SUEDE. THE GRAND RETURN OF BRETT-POP
ROGER MORTON, Pictures by KEVIN CUMMINS
Submitted by: Doreen
Gabba gabba fey! Fresh from the school of hard knocks, BRETT ANDERSON returns older, wiser and ready to wreak revenge on Britpop - which he reckons he invented in the first place! VOX gets elegantly pasted with His Lordship as he debates the fickle price of fame, French fries and, naturally, the new SUEDE album...
"The last album was very specific in terms of the way I wrote it. I rented a house in Highgate for 'Dog Man Star'. It was this old Victorian, Gothic gaff. It was this flat in this house, and the rest of the house was owned by this strange set of Christians called Mennonites.
“There was a lovely big garden, and I had this studio to write in. Didn't ever see anyone because no one could be bothered to get their arse up to Highgate. So I started writing in a very isolated way. We drove past the house the other day, and Richard was in the car, and I said: 'Look, that's my old house. That's where I wrote the whole of the last album.' And he goes: 'It reeks of 'Dog Man Star!' And it did. It was this kind of dark, classical place."
Did it have chandeliers covered in cobwebs?
"It wasn't quite like that, what's that fucking Dickens book, Great Expectations? It was bordering on that. It did reek of 'Dog Man Star". Now I've moved to a new place, where I've been writing the new album, and it's back where I've always lived in London, in Ladbroke Grove, and it reeks of the new album, which is more communicative, more part of real life."
OUR YEARS of watching him swish like a feather boa through the melodrama of an histrionic pop existence, and the first words Brett Anderson says in the flesh are: "Oh 'ello, I'll be with you in a minute." Four years of gender-larking. Byronic- posturing, apocalyptic fretting, drug-guzzling, arse-slapping, scrapping, bitching and trilling gorgeously and the first words are not "Daaaaahling", or "Sweeeetie" or even "Delighted". Just "Oh 'ello, I'll be with you in a minute." Like the sodding dentist. Or some bloke in a chip shop. Oh well, you can get people wrong.
The trim to the point of the skinny, but healthy looking 28-year-old who bustles around the smart W1 offices of his record label, Nude, is definitely a bloke, see. Nothing about him screams. The airs and graces are limited to the modulated Kenneth Williams-from-the-chip-shop cadence of his speaking voice. And in his black cords, DMs, pastel shirt and 24-hour stubble, he comes on kind of like a roaming PhD student who's lost a crucial text book,
The hair is a geometric mod-fop collage, but the fags he clutches are just fags, not Sobranies. And for the Champion Androgyne of 1993, his sense of melodrama is noticeably on holiday. In search of a quiet space to conduct the first Suede interview in over a year, we pop into the empty offices next door. A barren, harshly lit white room presents itself as a possibility. It looks promisingly like an Orwellian interrogation cell.
Anderson puts his leather jacket down, then picks it up again. "Er let's go back next door," he says, pragmatically "You can pretend we did the interview in there."
So we trudge back next door and pile in between the mountains of post-Suede, Suede-esque and subconsciously Suede-shaped demo tapes which cling like fungae to every surface of Nude's mini-A&R department.
Surrounded by a prodigal inheritance of so-so bands, Brett puts his feet up on the desk, leans back and eyes the cassette stacks like some exiled Prince who's come down from his castle to check on developments among the peasants. This time, however, Castle Highgate and the ivory tower rock of Dog Man Star might might have been permanently left behind
"Smaller! Who the fuck are Smaller?" shouts Brett as the A&R dude vacates his office.
"You don't need to know, but there's a tape there if you want it." says Mr A&R.
"Smaller! Hahahahahah!" he cackles. "It's not one of those names that inspires confidence is it! It's like that band Midway Still What a name that was to choose! It's like, Oh We're still half-way there.' Hahhahahah!
ANDERSON MIGHT well laugh. If Suede were to rename themselves based on their mid-'96 position, they'd have to call themselves Karmic Surplus. When they first emerged from the punter-free cellars of ignored early-'90s Rock Garden gigs to storm the next year's charts, the young, vital indie-rock hopefuls list consisted of Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Senseless Things, Mega City 4. Carter. The Frank And Walters, and the aforementioned Midway Still.
