Noel Gallagher's post- Oasis debut is nothing short of outstanding, and Gallagher sounds confident. It doesn't hurt that the songwriting on Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds is his strongest since 1995's (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, effortlessly treading that almost impossible-to- achieve balance between instantly catchy anthem and intimate connection with the listener. Gallagher's songs have always been far more about vibe than content. That, in fact, gets me to what Noel Gallagher does so well. He creates an atmosphere that feels both new and instantly classic at once. Tellingly, Gallagher wasn't worried about the critical reaction to his album. "I wasn't really sitting there thinking, 'I'm going to show those people'," Noel told me. "I just work on one song at a time, and take that song to its logical conclusion. And then I disregard it and go on to another one. So I'm never thinking of the album as a whole. I've always been a great believer in the idea that you start on a song and you work on it till it's finished. I've worked on albums where there's a big chalkboard in the studio and you've got all the drum tracks checked off, but you never know what you're up to when you work like that. You cannot possibly do your best work if you do all the keyboard parts in two days. I work very fast. I get through more in a day than most bands get done in a week. Sometimes it's not all great. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes there's one bit of magic in there. But I like to keep moving in the studio. I eat while I work - I don't want to sit around for long breaks ordering in big meals. Just give me a quick sandwich and let's get down to it."
Interestingly, Noel brought in co-producer and mixer Dave Sardy [Tape Op #33] after he believed the album was finished.
Noel: "Dave said he thought he could make it 10 percent better by re-recording some drums and bass and things. Watching Dave make it sound like a group when it's really just me and a click track was just a fantastic experience. I love Dave Sardy. He's great at what he does. He's great at what I'm not great at. In fact, I don't know exactly what he does, but he's brilliant at it. He really digs my songwriting, and he brings the best out of me because what he does inspires me."
Dave: "I came in, surprisingly, when Noel thought the record was done. I'm not sure if I would have used the 10% model, but I told him I thought it needed to be better. And being who he is, he said, 'Exactly what do you mean?' I went through every song with him and it was not a fun day for him or me. The songs were undeniably amazing, but some of the detail work was not there. I believe in the producer-artist relationship. There is something about that 'audience' perspective before you go to the audience. The songs sounded very squared off to me. I like things that push and pull tempo- and tuning-wise. Even if there were loops, there was a lot of tempo mapping going on all over the place. If there's a drummer playing, we'll map to that rather than putting everything on a grid. Noel was worried because he'd recorded a lot of expensive choirs and orchestras, but the genius of Pro Tools was that we retained what Noel had done but it gave me the freedom to experiment and carve everything up - a crazy amount of hours rebuilding the tracks over a two week period before he came in with the drummer. We basically started over on the basic tracks under the overdubs. I have to say it sounded terrible at that point, but when he came in I said, 'You have to trust me. It's gonna sound great when we've added the drums and bass.' And he did. Noel is all business in the studio and really delivers the goods. He thinks about what he wants to do, and then just does it. One or two takes, no lyric sheets, maybe a couple of [vocal] fixes, and that's it. When you're going to do a take with him he starts writing, practicing and working on songs for an hour and a half before you start. He gets himself to a place where he is ready when he steps up to the mic. And I can't tell you how many artists don't understand how to do that. We weren't there to be friends and slap each other on the back. That's how you get shitty records. The producer's job is like being the personal trainer, saying, 'We did 30. Can we do 50?' And Noel's right there with that. I approach every single song as though every moment has to be captivating, like every song could be the single and every song could be the first song on the album. Then at the end you might say, 'Wow, that one really slammed it out of the park" and then you have to stack everything up against that. Otherwise don't put a microphone up. Nobody has any time to hear any music from you, me or the wall. They have to need to hear it because it's that fucking good."
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds is a huge success, on anyone's terms. But coming from Gallagher, with expectations for his solo effort running high, it's beyond what any fan of Oasis, and especially Gallagher, could have hoped for. As for Noel, himself? "I'm pleased, and I'm just glad to play it for the people." -Jeff Slate
Sessions ran from 2010 to 2011 in various UK locations, such as Surrey's State of the Ark (featuring a EMI TG console and several Fairchild limiters), Manchester's Strangeway Studio, London's Dean St. Studios (which used to be Tony Visconti's Good Earth Studios) and the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. Sardy's sessions continued at Sunset Sound and his Hillside Manor. www.noelgallagher.com
Jeff Slate <www.jeffslate.net>