Quietly spoken and darkly understated, Andy Bell is the unassuming and humble bass player in Oasis.
Like George Harrison in The Beatles, he is overshadowed by two far more outspoken bandmates, but certainly no less talented. Also like Harrison, Andy is inclined to delve into the theoretical to find his muse. ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ contains Andy’s ‘The Nature Of Reality’, in which he advises: “Space and time, the here and now, are only in your mind”.
His is a dry sense of humour; he often looks serious, but ends each answer with a chuckle, though as the only Southerner in the group, his outlook at times seems more studious than the rest, and is well suited to his role within Oasis. “As a thirty-eight-year-old man with two kids and a mellow lifestyle,” he says, “I’m suited to being a bass player.”
How does it feel to be back on board the Oasis rollercoaster?
It feels…you know…you do it with an optimistic but heavy heart. It’s really good, it’s really great, but you know it’s gonna take up your entire energy for a long time. But it is great.
Do you get nervous thinking about playing in front of so many people?
It’s definitely a team effort, but a team that’s got a definite leader.
I get nervous before every gig. That’s always been the same. I don’t actually puke up or anything, but I have a few minutes of [deep breaths], you know, gotta chill myself out.
Is the first gig of the tour always the worst?
No no, not at all. It just hits you weird sometimes. The first gigs are often fine because you’re just excited about it. Often the bigger ones, the really big ones or the really important ones, you’ll just be like, really nervous.
How do you feel about going out now and playing this album live?
Oh man, I’m over the moon with the album. I think it’s perfect, I really do. It’s totally where I’m at. I think we’re all on the same page; we’re all like musically into doing what that album does, and the new tunes that we’re playing come across really well. I think we can probably fit in some more. Like, Noel’s been playing acoustic versions of some of them in between rehearsals. I think he could be doing that. They all sound great.
Would you like to do that with your sets – mix up the sounds and performances?
I’d like to change it round a bit more, but we tend to get locked into a set-list, and there will be one or two songs that change, but it just seems to work better for us to have these pretty static set-lists.
Do you feel like the band is more of a team effort now?
Yeah. It’s definitely a team effort, but a team that’s got a definite leader. Noel definitely steers it. You’ve gotta have someone like that, I think, otherwise you just end up with a mess. I think we’ve got a properly focused sense of direction, but within that there’s a lot of freedom, there’s a lot of creative expressions going on on all sides. It’s good.
Can Noel be easily convinced if you think he’s wrong?
Um…it depends what mood he’s in, and how much he believes in it. I mean, if he asks you for an opinion on what he’s doing, he’s obviously unsure himself. But a lot of the time he’s got his opinion and he knows what he wants to be doing – I think we all do with our own tunes. You write a song and you almost write the production into it; you know how it should sound. There are times when Noel is really open and wants opinions and there’s times when he doesn’t, and you just kinda learn…with anyone really.
Do you feel that there is a certain level of quality that your material has to adhere to?
Well obviously everything I write is genius! Yeah, of course, it’s got to be a really good tune. Saying that though, I have brought in some pretty sketchy ideas, just things that I like but are not fully realised – like ‘A Quick Peep’ was just really an extra little bit that I put in on the end of a load of demos, and that was the one that everyone went, “Oh, that’s the one that we should do.” So a lot of the time, an idea that you got halfway with, that can be just as full of potential as something finished. Quality is a different question. With Gem’s tune on this album, it was like a snatch of instrumental music that Gem had done on a demo and Noel happened to hear it and go, “What’s that?” And then Gem was like, “It’s one of my little ideas I’ve done.” Noel kinda said – I think this is what happened – he said, “Why don’t you just turn it into a tune? Write a melody and lyrics for it.” And that’s how that tune came about. A lot of times there will be something unfinished – it’s just got some sort of thing to it…cos we play guitar all the time around each other like Liam’s doing right now. You sit around playing guitars when you’re waiting to go on stage or waiting to eat or waiting to do whatever, and you’ll walk past Liam and go, “Oh, that’s nice, what’s that?” or whatever. He only plays new songs – once his song’s finished he doesn’t ever play it again.
Have you ever written something that when you were writing it you’d think, ‘This doesn’t sound like Oasis at all’, and then someone will hear it and say, ‘That sounds amazing’.
