Beady Eye behind the gate: (from left to right) Andy Bell, Liam Gallagher, Chris Sharrock and Gem Archer. © Steve Gullick
When Oasis broke up acrimoniously in 2009, the smart money was on Noel Gallagher to release the solo album he allegedly had in his back pocket and show his frontman younger brother, Liam, who wore the pants in the family. After all, Noel wrote the bulk of Oasis' material, including their biggest hits, and he sang on a good share of them, too. What kind of idiot would bet against him?
While Noel has played a couple of solo shows since splitting Oasis, it's Liam who has fired the first real shot across the bow with the release of Different Gear, Still Speeding, the debut disc from Beady Eye, the band he formed with ex-Oasis members, guitarist Gem Archer, bassist Andy Bell (now switched back to guitar, his traditional role) and that group's touring drummer, Chris Sharrock. (Session players perform bass and keyboards on the album.)
Produced by renowned boardsman Steve Lillywhite, Different Gear, Still Speeding is the best Oasis record Oasis haven't made in over a decade. The lead-off single, Bring The Light, is a rollicking, retro-rock blast; elsewhere, on cuts such as The Roller and the aptly titled Beatles And Stones, the band recall (and brazenly name check) their '60s idols.
MusicRadar caught up with Gem Archer to talk about Beady Eye, what it was like recording with Lillywhite and how his guitar approach has changed since his Oasis days. We also posed that burning question on everybody's mind: So when are Noel and Liam going to patch things up?
The new album sounds fresh and full of vigor, like the first few Oasis records. I take it the band is enjoying themselves.
"Yeah, we are. It feels pretty special that everything has happened the way it has. We feel like a brand-new band, which is funny when you think about it, considering that we've all played together for a while and know one another so well. You'd think we might have fallen into a rut musically, but here we are with some crackin' new songs, a cool new attitude and outlook. Yeah, it's fun.
"Plus, the way we work is different, and I think the energy comes from that. We're all individuals. We write on our own and then we present the songs to each other. Then everybody gets involved and has their say. Songs change from the original way they were written. That's the thing with us: the blueprint of the song is there, but anything can happen. That's how it's working with us. I quite like it."
So even though Liam is the frontman for Beady Eye, he doesn't run the show the way that Noel ran Oasis?
"No, not at all. With Noel - and I'm not knockin' him, 'cause he's a great, great songwriter and artist - the songs were mainly his, and they were pretty much his vision. A riff here and there might get changed, but they were his tunes. Yeah, it's much more democratic in Beady Eye.
"It's funny how we started working, though: At first, I kind of thought our songs had a bit of a Roxy Music feel to them. Then I got a text from Liam, and he said that he wanted to go 'more Jerry Lee Lewis, more Eddie Cochran.' That really set the proper tone. At that point, we revved up the tunes and blasted through 'em. It's kind of like The Sex Pistols with piano."
To my ears, Liam's singing has more power than it has in years. Do you hear that?
"I do. I think it's because he's got room to breathe now. Another reason is more technical: On Oasis songs, he would come in and do his vocals at the end of the sessions. He would kind of follow Noel's guide vocals, and because of that, maybe he didn't feel he could put his own personality on the songs. In Beady Eye, Liam is singing right along with us while we play. He's totally involved in every aspect of the music."
Is your approach to guitar playing different in Beady Eye than it was in Oasis?
"In Oasis, if it was a straight-up Noel song, he'd play the guitars. Actually, I played a lot of bass on that stuff. I might stick in the odd guitar riff, but not that much. I think I have a much cleaner guitar sound on the Beady Eye record, but there's less guitar than on Oasis albums. I like the sound - single-coil pickups going through Fender amps. That's what we went for."
Recording with mega-producer Steve Lillywhite
How did Steve Lillywhite come into the picture as producer, and what was it like working with him?
"Steve was great. He came in rather quickly. Pretty much as soon as we formed, after Noel quit, Steve rang us up and said he wanted to throw his hat in the ring. We got six songs together and sat down with him and played them. He liked what we were doing, and we liked his suggestions. The man has done so many incredible records. He's totally got it, you know? You don't have to investigate him too much. His work definitely speaks for himself. What a track record. [laughs]
"The big thing was, Steve let us be us. He doesn't really change bands or make them be something they're not; he just betters what's already there. So we rehearsed everything else, demoed a bit but not much, and then we went about playing the songs in the studio. Steve captured our sound. Nothing was too fussed over.
"I like Steve's way of working: You go in the studio, you knock it out, and you don't lose the spirit. That's really important, I think. I felt like I was 16 again - that's how breezy the process was. And we worked fast, too. I think it was six weeks of recording, six weeks of mixing."
In Oasis, you alternated between playing Gibsons and Fenders. Any changes in what you use with Beady Eye?
"I played a lot of Fenders, but I played some Ricks as well. These songs have a lot of rhythm, so those guitars felt right for the material. It wasn't like I was trying to purposely get away from the 'Oasis sound'; it wasn't premeditated. These songs are light on their feet.
"Some tracks have only two guitars on them, not like that big wall of guitars we had in Oasis. We didn't fill in the sound when we didn't need to. It's like those old Stones records - just a couple of guitars in all the right places."
I'm curious: When Noel quit, were you tempted to go off with him?
Bell, Archer, Sharrock and Gallagher show off their not-quite beady eyes. © Steve Gullick
"No, I went with Beady Eye. It was an intuition. Gut instinct and nothing more. Besides, Noel is very self-sufficient. He knows what he wants to do, and I'm sure he'll do it. He's going to make a bang-up solo album. The guy's so talented. I know he'll do something amazing."
Have you spoken with Noel since the breakup?
"We've spoken, yeah, but not since Christmas. There's no reason why I haven't talked with him more recently - we're just so busy, that's all. But you know, there's no problems between us. The beef is between Noel and Liam, not with the rest of the band."
Oasis reunion - yes or no?
Already there's talk of the possibility of an Oasis reunion. Liam said in a recent interview that he didn't think it would happen, but if it ever did, it wouldn't be for the money - it would be for the fans.
"Yeah, well, nobody's thinking of an Oasis reunion right now. We're all focused 100 percent on Beady Eye. I'm sure Noel is focused on what he's doing as well.
"Of course, Oasis was a big part of our lives for a long time, and it was beautiful. What a great band we were. But it's done. Now that I say that, I have to add that old saying 'never say never.' Too many bands say they'll never do something, they'll never get back together, and then they do. So, you know how that goes. Liam and Noel gave Oasis everything. They gave it their hearts and souls. But hey, the music continues - that isn't going anywhere."
As far as you know, have Liam and Noel spoken at all?
"No, they haven't spoken. I hope somebody breaks the ice at some point, but that's… Who knows who will be first? I don't know. They're brothers, you know? They're blood. Blood's a big thing. When you're in a band with your brother, it's different from being in other bands. Nobody can figure it out but those two. It'd be nice if they did."