A week after his secret show at Manhattan's tiny McKittrick Hotel this August, Liam Gallagher was feeling nostalgic about the early, glory days of his former band, the drama-prone Oasis, one of the most influential and best-selling British rock acts of the last 25 years. The show, in front of about 150 people, most of them young men who weren't old enough to hear Oasis in the band's heyday, reminded him of the rowdy, sweaty, claustrophobic sets in their native Manchester two decades earlier.
"I have fond memories of it all," he tells Esquire. "When you start out, you don't know which way it's going to go, but you think you're the ballocks. Even though people know what I'm about and all that, I'm starting from the bottom again. Don't tell anyone, but I secretly love it, because I do have fond memories of them days."
"Them days," as chronicled in last year's documentary Supersonic, were heady days, indeed. Oasis went from playing to a handful of fans on Tuesday night's in the band's hometown of Manchester in the early '90s, to 250,000 at Knebworth Park in the summer of 1996. It all came to an end in a hail of "smashed guitars and thrown fruit," as Liam's brother Noel Gallagher once told me, in 2009, and the intervening years weren't all that kind to Liam Gallagher. His band Beady Eye—essentially Oasis without his brother—never really took flight, and a lawsuit over an illegitimate child, followed by an ugly divorce, left Gallagher "spending more time with lawyers than making music," he says.
As Oasis' frontman, Gallagher was a notorious bad boy, which served him—and his bandmates, as even his brother would likely admit—well. More recently, though, his public persona has become more nuanced, even tender, while still maintaining that Liam Gallagher edge. He's active on Twitter, opining on topics as varied as the mass shooting in Las Vegas ("So sad what's happened in Las Vegas when will it all stop") to being carded for buying cigarettes ("I've just been told I can't buy cigs unless I got ID im 4FUKIN4 has the world gone mad").
"I think people have missed me. Whatever it is about me they like, I think they missed it."
In June, he delivered a powerful set at Manchester's One Love concert in the wake of the deadly attack at an Arianna Grande concert—an appearance that sparked yet another public feud with his brother, Noel, who Gallagher called a "sad fuck" for missing the show. Then, two months later, Gallagher abruptly ended a performance at Chicago's Lollapalooza festival after just four songs. And in September, he became an unlikely viral sensation with this profanity-laced video:
By the look of the crowd at the McKittrick, Gallagher's fans have hardly abandoned him, and truly seem to only wish him well, foaming at the mouth for Oasis classics like "Rock and Roll Star" and "(What's the Story) Morning Glory," and pogoing approvingly to new ones like "Wall of Glass" and "For What It's Worth," from Liam's new album, As You Were, out now.
Here's what Liam had to say for himself, over the course of several conversations I had with him in August:
He tries not to be a dickhead.
A gig's a gig, man, as far as I'm concerned. Whether it's 200 people or two hundred thousand people, you're just trying to fucking get in the zone and fucking get everyone off, you know what I mean? Sing the best you can and not act like a dickhead and jump up and down, remaining in control all the time, that's the way I see it. I do that when I go off stage! I go, "Werrrrr fucking great woohoo…"
He feels the public is rooting for his comeback.
I think people have missed me. Whatever it is about me they like, I think they missed it. I think I've got a good album, with good songs on it, and I feel refreshed. I feel like I'm ready to come back and do what I'm best at, and that's just fucking singing my heart out, you know what I mean? I'm talking a whole load of shit, man, because I'm equally as good at that as I am at singing.
Though he shares writing credits on several songs on As You Were, Liam doesn't consider himself a songwriter.
I wish I could sit here and bullshit you and tell you a long story like all the other people you interview do, but I'm just a rock and roll singer when all is said and done, know what I mean? But I've been good to rock and roll throughout the years I'd like to think, and I just think it will always be good for me. So even in the worst of the four years off, I didn't panic about it. Songwriting isn't the end of the world, because the emphasis is, as long as I can sing the songs, that's where I'm at. When I walk past a mirror, I don't see myself as a songwriter. I see myself as a rock and roll singer.
Liam had two rules when making As You Were: Keep it simple and …
No saxophones! God, no. No. But to be honest with you, I don't want to reinvent the wheel. The wheel is fine as it is. It goes round and round, and God bless it for going round and round. I'm not here to change rock and roll, I just want to keep it going, you know what I mean?
He has some unformed thoughts about an Oasis reunion.
I'm not thinking about it, really. I don't think about the future. Oasis is obviously my first love, right? But me and my brother don't get along. To get the band back together, we have to start speaking and getting on with each other. And obviously we'll have to sit down and all that bit and blah blah blah. But it's not happening at the moment, so at the moment it's me doing a record on my own, with a little help from my friends, and all that stuff. If the album goes off, and people like it, then I guess we'll do another one. If it doesn't, then we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. But I certainly don't want to make music if people don't want it. This is the best I can do, and I poured my heart and soul into it. If it fails, then it fails. Listen, I'm prepared for people not to like it as much as I'm prepared for people to fucking have it.
He's giving fans authenticity.
The crowds are getting a bit of reality, even though I don't do much on stage but fucking sing. There's a whole new generation out there, man, that are definitely yearning for a bit of reality, do you know what I mean? They want the real fucking deal. They want passion. They want the blood, sweat and tears. They're getting real songs. That's what rock and roll is about. And I'm fucking doing it as much as I can without damaging my voice and being a dickhead. So people are digging it, man, and it's good times at the moment.