SUEDE It's official - The Best New Band In Britain!
The Stud Brothers
2 January 1993
Submitted by: Caroline McSweeney
When we put them on the cover of MM last April and called them The Best New Band In Britain before they'd even released a record, a lot of people thought we'd lost our marbles. But we knew what we were talking about, and so did Suede. With the release of 'The Drowners' and 'Metal Mickey', they have vindicated every claim we made for them.
Now, by an absolutely overwhelming majority, you've voted them Brightest Hopes in our annual Readers Poll. With their debut album waiting in the wings as the most feverishly anticipated album in recent memory, it looks like 1993 will be The Year Of Suede.
In this in-depth interview with THE STUD BROTHERS, Brett Anderson talks about his band's irresistible rise to stardom, being seen as heir to Morrissey, his beleaguered childhood and a lot of stuff about sex.
Pics: TOM SHEEHAN
BRETT ANDERSON lives on the first floor of one of Notting Hill's magnificent Victorian mansion-blocks that have been divided, dissected and near-destroyed by stud partition walls. His room - he only has one - is a smalll-shaped bedsitting room, strewn with clothes, records and catty paraphernalia (bowls, cans and litter tray).
The clothes are classic Brett-wing-collared, possibly polyester shirts, puff sleeved Byronic tops and ball-hugging jeans. His records, though, are somewhat curious. There are The Smiths (predictably), Bowie (obviously) and Led Zeppelin and Guns N'Roses (inexplicably). The little remaining space is taken up by a large double mattress and a small piano, leaving literally no room to swing his cat (something, by the way, that became increasingly tempting as the little black beast strutted cacophonously up and down the piano's keyboard).
The strangest thing about Brett's place is that it contains absolutely no reading matter, not even a free local news-sheet.
In fact, the only book in evidence is a postcard-sized collection of Frida Kahlo prints. Frida Kahlo was a painter and spouse of the Mexican revolutionary and prodigious wife-beater, Diego Rivera. She was also Leon Trotsky's lover and, at the time, widely regarded as the most beautiful woman in Mexico.
But what makes her life extraordinary is the way she almost lost it. She was thrown from a tram with such force that all her clothes were torn from her body and she was impaled on an iron spike.
The spike entered through her vagina and exited via her chest. Another victim of the accident had been carrying a huge bag of gold dust, Frida, on the spike, was covered in the stuff-gold and red, twitching and jerking. The gathering crowd thought she was a mystic dancer.
Frida survived to paint some of the most lurid and unsettling pieces anyone is ever likely to paint. She was the most glamorous, most tortured, most arty artist of them all. You can decide for yourself what owning only a set of her prints means.
Brett talks excitedly about the gold dust and thumbs through the pages of the book to discuss individual paintings with us. Which is great and very telling, but not precisely why we're here.
We're here ostensibly to dismiss Suede's extraordinary year.
IN April 1992, Melody Maker stuck them on the front cover, calling them The Best New Band In Britain. This was two weeks before they released their first EP, “The Drowners”. The record, backed by the homoerotic anthem "My Insatiable One", went to Number One in the Indie Charts. The follow-up, "Metal Mickey", went to Number 17 in the Nationals and took the band onto "Top Of The Pops”. And now you, dear reader, have voted them Brightest Hope for '93.
And, if you didn't, your friends did.
Suede won by the kind of devastating, opposition-trampling majority that not even South American dictators dare dream of.
Brett and, by all accounts, the rest of Suede - Bernard Butler (guitar), Simon Gilbert (drums) and Mat Osman (bass) –
neither ecstatic nor smug but simply pleased.
"I'm quite a strong believer in the survival of the fittest," says Brett. "I think if you really are good you'll get the attention and, if you're not, there's no amount of good press or goodwill that can get you through - you'll just disintegrate. I know some people think we've been hyped into this position and I know the press can be extremely fickle, but it's also full of intelligent people who know about music and they've recognised that we've come along almost fully developed.
"I don't want to sound big-headed, but I think if the press find a band they can write about, they do. And I know we're a band who can easily be translated into literature. There's an identity to this band that goes beyond just shrugging your shoulders and saying 'Buy the record and see what you think. "A lot of bands have developed well in 1992, but there's no one else with a true and complete vision of what being in a band is all about. So, in that respect, I think we deserve everything we've got."