That any of them would inspire a British pop renaissance, and somehow re-introduce the languid, E-comedown. post-baggy teenage masses to the concept of buying singles was as likely as Bovine Encephalitis getting hip. There was, of course, the touted Kingmaker who Suede were supporting as the
Brett-brats media profile sky rocketed in the summer of '92. But as the NME live review understated it at the time: "Brett is a man capable of putting some drama back into the charts." Melodrama. actually dahlings. Because Suede went all the way showed a generation how it could be done, then simultaneously lost their guitarist and half the plot.
Quite how far the sexy, sing-a-long drama of chartbound Suede kicked open the doors for the ensuing Britpop soap opera is a moot point. There is, however, currently a bullish mood around the Suede camp which asserts that now they've returned from a year's absence with a new line-up and 25 flouncy 'n' bouncy tunes stacked up. It's time for the karma bank to cough up its debt.
Earlier, at the preview of six spanking, untouched by the hand of Bernard Butler songs (more of which later), Nude boss Saul Galpern had hopped around his office like a born-again fan. "It's payback time for Suede," he said. "They fuckin deserve it, mate."
So, in keeping with the in- house mood of optimism, I plonk a bottle of champagne in front of Brett, who's sipping coffee and showing no signs of being a Moët without his Chandon "Coupla glasses of this and we'll be in court," he says. lifting the first one to his flexing lips.
Have you ever felt like suing anyone?
"Yeaasss. But I can't go into it at the moment. There's lots of times I've been on the phone to my fucking lawyers and said blah blah blah. There are lots of people who have said things about the way I live my life which have been completely libellous, but you start slinging mud about and you get very dirty. You've got to keep a bit of fuckin dignity."
Do you bear grudges?
"No. I'm not that sort of person. There's lots of people I'd like to see horribly mutilated. But...you know."
THE BLOOMING Brett Anderson sitting here today shows comparatively few signs of bitterness. Comparatively, that is, for someone who, in a short four years, has been initially adored and then critically pulled apart, accused of making fake bisexual claims, picked on for gaining weight. dumped in acrimony by his original guitarist and accused of being a heroin user by his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, Damon Albarn.
Having already made his 'I am not a heroin user statements, he is not today feeling obliged to glorify old rumours with direct comments.
There are, however, plenty of Chas n' Dave-type digs at the author of the allegations, Damon. And when talking about his other major personal irritant, Bernard Butler, he appears to have an ongoing problem pronouncing his name in Suede-speak '96, Butler has become
'The Bloke Who Left'. Not that Brett's giving any sign of still being cut up about it.
"There was a huge period of comedown," he says of the split with Butler. "But it was more around the time we were touring We decided to carry on because I felt there was a spirit to the band I made that decision instead of calling it a day with Suede."
Was that ever a consideration?
"Yeah, at the back of your mind it's got to be. Of course, something has died about the old formation of the band because one of the blokes has left. But I made the decision.
"We were promoting an album, and it was like playing a load of cover versions almost. Even though I'd co-written the songs - and they were completely written down the middle between me and him.
"It's difficult when you're playing some bloody festival in Finland and you're knocking out the old tracks and you're just thinking. 'Fucking hell, I can't wait to get back home and carry on writing because I've got it inside me to come back and write a fucking great album'. As soon as the songs started to flow, you knew there was something incredibly exciting on the horizon."
You're saying writing songs with someone else was liberating?
"Definitely. The whole shot in the arm thing. It's like a re-birth. Like some born-again Christian feels."
The new Suede line-up that graced the stage of London's Hanover Grand earlier in the year was indeed showing few signs of suffering from Butler's absence. His pretty boy replacement. Guitarist Richard Oakes, may not yet be up to Butler's Neil Young-Of-Indie standards, but playing half a set of new songs (which, for the first time, he actually had a hand in writing).
He was coming more into his own The fan club-only audience screamed the new songs buzzed with the usual '70s rock dynamics and kissy tarantula romance. It was like the old days, only Anderson's shirt didn't get ripped to pieces and there was the stalky, epicene presence of the new keyboardist-cum-backing singer hanging out stage, left, like some kind of Brett-sanctioned fashion accessory.
