Suede : interview about the new album and their comeback : Louder Than War

suede

With their anthemic yet androgynous songs and their glam tinged guitar swagger, Suede were one of the key British bands of the mid nineties.

They epitomised and, in some ways, launched Britpop, yet were the misfits of the scene. What started as a reaction against grunge and was the rest of country finally catching up with Madchester in its own idiosyncratic way swiftly became an exercise in laddism.

Suede were hardly typical Loaded fare with their smudged mascara gender bending but their very British songs were thrilling enough to crossover from the hipsters to the streets and for in the mid nineties they had their number ones and helped soundtrack a rare period of time when the best bands in the UK were the biggest bands in the UK before imploding in 2003 for solo careers or semi anomonity.

 

In 2009 the band reformed for a wildly successful series of gigs as they answered the eternal questions posed by many returning groups. How do you find that elixir of youth and regain that quicksilver moment of divine inspiration that made you so special in the first place.

 

Suede’s sojourn was like the classic rock n roll career compressed into a few years. They coalesced on the London pub circuit in the post baggy fallout of the early 90s. When they had honed down their part glam, part art school post punk of the likes of Adam And The Ants with a sliver of the prime time Smiths and a southern take on the idiosyncratic mancunians like the Fall and Joy Division with the added mystery of kate Bush and a sniff of the Englishness of David Bowie into a perfect whole that was very much their own they burst on to the scene in 1992 with accidental and perfect timing.

I interviewed a pre fame Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler in a pub in Camden. They were two skinny and hopeful musicians with a future in front of them and a head full of dreams and schemes.  They finished of eachother’s sentences in a race for their own version of the band.

Suede were at the vanguard of the Britpop scene- a very loose confederation of bands bitching about eachother who were lumped together by stumbling into the spotlight at the same time and being sort of British.

Musically these bands only had little in common and Britpop as a term had been knocking around for years since I had invented it in Sounds in 1987. In many ways the Britpop scene was the catch up to Madchester by the rest of country but Suede stuck out from the pack.

Their darker take on glam and their androgynous image and songs were a long way away from the core of Britpop and they were on their own trajectory. Two albums the glam shocks of the singles tuffed Suede and the more ambitious and darker Dog Man Star  in 1994 were number ones and then Bernard Butler left after tense sessions for the second album

The band brought in 19 year old  Richard Oakes and keyboard player Neil Codling, and went on to greater commercial success with their third album, Coming Up which was full of great singles before they stared to lose direction in a sea of drugs, indie celebrity and losing that edge.

Brett Anderson became addicted to crack and heroin in the inevtibale hangover from the glory days of Britpop. Despite problems within the band, Suede’s fourth album Head Music (1999) was a British chart-topper but their final album, A New Morning (2002) was a relative flop and they bailed out for solo careers and the shadows before the reformation for a series of triumphant gigs where they did the daredevil tightrope walk between nostalgia and cutting edge.

It could then have been an easy ride of peddling the old songs for the Christmas and festival circuit like so many of their contemporaries but they had bigger plans that fitted into the creative context of the band and have risked it all with a new album to be released in March called Bloodpsorts.

Fortunatly the album sounds great. No mere retread, it takes on the classic hallmarks of the Suede sound and vamps them up for the 21st century, adding a  neo Simple Minds stadium sheen to their sound without ever loosing its edginess and soaring choruses and there is always that undertow of mystical glam darkness that was always so much part of their classic moments.

 

In short, in 2013 Suede sound in rude health.

Brett Anderson and Mat Osman are sat in their manager’s west London office having a press day. Relatively unchanged by the years of the ups and down of rock n roll they are pondering their decision to do more than just reform and endlessly churn out the hits in what is known as ‘the Pixies syndrome’ and to take the challenge to write new songs.

 

Brett Anderson :

‘We had to not become retro band from 20 years ago. We never wanted to do that when we came back.  It was fine for a couple of years to play the old songs when we came back but after a while that becomes a death. You are faced with that decision when you reform a band- whether to go backwards or forwards and when you don’t write new material you become death.’

 

Was it difficult to write new stuff after ten years away?

 

Brett Anderson:

“It was difficult in that there were two extremes- on one side you’ve got your sound which you reference because there is no point in reinventing yourself as  a completely different band because that would be crazy.  On other hand you don’t want to sound like a pastiche or a parody. That was the really tricky thing about the album to get right because of that, which was specifically to get that balance between those two parts of the spectrum.’

 

Mat Osman :

‘I think we were also really aware of kind of how shit most returning band’s albums are. It’s almost become a kind of law! I kind of see how it happens because the thing is when you get back and you are a bit older and the band may not be the central thing in their life anymore and that’s fair enough but just make records any more…’

 

Brett Anderson :

‘People get back together blinded by their own legend. It’s like, ‘oh great the band are back together, great, brilliant…’

 

 

Mat Osman:

‘…and what ever we make in a room will be great.’

Brett Anderson :

‘Exactly. And that’s all based onever what we did in the past and not how you are currently are as artists. Anyone can perform a song, their own song or a great song written throughout musical history- if it happens to be your song then great but it doesn’t mean what you are doing now is relevant. In a funny kind of way bands are blinded by their own legends and go back into the recording studio assuming anything they commit to tape (laughs) is pretty special.’

Has the songwriting changed as you get older? The creative chemistry in the band any different?

 

Brett Anderson :

‘It’s pretty much the same thing really. Those relationships work.  They are what they are and part of it is not wanting to change the chemistry of what works.’

 

 

Mat Osman :

We thought that when we back to the rehearsal room there would be 5 times 7 years of experience and wisdom like you said but there really isn’t. It’s like going back to your family at Christmas and doesn’t matter what you have done.  You’re still 7 years old and someone is getting picked on. It’s set in stone.’

 

Mat Osman :

‘What is really common now, I think,  is the notion of music as a souvenir, you know what I mean?  It partly come s from the X factor thing where people buy singles as a souvenir of this guy’s journey on TV.  Partly it’s also to do with record sales. A band sell records at gigs and suddenly the record has become a badge, a symbol of ‘I like this band’ but when you start off making records it’s your life summed up and more important than that. The first record you make,  you are kind of saying, ‘this what I have done in 23 years’ and I think it’s hard to get that back, it took us a long time to get that creative intensity.’

 

Mat Osman :

‘I think like anything you have to get good at it.  When we started the band people always thought of us having this overnight success which was weird because it took us three years to get that overnight success but we had that lovely thing where we wrote so many shit songs that we never used and nobody heard them. We were working out what we did in private and that’s far more difficult now for people.’

 

Brett Anderson :

‘There must have been a whole album of shit songs we never sued…(laughs)’

Mat Osman :

‘It’s hard for bands nowadays.  The first thing you write nowadays everyone hears it but then the first thing we wrote, thank fuck, no one heard it.’

part 2 of Suede interview is here

 

 

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