AND, of course, he's quite right. Suede are so much more than the sum of their parts, as it were. Though the six songs on their two EPs are emphatically pop, we feel they're motivated by so much more than an earnest desire to entertain. And though Brett, in his ball-hugging jeans and Byronic shirts, may at first glance appear to be just another dandy in the underworld, we somehow suspect there's more to him as well.
Possibly he's homosexual, maybe he's bisexual. There's no hard evidence for any of it other than the third person masculine he uses in his lyrics and the remark he made three weeks ago in MM's A Question Of Sex debate when he called himself "a bisexual who's never had a homosexual experience". Nevertheless, you feel the affected cockney drawl is underscored by a sibilant Come Hither to anything that breathes.
And, finally, Suede have enjoyed comparisons. They've been compared to T. Rex and Bowie, but mostly to the most sacred indie cow of them all, The Smiths. Brett and Suede, it's said, have taken over where Morrissey and The Smiths left off. Brett is our favourite introverted extrovert - sexy, subversive, sorrowful and supersensitive.
He is a bedsit Prince.
THE YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY
BRETT learned to be Brett, the repressed exhibitionist, in Haywards Heath. It was a good place to learn. Haywards Heath is a nice little town in the commuter belt between London and Brighton. A very nice little town. It has no slums or shootings or stabbings - or really very much of anything. Brett thinks of it as a place where "Pigs Don't Fly". Its residents are, for the most part, conservative, well-educated, fiercely realistic, very dull and in work. Up until two years ago, unemployment ran at just one per cent. In fact, Haywards Heath is exactly the kind of nice little town that people dream of bringing kids up in.
The Andersons, however, didn't quite fit. Brett's mother, now deceased, was a painter who didn't sell paintings (Brett: "l suppose seeing her paint made me appreciate beauty, maybe it gave me my creative side") and his dad spent most of his time inadvertently attracting attention by being unemployed, concentrating instead, says Brett, on being a good father. He's now a taxi-driver. You can see him on the ranks as you sail through Haywards Heath on your way to a weekend beano in Brighton.
Brett was an extremely fragile child, frightened, he says, of almost everything.
"I was a very timid, terrified child. I was frightened of everything and, in those days, there seemed a lot to be frightened of. There was the threat of nuclear war, the fear of your parents dying of aerosol poisoning, it was dreadful."
Brett also remembers a lot of love. He loved his older sister and his mum and dad - and they loved him back. So, nuclear holocausts and aerosol poisoning aside, Brett might've enjoyed a very happy childhood and adolescence were it not for the nice little town he grew up in.
"It was an horrific little place," he says, with the enthusiasm of someone who's left it all behind.
"Much tougher than almost anywhere in London. Throughout the whole time of my growing up there was a very vivid undercurrent of violence."
Brett very quickly realised that, in order to survive Haywards Heath, the sensible kids made the sensible choices. They learned how to drive and became bullies. Or, if they weren't up to that, they learned how to drive and became bullies' friends. The rest - the overly studious, the conspicuously weedy and the obviously weird - became, by necessity, the bullied. Brett naturally belonged to the latter category.
He didn't learn how to drive (a dereliction of masculine duty) and, with the mix of hangdog masochism and mucky exhibitionism that's become his hallmark, set about inflaming the highly flammable passions of the locals by mincing around town in a foppish yellow suit, limpwristedly inviting beatings. The locals, perpetually in a screaming fit of puritanism, occasionally obliged by kicking the crap out of him.
"They always called me a queer,” says Brett. "It started when I was about nine or 10 and just carried on. I always quite liked it actually, because when you're insulted by someone you consider a complete piece of shit, how can that insult be an insult? l always enjoyed the attention, the attention of being excommunicated from the Lads' Gang. I got beaten up a lot, not as much as I could have been, because when I was younger I kept myself to myself. But some of my friends really suffered for it. They were actually hospitalised. They had iron bars wrapped round their crutch just because they weren't in the right gang."
