WHAT’S A NICE BAND LIKE YOU DOING IN A FIELD LIKE THIS?
29 August 1992
Submitted by: Inge Klinkers
WHAT’S A NICE BAND LIKE YOU DOING IN A FIELD LIKE THIS?
SO HOW HAVE SUEDE SURVIVED being called "The Best New Band In Britain"?
Brett Anderson has Just wandered off, blinking into the midday sun, complaining of a toothache, in search of a vodka/aspirin cocktail. Bassist Mat Osman, guitar hero Bernard Butler, drummer Simon Gilbert and I settle down in a cafe beside Camden Lock. Go on, chaps, now's your chance.
"Brett's become unbearable," sighs Mat. "He's a total Prima Donna.
So fame's gone to his head?
"Oh no, he was like that when he was eight'.
THERE’S A STARMAN…
WHEN I first met Suede, in February, they said their main ambition was for some kid in Bolton, or Germany, or wherever, to be walking around with the idea of Suede inside their head. To a large extent, that wish must have come true. So who are they? What sort of people are Suede-heads?
“A bizarre collection, actually," Brett replies. We get some interesting fanmail. Not just from hairdressers, or whatever. We get the twisted, obsessive type more than the on-heat teenager."
"Oh, we get them too, but for some reason we get a lot of people under therapy in asylums. 'I wanted to go to the gig, but Friday's my therapy night'."
“Wasn't there a guy who couldn't come because he was scared of crowds?" recalls Mat.
He should have gone to see Therapy? (Just kidding, chaps). "He could have come if he increased his medication, but he didn't want to be doped up when he saw us. And we get collages of broken sleeping pills and syringes, photos of people ironing dolls' heads..."
"Which is brilliant," enthuses Brett. "I intend to reply to them all. The first post-'Drowners' set of fanmail was all we'd ever wonted tenfold. It’s been a really warm reaction. More, 'You've really done something for me' or 'Do your lyrics mean this?' than, 'You've made a record I like', or 'Do you have any tee-shirts for sale?'."
Do they tend to arrive at bizarre misinterpretations?
"All they do is extremify what's really going on. We're not obscurists: the themes are pretty universal. Although there was one who thought that 'Metal Mickey’ went, 'Shag shag shag to the trumpet’(actually 'Shake shake shake…’) and another who thought 'Animal Lover’ was, ‘I'm in a locker'I! Still, that's better than, 'I need a woman' (MM's own Jonathan Selzer)."
“The fans have taken Suede into their lives more extremely than we have,” continues Brett, amazed, "it's quite frightening, really."
Do you have any perception of bow famous you are?
"Sometimes," Brett confesses, “I walk down the street convinced that every single person knows who I am. It’s a terrible thing to get into your head, self-obsession. It’s not good for you. You can't pick your nose in public. You can't go and buy pornography.”
THE BEST NEW BAND IN BRITAIN?
THE front cover of Melody Maker's April 25th issue, proclaiming Suede are “The Best New Band In Britain”, was probably the most talked-about headline this year. It must have been a tough one to live up to.
"Now it's fine. But there was a time when it was a bit on the edge. A lot of other bands were quite bitter... There were a lot of cynical people at the gigs, but there's something really exciting about facing an audience who've been told you're The Best New Band In Britain, with their arms folded, going, 'Come on then, impress us'. It really raised the stakes.
"At least it made people react. But we did the last tour on such a high of self-belief that every night was pandemonium. People who were wondering what we'd be like were spellbound by the end. A lot of people said, ‘We wanted to hate you, but you really are The Best!'
"Another helpful thing was that the single couldn't be faulted. It's really important to have a great debut, and "The Drowners" was virtual faultless. We are a reality now, and in the long run, it really gave us a boost.”
Stop press: you can drop the "New”.
LIVING IT UP
"IT still gets me," says Bernard, "when Brett sings, 'You're taking me over', and there are a thousand faces singing, 'You're taking me over' back at him. That's when the gig really takes off. It gets me every time.”
To fully understand Suede, you have to see them live. Unless you've seen them f*** up, through Brett being bored (NME party), a crap sound system (Camden Palace) or the wrong atmosphere (Africa Centre, wall-to-wall biz types), then bring it all and blow a totally inappropriate headline act clean offstage (Kingmaker at the T&C), you don't know what you're missing. "Technically, we're a shambles," reveals Mat with genuine modesty. "If we wanted to be perfect, we could, but we'd rather go wild a bit."
“Those inappropriate supports bring out our aggressive side," claims Brett. "There has to be some tension, it has to be difficult. When it's all on a plate, we get bored. You tend to be more vitriolic when you’re third on the bill and you want to get across that you're the best there. The thought that some people out there in Kingmaker tee-shirts might be disgusted by it…."
“We don't get stagedivers, odds Mat. “That’s because it's become a reaction to a certain set of bands. I think our fans are scared we might think they're crap if they did.”
So what IS typical gig behaviour?
Brett pauses for thought. “We get a tot of hands grabbing feet.”
HOW FUNNY ARE SUEDE?
AT first, Brett looks confused: “l don't think we're funny. We take our humour seriously. We're not funny in a flippant, Carter sense. Hopefully it’s black humour: it comes from the way life is. The trouble is, humour in songs becomes too intellectual, like Paul Heaton in The Beautiful South with all those little stories and puns going on... what did you mean when you asked?"
