THE BAND THAT ROCKS THE STABLE
5 February 1994
Submitted by: Inge Klinkers
THE BAND THAT ROCKS THE STABLE
Fondling with Morrissey, gobbling magic mushrooms, learning to love America and live in Britain, keeping fit and getting tanned, coming to terms with being NME readers’ favourite band of 1993, looking forward to the apocalypse…. These are the things that occupy BRETT ANDERSON’s mind – to a certain extent – right now. GAVIN MARTIN retreats to the toilets with the confident and rejuvenated singer to hear SUEDE’s battle-plans for 1994. Filly idol: STEVE DOUBLE
We're in a cubicle big enough for two. Brett Anderson, relaxed on a chair, a central heating boiler between us, the writer on the toilet. It was the only quiet place we could find in the East London warehouse that houses Suede's management offices.
It was Brett's idea, jumping at the chance to be the rapper in the trapper. Forgoing the three or four useful purposes this venue could serve, we are shooting the, er, shit. Talking about the world going round the U-bend.
"I feel a very strange sense at the minute, that fin de siècle thing, the traditional time in the century when everything experiences turmoil. There's a song that I've written for the next album called 'We Are The Pigs' which is to do with the destruction of everything that’s current. But it doesn't really bother me. I'm not particularly scared of anything. The idea of violence and destruction and stuff like that doesn't necessarily have to be scary."
Have you ever been a violent person?
How did the violence manifest itself?
“I've got a streak of violence that runs through my family which I try and play down. My grandfather was an alcoholic type and he used to beat everyone up. He ended up dying on a park bench with a bottle in his hand. I feel there's a streak there that I could inherit and I feel it slipping out sometimes. I have been violent, I feel..."
“No, I tend to do it for pretty good reasons. I don't go out to beat people up but... I do get into arguments. (Laughs) I don't really know how to dig myself out of this one."
This isn't in your past, this is still going on?
"I have hit someone recently... and I don't know whether it was the right or wrong thing to do. But I did it."
There's the Brett you might expect — a pasty-faced lad with a slobbish spare tyre and cast-off blousons, the unhealthy pallor illustrating laboured self-obsession. A man approaching 27 still milking and mulling over the trials and vicissitudes of the woe-beset dregs of Thatcher's lost generation.
And there's the Brett you get — tall, tanned, debonair, outgoing. A quick-witted bright-eyed, engaging, quixotic, contradictory, charmed and charming bullshitter. A fit and healthy lad.
"I'm physically fit of course, you have to be. I exercise every day; I'm determined to keep my body in shape. I wouldn't be able to express myself otherwise. When I go onstage I’m so excited, I want to do more than I can do at the minute, I want to reach the limits to a certain extent. I want to get my body working more. I wish I could somersault or something. Well, not exactly, but metaphorically, certainly."
He's just back from a holiday in India, clearing his head before he starts work on writing album number two. How far can Suede go? Much will depend on the relationship between Anderson and his songwriting partner, the 22-year-old East Londoner, son of an Irish Catholic family, guitarist Bernard Butler. Together they've been hailed as a Jagger/Richards or a Morrissey/Marr for the '90s. Bernard doesn't talk to the press about songwriting, or indeed anything else, any more. Does he talk much to Brett about it?
"Mmmmm (long pause)... yes and no. It's weird. We tend to know what each other means. I tend to know what he means by the music, his demos tend to express themselves. It's more a sensual thing with Bernard, I try not to think about it too much and just let it happen."
Two noteworthy quotes from the days before Bernard became the Harpo Marx of the band: "I've got music going round my head 24 hours a day, it's the first thing in the morning, it puts me to sleep at night. Which is rather sad really, it makes me quite dull", and “Being in Suede is being alive in the most alive way possible."
Brett talks about his partner cautiously, keen to turn the focus back on himself.
"I have a very professional relationship with him and we know how to work very well together, we've got a way of working which is going incredibly well at the minute. I'm more prolific than ever, and I'm kind of working like a machine at the moment. People listening to that might think it sounds strange and say, 'Don't lose touch with your human qualities!'. But there's a way in which you can function as a machine and not lose those qualities.
"There's a way in which you can work and accommodate human feelings and put it into your music and at the same time be distanced from them. That's important to me now, everything I wrote before was torn out of me. I want to write now with a different angle, write more theoretically."
Dashing, garrulous Brett seems so self-contained. Could he ever contemplate writing without Bernard?
“Difficult question, really, that's just the way we do it. But it's a relevant question, I haven't thought about it. The first song we ever wrote that wasn't just part of the learning process was 'Animal Lover'. Everything we'd ever done before was pretty much getting to grips with it all and then suddenly it clicks. It's a strange, mystical and magical thing, learning to write songs. It's odd.
