I Auditioned for Suede
17 September 1994
Submitted by: Inge Klinkers
I AUDITIONED FOR SUEDE
Ah... the hopes, the dreams, the anguish... the letter of rejection. DREW RICHARDS, our man on the inside, got the call, packed his guitar and for one day only was Brett's right-hand man. Here's what went right, and what went wrong...
When in the July 23 edition of MM, it was announced that Bernard Butler had left Suede, few people really believed the band could carry on without him. He seemed so pivotal to the whole operation, so much of what defined Suede revolving around his sound, his playing and his songwriting. And yet there, also in print, was Brett, Mat and Simon's staunch assertion that they would carry on and that they were confident about finding a replacement.
The piece went on to say why Bernard had left. It was probably interesting, but I'll never know because I'd already turned to the classifieds. What did I care for a young fop's whinging when there were plum opportunities a-going. Casting my eye over the box ads, one in particular did seem to stand out— "...influences Cocteaus, Beatles... and Suede". But I decided to make sure by pumping a contact at Suede's record company for information. Just as I thought— this was it.
The box ad asked for a photograph, details and experience. My normal response to this sort of request would be to send a black and white glossy of Joe Dellasandro circa 1967 and two A4 sheets of extremely creative bullshit. However, because the ad was worded "experience (if any)", and also because my former tack had never worked, I decided to tell the truth. On my word processor I briefly outlined who I was and what I'd done, playing-wise. I was careful to accentuate any bits of experience I thought were particularly relevant to Suede (like doing a lot of short notice depping for bands). I listed my equipment because I felt it showed a degree of commitment, and I also included a list of influences. Finding a suitable photograph was actually a lot harder, but after delving through some old band shots, and cutting, pasting, photocopying and enlarging them into something reasonably presentable, I managed to get off something fairly representative.
Anyway, I shoved the bugger in the post and fried to forget about it. This was difficult. The full weight of what might happen was starting to catch up with me. I started to have doubts. Not about being able to do it— any schoolboy could cover Bernard's cheesy riffs. Nor was I worried about Bernard's complaints of not being able to doodle around as much as he liked.
No, I had doubts about Suede. Suede, probably the most hyped band in the history of the world, and now, as is the tradition, it was time for their comeuppance. In the July 30 issue of MM, Taylor Parkes' Suede RIP? piece described mutterings of “they weren't that good really" being heard around the Maker offices. The backlash, of course, would always have happened, but with Bernard's departure the same journos can slag off the band they once hailed as the best in Britain and get away with it because, technically, it's not the same band any more.
What worried me most was if it did all fold a year down the line, the new guitarist would be the focal point of that failure. Did I want to spend even one second of my life with people going "Oh he just wasn't as good a player as Bernard", or "he could never inspire Brett to write like Bernard could", or "Bernard's hair was always much more glossy”. Despite the feeling that I was stepping into an elevator with a fraying cable I thought I should go for it. Brett was a star worth saving.
Even if the band was doomed beyond repair, what did I have to lose anyway? People laugh at me when I walk in to my local anyway. It's gotten so I've got so little self-esteem I can write about my failings in a national music paper. After about a week I still hadn't heard back. I thought about phoning them but I decided to just wait.
The next day I was rewarded with a letter from Suede's management. They now wanted a tape and a 'proper' photograph, the tape to include a Suede song of my choosing. I recorded a couple of minutes of "Stay Together" on my stereo, thinking they're more likely to take notice of someone playing their new material than, say, "The Drowners". I also had quite a natty effect to show off on the "Space Oddity" bit of the middle eight.
For the other tracks I did a couple of recent four-track ideas which I thought showed off my playing and writing ability. A contact at RTM, Nude's distributors, had hinted that the new album had a few violins on it, so I also included an epic string-laden ballad that I'd recorded on a 24-track. This would also serve the purpose of demonstrating my sound as well as my ability as an arranger. I to all the tracks straight off of DAT masters so the quality would be the best possible. For a new photo I just donned my black jeans, swept my fringe to one side and posed coolly as my "personal stylist" snapped away a roll of Agfa's finest.
After another week's wait I got a call from Suede's manager, Charlie Charlton. He gave me a date to audition and about four days to learn as many Suede songs as I could. That night, in my local, I was a god. Well, a minor celebrity. It had got out that I had an audition and everyone was hurling crap advice and congratulations at me. The Cardiacs’ Tim Smith looked at me seriously and said "This could be the turning point of your life." "Yes," I gulped. "Your round then!" he smirked.
