William John Paul “Liam” Gallagher. Even his name sounds like a supergroup—some kind of Frankenstein’s amalgam that fuses a continuum of British rock, glass-shattering volume, and a semi-lethal Twitter account. Lord knows he’s packed an entire band’s worth of swagger into one man. Onstage at New York City’s McKittrick Hotel last July for his first American performance as a solo artist, he assumes his trademark position, arms clasped behind his parka-covered torso, crouched in a perpetual stare-down with the audience. He’s flanked by a banner that spells out not his name, but might as well be: “ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.” Such earnestness from anyone else would seem almost quaint, but coming from the ex-frontman of Oasis, the words fall midway between a dare and a mission statement.
Fifty-five years earlier, his idols, the Beatles, were infamously rejected from a record company with the stunningly inaccurate rationale: “Guitar groups are on their way out.” Now in an era where guitar groups are indeed scarce on the charts, Gallagher’s debut solo album, As You Were, strikes a blow for axe lovers everywhere. For all the noise, irreverence, and distinctive retro vibes…well, the analogy of a hot rod barnstorming a funeral procession comes to mind. Boasting tracks co-written with multi-instrumentalist Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow—who’s worked with Mark Ronson, Florence + The Machine, and Dua Lipa—and Greg Kurstin, the Grammy-winning super producer behind Adele, Sia, Beck, Foo Fighters and so many more, the album charged to the top of the English charts, becoming one of the fastest selling releases of the decade.
It’s a welcome return for Gallagher after more than three years away from the musical spotlight. Beady Eye, his last band formed in the wake of the legendary Oasis-ending split with brother Noel in 2009, sputtered out in 2014, and since then he’s had his hands full with problems in his personal life. His marriage to Nicole Appleton disintegrated after it was revealed that Gallagher had fathered a child with a journalist who had profiled him, and for a time his days were spent shuttling between lawyers. Unsure about his next move, he contemplated the role of a retired rocker living in exile in southern Europe before his muse came calling. A pair of self-penned tunes, “When I’m in Need” and “Bold,” primed the creative pump, sending him back to the studio to record As You Were, and ultimately back on the road. This November he’ll return to the United States for an 11-date tour across the country.
Scientists insist that diamonds are the hardest substance on the planet, but clearly they’re not familiar with Liam Gallagher. His tough talk—including the ceaseless flow of otherworldly insults directed at anything unfortunate enough to fall on his bad side—is nearly as famous as the rock anthems that spout from his mouth and bring packed stadiums to their feet. Despite his reputation for almost gleeful arrogance, the 45-year-old was in a thoughtful, reflective, and almost humble mood when speaking with PEOPLE. Read on for an almost disappointingly polite conversation with the last truly great rock star.
What made you decide it was time to come back in the studio after all this time?
I guess after Beady Eye sort of slipped into a coma, I needed time out to address some things in my personal life. Then after all that was sorted it was like, “It’s time to make a record!” I stumbled across a couple of tunes—one called “Bold” and one called “When I’m in Need”—and I thought they were all right. I went to meet [producer] Greg Kurstin and I made some tunes with him and I kinda got back into the cycle of it. There’s no perfect time to make it; it just felt natural.
In many ways, you hadn’t really slowed down since you started with Oasis. Did the time off change your perspective at all?
Yeah, it did. Obviously I would have liked Beady Eye to be a success but it wasn’t meant to be. I think the time off has done me a world of good. I’m pretty in-your-face as an artist—or a singer, or a big mouth, or whatever the f— you want to call me. I think people needed a break from me, too, so I think it’s done everyone a world of good. I’m not one of them people that craves fame and that. So we’ll do the record, we’ll do the rounds and then we’ll get out of people’s faces again. Maybe we’ll go again down the line, but I certainly won’t be making another one straight away. Everyone needs a breather, I think. But I’m glad to be back and I’m glad to be up there singing. That’s what I was put here to do, man: sing songs. Hopefully I can keep doing that for the rest of my existence.
Do you find that songwriting is therapeutic for you?
Yeah, I do. I just get my guitar out and have a little play and that and see what happens. I get my Dictaphone out and see where we go. I’m not one of them people walking around my house scratching my head going, “F—ing hell, if I don’t write another song again I’ll have to jump off the nearest bridge.” I take it or leave, you know what I mean? I don’t cast myself as a songwriter, I cast myself as a singer more than anything else. As long as there’s people out there willing to work with me and write me a few tunes, I’m alright. I do enjoy writing songs, but I don’t sit there and have sleepless nights like some songwriters who think, “Oh, what if I never write a song again?” That doesn’t happen to me.
Is it ever a challenge for you to sing songs written by somebody else? Does a song always have to mean something to you, or do the best singers always have a touch of the actor in them?
I think that’s true, although I certainly don’t know what half of them mean. “Supersonic”? I don’t know what that means. “Champagne Supernova”? I don’t know what a lot of stuff that means. I don’t even know what “Bold” means! I can sing anything and it’ll mean something because of the way I sing it. I sing it with passion and that means something. When I look at the lyrics I don’t go, “What’s this about?” I didn’t ask Andrew Wyatt or those other guys, “What’s all this about?” I just got on with it and sang it and it kind of means things, you know what I mean? I like things that don’t mean anything. Not everything has to have a meaning behind it. Life: what does that mean? No one knows. It’s just how we interpret it. To be honest for you, every song I’ve ever sang has some sort of meaning. It all means something to me, even if I don’t know what.
How was the process of working as a solo artist different from working as a band?
