Alan McGee, Creation Records Founder Who Discovered Oasis: Drugs 'Nearly Killed Me' (Q&A)
The legendary U.K. executive launches a new label, 359 Music, in partnership with Cherry Red.
Every now and then, there comes an industry figure who manages to loom as large as the bands he’s working with. Creation Records founder Alan McGee was certainly one of those people. Despite signing some of the most decadent (Primal Scream), controversial (My Bloody Valentine) and troublemaking (Oasis' Noel and Liam Gallagher) artists ever, he somehow never seemed to be lurking in their shadows -- but rather, willfully collaborating in the mayhem.
In true rock-star fashion, McGee’s appetite for illicit substances nearly took his life a couple of times. But he cleaned up just in time to watch Oasis go on to sell more than 30 million copies of their first two albums. Yet having founded Creation in 1983 as an honest-to-god indie undertaking, he eventually burned out, and sold the remainder of his share to Sony in 1999 for a rather generous sum.
He went on to run the Poptones label until 2007, and to DJ his own roving international club night, Death Disco. But his interest was waning, and in 2008 he retreated to a rural corner of Wales, studying metaphysics and Aleister Crowley and concentrating on raising his daughter.
But legends die hard -- and a 2011 film, Upside Down, riotously documented the sordid and spectacular history of Creation to rave reviews. Soon after, McGee was lured out of retirement to curate the 2013 Tokyo Rocks music festival…causing him to fully catch the musical bug again. Late last year, he announced the launch of his new label, 359 Music, in partnership with Cherry Red (early signings include John Lennon McCullagh, Gun Club Cemetery, Tess Parks, Chris Grant and Pete Macleod). His autobiography, Creation Stories, was published last year.
If that all weren’t enough, next month, the charmingly hilarious rock ‘n’ roll film Svengali (which debuted in 2013 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival) hits the cinemas, with McGee starring as himself in, well, a spot-on performance.
One recent morning at New York’s Tribeca Grand Hotel, the music biz legend was found shaking his head in amazement, as an act that he offered a record deal simply never bothered show up. Surely, their loss.
Your new label is a partnership with Cherry Red.
Well, the feeling was that Cherry Red hasn’t had an A&R man who is of-the-moment. At least people think I’m still of-the-moment! But I was still a little surprised that I could create a good roster. About 20 percent is Alan McGee, and 80 percent is the state of music.
Which of your new artists are you particularly excited about?
I think Chris Grant, a Scouser, has made a great record.
So you’ve been genuinely inspired by your signings?
I’ve been inspired by the process of it, because I’m actually just having a good time doing music again. Also the technology…I don’t even have to leave Wales to do it!
But the theory goes that technology has made music so available that fans don’t have the same passionate appreciation for it anymore.
That’s probably true. But I love music; it’s a vibration, it vibrates within you. It talks to me, but it talks to the world, really.
The value of music will hopefully never really go away.
Our generation will always take it as an important thing.
Talking about your autobiography… people tend to like music books because of the sex, the decadence and the allure of rock ‘n’ roll.
After Motley Crue, I thought it was best to just leave out the sex.
What are some of the best stories and memories that came back to you?
A lot of best stories are really unprintable!
Protecting the guilty?
Yeah, we do that a lot; it’s not a salacious book.
Is there a favorite Oasis story from the book?
There’s a good story about when Liam and I were going to India to meet the Dalai Lama. But I will leave it at that.
At the height of Creation, you almost died a couple of times.
Nearly. It was the drugs.
You finally changed your behavior?
It was building up for months -- there were loads of warnings. I just needed someone reasonable to say to me, “You need to go to rehab.”
You’re in the film business now.
Svengali started as a viral Internet thing, and eventually got funding. They called in favors, got people like Martin Freeman to work on scale. It’s about a Welsh manager coming to London and making it, and I’m supposedly his mentor. It’s very postmodern -- I’m playing myself. I did all my four scenes in one day; I’m told I’m good in it. I’m not cringing about it, so I suppose that’s OK.
What have you learned from your study of metaphysics and the occult?
Well, I got into Crowley because everybody told me not to.
He was revered by rock stars like Ozzy Osbourne and Jimmy Page, but was really a moralist.
I would say you’re right. He was the ultimate libertarian. He was also religious; he understood that there is a force out there. If you think about it, Jesus was a magician, a rebel. I’m not a Christian, but I’m into Jesus. I think Jesus was Julian Cope. Do you know what I mean?”
And you felt a strong connection to all of that?
I was brought up Protestant. And Scotland was really bad with the Catholic and Protestant thing. It’s messed up; we are all one, we’re all basically the same. John Lennon’s "Imagine" is one of the great lyrics. Why can’t we all just get along? Sorry… this is getting a bit ‘60s, isn’t it?