"My Dark Star"
Chris Newkirk and Brooks Hansson
Submitted by: Sarah Jareck
Brett Anderson reveals all to Chris Newkirk and Brooks Hansson
It still disappoints me every morning I get up and I don't actually strap on some kind of helicopter and fly off."
Consistent with the themes of The London Suede's latest release, the gloriously eclectic “Sci-fi Lullabies” (a double-cd collection of b-sides), singer Brett Anderson has always been fixated and fascinated with the future. "When I was a kid at school, I wanted to live in the future. I really thought by now that it was gonna be space food, bubble cars and jet packs."
If he is indeed disappointed with the cuisine, transportation and fashion accessories of today, he is admittedly delighted with where he finds himself in 1998. “I've always wanted to be in a band since the womb," says Brett, sounding utterly believable. "It was some kind of genetic mistake – when I was just a twinkle my fathers eye that's what I wanted to do."
Who would of thought that he would have risen from the rubber-gloved hell that is the destiny of your average toilet cleaner to the heaven of spotlights and screaming fans. "Yeah, being an icon is great. I didn't choose that for myself - other people did that – but it is okay, isn't it?," Brett says half-laughing. “Of all the problems you could have with your job, I think that being an icon is probably one of the best."
"Yeah, I used to clean toilets. It's a strange thing about the band; everyone in Suede has at one point cleaned toilets for a living. In fact, Mat used to clean toilets on airplanes," laughs Brett. “So if it all goes down the dumper, we all have a profession to fall back on. We're not just pretty boys – we could be cleaning toilets right now!"
Cleaning toilets. It sounds dirty and grimy, but Brett, even in his lyrics, is not one to shy away from the seediness of life. From the band's debut LP, “The London Suede," to "Sci-Fi Lullabies,” the lyrical content featured on Suede albums explores the darker sides of love and life, from drug-addled realities to futuristic landscapes. Brett's movie-like images are peppered with cheap drugs and sloppy sex. They strike the audience in very much the same way a David Lynch movie does – pulling back the covers and exposing the dark side of white-picket suburbia.
There's a forlorn sense of adolescent yearning throughout the Suede back catalogue of songs – a desperate craving for the cure to misbegotten love affairs, an urgent search for the way home to the blue middle class dream. Brett's rich, sultry vocals breathe life into a seemingly grim version of modern existence. And with his sweeping range, the short story-like vignettes are executed with the precision and drama of a Broadway musical.
Brett's characters roam free through scenes of suburban decay as in some escapist's dream. The characters are, however very real to him. “I've never really been able to write about stuff I don't know. I can only sing about the things I do know and the things I know well. If there are recurring themes, it's because my life hasn't changed so much, "Brett states matter-of-factly. "If I become a water polo champion then it will appear in the lyrics," he quips before continuing with his point. “There isn't a person in the songs that I don't know. All of the people in the songs are me or the band or my friends. I don't make up characters, I'm probably not clever enough to."
While Brett borrows characters from real life, his muse often dips into literary and cinematic pools of inspiration. “The songs are about people I know, but the feel of books and the feel of films have totally influenced the way I write," Brett explains.“ like everything Nick Roeg, a British film director, has done. And I've probably read more in the last three months than I've read in the rest of my life. Normally I get bored just reading the back of a crisp packet.
“In addition to films and books, Brett insists that any given moment can provide profound inspiration. Everything I hear is an influence. I'm not very discriminating; I listen to the radio and everything sounds great, and then I go through periods when nothing sounds any good at all, even the greatest records in the world sound like a wet fart. And then a moment after, everything I hear sounds great," says Brett. “You can get inspiration from anything; there's not a holy canon of things that are great. I listen to any old shit and get something from it."
From the beginning, well before the release of their self-titled debut album, the London Suede rightfully demanded wide spread attention. Based on the release of the singles "Metal Mickey" and "Animal Nitrate," Suede were proclaimed the best band in Britain in ‘93. The album subsequently went straight to number one in England where it turned gold on the second day of its release. It eventually won the 1993 Mercury Music Prize.
