FACE TIME with Brett Anderson
Submitted by: Samantha Hand
His photo's on the cover. It's called...
Yet he insists his album isn't a vanity project
Brett Anderson is a proper pop star At 39 - he's 40 in September - he's lean and angular. His clothes hang gracefully from his frame. His hair is jet black with barely a hint that perhaps it's a little too jet black. He wears proper shoes (in the snow and everything), a proper coat: he is groomed. He is also extremely like- able. I've interviewed him before about three years ago and he recalls the details of the room we spoke in. You warm to him immediately. But, my goodness, he does take the whole thing incredibly seriously.
Fifteen years ago, Brett's band Suede were pounced upon by an over-eager, under subscribed music press who, desperate for a new Morrissey and Marr, declared them "The Best New Band In Britain!" They were already nearly three years old. When The Drowners was released in May 1992 it didn't even make the Top 40, but Suede became the sensations of the age. In March '93 Suede became the fastest-selling debut album since Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Welcome To The Pleasuredome. By early '94 the creative and emotional tensions between Brett and guitarist Bernard Butler were so all-enveloping Butler walked out. Three years ago when I asked them both about it, they still wouldn't talk about what happened.
When Dog Man Star was released in 1994 it was applauded, but it underper- formed. A new (teenage) guitarist was recruited. They sort of lost me at this point, but Suede carried on for another nine years, held together by Brett's incredible drive, even while in the grip of a (by now long beaten) heroin and crack addiction.
But, the more you talk to him, the more you sense a man still struggling to come to terms with what happened to his life and his band. Happily, Brett's solo album is a genuinely wonderful record full of genuinely wonderful songs. If you've ever liked him at all, you will love it. Brett says (of new co-writer Fred Ball), "We would theorise, make grids for the music. I imagine it's how Bach or someone quite Baroque would compose, it was all done quite theoretically". Which is a tremendous load of old nonsense really. But you love him for it.
So who is this Fred Ball?
An old friend. He has a band called Pleasure, a dance/pop project.
Well, that's you all round, no? You want dance/pop, come to Brett Anderson.
Yeah, it gets no more hip hop than me, I scream it from every pore.
There's no electric guitar on this record. Why is that?
That's one of the main things about it. I was conscious about not wanting to make another indie rock record. I'd already done six of them. I didn't want this to sound like a band and I didn't want to hide behind names anymore. Guitars are exciting, but they dominate the soundscape. And they leave so little space for the singer.
Are you sick of guitarists?
No, but the guitar, regardless of the player, is competing with the singer. The piano is an accompaniment. When I worked with Bernard and Richard (Oakes, Suede's teen-"axe" prodigy) I had to allow their personalities to come through in their guitar parts. I couldn't be over dominant in the relationship, it would have been crushing.
Like they would have let you try.
Well, no, of course not. It's insulting! Every musician has a sense of ego and pride. But you don't tell guitar players how to play. When I realised I needed a guitar player I thought I should do it. So I got better - I was already quite good. But I was conscious of not wanting it to be a vanity project.
But that's what it is! There's a big picture of you on the front and it's called
Yeah! But creativity itself is vain - it's 'listen to me, I'm great!' What I mean is that I didn't want it to be a vehicle for my ego.
So, what happened with The Tears?
It was just too juicy a titbit for the press to ignore. Us two together again obscured the music. This is a feature of mine and Bernard's work. The first Suede album was buried in the press hysteria. The second was buried in the story about Bernard leaving the band and The Tears record was buried in this story of us getting back together. It was hurtful. I stand by it, it's got some fantastic moments. I'd have lost Co Star and one other song, but Apollo 13, The Darker and Asylum are some of the best things we've ever made together. And yes, I know everyone says that.
Can you see why people are obsessed with that story though? Some great partnerships get over their ego battles and fights and fallings out and make it work. Why didn't you and Bernard do that?
[Long pause] That's a very difficult question to answer. And thinking about what we did together, maybe we should look at it and see what we can do. Maybe we should just get on with it and make another record, The Tears hasn't finished, it's open-ended. I see Bernard. There's no problem between us, but we're both too purist to make another record for a quick buck.