Oh, off the top of my head, just little lines like, “On the highwire, dressed in a leotard/There wobbles one hell Of a retard/On the escalator, we shit Paracetamol/As the ridiculous world goes by” ("My Insatiable One"). Call me giggly, but that kills me.
"It’s humour through absurdity. That line comes from an image I've always had locked in my head: my Dad, who's this funny old man with a beard, who's never taken his vest off in his life and wears a tie in the bath... I had this image of him wearing a leotard with 'Chimpo' written across it, like some sort of wrestler…"
"But it’s quite sinister at the same time," adds Bernard. "It's that whole thing of tragedy/comedy being two sides of the same coin. Did you see that Alan Bennett play recently, where that guy died on a public toilet on Blackpool Pleasure Beach? It's totally tragic, but you can't help laughing. Or 'Abigail's Party'... I was killing myself all the way through, but at the end I was so depressed I couldn't move."
“There was a brilliant episode of ‘EastEnders',” Brett recalls, "when Pete Beale was told there was a Drag Party at The Vic. But the joke was on him – he was the only one who'd dressed up, and the look on his face when he opened the door and everyone was laughing at him… well, if Suede are funny, hopefully it’s in that kind of way.”
What's your response to being called derivative?
“When we started, we decided never to mention influences. It seems that every new band is described as a cross between blah and blah. Or blab on Acid. Engelbert Humperdinck on Acid. That's a very journalistic thing to say, isn't it? But we're not scored of that any more. All you can do is assemble your influences in the best way you can, so that they one more Suede. I don' t think we sound like Bowie and The Smiths anyway.”
"Well, not ripping them off, at least. lf we thought we were, we'd shy incredibly clear of mentioning them. We might take the heart and spirit of those influences, but not the chord progressions. We're not cynical songwriters in that way, we're... eyes open, really.
"It’s like when they said Bernard's guitars sounded like Tom Verlaine, and he'd never even heard Television. Or Mott The Hoople... we thought, 'Shit, wonder what they sound like?', so we had to get the records out!"
TAKING THE MICKEY…
SUEDE's second single is "Metal Mickey", an outrageously rampant, cocky-as-f***, swaggering glam stormer that revolves around the insanely infectious chorus, 'Oh Dad/She's driving me mad’. Nowhere, however, does it mention Metal, nor anyone called Mickey. Contrary bastards,
“The title's actually a nickname of the person the song's about,” Brett explains, "And, I suppose, a reference to the musical brashness of the song. But it's all about being thrown out into the adult world of obsession, not being able to handle it, and returning to your parents for comfort."
Is that something you're able to do? What's your relationship like with your father?
"I don't know whether to say or not, in case he reads it. He's basically a manic-depressive, mad old Englishman. An obsessive taxi-driver. He gets the flag out on Nelson's and Churchill's birthdays."
“Nice line in smoking jackets”, laughs Mat, who knows him. Great old geezer."
Suede’s other new recording is a version of The Pretenders' “Brass In Pocket” for the NME's 40th Birthday Charity album. The original was a narcissist’s anthem: “I’m gonna make you see/Ain't nobody eIse here, no one like me/I'm special”. What twist have Suede put on it?
“When we saw the list of songs that other people were doing,“ sighs Brett to exasperation, “it was about humorously juxtaposing, say, Napalm Death with Kylie Minogue song, or EMF doing ‘Shaddap You Face’. So all you needed to do was see the name of the band, the title of the song, and then laugh. You didn't have to actually listen to it. But we wanted to do a genuinely good song.
“You're right, the original was narcissistic: it’s all about how underrated, how sexually potent they are. But it only worked because it was a woman singing it, a reversal of the traditional roles. If I did it that way... well, there are thousands of songs like that. So we twisted it around, and made it more plaintive, a plea from someone who's under-the-thumb.”
WHAT’S A NICE BAND LIKE YOU DOING IN A TENT LIKE THIS?
“I CERTAINLY don't know how we'll fit in with the One Love mentality at Reading,” wonders a slightly concerned Brett. “I don’t know if we'll work in that atmosphere, sandwiched between Sultans Of Ping and Big Audio Dynamite.”
Hmmm. Weird bill, that tent.
"There's a sort of conveyor belt problem," reckons Mat. “It’s difficult to make yourselves seem special when everyone's thinking, 'Let’s go and see what Spiritualized are like”. But lots of people have come up to us saying ’We’ve got our ticket! Saturday night! Can't wait!', so you never know... "
Any festival veterans among you?
“The Cult at Finsbury Part was my first festival experience," confesses Brett "The music just seemed to be blowing in the wind. After Ned's Atomic Dustbin, The Cult actually seemed quite good. I thought Neds might be bad, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how terrible... you'd think with two bassists they'd at least be loud, but they were the most watered down thing ever…”
“A lot of people I like just die at festivals", Mat continues. ”I usually find PJ Harvey totally compelling. but she was awful.”
Anyone you're looking forward to seeing at Reading?
"Nick Cave... I can't remember anyone else. Teenage Fanclub are quite good, but they were boring last year. Aren't The Fall on this year?”
No, it's their year off. So will you be staying in a tent, mucking in with The Kids?
"Our manager was desperate for us to stay in A tent," complains Mat, “to soak up that authentic festival atmosphere. So we had to book a hotel room on our own. It was awful.”
Brett looks horrified.
"I’ve never slept in a tent in my life.”
Suede’s new single, “Mickey Mickey" is released by Nude on September 14. They play the MM/Radio 1 tent on Saturday night