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The Amorphous Androgynous Discuss Noel Gallagher Collab
Carl Loben , May 11th, 2015 13:54

Gaz Cobain tells Carl Loben how the production duo's elusive collaboration with Gallagher on his second solo album ended up as little more than the former Oasis man wanting "a psychedelic plug-in"

I do this Game Changer series of features and mini-docs for DJ Mag - witness the one here on Goldie's 'Terminator' - and was interviewing Gaz Cobain from Future Sound Of London/Amorphous Androgynous about FSOL's memorable early 90s single, 'Papua New Guinea'. It was a good interview, he's very eloquent and expressive, and after covering that ground and talking about what happened to FSOL for the rest of the 90s, I casually asked him about working with Noel Gallagher...

This evidently touched a bit of a raw nerve, as Gaz has had a painstaking few years working with Noel on his High Flying Birds project. What followed was a long rant, on the record, about his frustrations of working with Noel, and it makes for fascinating reading for anyone interested in Noel's post-Oasis work.

Noel loved Amorphous Androgynous's A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble mix a few years back and wanted to infuse his subsequent work with a tinge of psychedelia. He hired Amorphous Androgynous - Cobain and Brian Dougans - to work on his second solo album. Gaz now suggests that Noel seems to have simply wanted "a psychedelic plug-in", and seems understandably irked that he spent so long working on the album only to find it never seeing the light of day. He said that his rant didn't want to be a slag-off of Noel, but did go on to say some fairly damning things… If only we could all hear that unreleased album. Surely nobody would think any the less of Noel if he released it.

What's the latest with Noel - one minute it's on with you guys, the next minute it's all off again…

Garry Cobain: Noel is too afraid to be weird, he's kind of used us to pepper his album and give the idea that he's pushed out enough to sell his records - and he's done it for two albums. In fact, two of the songs we wrote while trying to get him... I mean, we were supposed to be producing his first album, we listened to his demos and said: 'People are gonna love these, 'cause people love you as a songwriter.' But from our point of view, you've had hits with the Chemical Brothers, which were great, and [one of] Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble [mix series by Amorphous Androgynous] was his favourite album of all time, the first one, Cosmic Space Music. That got us to remix Oasis - we did a 22-minute remix of Oasis' 'Falling Down'. So we were producing his first solo album [Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds from 2011] - it was never a remix album. It was a big responsibility to get it right, and we spent two years on it.

So what happened?

GC: At the end of the day, he created the illusion that he was going to do something really radical with the first one - and he didn't.

He takes such inspiration from The Beatles, and they completely pushed the envelope with Sgt. Pepper's and some of their late '60s stuff - why didn't he have the vision to do the same sort of thing?

GC: I think at one point he did, I must credit him for that. For two years, if you go and look at his press conference where he says 'I'm releasing two albums', have you seen that?

Err, no...

GC: He basically came out when we'd been making an album for about a year and a half, and he said: 'I'm not releasing one album, I'm releasing two.' That was the first time I heard about it, and I'd been working on his record for a year and a half, and I didn't even know that he'd been recording the same stuff that we were doing in a straight form. And that was the end of our album, 'cause we were doing tracks for the first time for people to hear. Which meant that he'd always resisted us being really far out, yet the far-out stuff we'd done - I mean it was all pretty far-out for Noel Gallagher, don't get me wrong - but the really far-out stuff was caused by us being a bit embarrassed because he would go in the press and say it was a bit like Pink Floyd. We almost learned more from the press than we did from him face to face, and to watch that press conference and see that ours was a radical remix album...

Was that frustrating?

GC: In that process, your album is very guitar-based and not really what people expect from a Noel Gallagher solo album, and I said to him: 'In a way, Oasis has held you back.' You've loved Krautrock and Pink Floyd, you love A Monstrous Bubble and you've had these hits with The Chemical Brothers - surely your solo album should celebrate this? And I want that for you. My role as a producer is as somebody who wants the best possible version of somebody. As someone who's listened to 30 years of radical music across the board, we brought all of that to him. But at the end of the day there's a big difference between what I think of a producer and what someone now wants from a producer. I thought at that point a producer was somebody who just did something absolutely amazing, y'know? Now what I think of a producer is [that they are] somebody who does something that the artist is comfortable with. There's a big difference.

For whatever reasons, he went back to being very safe. His first album was very disappointing - I think even fans of his would be disappointed by it, it doesn't explore any of the angles we explored. He was like cherry-picking our work and using it to make sure that people thought he was being far out, but all that work was done by us. On his new album, Chasing Yesterday, the tracks where we actually pushed him out of his comfort zones and made him write in a new way... I mean, we were the only people who had ever made him improvise on the spot, and we wrote backing tracks for him. Both of those tracks - we wrote the backing tracks, we worked on them for six months waiting for our moment to come, and we finally get him to come to the party. He writes some lyrics and some basslines, and do you know who he thinks wrote those tracks?

Noel?

GC: Yes, him. On his new record, we are co-producers - we're not even writers. The guy's got a bit of a cheek, to be honest. He's not my favourite person in the world at the moment. I kind of still love him, but he's from a different school - that's what I'm saying. He comes from this school where the guy who comes and sings and strums is the god.

The old rock & roll paradigm...

GC: Well, he does love great music, he's got really good taste. He's just got no idea how to make it. What he terms psychedelic and what I term psychedelic are very different things.

Do you feel a bit used by him, then?

GC: In a way I think we were employed to make Noel Gallagher psychedelic, and do you know what I tried to do?

What?

