Their collaboration was meant to radically change the Oasis man’s sound. But only a couple of their tracks appeared on his album Chasing Yesterday, and the rest may ‘never see the light of day’. AA’s Garry Cobain gives his side of the story.
We first began talking about working with Noel on a solo album years ago. We had remixed the 2009 Oasis single Falling Down and turned it into a 22-minute odyssey, which he loved, and then he invited me to DJ at the afterparty for one of Oasis’s Wembley Arena gigs that October. That’s when we began talking about a solo record.
It started out promisingly. When Noel first came round to my house with a bunch of demos, he was strangely subdued and insecure. Oasis were past their sell-by date. I saw a guy with a guitar who needed something exciting. We were all over the press with our new vision of psychedelia and he leaned very heavily on us. He went into it with all the right intentions.
Between 2009 and 2011, I was obsessed with Noel Gallagher. During that period, we spent four weeks in the studio with him. The rest of the time it was just Brian [Dougans, the other half of AA] and me, in control of the budgets, all the music and the musicians. We got in Gary Lucas from Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and Virgil Howe, son of Steve Howe of Yes, to give an idea of how far-out we were going.
The first day, a lorry arrived with 87 guitars and 200 effects pedals, and I looked at Brian and said: “Wow, this is gonna be fun!” And yet within a week there were reports that Noel was considering dropping the album because we’d asked him to play the same guitar solo for five hours. Actually, all that happened was I thought he’d like to experiment with an idea we had, but after 30 minutes he was lost and angry that we weren’t telling him exactly what to do. We assumed he would want to let loose – after all, George Harrison spent 12 hours doing the backwards guitar solo for I’m Only Sleeping.
The studio wasn’t disharmonious, but I did have to work around his limitations and it quickly became apparent that rather than singing and playing differently, he wanted to do things exactly the same as ever as ever. He did the same vocal take five times. I said: “Imagine yourself as a voice actor.” He said: “Don’t ever fucking talk to me about being a voice actor!” I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
We were just finishing off the mixing of the album when we were invited to the press conference on 6 July 2011. I watched it online. That’s when he announced that there would be two albums: the one that became High Flying Birds, and our one. High Flying Birds had the same running order as the album we’d been working on, even if the tracks themselves were a lot straighter. At the press conference you could see he felt trepidatious about High Flying Birds. He seemed more interested in ours. He said it would be an 18-track album ranging from vaudeville to “space jazz” to krautrock, and as out-there as The Dark Side of the Moon. That album is the holy grail to me, and I was embarrassed by these proclamations. They put me in a real quandary because there was no way, with respect, that his songs were anything like Dark Side.
It’s odd because Noel loves the Beatles, the masters of experimentation. But Oasis thought they just needed to sing lyrics of love – it was all surface and no depth. To me, psychedelia isn’t just tasteful songs about the sun and phased guitars; it’s a radical form.
In August 2012, Noel said he was considering scrapping the collaboration because he was not completely satisfied with the mixes – by that time only one of our tracks had come out, the B-side Shoot a Hole into the Sun. But this wouldn’t have been an album of remixes. It would have been his first solo album proper, under the name Noel Gallagher, possibly with “Amorphous Androgynous” in the title. It wouldn’t have been High Flying Birds.
Noel is loved by middle England. Would I turn his four-minute songs into prog-psych music? No, I was prepared to meet him halfway. My mandate was to do the most difficult thing: bring my psych and prog influences to bear on pop songs. It was never going to be as way out as Pink Floyd. But I did think I could make his songs as free as Cosmic Dancer by T Rex.
We tried to force him to write new material. But he dragged his heels and failed to stretch himself. Eventually, we came up with two new backing tracks for The Right Stuff and The Mexican to justify it being “like Pink Floyd”, the two songs that ended up on Chasing Yesterday. We spent six months on them. Now people are citing The Right Stuff as one of the best things he has done, and proof of how good he can be when he explores.
There’s not much colour on his two albums; it’s just the same old Noel. He has tried to send out this message that he’s pushed himself, but it’s just the same generic stuff. We had kids’ choirs, harpsichords, mandolins. We really went to town with orchestras and all sorts of crazy instrumentation. He just needed to cut the pie to suit Noel the solo artist – we left some excess pastry on it so he could trim a bit off.
I believe ours is the album people wanted him to make – a liberated, exploratory Noel Gallagher, cutting loose from Oasis, enjoying his freedom; the Noel who name-drops our Monstrous Bubble albums and krautrock, and who had hits with the Chemical Brothers. He obviously loves that kind of music, but has no idea how to make it.
We still talk. But he has been asked about our album a lot, and his rebuttal of it is a disgrace. It’s doing me a lot of damage. He became too afraid to be weird. But, still, when Noel is ready to collaborate, I’m here.
Garry Cobain was talking to Paul Lester
Noel Gallagher’s Chasing Yesterday and Amorphous Androgynous’s A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble (Exploding in Your Mind) – the Wizards of Oz are both out now.
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