Five years, two albums, one drummer and numerous scraps and scrapes; no-one would blame ANDY BELL and GEM ARCHER for choosing self preservation over further chaos at the heart of the rock’n’roll whirlwind that is OASIS. However, despite half a decade in the belly of the beast, neither would swap life with the Gallaghers for anything else.
Andy Bell strolls into the stark and cramped room backstage at the Düsseldorf Phillipshalle and offers a weary smile and listless handshake. The former Ride and Hurricane #1 guitarist and, for five years now, Oasis bassist looks drawn as he slumps down on a no-frills office chair and rubs his eyes. In contrast, Gem Archer bounds into the room like a cocker spaniel whose favourite toy has just been picked up and waved at him. The guitarist is a bundle of enthusiasm, energy and warm greetings as he explains that Andy has just recovered from tour flu.
The ex-Heavy Stereo frontman makes a perfect foil for his laconic partner in the Oasis rhythm section. While Andy delivers thoughtful and considered opinion on matters concerning his time in the band, Gem heads off on cod philosophical tangents and uses “man” a great deal. Taken as two individuals, Bell and Archer make an odd couple; the former shoegazer from Oxford and the Geordie glam rocker, but together they are elements that have not only combined to help revive a flabby and flagging Oasis but one which has gone a long way to ensure the band’s survival.
Five years ago, Oasis were as close to splitting up as they ever have been; even closer than in the previous half decade of fighting, fucking, snorting and drinking. The band emerged from recording their fourth studio album in France minus two of the original members and with an end product that practically needed re-recording from scratch. In the final throes of his monopoly, Noel Gallagher fixed the album as a one-man band, re-recording the departed Bonehead’s guitar parts and Guigsy’s bass lines. But with tour commitments for Standing on the Shoulder of Giants looming on the horizon, Oasis needed new personnel or face two real possibilities: calling it a day or playing live dates as a trio.
Enter Andy Bell and Gem Archer. Even though he was still part of the Heavy Stereo set-up, prolonged hanging out with Noel eventually led to an offer Gem couldn’t refuse and he joined Oasis with his former band’s blessing. From their long association as label mates on Creation, the Gallaghers knew Bell was a free agent after Hurricane #1 imploded and with Gay Dad about to snap him up (Liam: “I’m not ‘aving that!”), the six-string wizard behind Ride’s sonic soundscapes picked up the four-string and joined on bass.
You’ve both been with Oasis since 2000, what’s changed in the band over that period of time?
Andy: The ship is a lot steadier than it used to be. When I think back to the first couple of tours we did, it was pretty chaotic.
Gem: We’re older and wiser…and we’ve got a different drummer now, that’s the biggest difference really. But it’s ever changing.
When (former Oasis drummer) Alan White left the band, did you have any thoughts of “what have I got myself into”?
Andy: I did get that feeling when Noel left, which was quite soon after we joined the band. Noel had a big row with Liam and took off for about two months in the middle of the tour. That was a bit of a weird one but when Alan left, that was in between tours at the end of a long break so that didn’t really interrupt anything.
But that didn’t make you think that you’d made a bad choice joining Oasis?
Gem: No, not at all. Anybody who knows the band knows that it’s all about the chaos and I do remember Marcus (Russell) our manager saying when we joined, ‘a month in Oasis is like a year in any other band’ and it still is.
Andy: And you can see that ‘cause we’ve aged twenty years in the last five.
Gem: It’s a dog’s life!
The band seems a more diplomatic concern these days, with everyone taking on song writing duties. Was that a very organic thing or was there a meeting where Noel sat everyone down and said, ‘I need you all to pick up the slack’?
Andy: There aren’t any meetings! You only get meetings if there’s a big crisis. We just let it organically move forward.
Gem: We can’t speak for what it was before our time but it just evolves, whether you’re just doing demos in the studio or talking about what you’re going to do in the sound check. I suppose back in the day it was more like ‘right, we’re doing this,’
Andy: It just seems like it’s been organic and we came into the band at a time when there was a space for songs. I think if we would’ve come into the band when Noel was in his first song writing flush, the first era, there wouldn’t have been space for it.
Gem: He was white hot. Liam was in the pub constantly, he’ll be the first to admit that, so Noel had the responsibility.
Andy: And it was Liam who opened the door really when he started writing. Then Noel probably thought, well there’s space here for more than just my tunes here and we came along soon after.
Over the past two albums, you’ve both contributed songs which is a big step from the early days of the band, is there a chance the distribution of labour will be expanded and that we’ll be able to hear your songs in your own voices in future?
Andy: What, with Liam playing bass?
Gem: I don’t think that’ll happen. Liam is the singer and Noel sings as well.
Andy: But Gem’s got a great voice…
But you were both singers in your previous bands…
Gem: I enjoy singing but Oasis for me is those two voices.
Andy: That would be a step too far. I think I’d resign if that happened.
Gem: They’re phenomenal singers, not just belting it out on stage but in the studio. It’s incredible.
Let’s talk about the latest album Don’t Believe the Truth: it’s being widely regarded as a return to form for the band – would you agree?
Gem: I wouldn’t say it was a return to form. Like we said before, (the band) is ever changing, man, and it grows and has a life of its own. This album is just another part of that growth…and it shows that we’re now a band with all its elements contributing to that.
Andy: It was a very satisfying outcome from what was a quite mad recording process. We knew the songs were good, but we wanted the production to be right. There were some moments when it felt like justice would not be done to them but in the end, it all came together.
As song writers, do you always have that compulsion to write?
Andy: I don’t really feel like a song writer, really. Everything happens so fast…I probably spend about 0.0001 percent of my life song writing. It happens about once in about six months when I have to go downstairs and quickly do it and then leave the room.
Gem: Writing on the road…I don’t know any artist who does that to tell you the truth. You might get an idea or a riff but you’ve got to stick it in the back of your head until you get home and then you finish it off. That’s when I feel like a writer when I’ve got a week or two off and then I can indulge myself…I’m not going to answer the phone, I’m just going to finish stuff. But even then, they’re just there…in this little place until we start demo-ing again and Liam will have all his and Noel will have all his…and then there’ll be all those which didn’t make it onto this record as well. So we’ll have plenty of material.
Andy, one of your songs, Keep the Dream Alive, seems to deal with the loneliness of being on the road. Is touring something you both still enjoy?
Gem: I completely still enjoy it, man. The bad thing is missing your kids. Even then you have to explain it to them that it’s gotta be done. I could be driving a cab, I could be on an oil rig…When we’re at home, we’re all there all the time. If you don’t get a buzz from being on tour, you’re in the wrong game, man.
Is touring something that has gone to another level since joining Oasis?
Gem: Definitely. But all of us are from the old school; we’ve all done that up and down the motorways, sleeping on the amps and all that. We’ve heard the stories of when Definitely Maybe was out, Bonehead was driving the van. We know what it’s like.
Andy: When I was doing the tours with my previous bands, I always wondered if it felt different to be in U2 or something. What’s their daily routine? And when you get that routine of being in a huge band, it isn’t essentially any different than when you were all squeezed into a Transit van. It’s just bigger halls, more people, but you’re still sitting in a dressing room with your mates before the gig…
So you’ve just swapped the Transit van for the luxury air-conditioned tour bus?
Andy: You still wake up and feel like a rabbit’s shat in your mouth at 3 a.m. when you’ve got to leave the bus and get into a hotel for a day room that you have to leave six hours later…still pulling your bag along a corridor with your hair all over the place…trying to find your room…But that’s great though, I’m not complaining.