The album, brimming with sexual ambiguity and androgyny, entered an American scene laden with Nirvana-mimicking grunge rock, affirming its difference with a refreshing pretentiousness and a glam rock studded artsiness that was simply overflowing with style and substance. At last, it seemed, the gradually-growing-restless Morrissey fans were offered a new form of obsession, the alienated reuniting with an all-embracing sexuality and brooding romanticism.
With the release of their debut came The Quote. The one where Brett casually referred to himself as a "bisexual who has never had a homosexual experience." Suddenly Brett found himself smack in the center ring of a pathetically misguided media circus. The Quote created a whirlwind of negative feedback from the British press. “I was trying to say something pretty simple. I was trying to say something that I thought was quite inclusive," explains Brett, slightly exasperated. “I just always wanted us to be a band that was about things that were big and universal and above pettiness. I was just trying to say that me and the band were open to everyone, but I probably put it in a simpler way and it's haunted me ever since like a bad smell."
Because of their unique sound, music journalists have had a rough time finding reference points to describe Suede's music. More often than not, they're left resorting to comparisons of The Beatles, David Bowie and The Smiths.
However, after the release of three albums and a double-cd of b-sides, it's obvious that Suede defy categorization, perhaps setting themselves up to become a reference point for bands to come, inspiring a legion of Suedesque bands for tomorrow.
“Jesus, I hope not, that would be horrible wouldn't it?" Brett laughs sarcastically. "If we are inspirational, I hope we inspire someone that sounds nothing fucking like us; I hope we inspire some folk band or something. You can take the feel of something without just copying it straight off."
"It's a bit sad; bands who follow always find the worst thing about the band and copy them," Brett adds. "That thing with Nirvana in America. 'This is true punk rock and blah, blah, blah, we're going to smash the system' and it just ended up leaving a whole lot of people with jack shit – thinking about how depressed they were."
The release of ballad-heavy “Dog Man Star," Suede's second full-length album, was partly eclipsed by the departure of guitarist/songwriter Bernard Butler. The songwriting duo, frequently compared with The Smiths' Morrissey and Marr, had split unceremoniously, leaving fans prematurely lamenting the loss of future albums.
However, the split wasn't nearly as traumatic as it seemed to those outside the band. In fact, Brett insists that it had a positive impact on the band. “I think it was a good thing for us. Any one who is any good tends to give themselves an artistic shake-up every now and then," Brett states confidently. "While some people can just do it by listening to new records or moving to another bit of town, the split was good for us, it simply meant that we didn't repeat ourselves."
Shortly after Bernard's departure, 17-year-old Richard Oakes was recruited, and with this, a constant curiosity as to whether young Oakes had the ability to fill the shoes of Butler, not only as a musician but as a songwriter.
Many fears were allayed with the release of “Together" and "The Bentswood Boys," Richard's first songwriting collaborations with Brett. Moreover, Brett humorously points out that “[the arrival of Oakes] brought the average age down. We keep throwing these youngsters into the band. Me and Mat and Simon are actually five years younger now. It's great, I'll be a vampire."
The real proof of Richard's (and Suede's) coming of age, however, was the anthemic "Coming Up." Released to critical acclaim and eventual stellar commercial success, the LP revived the band's early status as one of the best bands in Britain, proving to the skeptics and nay sayers alike (if not to the entire world) that Suede was a confident, capable and resilient act that could not only still turn a good tune but easily reduce grown men to tears.
How much further can you go from "Coming Up?" We hopefully find out late summer or early autumn. "We're demoing at the moment and kind of messing about. We've been going into cheap studios and recording what ever comes into our head and getting ready for proper recording. There isn't really a blue print for the album; more than ever we haven't really planned anything. It's sounding quite odd and quirky," says Brett optimistically. "However, everybody has succumbed to the lure of living in London, so we are taking a bit of time off."
So, what words would the man who spends so much of his time splattering futuristic metaphors on the urban backdrop of Britain want us to write one hundred times on the chalkboard of our dreams? “What you do in your head, you do in your head, I love that lyric," says Brett, describing what he would choose as the definitive Suede lyric (if not manifesto). “That's one of the things that means a million things to me. It probably sounds completely blank to the rest of the world."