Owen Morris on producing Morning Glory

[Note: This is part two of a two-part interview Owen Morris gave to Q Magazine in 2010 about the recording of Oasis’s first two albums. Reproduced by kind permission of the interviewee]

Part 2: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Can you say a bit about Some Might Say and why Tony had to go? Did you sense it was just musical or a deeply personal rift too?
Here’s my story about Some Might Say. So we went to Loco Studios to record the master version of Some Might Say sometime at the start of 1995. I was already ensconced there having spent four months recording The Verve’s album A Northern Soul (which I’d gotten because, after finishing Definitely Maybe, Noel had recommended me to his friend Richard Ashcroft).

Here’s the thing. We’d demoed Some Might Say in Maison Rouge six months or so ago: the version from there was slow and heavy and dark…really quite cool in a Rolling Stones way. Then we turn up in Loco, the band set up, we spend the day doing lots of really good, slightly faster than the demo versions of the track. I edit the best bits together: we are happy. Backing track done! Then the rest of the band go to bed, but me and Noel stay up, have a few drinks (oh, inevitably, Brian Cannon was there entertaining us). At some stage in the early hours we listen to the demo and decide that the new version we’d spent the whole day on is too fast. Noel wakes the band up, insists they get out of bed and come and rerecord Some Might Say, but everyone better be fucking careful not to play it too fast.

We do ONE take and decide we’re all fucking geniuses and that we’ve definitely nailed the backing track. Next day, I wake up, hungover and hazy. Liam wants to sing. So Liam sings his lead vocal on Some Might Say in two takes. Fucking on fire singing. Liam goes to pub with Bonehead. Marcus turns up. Listens to it…Marcus goes fucking hell, that singing is incredible, well done boys.

Thing is, the backing track was faster than we’d ever intended, which Noel and I hadn’t noticed when drunk the night before. This backing track had massive problems like a really bad speed up during the first three bars of the first chorus. But we had to fucking use it because Liam’s singing was undeniably brilliant. Basically, a totally incompetent job by me and Noel regarding the backing track as supposedly professional producers. The mix was then a nightmare…I mixed it on three separate occasions, finally putting on all the delays and chaos in an attempt to hide the mistakes.

I still love Some Might Say. It’s one of my favourite Noel songs, and I like the sheer chaos of the recording. The song overcame everything. And it went to number one. The single version was mastered at Abbey Road and sounded appalling. My mastered version of the song for the Morning Glory album is good.

Wasn’t there some massive ruck between Noel and Liam about the mix?
Liam and Noel always liked my mixes. They never had any issues or disagreements about the work I did with them.

What did Whitey bring as a musician and personality? He didn’t take any shit, right?
Alan was very obviously different from Tony. He was intelligent and articulate and a real musician for a start. I was never a big fan of Alan’s drumming really, even though he played on the most successful recordings I’ve made so far. Alan’s essentially a jazz drummer. He is NOT a rock band drummer. He was always shuffling away on his snare (which actually became the signature rhythm of Wonderwall), and never hitting the basic back beats in a dumb rock and roll way. Also, because Alan’s brother Steve was in Paul Weller’s band, and Paul Weller’s producer employed a “proper engineer”, Alan always thought I wasn’t capturing his true sound (man!). But I always thought Alan never actually hit his drums hard enough or actually understood the basic Oasis sound.

But recording him on Morning Glory was a complete pleasure. He was a professional and Noel enjoyed sitting in the studio with him while Alan did his drum takes and being able to talk musically/part wise to a drummer who could quickly understand and then actually play what Noel was imagining. So, ultimately, certainly for the recording of the Morning Glory album, Alan was the right man at the right time.

Can you recount in detail the events of that night, when Liam invited everyone back, guitars were damaged, Noel beat Liam with a cricket bat and (was it the next morning/or that night?) Noel left the band and drove back to London?
You see, my memory of this night is that we’d done the first five days recording. We’d recorded Roll With It on day one. Hello on day two. Wonderwall on day three. Don’t Look Back in Anger on day four. Champagne Supernova on day five. Day five was the Friday and that’s the night that Noel, me, and Brian Cannon stayed in the control room at Rockfield and had a few drinks for my birthday, and listened back to the week’s work, while Liam and the rest of the band went into Monmouth for a drink.

I locked up the studio at about one in the morning. The studio was locked up! I went to the accommodation and there were about twenty people I didn’t know there having a party. I went straight to my room and went to bed. I was fucking exhausted.