No, I know when it’s an Oasis kind of one. I think I do anyway. Sometimes the ones that seem like the most Oasis ones end up being a bit limited – I did that with the first one that came out; ‘Thank You For The Good Times’ was a bit of a formula Oasis tune, and it ended up being quite limited in that because it could only ever be that. Whereas ‘Turn Up Up The Sun’, which is the best tune I’ve written for the band, didn’t have any of those little hallmarks – it was quite quiet initially and kinda became something a lot bigger. It wasn’t so limited, it was more like a bigger potential because it didn’t have that sound in mind; it just became bigger and bigger.
You used to live in Sweden, now you’re in London with the rest of the band. Does that feel different being so close to the guys?
It’s good all living in the same town. Yeah, it’s wicked.
Does it mean you get a knock on the door sometimes when you don’t want it?
Yeah. I’ve been living round the corner from Gem and now I’m actually moving and gonna be closer to Liam actually now. But it’s really nice knowing that you can just pop round. Like, me and Gem socialise a lot – we’ve got really close over the years.
Are you still treated like the new boys?
It never goes away, does it? I mean, it’s like Ronnie Wood [in the Stones] or George Harrison, the new boys. These things don’t change. I mean, they do really, but there’s always that thing to it… I was talking about this to somebody last night… I was having a conversation with my girlfriend about something, and I started talking about Paul [McCartney] and George [Harrison]. At that point she switched off. She was going, “I love how you talk about The Beatles as if they’re your next door neighbours or somebody on Coronation Street,” but to me they are family. I can’t remember what we were discussing. It might have been Coronation Street. (Laughs)
When you bring your song in, who do you play it to first?
Noel. I’d give Noel a few tunes to choose from, and he’ll come back and say, “This is the one I think we should do.” I give them to everyone, but he’s the one who offers a choice of tune – Gem and Liam seem to like everything that I put out, and Noel’s got the more considered opinion. But there’s always a flurry of CDs going back and forth as we get bored, you know, the tour finishes and there’s a little bit of a lull where you kinda just go [yawns], and then you start going like that, [drums fingers on table]. So you get in the studio and start doing demoes.
When you’re writing, do you have Liam in mind to sing your song?
Yeah. I don’t think of my songs in terms of Noel singing. He sings his songs when it’s his own thing, when he’s got something to say, whereas Liam is the voice of Oasis as an entity. That’s not to say that Noel couldn’t sing one of my songs – I mean, for a while he was singing ‘Thank You For The Good Times’ until Liam learnt it; that was how we got it going in the studio. That’s often the case with his songs too; he’ll sing them all until Liam learns them and then there’ll be a division of labour and they decide who takes the big fellas.
I’ve been in the band now longer than the original bass player, Guigs.
What inspired the philosophical themes in the lyrics to your songs?
I guess that’s the kind of person I am, but I’m not always like that; that was just a particular moment in time. I mean, I actually wrote a couple of tunes that I thought were quite funny and humorous – that wasn’t the direction that we were gonna go in! (Laughs)
Like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’?
No, it wasn’t that bad! (Laughs) They were a bit more like the piss-taking mid-Sixties Stones songs, like put-down songs. No, that was a particular moment in my life when I was feeling very philosophical and actually was as a result of going through therapy and stuff for various reasons that we won’t go into here. Yeah, that was my little view of life condensed into a couple of lines.
So it is obviously a song that’s very personal to you. Did you have to sit and talk it through with Liam?
No, I let him take what he wants from it. I mean, it’s fairly obvious what it’s about really, it’s pretty straight-forward; it’s not tied up in poetic language, it just is what it is.
Like some of Noel’s songs on this record, yours contains a couple of Biblical references…
Yeah, it’s funny that. A lot of everybody’s songs seemed to be tied up in that this time round.
Have you been pondering the meaning of life?
Yeah. How wanky is that?
That must be difficult when you’re in a band with someone who thinks they’re God?
(Laughs) Yeah, you’ve gotta decide whether you believe in Liam or not! I think I believe in him. I’m agnostic towards Liam Gallagher. I’m prepared to think he might exist.
You’re all very stationary on stage. Is that an unwritten rule within the band?
Yeah. We call it ‘stillism’. Liam invented it . It’s his move. I’m not stationary! I move around. I groove a bit – I’m a bass player, you know! We all move. Liam makes a point of standing still, and Noel is often rooted to the spot cos he’s got his pedals and he’s got his mic, but I’ll move around a bit, I’ll have a little jig. I wouldn’t say I’m Justin Timberlake, but I certainly move.