"He's just an incredibly Suede person," says Brett of new guy Neil Codling. "There are some people that are Suede people and other people that aren't. When you find them, you might as well hang on to them."
The story goes that Neil is drummer Simon Gilbert's cousin. He'd been at drama college up North and was subsequently in London going for auditions. One afternoon chez Brett, the singer was airing some demos when young Neil, who happened to be round there, started playing along. It turns out he can sing, play piano and recite the Encyclopedie De Musique backwards in Swahili, so he's invited to rehearsals and swiftly ingested into the band as an official permanent member. He has co- written two songs so far (working titles 'GBH' and Tiswas'!) and Brett can't praise him highly enough:
"He's becoming a real key.member of the band," he says. "I've got a lot of expectations for him.
SINCE ANDERSON'S no stranger to machiavellian activities, it's possible that young, malleable member is a good way for him to bolster his position as post-coup commandant.
If so, he ain't letting on. In fact, he takes great pains to stress the importance of the contributions of everyone from bassist Mat Osman to producer Ed Buller.
"It's not some dictatorial situation at all," he says. "I'm firm friends with all of them. It's just that I focus it all."
There's even a first songwriting collaboration with Osman, titled 'Europe Is Our Playground', lined up for a B-side. But with the Butler battles of Epic-Tending Guitarist vs Camp Pop Camp behind him, it's hard not to view the new Suede as Brett's baby.
"Democratic" is the word he uses to describe the new writing process, but he's keen to stress that in the past he was a lot more in control musically than people thought.
"All the vocal melodies I write are hugely instrumental in the musicality of the songs." he says, baulking at the suggestion that Butler did all the tunes.
"My musicianship is something I always underplayed for political reasons, but now I'm not willing to underplay it. But I don't want to talk about the past. It's been analysed and diagnosed enough."
But you think 'Dog Man Star went a bit off track?
"Yeah, I do. There's a lot of things I'd change about it. Suede was getting to a period with the last album where certain sides of it were getting obscure. Obviously, we never farted into a tape recorder or anything like that. But with this album I felt that the songs really had to speak for themselves again."
Maybe it was just the side effects of that big ol' house on the hill. Whatever, the new album Anderson wants us to know, is a damn sight less grand and more connected, and more... Well, the sleeve designer thinks it should be called 'Ultra-Suede', put it that way.
The year they took out to write it was, reckons Brett, a necessary regenerative period.
"You need that sort of fallow period. It's like crop rotation. Like the Middle Ages! You have to leave a field fallow so that it can get strong again. We've been staying out of the silly little egg and spoon race, and just building up an arsenal of songs "I don't think there's anyone else who makes the sort of music that we make. I certainly don't have any ambitions to make the music that any of my contemporaries are making. I feel as though all the rest of them are trying to make one sort of song and I'm trying to make another sort of song. And there's not much intermediate space where we meet, and I like that."
IF THE first Suede album was a kinky London strip show, and the second one a doomed global ballet. then the third one is shaping up to be a saccharine, fast-food pop feast. The rockstar-on-cocaine psychosis schtick which hung over 'Dog Man Star' has gone. The songs are fitter, punchier and more effective. And the patented Anderson tales of dizzy-city-kids-in-love are streamlined. Less guitar wank. More vocals. More fun, in fact.
The first single 'Trash' races past in a scree of Babycham guitars and strings with a helium-high Brett vocal, crooning: "We're trash you and me/We're the litter on the breeze We're the lovers on the streets/Just trash me and you/It's in everything we do..."
"It's a very simple romantic song." explains Brett. "You could almost take it as autobiographical and I quite like that."
of the album tracks so far previewed, there's the tiger-slash guitars and kitschy stomp of 'She'. It's almost glitter-rock with extra fangs and a vocal which goes "She-heeeeh walking like a killer/She-heeeeh another night another pillow/Nowhere places, nowhere faces, no one wants to see/No education, it's the arse of the nation. ("She is about female feline power It's dark and quite sexual and sinister is that your type of woman?