"Learning control of your instrument, learning to sing, is a really important part of songwriting. It has been for me anyway. There's different ways of writing. Sometimes the way you sing suggests the melody or takes the place of the melody. I always used to write with sheet music in mind but now I'm writing with reality in my voice, trying to express what's deep inside."
SUEDE ARE England's great white hopes. Acclaim and awards have come their way in abundance. Not to like them is almost tantamount to breaking an act of faith. To say that Suede thrash about in the small mean-mindedness of the English disease without taking on the horror, the torpor, the massive sea change bubbling beneath the surface of national facade might be expecting too much from a pop band.
More simply, it might be a way of explaining away the honest, subjective reaction of anyone who finds their point of entry to the party barred by the group's identikit indie make-up and Brett's vocal style; a clothes peg on the nose, a clothes peg on the tonsils — arch, mannered, exhausting.
But like any rock band worth their salt, Suede won't be pigeon-holed; they'll evolve, reassess themselves, keep changing. They're doing it already, with their new, sky-strafing eight-minute 'Stay Together' single, a stepping stone between 'Suede' and the second album, to be released in September. It stands alone — it won't be on any Suede album — and the second half of it belongs to the Bernard Butler guitar orchestra, which roars, whines and sobs while horns pump the blood and gashes of piano smash into the chill and loneliness. It ends with the wail of a ghost, post-apocalyptic feedback trailing in its wake. Impressive stuff.
"I think it's borne out of a desire to dispense with all the niggling little bits to our music which are inherent to its charm and lots of people love us for. The microscopicness of it all — I know the music press love that, the words to 'Animal Nitrate', things like that.
"It's reacting against ourselves to a certain extent. The title is incredibly blank but it's how I felt at the time. The ideas in it are very clean, getting rid of all the bits of Suede that have been jumped upon and over-emphasised. It was a desire to get to the heart of everything. I wrote it in a studio where we were working which was under a tower block. I was feeling restless as well, as though there was some sort of shadow looming, and I wanted to get that across. The part at the end has been wrongly described as a rap but it's a rant. It's intended to be a piece of theatre where I am arguing with someone and it's like all of the shit of the world coming out.
"You know when you know someone and you have a relationship with them and all of a sudden it just slips and you're actually speaking a different language? Then you suddenly realise that everything that once fitted into place has slipped and you're not communicating with them any more. It was kind of that with a sense of desperation, me and this person arguing in the city.
The most fascinating song on the 'Stay Together' single isn't the title track, nor the acoustic smack saga 'The Living Dead', but the closing 'My Dark Star'. This is a whole new Suede ball game, setting the apocalyptic tremors of the title track in a new light, embracing the heady scent of universal implosion as SOMETHING TO REJOICE IN. Immediate reaction — enchantment, heady uplift, spiritual radiance. 'My Dark Star' is imagination unbounded, a rhapsody for a female healing force rising out of an exotic mythic past, an Avenging Lover come to satisfy Messianic longings, ready to take on corrupt and immoral forces.
"It's an idea I had about the rise of the Third World and rearranging the hierarchy of international power. The last line is my favourite: 'She will come from India with a gun by her side/Or she will come from Argentine with her cemetery eyes'. It's a vague idea about all these incredible people from these distraught countries, like Frida Kahlo (Mexican artist who fought native macho art establishment, much loved by Madonna — Culture Ed). You can almost see it in their eyes, the beauty and the dark power that's never been tapped before.
"The world's run by rich white men, that structure is reversing in on itself. The song was inspired by ethnic communities in this country to a certain extent. That's how it started, but it's almost a mythical thing, I didn't want to turn it into a political rant, though those things are hinted at —'From the skyline shines the lies of the government's singular history'— the sense that someone has been done wrong.
"You look at Jesus Christ's life story, or supposed life story, and it parallels the lives of people in these ethnic communities. White Christian tradition hasn't learned from that. There's this mythical story that people are forced to learn from The Bible, but that story is being lived out every day. They're not applying the lessons that they're supposed to learn from their Bible to everyday life."
Pop stars — never trust them. Here he is, Brett Anderson, once lauded as the elegantly wasted aristofop, coming up with the sort of spiel that would warm the cockles of Bono's heart. Good for him.
"I like the idea that you can change and you can do things that you said you were never going to do. I think that's a perfectly fine thing to do. I don't see why you should be held to your previous statements or previous thoughts because your mind changes as you go on."
Do you change your mind as often as you change your underwear?
"Twice a week. Y'know, there's this whole thing that Suede like America being treated as a revelation. So what? So what if we didn't think it was going to be any good, that's something out of nothing, isn't it? Something to be glad about. We didn't think we were going to like a country and we loved it? Great."
