Always entertaining, here the former Oasis honcho talks about his craft, his one-time obsession with the weather and why songs about personal torment are bullshit…
The following piece is an extract from the superb book Isle of Noises by Daniel Rachel, a series of in-depth interviews with British musicians about their approach to songwriting. This is just the first half of the interview with Noel and the rest of it is just as good. You can click through and buy the book at the end of the article. It also features interviews with John Lydon, Mick Jones, Madness, Paul Weller, Johnny Marr, Jarvis Cocker, Pet Shop Boys, Laura Marling, Ray Davies, Squeeze, Joan Armatrading and many more. – James Brown
You were once asked but refused to answer this question. Do you recognize the romantic writer in yourself?
I remember that question. Yes, I am romantic. My missus would sit and scoff at this. I can only be romantic when I’m writing songs. I’ve written lots of love songs. I’m fucking shit at remembering birthdays and all that malarkey, buying cards and ﬂowers: absolutely rubbish.
You recognize beauty in simple things, like the weather.
Oh yeah, for ﬁve years I was obsessed with the rain. It was raining a lot.
Well, there was sunshine after the rain. Somebody pointed that out to me at the end of the Nineties and said, ‘It’s been raining a lot in your music for the last ﬁve years.’ It’s like, ‘I’m from Manchester. It rains. I’m from up north.’
Is it a default when you’re stuck for ideas: rain, shine?
I’m not one of the world’s great thinkers. Damon Albarn said this once in an interview: he can ‘see four black dudes playing cards in a pub in Notting Hill and write a symphony about it’. I could see the same four black dudes and to me it’s just four black dudes playing cards. It’s just how you perceive things in life. I’m not a great reader of books; I’m not a great art lover. What I know is street life and street talk and football and drugs. I was probably the only songwriter in the entire world that hasn’t written a song about 9/11.
It’s unusual for you to write very personally. Did having an abusive father contribute to your reluctance to reveal yourself in song?
All the songs that I like, they’re not written by songwriters pulling the scabs off themselves. All John Lennon’s shit about his mother; I’m not interested in it, doesn’t mean anything to me. All these songs about personal torment, how can it? How can ‘Mother’ mean anything to anybody apart from John Lennon? It can’t, because he’s singing it about his mother, not mine. That’s just my perception of it. It’s never come out in my music ’cause (a) it’s nobody’s fucking business; and (b) it doesn’t make for great music. For instance, ‘Waterloo Sunset’; the sun setting at Waterloo Station belongs to everybody. The abusive father I had belongs to me. I really wouldn’t want to share that or put it into a song. Why waste that three minutes when you could be writing about the sun coming up in the morning?
Other songwriters have said that to be able to write simply you have to dig deep into yourself, but you’ve said you ﬁnd it difﬁcult to write lyrics . . .
It’s a nightmare.
. . . is it because you’re not prepared to look right in at yourself ? I may be way off beam here.
No, it’s not that. It’s difﬁcult for me because I haven’t got a lot to say.
But you’re a great talker.
If I was to write a song about all the things I have an opinion on you wouldn’t be here interviewing me. I’d be like the guy in Placebo.
Lots of writers in your record collection have written about themselves.
Johnny Rotten was never singing about Johnny Rotten, was he? He was singing about us. The Specials were singing about us. The Jam were singing about us – that’s what I felt, and if they weren’t I never read it anywhere that they were. If you were to write a really personal album you’d have to talk about it. What would be the point writing about it? It’s like going to the gym and being so toned up; you’re going to have take your top off at some point because what would be the point of hiding it behind all those leather jackets? Robbie Williams, for instance; everything is about how fucked up he is, how could it appeal to anybody else? Rap music is all about the rapper’s struggle, how he came from the street and ended up in the boardroom. Good for you; doesn’t mean anything to me.
You’re not talking about anything I can relate to, because you’re talking about yourself. There are lines all over the place that are personal to me, like the line about the wishing stone; that girl was a real girl, but it could be about your girlfriend or your mam. That’s the beauty of it…..