Brett strode (un)manfully on, secure in the knowledge that once he'd negotiated the obstacles of O-levels, A-levels and the unwavering disapproval of the good citizens of Haywards Heath (who went from regarding him as an arse-bandit to something infinitely worse - a smart-arse-bandit) he'd be in London studying something or other at the taxpayers' expense.
In the meantime, he hung out with the friends Haywards Heath had chosen for him - egghead Faust fans, dissolute New Romantics, diehard dopefiends and, best of all, girls. Even in Haywards Heath, there exists a certain type of girl who goes for a certain type of bloke like Brett - gig-going, artsy, angst-ridden girls. Brett, the willing, purposeful victim, attracted other willing purposeful victims.
He still does.
At 19, Brett moved to London. For him, it was a really big deal.
"I've always absolutely loved London. It's a place I've always had an extreme romantic vision of. Even when I was small and my parents used to take me on day-trips, I used to get a shiver of excitement just arriving at Victoria. I always felt that that was where I belonged, really ever since I used to read about Paddington Bear and the Portobello Road."
TO Brett, London was big, swinging, punky, sexy, dangerous and depraved, the ultimate metropolis, a place where pigs could pimp, deal dope, seduce you, break the sound barrier and loop the f***ing loop. It was London like in "Blow Up" only edited by Julien Temple.
London, he felt, was his spiritual home in the same way Ethiopia is for the Rastafarian (though, admittedly, seeking out the Lost Tribe of Israel is infinitely more spiritual than following in the paw- prints of Paddington Bear)
"I was so excited to be in such a brilliant, brilliant place," says Brett.
"I lived in a shithouse in Finsbury Park and the pavements were all covered in dogshit, but it was still the best place in the world. I went through a period of just walking around obscure parts of London on my own, just lapping it up, even lapping up the mediocrity, the shit of Canons Park, Dollis Hill, nowhere places l just loved it, this huge, steaming mass of brilliant and terrible people.
"Right from the start, I was fascinated and I can't explain why. It's just as natural and impossible to explain as the shape of my nose."
Hence the voice. Brett's spoken voice is relatively well-modulated BBC. Singing, if it's a brilliant unholy slur, the sequined barrow-boy selling you sex and sensibility.
Brett came to London to study Town And Country Planning at UCL, but almost immediately met a student architect he fell in love with and switched to Architecture. This is as wild and as unreasonable a shift as someone jacking in their job as a traffic cop to design Ferraris. But then Brett's never been big on reason.
Feelings, he will tell you, are what count. Eventually, Brett, along with his longtime friend, Mat (and Bernard and Simon whom he'd discovered through the Melody Maker Classifieds) formed Suede. He never, he claims, had any intention of doing anything else.
9 1/2 WEEKS: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF BRETT ANDERSON
BRETT'S come a long way, a long, long way. A hell of a long way. Just to be Morrissey. What a bummer, all just to take up where The Smiths left off.
"If we have taken up where they left off," says Brett, ever placid and agreeable, "then we've got hold of a very ragged thread. There's definitely certain gaps we've filled. I mean, I get a lot of letters from Smiths fans telling me how they got onstage and kissed Morrissey, and how brilliant it was, but I don't have any kinship with that at all.
"I also get letters from people in therapy, people in difficult situations, virtually rewriting 'Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit', people with problems with their sexuality. They're never snivelling or pathetic, they always say they just need to write to someone who might understand and I try to reply if I can.
"I mean, I don't want to be Sting or Mother Teresa but, if someone places their confidence in you, it'd be rude to ignore them. Basically I'm a singer not a psychiatrist - but I do feel that the songs are more therapeutic than anything I could tell anyone personally."
Really the Brett/Suede, Morrissey/Smiths comparison just doesn't stand up (did you really think we meant it?).
The reasons are two-fold. While Morrissey still dreams no further than the bright lights of Blackpool and lives in palpitating, expectant fear of the Rusholme Ruffians, Brett dreamt of London - dreams of Tokyo and New York and the beatings he once so loved to risk now mercifully belong to the past.
Brett celebrates his escape and - by implication - yours.
Brett and Suede are just a whole lot more useful, dynamic and contemporary than The Smiths were - even - when they were contemporary (they were never useful or dynamic).
Furthermore, where Morrissey turned his back on the question of sexual orientation, Brett at the very least pretends to be queer.
