ShortList’s Hamish MacBain discovers how “the maddest bastard in thick-rimmed glasses since my grandma” turned Liam Gallagher and Beady Eye from Sixties fetishists into psychedelic futurists
As ever, there are many things about which Liam Gallagher is currently “buzzing”. There’s his son Gene’s continued prowess on the drums (he’s now in a band), and the fact he was last month given a set of sticks by Reni from The Stone Roses. There’s today’s “mega” photoshoot. There’s Beady Eye’s new bassist Jay Mehler – formerly of Kasabian, absent with chicken pox – whose arrival he declares to be “like Van Persie going to United”.
There’s Suede’s latest single (“F*cking tune… I bumped into Brett at my kid’s school. I don’t mind him, he used to have a pop at me and I used to pop back but you get older: at least I’m not cuddling Damon Albarn and doing f*cking gigs with him”). There’s – still, always – The Stone Roses, who he saw in Dubai a few weeks ago. And while he’s not buzzing about Palma Violets – “I saw a picture, the guy was wearing a weird shirt” – he is all over Justin Bieber.
“Anyone who goes on two hours late is f*cking right in my book, man,” he raves, as the shoot is finishing up. “All these so-called rock bands that sit backstage going, ‘Hey, let’s wait 15 minutes.’ F*ck that, wait two hours and 15 minutes! He’s kicked the f*cking arse out of it – no one will beat that, ever. So get off his f*cking back, man: I am a Belieber!”
More so than any of these things, though, Liam and the rest of Beady Eye – equally enthused-by-life guitarists Gem Archer and Andy Bell, quiet drummer Chris Sharrock – are today excited about their new tune Flick Of The Finger which, if the world hasn’t ended, will go live a few days after you read this. Deriving from an old Liam demo of a song called Velvet Building – “It was on cassette, that’s how long ago it was,” says Gem – it was briefly mooted for the aborted, Death In Vegas-produced Oasis album in 2004, but has now been completely reinvented and retitled, with new words by Andy and Gem, a bombastic brass section and… well, let’s hand over to its creators, shall we?
Andy: “We’re gonna have to start the gigs with it. Got to. It’s a calling card.”
Liam: “It’s stomping, in-yer-face. It’s just mental. To me, it’s like a tsunami just waiting to f*cking come at you, and then it gets you.”
Gem: “It’s like Bruce Lee, on a surfboard, in a tsunami…”
Chris: “…with brass. Burning sage.”
And when you do hear it, and wonder who and what the ranted spoken word bit is all about, then here’s the sketch: it’s taken from Tariq Ali’s book Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography Of The Sixties, with the words – “whose weapons rapidly developed by servile scientists will become more deadly until they can, with a flick of the finger, tear a million of you to pieces” – originally those of 18th-century French political theorist and “friend of the people” Jean-Paul Marat.
Except that now they’re spoken by Fonejacker.
Gem: “We needed to re-record it anyway, and Kayvan [Novak, the show’s creator] came on board to do it. I just love that it’s this heavy, heavy piece of wordage, but delivered by Fonejacker.”
Liam: “So that’s the only guest appearance on the album – Fonejacker. And the first thing that people will hear of our new stuff is his voice: ‘Say what you believe.’ So he’s lucked out there, the little f*cker!”
A TOUGH START
If Beady Eye are happy and excited now, this was not the case a year and a half ago. With their debut Different Gear, Still Speeding not having connected in a way they would like – “At the end of the day, people just didn’t f*cking buy it,” Liam shrugged to me a while back – and having left their management (who also manage Noel), they found themselves playing a last few shows that, at times, Liam says, “Were absolutely f*cking painful.”
“At a lot of them, I was having a really bad time,” he says. “I mean, we were great, but it was just…
Gem: “Situation and circumstance, man. People were saying we’d never make the end of the tour. We were like, ‘We f*cking will!’”
By December 2011, Beady Eye had made it to the end. But they knew it was time to regroup. They would not play live again until June 2012, and even then it was just a handful of support slots with The Stone Roses. Still, at these shows they appeared revitalised: partly due to the rest, partly due to new management, partly because they had relented slightly on their decision to not play Oasis songs, with the crowd at Heaton Park treated to Rock’N’Roll Star and Morning Glory: songs written by Noel Gallagher but – as they say in showbiz – made famous by Liam Gallagher.
“The way I see it, it’s about giving people value for money,” he says. “It’s hard times out there, and if people want to hear a couple of f*cking tunes, is it doing any c*nt any harm? We’re not doing it to get into arenas and we’re not doing it to get out of sh*tholes. And, y’know: if people don’t want to hear them then… we’ll still do them!”