GC: I tried to help him to become psychedelic. I wanted him to become psychedelic. I actually think... 'cause if you go and listen to 'Falling Down', our 22-minute Amorphous Androgynous mix, if we were doing that job we could've done that standing on our heads. That's just remixing, I love that job. If you come to me and say: 'I love my version, can you just do me something really radical?' I'll go, 'Oh, that'll be brilliant fun, I can do that.' I just think he wanted us to do all the work. He viewed us as like a psychedelic plug-in. He could just be him, with no change, and we would just make it all psychedelic. We did all the work, and he's ended up cherry-picking some of it. And my big disappointment with it - and it's not an anger - is that I wasn't able to change him and the way he worked.

Having said that, if you go and listen to 'The Right Stuff' on his new record, people are claiming that it's the one track that is really outside of his comfort zone. And do you know why? 'Cause we did all the backing on it.

It sounds like you should've got him to drop acid with you, or something...

GC: Well, my vision of psychedelia is more natural, but at the beginning I had plans for him. I had plans that we were gonna go to India...

You definitely should've fixed him up with a Maharishi...

GC: This is a really interesting story that kind of sums it up. The first day we had a meeting to discuss what we were gonna do, at this point I was full of absolute positivity about what I was gonna do. I was gonna take him to India, I was going to show him the way in which The Beatles had become psychedelic. The Beatles didn't use psychedelia as just pretending to sing about love, The Beatles really indulged in the counterculture...

Absolutely...

GC: ...from drugs to Steve Reich to Philip Glass, they did it all. Otherwise you were a square fake - people didn't suffer fakes. So I had all these plans, and I told some of these plans to one of his best friends - the guy who's the engineer on this new record with him, Strange Boy [Paul Stacey]. He listened to my plans and said, 'So really, you're hoping to revolutionise Noel Gallagher', and I thought about it and I said, 'Yeah, I suppose I am'. He looked at me, stroked his chin and said: 'Good luck with that'.

I never knew what he meant until the process started to unfold. I loved him in the studio, but he's very very different to me - he doesn't experiment that much, and within the first week of being in the studio with him he turns up with eight guitars and effects pedals - a lorry full of guitars - and he sets them up, and I said to Brian: 'This is gonna be fun, we're really gonna be experimenting here.' I get all my sounds from one guitar and a couple of effects pedals, so I imagined that he had seven [more] guitars for a reason.

So I left him for a while, and when I came back... 'cause this was the first time I'd ever worked with a real rock & roll star, and I knew that George Harrison spent 12 hours working on a backwards guitar solo. So I left him for a while, and when I came back he was very angry with me. He said he wanted me to tell him exactly what to do. Within two days of that, the story was in The Sun or somewhere - this is the thing with him, he speaks to the media more than he does to you: 'I almost walked out on the first day of recording with Gaz Cobain, because he made me play a guitar solo for five hours'. All I did was allow him to try to get the right guitar sound from his 87 guitars, but he wanted me to tell him exactly what to play. There's no anger there, but it was a realisation that we come from very, very different fields. And actually the story of what happened over those two years is very interesting, and I got him to come to the party - and he was brilliant. I don't want this to be a slag-off of Noel Gallagher. We got him to come to the party on those tracks, he's really proud of himself. He's not very gracious for giving credit for them - is a nice way of putting it. In the media he just talks about the [Amorphous Androgynous] album being a failure, but it was he who dropped that album eight months after his other one was a success - he only dropped it 'cause the other one was a success, and he didn't need to be weird anymore. That was it.

I just think he's missed an opportunity...

GC: Oh, he's absolutely missed an opportunity, and that album... You know the only thing I left him to do the last time I saw him, which was when I DJ'd an aftershow party... I wasn't angry with him, despite the fact that they literally lied about the other album, which took all my tracks and took the track order - can you believe this? Imagine, if you're like me and you're working on an opus, that's the way I view everything. And the journey, the order of those tracks, is really important. I told him what that order was, and do you know where that order appeared? On the album that I didn't even know about that he was recording in parallel to mine.

So I was being picked for influence left, right and centre. And yeah, the only job I left him with - because there was all the secrecy with what he was doing in this other work - all we left him with was to do the final mixes. I left enough on the tracks so that he could cut off anything that was excess, that he wasn't comfortable with. 'Cause at the end of the day we made millions of decisions for him that he had to become comfortable with. All he had to do was put those tracks through the desk and round them off - I could do it, I told him I could do it, he said he wanted to do it. He's done it on three tracks so far and he's released all of them. He's not done it on any of the other ones, and they're all brilliant! I don't get it.

At the end of the day, he either wants to be pop and really commercial in the way that he's done it for 20 years, or he wants to be what he calls 'way-out' - and his version of way-out is not my version. I was actually trying to do way-out pop - songs that flowed like songs. But actually when you get into that mode, he just wants to do his straight guitar jobs. If you turn it into an 11-minute jamboree where you abstract his vocals, he thinks it's really way-out and cool. Do you think I wanted to do an album like that? I didn't want to do that at all, the album we did was fucking great 'cause it wasn't like that. It was really imaginatively, really evocatively, really experimentally-produced tracks. It was a Noel Gallagher album that was gonna be huge - and all he had to do was cut the cake. And he wimped out, and released an album that, in terms of psychedelic, was grey.

Do you think he had people in his ear saying, 'That's too weird...'?

GC: I think that's true. If you look at the way he talks about the releases, you'll notice one similarity. He gives it a real mighty mouth about how experimental he's being - 'I've got saxophones! I've got a wine glass playing!' It's like, 'Man, saxophones ain't weird!' What are you talking about? Saxophones have been cool since day dot. Saxophones were on Roxy Music, Pink Floyd... maybe in the 80s they were abused by some porn music and some soul music, but there's nothing wrong with a saxophone when played right, it's a beautiful instrument. There's nothing way-out about that. Maybe he's trying to justify it: 'Buy my album 'cause I've actually gone really way-out'... it's strange. As I say, too afraid to be weird, unfortunately.

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