Is being the bass player in Oasis everything you hoped it would be?
Yeah, it’s great. It’s more than I hoped it would be. I mean, I was prepared to do the job as a session player and it quickly became a lot more than that. A band like Oasis can’t really be session people anyway, you need a core of people that are a band, and that’s what we became. That’s really lucky; I mean, that’s probably why it’s lasted so long. It’s funny when I think that I’ve been in the band now longer than the original bass player, Guigs. That’s an odd kind of thought, because it’s become something else now; it’s become something that we define what it is. And you can sort of see that, it is almost like two bands. You’ve got what the popular public might call ‘the good era’ and ‘the shit era’ (laughs), but I like to think of it a bit different than that! But like, from ‘Heathen Chemistry’ to now, it is almost like the first three albums – it starts off quite unsure and gets somewhere, whereas they started off with a couple of barnstormers and then started to just, you know, fade a bit.
It’s like they started off with an attitude and now they’ve got the music to back it up?
Well yeah, it develops. It’s good that Oasis has been allowed to develop in a new way, because it could have just been diminishing returns, but now it’s become something different and I think it’s going somewhere else. It’s like… My favourite band is the Stones, and they started off as a blues covers band trying to find their feet, and they didn’t start doing great albums until about eight years later. Oasis obviously started out with a couple of amazing albums – three amazing albums – but then when we joined – I would say – there was a bit of an unsure period as we got acclimatized to it and everyone tried to acclimatize to us as well – me and Gem – and it’s quite a big influx of new blood. So ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is a bit unsure. And then we found Dave Sardy and then we started to get it. For me, he is like our Jimmy Miller [the Stones’ producer in their prime], who comes in and you immediately get a feeling that we’re making vital albums like ‘Sticky Fingers’ or ‘Let It Bleed’, that’s where I see us at the moment. It’s really lean and mean. It’s great songs, not too indulgent, just good little packs of tunes that really work. I think we’re building up to…we could easily do an ‘Exile On Main Street’ next time – we could easily pull out a thirty/forty song double album. The songs are all ready to go – we’ve got tons of tunes, no shortage of tunes.
You’re clearly a Stones fan, and Liam’s obviously a Beatles fan – has there ever been a clash of tastes?
Yeah, there was a Mexican stand-off very early on. The Beatles are very dear to me, of course, but the Stones pip it.
Who’s the best drinker in the group, and who is the lightweight?
I’m a lightweight. I’m a bad lightweight. I like drinking, and I love tequila, but when I’m drinking it, I think I’m invincible and tend to just end up like…I’m the comedy drunk who ends pu monged out under the table. The hardest drinker? Liam can go three days easily, but then again, on a sustained altitude of drinking, I think Gem and Noel are pretty equal with like going out for a night on it. They’ll do it constantly for a good twelve hours on a night out, which I haven’t got the stamina for. Chris is a bit of a dark horse, I think. I think he can probably put it away. He’s got ruddy cheeks, so that means he’s probably an alky! (Laughs) Sorry Chris!
What has playing with Oasis taught you that perhaps you wouldn’t have learnt playing with any of your previous bands?
Well it’s taught me that all bands are the same. A good band is a good band, and the dynamic of a band isn’t changed by money. Ride, Hurricane #1 and Oasis are the three bands I’ve been in. You can look at them all and see a dynamic there that’s common to them all. Switching to playing bass from guitar taught me a lot. That taught me a lot about the personality and the role you take on when you pick up an instrument. As a bass player you pick up a whole different role than a guitarist. Although I like being a guitarist – I still see myself as a guitarist and I play guitar all the time and on records too – when I’m allowed – but I like the bass player mentality. It suits me. As a thirty-eight-year-old man with two kids and a mellow lifestyle, I’m suited to being a bass player. These guys wanna tear it up all the time and I just don’t…
Tell that to John Entwistle!
Yeah, true… Maybe I’ll end up doing an Entwistle in the Hard Rock Cafe one day, but that’s something you come to later in life, I think. You have your wild years, then you chill, and once the kids are actually all grown up, then I think you go back to whatever madness you enjoyed as a youth. So yeah, I never rule anything out.