’re in a bubble, and you’re sort of just racing around, not taking it in. So any advice I give him now will fall flat on deaf ears. So he’s just enjoying himself at this point.
IE: Have you ever thought about dropping out of social media altogether? You often express regret over what you’ve posted.
LH: No, I like being online. I like chatting people up, and I like speaking my mind. And if people can’t handle that? Fuck ‘em. I’m just a person in a band.
IE: You have a new line of parkas coming out, right?
LG: Yeah, soon. And Pretty Green is still around, but I don’t have so much input on it at the moment. I’m trying to strike a deal, and if it works, it works. If not, I’ll just start another company.
IE: But you collect parkas, too?
LG: Yeah, I do. I’ve got a lot, like millions. And I’m not kidding. And sunglasses, desert boots, all that stuff. I’ve got some in my house, some in storage. You know how rockers like leather jackets? I don’t. I like parkas.
IE: On an average day, what entertains you?
LG: We’re watching Peaky Blinders at the moment. And we’re addicted to that. But I like to watch the news, man. Whether it’s depressing or not, I like to keep my eye on it. So I like to have one TV in the house tuned to the news, just in case.
IE: What have you learned since the Britpop era?
LG: I think I’m the same, man. I wear the same clothes; I’m definitely as confident as I was back then. I dunno. I’m standing out like a sore thumb here in 2019, and I like that because I’m still not playing the game.
IE: Final offbeat question: Why do you always sing with your arms behind your back?
LG: Because I like it — I get a bit more power that way. It’s projection. I’ve held the microphone a couple of times, and it feels fucking odd. It just doesn’t feel right. Whereas putting my hands down behind my back so I can just spit into the mike with distaste? Now that feels perfect.