Ah yes, America. That's where they came a cropper isn't it? Blown off stage by their support band The Cranberries, unable to shift the much-loved album. Anderson sent back home with his mic lead tail between his legs.
"It's difficult to say that we went there and weren't passionately loved. If you'd come to LA or San Francisco you'd have seen it was utterly insane, like nothing we've ever had in London, we were chased down the bloody street. We haven't broken America by any stretch of the imagination. Whether we will or not is another question, but there are pockets where it was quite feverish."
How do you react when it's not feverish?
“You have to treat it like a job then. I get into a musician thing, I virtually don't move and think about projecting my voice, singing really well. There are days when you feel shit and it's crap. I won't kid myself that every show we've ever done is the most important thing that's ever happened to anyone."
These are mere blips on an inexorable world-beating flight path, of course.
"I do feel we've changed a lot; my mentality's completely changed. I do feel incredibly optimistic and much more powerful than I did before. I used to be a floating spirit that tapped into the occasional thing and didn't feel any personal control about what I was doing. I felt like a, what's the word, cipher. Something that takes the persona of everything that goes on around him — which to a certain extent is what an artist is. But recently I've felt a lot more in control of my destiny."
What do you put that down to — drugs, money, fame?
"Falling in love with the beauty of the modern world, the beauty that it can offer you. It's probably to do with success, I'm glad I'm not on the dole and I'm glad I've got money to spend. It's very well documented, the success thing, that the British don't like people being successful, but if you're successful there's a million things that can open up. It's not just holidays and things like that, it's to do with having confidence in yourself and through that confidence taking on the world. It's a really important way to feel.
"I think the best thing to do with it is... turn yourself into someone worthwhile. Think positively, there are too many crap people about."
So all these awards, all this gushing copy, all these slavering audiences, the confirmation that you are, in fact, famous hasn't been a significant point of arrival?
"Not at all, I get quite frustrated actually. I'm quite an ambitious person. I want more and more. In this country we've got a comfortable status, but when you go abroad you realise what an insect you are, it's well frustrating."
The other way of looking at stardom is that it's a trap, a set-up waiting for those who enter to take a fall. Is that part of what makes it necessary to become like a machine?
"Yeah, I think so, that's all part of ambition. What I want to do is be perpetually good at what I do. I don't want to be an excuse for a person that churns out a lot of old rubbish which will pass just because it's got our name on it.
"People talk about us as hype, it makes me sad. The true definition of hype is something that happens and then disappears because it's a journalistic whim. We've actually maintained this status now for over a year and a half. I don't think that could have anything to do with hype. Because so many people are pissed off with reading about us and hearing us forced down their throat that if there was a chance that they could trample all over us they certainly would. But we don't intend to let them. It's not a fascist dictatorship or anything like that. We want to be good at what we do, I think that's fair enough."
This is the year that established bands from your ball park return - The Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Morrissey. People say you just filled a vacuum last year, that 1994 is the real testing time.
"That we came through because there was no else around? Yeah, that's possible. We'll have to wait and see. If we can't stand up to them then we're not fit for anything."
Do you feel bonded with the band?
"I get massive strength from it, there's a really beautiful thing about it, the pure power of it. I guess it's kind of like four boys, the threatening aspect, the gang thing."
Threatening? Suede? Surely not. Could you go it alone?
"Not at the moment, everything revolves around the band at the moment. Everyone changes, so I couldn't say. Who knows how I'll think in five years time, but at the moment I don't think about it."
A DEFINING Brett quote that's been used to hobble him: "I feel like a bisexual who's never had a homosexual relationship." How did meeting gay people change him?
"Early on, not that much. One of my friend's brothers, his twin brother, was the first gay guy I met. Via him I was introduced to this world of gay people. It was an incredibly fascinating world, full of life and full of energy. It did inspire me. There was this gang of gay blokes in Hampstead who pranced around the street in a really kind of - what's the word? - cheeky and kind of... defiant, yeah, a defiant way. They were cheeky and they'd get up on bins and do something from a play. It was brilliantly inspiring, these people getting up and having a laugh and really taking everyone on."
Anderson's songs and performance owe much to his many gay friends. Inevitably there has been criticism from elements of the gay press.
"I can understand it, it's that inverted snobbery - don't mess with our gang, you don't know what you're talking about, you're not one of us. I can understand people feeling that but it's kind of saddened me because I try to write on people's behalf sometimes. I'm not some kind of singing social worker or anything like that, but I do genuinely believe the things I say. I wrote a lot of love songs and they involved gay people and thought that was quite a nice sentiment and I didn't think anyone really did that any more.
"I did it and got slated by the gay community for it, but it doesn't really bother me because I think there's a lot of the gay community that really like our songs."
When did you lose your virginity?