Even in Oasis, Noel would do most of the writing. It wasn’t always about me, so I’m quite easy about handing over the baton to people to help make a record. It was pretty much the same, to be fair. I sort of popped in when I was needed and got off when I wasn’t. I wasn’t one of those people who goes, “I’m a one-man band!” I went over to L.A., I did a bit of writing and a bit of singing, and then I got off and left them to it to tidy it all up. It was mostly the exact same.
I was at your show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn a few weeks back—your new touring band sounds incredible. You’ve got Jay Mehler—who you worked with in Beady Eye—on guitar, Drew McConnell from the Libertines on bass, Mike Moore on guitar, Dan McDougall on drums and Chris Madden on keyboards. What do you look for when you’re putting a band together?
I’ve got a top band, man. We put the band together towards the end of the record. They’re good musicians and they’re a good bunch of lads. They just keep their heads down and get on with the job, you know what I mean? I’m really lucky to have them. Obviously you’ve got to have a look—we’ve got to look like we’re all on the same page—but the most important thing is that they’re into it. You don’t have to be the best musicians in the world, even though they are talented, as long as it’s got a spirit.
Oasis weren’t the best musicians. The first round of Oasis—Bonehead [guitarist Paul Arthurs] and Guigsy [bassist Paul McGuigan] and even myself and Noel—none of us were super, super talented as musicians. Noel was a good songwriter and I was a good singer, but even still we weren’t that great. But we had a massive f—ing spirit. It’s more about spirit, really. It’s gotta be raw. There’s a lot of virtuosos out there that can play everything, but nothing really comes of it. I want to keep that rawness.
Aside from your album, there’s not a lot of rock the charts right now. What would you do to fix rock ‘n’ roll?
Just stop making dance music. If you’re gonna be rock ‘n’ roll and play rock ‘n’ roll, at least turn your guitars on and use it a bit instead of f—ing worrying about your dance moves. Get your head down and f—ing belt it out like Steve Jones. I don’t care about the business; f— the business. Half of these musicians have taken their eye off the ball and are looking at the stats going, “Oh, how many are streaming? How many are listening?” when they should be in the f—ing studio writing good songs. They’re thinking too much about the business side and that’s not what I’m about.
To me, I don’t think rock itself is in a bad state. It’s always been cool down my way. And to prove it, we’re No. 1 in England. A guitar album has just smashed the whole Top 40 to smithereens. So the proof is in the pudding that guitar music, or rock ‘n’ roll, or whatever you call it, is still healthy. The whole charts might not be full of it, but the Number One record is mine. So there you f—ing go. I can only speak from experience, but I think it’s doing well, so hopefully it’ll kickstart something.
At some of your shows I’ve seen kids who weren’t even born when Oasis had their first few albums. How does it feel to know you’re inspiring a whole new generation?
That means a lot to me, man. They’re the second generation of Oasis fans. Like the first, I won’t let them down. Or the third, they won’t get let down either. With the right songs and the right spirit, I’m your man. As long as I can keep my voice going. Every now and then I take couple of breaks and recuperate and then go again, but if I’ve got the right songs no one will f—ing touch me.
If this album had just dripped out there and no one paid much attention to it, I’d have been f—ed. Personally, I would have gone, “I don’t think I’ve got the heart to go make another one.” But everyone seems to want another Liam Gallagher record, so who am I to deny them?
I hope they know I’m a real deal. The way I see it, it’s all about the universe, mate. I’ve been good to rock ‘n’ roll and rock ‘n’ roll has been good to me. Rock ‘n’ roll saved my life—it’s done it on many occasions. People have had it worse but the last four years I’ve sort of lost me way a little bit. Now it’s come around and been good again. Hopefully I’ll be good to it. The fans are cool, man. Being a Liam Gallagher fan must be f—ing hard work. But let me tell you, being Liam Gallagher is even harder because I’ve got to live with me 24/7. [laughs]
A lot of people don’t like fame, but you seem built for it. What is your relationship like with fame?
I don’t get involved with it, really. When I first started in the ‘90s, obviously it was great. You’re coming into London and you got all these parties and all that stuff, but I soon grew out of it. I soon thought, “Ehh, this is not for me.” I sort of keep myself to myself these days. I get up in the morning, I go out for my run, I come back and me and the girlfriend just do what we do. We don’t go to places where it’s full of f—ing idiots, you know what I mean? We stay to our own neck of the woods. So we turn down a lot of these celebrity parties because it’s not really real, is it?
As far as fame is concerned, it’s cool but I keep it at arm’s length. If someone comes up to me and goes, “I like your jacket,” or “Where’d you get those shoes?” or “I really like your record,” I’m not one of them people that go, “Ooo, go away!” I’m the first person to go and have a chat with them, because I’d be a liar if I didn’t like being recognized and appreciated—without a doubt. Who doesn’t like to be appreciated? So I do dig that, but I’m never going to be one of those people going on about the struggles of fame. It’s like, “Don’t f—ing moan about it when you’re hanging out at celebrity parties. Go and have a night off.” The only people who moan about fame are the people who are in the bubble. It’s like, “Have a night off, mate. Stay in and put your feet up!”
For someone who’s gone through as much as you have, what’s success to you nowadays?
Well there’s life and there’s music. With music, it’s the chance to go out and get in the studio with good writers and learn my trade by being with them and going out and getting some good gigs. Obviously you want a No. 1 record. I just want people to love what I do and actually get it. A lot of people will buy a record just because a lot of people will buy anything anyway. But I love people who actually take it home and in their hearts and souls and listen to the songs and go, “F—ing hell, this song does something to me.” So that’s how I’m judging success. But on the other bit, to be alive and be able to do these things—you’ve got to be in it to win it, haven’t ya?