Brett's made great play of his own sexuality, not simply in a gay-or-straight, is -he-or-isn't-he way (which is eventually dull, since somewhere there is an answer to that) but - more profoundly and more importantly - whether he is or isn't, he asks if you want him anyway?
Do you think he's sexy? If you do, why?
If you don't, why not?
Now that's profound.
BRETT, as you might now expect, is clear-headed but confused.
"I don't consider myself sexy, not at all. It's a weird word anyway. I think I'm expressive and, given the right situation,
I'm a bit of a show-off. But given the wrong situation, I shrink quite dramatically. I'm not one of those people who can slot into any social situation, who're constantly surrounded by a goggle-eyed gang of people hanging on their every word.
"Given the stage and a chance to communicate our songs, which I love, I'm a complete show-off. But sexy, no. I know I perform - and the songs make me express myself sexually - but I don't feel sexy."
Nevertheless, while Brett might not feel sexy, he appears (on record, onstage, in person) extremely aware of his own sexuality, almost uncomfortably so.
"I wouldn't say uncomfortably, but certainly sexuality is something we take seriously. We're definitely more conscious of it than most."
So are Suede's audience.
So when was he first aware of his own sexuality?
"I don't know," he shrugs, "same time as anyone else."
What does that mean?
'Well, having a wank," he says, sounding not particularly uncomfortable. "It's a really strange thing. You're there with no sense of your own sexuality, you know there's something there but you don't know what, so you don't take it seriously. And then you have your first orgasm and that has got to be one of the strangest things that'll ever happen to you in your life. It's pleasurable, but it really is very, very strange."
Did you then become a compulsive wanker?
"Yeah," says Brett, laughing, "I suppose so, as a teenager. Why not? It's something to do when you've finished your homework. Or even while you're doing your homework."
Are you a promiscuous person?
"No, not really."
Do you get propositioned after gigs?
"Yeah. By men and women."
Run through a standard proposition.
"Okay. Er. Tap, tap. 'Brett, can me and my friend talk to you?' Yeah, hold on a second. I turn round. Would you like to come back to our house later and f*** both of us?"
How do you react to something like that?
"I'm polite, but I decline. I wouldn't want to enter into a relationship, no matter how superficial, with anyone who only wanted to be with me because I was a singer in a band. It's quite a turn-off for me, and I don't think I could ever live up to someone's fantasy of me anyway. It just all seems such a one-way thing.
"And anyway, nowadays I seem to channel most of my sexual impulses into writing. At the moment we're doing the album, and I haven't thought about anything but writing really for a long time. In a way that's almost like a choice, because to me the sexual impulse and the creative impulse seem to come from the same part of the body. If you have too much of one you can't have any of the other.
"I honestly think lack of sex is vital to my writing process. I don't know if the same goes for Aerosmith, but my point of take-off for writing is generally sadness - sadness and loss.
It doesn't necessarily have to be a sad song, it could be about sadness from the point of view of revenge, but it does seem necessary to be unfulfilled.
"In that way, I'm very wary of success in that it might make your life comfortable. All of last year I was in an extreme personal low, it was like a long series of personal humiliations to do with relationships and extreme poverty (he will not expand upon the personal low), and because of that I spent all my time writing songs. So from that low came almost all the songs that we play now.
"I've seen it happen so many times, bands write a couple of good songs then they're just into getting pissed and going down the Camden Palace. It's a real shame sometimes - bands like 5.30 just lost it completely. They didn't take it seriously and it's just too important to not take seriously."
PEOPLE have invested an awful lot of time, faith and energy in Brett Anderson.
Us the press, you the fans, Suede the band and, of course, Brett Anderson himself. Everyone's taking him very seriously indeed. Already the thumbnail sketches are turning into full-blown portraits. And portraits have a way of turning into cartoons. Brett might just end up selling feelings like Radion sell soap-powder.
"That does concern me," says Brett. "Of course that concerns me. When you become a cartoon, you're not a three-dimensional thing with warmth and depth. I'd hate to be seen as simply some mincing effeminate prancing around in a blouse.
"There's definitely a side to me that minces and prances, but I won't be doing it for long. There's a lot more to me than that."
Take him at his word.
Go on, be insatiable.