But it's not about a quick buck, is it? The push and pull of your relationship is what part of what makes your work so interesting.
No, but we need to be 100% committed to the music. After The Tears we both felt we'd been through the grinder. We loved it but we were disappointed that other people didn't like it as much. So we wanted to do other things. There's no split story. The whole thing was a lot of fun. It felt like the early days. There are parallels between us and Morrissey and Marr, strong parallels. But if they got back together again I'd be quite cynical about it and that would override the music. Maybe it was a mistake for us to assume people would be generous with their reception. There is no soap opera. It's boring.
How do you begin being a solo artist?
Well, not with all-guns blazing. I'm not caught up with the zeitgest like Suede were. But I'm OK with that. I don't need all the flattery, the bullshit. I'm not going to compete with the latest hip band, with Arctic Monkeys. I'm playing a different game. When Suede had that attention it was quite a new thing and so we sort of fucked it all up. Given the choice between life on the dole and being a pop star, who'd say no? We could have dealt with things better and mine and Bernard's relationship suffered. It was about getting your face in people's cornflakes. I'm proud of our career trajectory. We were never comfortable, it was like snakes and fucking ladders all the time. It was mad and I would deal with it differently now, but I never regret what happened. Now bands are very knowing about their careers. Alternative music is very corporate.
Were you hurt by it?
It's turned me into a quite an unusual human being. I'm not Mr Ordinary washing his car on a Saturday, Whether that's hurt or not is hard to say. Jarvis Cocker talks a lot about how "dark" the Britpop years were, I remember it as being a great time. It's damaged me long term in a way. First impressions last and I was so in people's faces early on that they have pigeonholed me as that person there was hysteria about in the early '90s. I can't pretend I'm not responsible. I enjoyed the attention, playing around, shooting my mouth off, getting photographed a lot. But it became sinister, the dark side soon appeared.
You don't strike me as being hugely self-destructive or filled with a burning inner anguish.
Every human being is tortured. You can't get to 30 without pain and extreme mental torture and I'm no exception. But I've never allowed that side of myself to surface as it's such a cliché. Suede were an antidote to the middle class angst of grunge.
Is 40 a milestone for you?
No. I feel younger at 39 than when I was 29. When I was 29 I had an old soul. I was in a bad mental state. Now I'm healthy, it's boring, but it's true. There's nothing rock and roll about being a drug addict. It's repetitive and cyclical. Cop, shoot, cop, shoot...
My brain's switched on again. I'm engaging with life. I even learned to drive recently! That was symbolic for me.
There's no Mrs Anderson and there's no little Andersons running around anywhere, at least that I know of.
Was that a conscious decision?
Errrm. That's not something I want to talk about. Let's move on.
OK, is there even a tiny part of you that looks at Damon...
Damon from Badly Drawn Boy?
No, the other one. Do you, like me, ever wonder when he's going to release something people don't buy in their millions?
No comment. Let's move on.
Alright, are you under-appreciated?
Of course, no artist feels like they're at the level they'd like to be at.
Are you happy?
I honestly don't know what happy is. I just don't know what it means, I could see that as an insult - to me, happy means brainless and why would you want that?
Isn't that being unfair to happy?
Couldn't happy just mean you think you're an alright person who believes in yourself and cares about the people around you?
If I was happy I wouldn't be creative. If you want to be creative with any truth or feeling there has to be a sense of frustration, of discontent. But that's not to say you're not happy within that feeling. It's a weird balancing act, I'm juggling the darkness of life and not letting the gloom take over.
Have you had to deliberately mess things up in your life to stop yourself finding comfort and happiness?
Well, I've had to look at myself honestly. I have a very lazy side, I could quite happily watch Trisha drinking beer at half nine in the morning while doing the ironing. I have to be very careful not to let him out. But sometimes I squash him down too hard and this driven, creative side becomes too much. It's worrying, but maybe when I'm 60 I'll let him dominate, but now I have too much to do. I'm most happy when I'm working.
Because when you're busy and working it means people still want you?
So it's a For Brett Anderson, Real Life Begins At 40! story then?
No! Oh God! Please no!
I won't put that bit in - I promise.
Oh God, please don't. That would be awful.
BRETT ANDERSON is out on Drowned In