I slept through the supposed mayhem. I can’t believe and saw no evidence that anyone got into the studio and trashed any of Noel’s guitars. Like I said, the studio was locked up! So I think Noel has exaggerated the story that the people Liam brought back trashed his guitars. In fact, and I might be wrong here, but my feeling is that Noel made up that more dramatic story about “damaged guitars” to gloss over the fact he overreacted and hurt his brother’s feelings.

My take on it was that Noel, probably unkindly, was mean and spiteful to his brother and made a scene of humiliating Liam in front of strangers. Liam had just met a nice girl, Danielle from Monmouth. The story told the next morning was that Noel had said something to Danielle and Liam that upset them. I don’t know if this is true. Then apparently Noel kicks all the people from Monmouth that Liam had invited back. Then apparently Noel and Liam have a stupid drunken fight, and Noel tells Alan to drive him to London as an escape from Liam.

Can you explain how it all mended itself? You then had two weeks to record the rest of the album…
When Noel fucked off, Marcus said we should all have a cooling down period. Take two weeks off. After a while I came back in and tried some mixes of what we’d recorded so far, added some keyboard strings and mucked aimlessly around. Two weeks later Noel decides the session’s back on and everyone turns up on a Monday morning, Liam and Noel have a big hug and nothing more is said.

Then we get on with the same song per day recording pace as before. We do Morning Glory, She’s Electric, Cast No Shadow, Step Out (which didn’t make it to the album) and finally Hey Now! and, for the fun of it, Bonehead’s Bank Holiday. The Swamp Song backing track was from Glasonbury that year – Noel and Paul Weller finished it off when we were mixing in Orinoco.

All of the recording on Morning Glory was easy and fun. Everyone there wanted to be there. Noel would sing a new song to Liam once, and Liam would just instantly go in and do four precisely perfect takes: quite a freaky ability Liam possessed then. Liam was almost scarily in tune with his brother’s songs and words and melodies and phrasing. And the band quickly did their parts and then left Noel and me to do all the overdubs.

The session was the best, easiest, least fraught, most happily creative time I’ve ever had in a recording studio. I honestly believe that the lack of any badness and only good intent and love from everyone involved is a very important part of why Morning Glory is liked by so many people. I believe people can feel and hear when music is dishonest and motivated by the wrong reasons. Morning Glory, for all its imperfection and flaws, is dripping with love and happiness.

Noel knew exactly where he was with his songs. Big choruses that everyone wanted to sing along to. That was fundamentally it.

What do you remember of Weller turning up to play on Champagne Supernova?
Paul Weller did an afternoon’s overdubbing in about the third week of mixing at Orinoco studios in Elephant and Castle. I remember being asleep on the sofa, I had Champagne Supernova set up for him to do some guitar solos on. Noel and Paul Weller turned up mid afternoon and Noel had a good laugh at my hangover because he’d heard I’d been up all night being stupid with Brian Cannon. Brian Cannon was Oasis’s and The Verve’s “Sleeve designer/art director/maniac friend”, who on Morning Glory spent more days in the recording studio than anyone else apart from me and Noel. Doing his “research”. Brian is fucking brilliant by the way, and I think his sleeves for Oasis and the Verve are as good as any band artwork ever: very sharp, very funny.

Weller had a white Gibson SG and a Vox AC30 which he just plugged into and had his sound. And he just played half a dozen solos. Then he improvised the whistle on the outro of Champagne Supernova, and improvised the “ooh” backing vocals. Then he played lead guitar on The Swamp Song. Then he did the insane harmonica playing on The Swamp Song. All in about three hours. Him and Noel fucked off by six in the evening. He was a total gentleman and almost disgustingly good at his music. Very very impressive. And his playing was full of soul and humour and total commitment. Noel was like a pig in shit that day.

Did you realise at the end that you’d recorded another timeless classic?
We all did love Morning Glory and thought we’d done our best and had the best time possible. But Definitely Maybe loomed large. I was worried that it didn’t have the harder guitar sound that everyone loved about Definitely Maybe. All we were truly hoping for was that it would at least sell as many as Definitely Maybe had done at the time (which in the summer of 1995 was 400,000 copies). Marcus was happy and confident though. But no one involved expected the album to capture the people’s imagination like it did.

Was there any drama in the mixing stage?
There was never any drama at any mixing stage. Noel and Liam liked my work and trusted me to choose the best mixes. Marcus and Noel would always have a listen to each mix as it was finished just to check and approve, and I’d always make sure Liam was happy too.

Have those albums been kind to you financially down the years?
Morning Glory still pays my alimony. God bless Noel Gallagher and those exceptional songs.

Was it the best thing you’ve ever worked on?
I’m proud of many recordings I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with, but Morning Glory was probably a lucky once in a lifetime experience where every element, everyone and everything came together just right. Fucking brilliant. I love Oasis.

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