"I don't know what my kind of woman is, really")
'Saturday Night is a chandelier-gazing semi-ballad with beautifully plucked, swooping guitars, lavish strings and Disney harmonies.
Lazy has a great crystal-shards guitar riff which could almost be The Cult and a dizzy love-song lyric.
"You and me all we want to be is lie-zeeeey". ("Lazy is the same song as Trash really. Just two people off their faces one morning and they look out of their window and there's this procession of people going by”)
'Filmstar is a pure T-Rex rock-out with a falsetto "yeah yeah yeah" motif and a kind of blank lyric about how easy film stars make it look.
And the classic "The Beautiful Ones has a delectable riff, a 'Starmanesque outro and an inspired lyric about "Fag acts, drug acts, suicide, tattoos/Shaved heads rave heads on the pill (it's like a song about most of my friends, all these washed-out people trying to enjoy their lives. It's a rise up' sort of thing")
THESE TALES of flamboyantly wasted young lives were inspired by Brett's
everyday experiences in myself going that way!"
Is Trash your way of looking for beauty in crappy existences?
"I suppose so, but I don't feel I have to look too hard to find anything particularly beautiful. I feel as if I've grown up in that way I'm not searching for some sort of Aubrey Beardsley, wonderful opium- addict stance on life It's a lot more real than that."
Are the people in The Beautiful Ones really your social set?
"Definitely, yeah I've got quite a small collection of friends, but they'll always be my best friends.
They all work in chip shops."
Are you sure?
"They do! I assure you. I can name the chip shop if you want."
Are they good chips?
"They're not, actually. Well my best best-friend works in this chip shop in Oxted called Fishies."
They'll get Suede fans turning up now for the Suede chips.
"Suede chips! Yeah. Become a Suede person, eat Suede chips!"
The picture of His Thin White Lordship stalking the streets of London with a tape recorder, popping into the occasional chip shop to nibble diet-consciously at a couple of Suede-fries might be an endearingly eccentric one.
But quite how far Brett's poignant and rose-coloured A-Z of London life will fare up against the kiddier cartoons of post-Suede, ex-indie stars like Pulp and Blur, is another matter altogether.
THE LAST two years internal changes within the band have been matched by the scene restructuring Britpop upheavals outside, and judging by his "egg and spoon race" observations earlier the returning Brett is less than enamoured with what he sees.
"Scenes are gangs of people running in other people's slipstreams. It's a more personal thing with me, because I feel that Suede are responsible for a lot of it I think it's perpetrated some abysmal music and some pretty good music.
But I do feel quite close to it. Strangely close, because we're not part of the pack, but I do think that Suede initiated it by virtue of the kind of songs we were writing two years before anyone thought of the term 'Britpop'.
Does it worry you how you placed in a football league of successful bands?
"Yeah," Brett muses. "but I'm more worried about the general obsession with numbers and this Americanised obsession with success. People have got into this numerical mind set, with adverts in the music press that say Five million record sales worldwide as though that means anything. Turning music into mathematics! It's absolute bollocks!"
The mathematics of Suede's career are actually more supportive.of the band's ability to outlive the arrivistes than the superficial signs might suggest.
When they were the talk of the town back in 1993, their debut album, "Suede', sold 275,000 copies. A year and a half later, with Butler gone. Parklife' and 'Definitely Maybe' hogging the charts, and a backlash looming, the somewhat high-falutin' 'Dog Man Star' still sold 235 000.
Suede's position as a giant cult band with loyal fans, may prove to be preferable to the shaky, tabloid 'n' football stadium status acquired by the likes of D***n. Once again, Brett can't resist a dig.
"Our position at the moment is quite false because our trajectory was interrupted," he says.
"I challenge any other band that's doing well at the moment to lose a key member and carry on and make great stuff. It requires a fuck of a lot of belief in yourself and quite a lot of talent as well."
Would you like to be playing football stadiums?
"I wouldn't like to be playing football stadiums if what I was playing to the assembled masses was a load of my-old-man's-a-dustman crap, pretending that you come from the fuckin' East End when you're a fuckin' member of the landed gentry. I find that obscene."