Andy: “We were definitely pretty up at that point. By then, we had about 12 new songs ready, too. We could have gone in the studio then, but we thought, ‘Let’s get a few more tunes written.’”
Liam: “We knew the next album had to be flipped on its head. We didn’t know how to do it, we didn’t know where to start by doing it, so at that point all we felt we had to do was write some good tunes. But we just needed a bit of f*cking help. The last record, the producer weren’t right, he bailed, Gem ended up mixing it and it turned out great for what it was. But we needed a great producer.”
Enter a man described by Liam as “the maddest bastard in thick-rimmed glasses since my grandma”. As well as being the main architect behind the adventurous, some-might-say-wilfully-difficult sounds of his own band TV On The Radio, Dave Sitek is feted for his innovative, forward-thinking production on albums by Brooklyn, New York’s avant-garde elite (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars), and his free-jazz influenced remixes. He once made a space-rock album of Tom Waits covers with Scarlett Johansson. So perhaps not a producer you would expect to be working with a band whose last album contained a song called Beatles & Stones, that sounded quite like The Who and The Kinks.
Andy: “People will talk about him being from one world and us being from a different world, but actually we’re pretty similar. We agreed on a lot of stuff musically: the stuff we liked, stuff we were playing in the room, for fun.”
Gem: “Initially he was like, ‘Why do they want me?’ But we sent him some tunes and he went, ‘Oh, I get it: they want to go there.’ And he wanted to make some rock’n’roll, as he put it. So it was a leap of faith that worked.”
Liam: “I love him: he’s an outlaw. He definitely didn’t come over to London to see the Queen, know what I mean? He came to make a good record. When people mention ‘experimenting’, the thing about that word, it makes it sound like they’re really f*cking trying hard. But we didn’t really try that hard, man. We just laid it on the line. He was like, ‘I’m not here to make demos sound better, I’m here to f*cking toss
it up in the air and see what happens.’ And he did, but that’s as far as experimenting went. We weren’t
sitting there going ‘Right, we need
to do more of this kind of thing’ or whatever, because I find all that sh*t f*cking hard work.”
BE: HERE NOW
Whatever the process, the results, anyone would concede, are very different-sounding. The songs are
still swaggering and direct, but now there are many layers of colour, with tunes taking unexpected twists at every other turn. And Liam’s voice is a revelation: mixed dry, with barely any effects on it, so you feel he’s right up against your forehead. “It’s how I sound round the house or on the back of a camel or whatever,” he says. “I’m sick of idiots saying I can’t sing. Hopefully now they’ll get off my back.”
With the first time Liam and Sitek laid eyes on each other being Day One at State Of The Ark Studios in Richmond, it is a marriage that was helped, too, by the fact both parties were barely aware of each other’s legacies. There was not the reverence a British producer might have for four-fifths of Oasis.
Liam: “It weren’t all f*cking rosey, that’s for sure. We had a couple of ding dongs, definitely. Not fisticuffs, but there was a lot of…”
Andy: “…push and pull. We pushed him and he pushed us.”
So was there material you brought in and he went, ‘No thanks’?
Liam: “Yeah, without a doubt. And you know how that goes down. He’d be, ‘I’m not having that’, and I’d be going, [aggressively], ‘Well, I f*cking am.’ So there’d be a bit of bullfighting going on. And then he’d go off and conduct ‘a musical experiment’ and you’d be like, ‘Hmm, that don’t sound too bad at all, actually. I can go with that.’ And there were others where we were like, ‘You’re losing your mind, we need to get back to Hare Krishna land.’”
Andy: “Sometimes we won, sometimes he won. But the best person won each time for the tune.”
Liam: [Adopts comedy posh voice] “Guys, the record won. Music won!”
The record, by the way, is called Be. Liam wanted to call it Universal Gleam, but was vetoed by “certain people” (Chris). He concedes that you could have “gone into a right old coked-up bullsh*t waffle about that, but with this you can’t really speak much about it. It just is.”
He adds, “My theory is that it’s gonna have Be on the cover, and then on the back I-E-B-E-R. [Stands up, shouts football chant-style] Biiiiieee-ber! I’ve got his f*cking back, man.”
Why are you going on about Justin Bieber so much today?
Liam: “I don’t f*cking know, do I? It’s better than going on about The Strypes, or any of them other f*ckers, innit?”