I started to get the Suede material down the next day. I began with the "Stay Together" ep and then "The Drowners". The newest and the most famous out the way, I just went through the album picking out what I felt was obvious. It's safe to say that out of the old material it's the singles that you'd have to play on tour. Unfortunately, it’s also safe to say that it's the singles the band are most likely to be sick of. The safest bet, in reality, is to just try and learn everything. The biggest problem I had with the material was picking out the main parts from all the studio overdubs. I ended up with what could best described as 'live composite' parts.
I also did a new tape of instrumental ideas for Brett. I had now managed to get a sneaky listen to their new album and so had a better idea of what to send them. Finally, the day of the audition arrived. I was first to be seen that day so I took advantage and arrived early. I used the extra time to set up the amps exactly the way I wanted. I'd read an interview with Bernard where he had said Suede tuned flat. Unfortunately he didn't say how flat, so I had to wait until Mat arrived to tune my guitars.
The guitars didn't really take too well to going down a semitone, especially as I had just changed the strings the night before, but there was much sympathy from Mat and the crew. I found Mat and Simon really easy to get on with. Simon realised we had something very important in common — Burgundy by Recital hair colour. I took this to be a good omen. Brett, of course, arrived dramatically late but, again, was extremely personable. It was an encouraging start.
Pleasantries over, we launched into "Dark Star". I was a bit nervy and cocked up the solo, but they said let's go again and turn up! This time it was fine. Then Brett suggested we had a jam, just to see what happens. Mat and I had been mucking around with our effects before Brett arrived and had got some nice sounds to work around. Simon found the groove and Brett was lust about to try out a vocal line when I decided to change the chord. He backed away from the mic looking slightly bemused and then made another attempt just as I changed again. After that he just played his tambourine and listened. Oops.
We returned to the back catalogue playing "So Young" pretty well. Again I was told to turn up. I had heard that they were all deaf— in fact, I was counting on it to get the job. Then I realised that the reason I was so quiet was that my Orange amp, which I had brought down to show off, had packed in. The guitar tech quickly sorted out the spare Marshall. Once set, Brett inquired if I knew "He's Dead". I said I didn't know because I hadn't learnt all the song titles. This didn't go down too well. I actually suggested he hum it.
After this met with no response I suggested "The Drowners", which I somehow knew wasn't going to go down well. In the end we played "Metal Mickey" instrumentally so Brett could listen to me. With no vocal cues I had to really concentrate and I probably looked completely static. I always wonder whether you should put on a performance at auditions, because although an audition is basically a first rehearsal, maybe you should give the band some idea of your stage presence. I took the rather idiotic tack of asking Bic from Levitation’s opinion. "Yeah, you've got to get your foot on the monitor and rock out!" he suggested. "I bet Brett slaps his arse with the mic in rehearsals, so show them you can really move!" Besides, being a good mover could prove useful in this job — in case all the Bernard fans start throwing bottles.
Back at the audition, "Metal Mickey" was pretty cock-up free, but I knew the change of amps had made my sound go really tinny. The monitor man suddenly didn't look at all pleased, when earlier, on “Dark Star", it had been all thumbs up. Brett asked "Do you know any covers?". Now this would have been a good opportunity. If only I'd read "Smash Hits" regularly I'd have known what his favourite songs were. But I hadn't, so I rolled my eyes and tried to recall at least one of the classics I had murdered in my youth playing the Camden toilet circuit. The only ones I could think of were "I Will Survive", "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" and "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do". I decided to play safe. "No I don't," I giggled inanely. Brett looked disappointed, but Mat and Simon were more reassuring; "Neither do we," they said.
So instead we played "Stay Together”, again instrumentally. On the first chord I realised I was chronically out of tune. Should I stop the band and tune up or treat it like a gig, ploughing through regardless? I chose the latter, but the grimacing all around the room took its toll on my concentration and I forgot to go into the second middle eight. Doing the end improvised section was a nightmare too, not least because the band weren't too sure of it themselves. After that, Mat gave me a hand getting my stuff back to the car. Charlie said he thought it had gone really smoothly and told me to stay near a phone.
Later, back down at my local, there were many questions... well, one actually. "Is Brett's bum really that big?". It had been a good day, but I knew I wouldn't get the job. There were gaping holes in my preparation and I hadn't really done enough to stand out, but basically I just didn't click with Brett. On the Tuesday I got a letter from Suede's management confirming this.
Whether or not I'll regard this as a great opportunity missed depends on what happens to Suede. If they go on to become the most important band this century then of course I'll be gutted. If, however, they go the other way, I'll count my blessings. Either way, I'm already in another band, who I think are brilliant, and I can actually take pleasure in being part of building something up from scratch without worrying about having to measure up to a previous guitarist. Meanwhile, whoever Suede's new guitarist is, I wish him all the luck in the world…