You're talking about Damon Albarn, of course.
"I find it incredibly false," he says. "People throw the word false at us and we've never been false about anything we've done. I've never tried to come across as anything I'm not. I find this whole inverted snobbery thing about music incredibly condescending to the working class. But at the end of the day, the music's shit, so it doesn't really matter.
"I come from the background that these people are talking about. Every penny I have I've spent the last ten years slogging for. When you come from a very poor family - which I do - you try and better yourself. It's not trying to pretend that you buy your clothes from jumble sales."
Are you more comfortable with Oasis?
"Yeah, they're just a bunch of blokes having a good time out of it. There's nothing wrong with what they do."
How do you rate Noel as a songwriter?
"I think some of the songs are good."
THE BOORISH new world that Suede return to has gone through a zeitgeist shift where (with the possible exception of the Manics) the meekly chart-pleasing and the plain macho have taken over.
For all that, Brett may now wish to set aside the art-rocker/sexual chameleon tendencies so successfully summed up by 'Dog Man Star's homoerotic/consumptive poet LP sleeve; the lingering impression that they're a bit poncey for the times may prove an impediment.
Two years ago at Glastonbury, a.stoned, beer-sodden field of lads looked on incredulously as Brett put on an outrageously luvy show of rockstar flouncing. With the skinny, camp outsider angle now being covered well by Pulp, who provide a kind of student-friendly. comedy version of Suede, it's possible that in the Soccer Rock second-half of the '90s their 'bohemian' past has queered the pitch.
"I definitely think it was to its detriment," says Brett, reflecting on the effects of telling the world of his latent bisexuality. "The thing is, I wouldn't change it. I have no regrets about anything I've ever written or said. At that time, the things I was writing was the way I felt.
"It's been proved by current musical trends that it's very difficult to stick your neck out and actually remain... Everything now is friendly, isn't it? There's no sense of danger with anyone's writing.
"As soon as you write about sex, you just get marginalised as 'risqué'. It's so boring because you.close so many doors for yourself. So many of our singles have been frowned upon, because they've mentioned some sort of token sexuality. The people in the know marginalise you as some sort of clever writer with some sort of take on sexuality. The people not in the know never get to hear it in the first 'cos it doesn't enter the mainstream.
"Lyrically, this album's a lot less sexually obsessed. Looking back on it, the first album is rampantly sexually obsessed. I guess I'm a lot less sexually obsessed. Probably quite a good thing, though I'm sick of marginalising it."
Even place, Do you think the rise of laddism has made it harder for you?
"We have marginalised ourselves in that way," he concedes "but I can't write in a different way."
And, yeah, our whole stance on life is unfashionable, but what can you do? My face looks like this, this is the way I am, I talk this way my toes are funny. There's very little you can do about it.
You could dress like Liam
"I wouldn't really want to. Yeah you can put a sheet on someone's head, but you whip the head off and you're still the same person."
The same narcissist?
"No. I think a lot of people have mistaken narcissism for lack of confidence in what I look like. When I look in a mirror I'm not saying 'Wow, you're beautiful! I'm saying *Fuckin 'ell, what's that?' I'm fey, and I'm quite effeminate and I really can't do much about it.
"You do get manipulated a lot by the media, though Every fuckin photo shoot I turn up at there's a fuckin' feather boa in the corner!
And it's like, 'For fuck's sake!' The only reason there is always one there is because I've always refused to wear the fucker."
So your life has been plagued by feather boas!?
"It's not that I've been plagued but there's been a kind of misinterpretation that we're quite image-conscious, which is very far from the truth.
"I probably used to be, but it gets quite boring after a while. You get people going. 'I've never heard any of your things, but I saw you were in some magazine.' It's like 'What's the point?' I'm not a model and I don't ever want to be.
SO WE'RE sitting here with the cigarettes mounting up in the ashtray and the alcohol going down in the bottle, getting closer to some truths about Brett Anderson, and none of them appear to be simple truths.
The bloke holding court in the prosaic little A&R office was never going to swan in wearing a boa pat me on the arse and scream something from a Vivien Leigh biog.
Even the poster of Alex Renton, junkie.