At the right of this page, there’s more details about specific songs on Be,
but one warrants a slightly lengthier discussion: a spaced-out, electric sitar-assisted Liam ballad you might first hear as Don’t Bother Me, but it’s actually entitled Don’t Brother Me.
So then, Liam: why would you go and call a song Don’t Brother Me?
Liam: “Well, it just sounds shi*t, Don’t Sister Me, doesn’t it? Especially when I haven’t got a sister.”
You must know that it makes it pretty clear who it’s about, and that people will pick up on it.
Liam: “Yeah, yeah, people will pick up on it, but I’m ready to go there. So yeah: it’s about Our Kid.“
You’re prepared for the fact you’re now going to continue to be asked about Noel for the next year and a bit of your life?
Liam: “But the tune is the tune, I love the tune more than I love having to go and speak about it. I could’ve tried to call it to something else, but that’s what it is. [Sings] ‘Don’t brooo-ther meeee.’ And that is it. It’s a lovely f*cking song.
I love the song. I’m not gonna change the title to make my life easier.”
Some of the lines in it – ‘Come on now, give peace a chance’; ‘In the morning, I’ll be calling, hoping that you’ll understand’ – suggest it might be an olive branch?
Liam: “Well, as Andy said to me, it’s a bit contradictory. There’s a load of love in there, and a load of f*cking…”
One verse goes: “I’m sick of all your lying/Scheming and your crying.”
Liam: “Yeah, but the lying and the scheming and the crying might not be about him. It might be about someone around him. Or it might be about me. He might be sick of my scheming, lying and crying. But anyway, there’s a lot of love in there, but there’s also a couple of – humorous, I think – digs. There’s nothing malicious in there, ’cos it’s not in my nature. I wish I could write a malicious one – you’d f*cking know about it if I could – but I couldn’t.”
What do you mean you couldn’t?
Liam: “Ahh, I’m joking, man. But I couldn’t. And You, You C*nt sounds shit, doesn’t it? Plus he’s heard that one before. Everyone’s heard that before.”
Gem interjects: “Life isn’t black and white, is it? It’s many shades of grey.”
Liam: “The best line for me is ‘Did you shoot your gun?’”
“I just think it’s cool. He’s always on about shooting guns, isn’t he? If I Had
A Gun... Well, did you f*cking shoot it?”
Gem: “See, I never even got that.
So that’s the point of it all, isn’t it?”
Liam: “And there’s ‘You’re always in the sun/With your Number One.’
The Sun newspaper… There’s loads of little things going down in there!”
You bumped into Noel after you played the Olympics, didn’t you?
Liam: “I did, yeah. Well, he bumped into me.”
How was it?
Liam: “It was all right. I wasn’t that p*ssed actually, I’d only had like… four bottles of champagne.”
Gem: “I knew that was coming.”
Liam: “I thought I was pretty pleasant, you know what I mean? I said, ‘What do you make of that then, you f*cker?’ And he went, ‘Uh, yeah, it was all right.’ Then I said, ‘I seen your mates there, they said to say hello,’ and he went ‘Who?’ and I said, ‘Take That,’ and he went, ‘Urggh.’ That was it, and I turned me back and had a drink and then everyone was going, ‘Here y’are: speak to him,’ and I said, ‘Nope, I’m f*cking having a drink,’ and that was it.”
But you’re saying it was relatively cool?
Liam: “Well, it wasn’t Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle. It was more Montell.”
You mean as in Montell is a bit less scratching-each-other’s-eyes-out…
Liam: “Montell is cool as f*ck. At least he knows what he’s talking about. D’you know what I mean? You can’t have one chav telling another chav to wind his neck in, can you? Montell’s a f*cking dude: he’s been there, seen it. And he wears f*cking polo necks in front of a live studio audience.”
This seems as good point as any to leave “the Noel bit”, doesn’t it?
EYEING THE FUTURE
As we finish, Beady Eye collectively move straight into looking at video treatments, sat round a table, getting excited again. Gem shows me the artwork for the record on his phone – from a shoot for Seventies magazine Nova that he rightly says “won’t get into Tesco”.
Andy talks about how new bands such as The Strypes and Temples, ironically, will now sound retro next to his band’s new album, but even though Beady Eye’s second is an adventurous step into more leftfield territory, he’ll still “be gutted if it doesn’t go to No1”. Liam talks about “some interesting gigs” that they have coming up. There are ideas everywhere, and the definite sense of a band refreshed and reinvigorated, looking forward.
Beady Eye needed to roll the dice, and they have. It looks like it might just pay off.
BE is released on 10 June. Flick Of The Finger gets its first play on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show on Monday