"When I was 15."
Was it a memorable, successful, emotional or spiritual experience?
“Nah, I don't think it is for anyone really, it was a bit of a let-down, it was quite dull. l think you have to learn to enjoy sex really, it’s one of those things you have to wrestle with and turn into something you can deal with. It's like olives, when you first have an olive it’s like, 'What's this? It's weird'. Now I love them, I can't keep my teeth out of them.”
Are you in love at the minute?
"I'm not answering that question."
You once said that being happy in love wasn't good for your creativity.
"Yeah, but that was then."
You've talked about wanting to 'do a Beatles', to leave the stage and withdraw to the recording studio.
"I felt like that during the summer because I wanted to move into something artier. We did that thing with Derek Jarman and I was really into that and I wanted to do something very fragile and arty but I don't feel like that any more. I feel like being quite punishing and vital and violent in lots of ways. Being more like when we used to write songs in the olden days. A lot of songs on the new album are actually going to be quite brash."
Do you still use drugs to help you write?
"Mmmm, uhh, yes I suppose so. They do inspire me a lot. People sometimes slag it off but they do help, it's the feelings they give me. I got a lot of shit about it - you mustn't say that to people and you mustn't make people think they do you good. But sometimes I think they do, they change my mind. I don't like thinking the same way all the time. I don't like being too cosy about the way I think. get really bored sitting in front of the television."
Do you take drugs to frighten yourself?
"Sometimes, yeah. It's really important not to slip into a rut in life and I have done before and I'm really susceptible to it. To a certain extent drugs counteract that."
As a teenager you started out on magic mushrooms back in Haywards Heath…
"You have to experiment with stuff, if you're not living in the middle of London and you're not getting offered proper drugs. They're totally hallucinogenic and I loved them. I had some brilliant times on mushrooms, changed my life to a certain extent, made me think in a completely different way. Made me realise that there's a side to existence that you never think about if you're fed steak and kidney pie and EastEnderseveryday."
Another old quote. "Suede are the band least likely to develop a boring drug addiction". Is that still true?
"(Smirks) No, I fully intend to develop a boring drug addiction."
Is it a pressure to keep your drug use under control?
"It is, because I feel a ridiculous need to reach oblivion in my head all the time, to achieve a state of consciouslessness, which isn't sleep. Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, that's what it's all about - reaching a state of oblivion, isn't it? Having an orgasm, not thinking for one split second - how nice a feeling that is (sighs)."
Do you have a recurring dream?
"I have a dream when I'm ill which is incredibly like one of those old films where I get taken to hell and plead with the devil to let me go back to earth and he finally does and I go back. It's like a cartoon version of hell - fire and brimstone and the Devil's dressed in a red cloak and... it's nothing more than that, really."
Is there a sense of anger in Suede?
“Yes I think there is, but I'm not sure if anger is what it's about. It's a very fashionable thing to say that bands are angry, but they're not sure what they're angry about. I think I know what I'm angry about, I think all the anger that's come through us has come through some real situation. It's almost fashionable now to be angry, it's used like a wah wah pedal, the angry pedal. I find that false and insulting.
"I'm not sure if we ever feel pure anger, it's more pent up than that. I think that might make it more prickly and more real to a certain extent. Anger is the grunge thing isn't it? Aimless anger about the state of one's trousers or something like that. I try not to feel anger like that."
Do you not feel alienated from this country?
"No, I do love this country, I really do."
"I do, yeah. I get pissed off with people and stuff but..."
What do you love about it?
"I don't know what I love about it. Art, I suppose, things like that. There's a side to it which I really love and there's another side to it which is... doubly weird when you're under the microscope and embroiled in this really surreal world. What is the music business, for godsakes? It's a speck of nothingness in the scheme of things. You lose sight of what's important and how the world's really run. Normal people don't go to the Powerhaus every night."
In England, don't you feel there's a sense of decay, identity confusion, retreat - everything falling apart?
"I do, hence all this British stuff, everyone sticking up for themselves, isn't British music great, all that. Yeah, it can be great but I just don't really like territorialism at all, which sounds strange coming from a band who really stuck up for the English character when we started. But that was then, we've changed. To a certain extent."
At this point the reader might like to note that "to a certain extent" is the most used phrase in Brett's answers. (Indicative of Suede's essential English reserve? To a certain extent.)
Do you think Northern Ireland is England's Vietnam?
"Yeah, to a certain extent. I don't really know much about it. I think it's a pretty gruesome scene though, isn't it?"
Do you think it has a bearing on the psyche of the English?
"I think it enforces the misguided notion that England is in some way remotely powerful and it wants to remain an imperial power."
You seem to have a schizoid view of England.
"Oh, definitely. I think anyone who knows it really well must have. It's simultaneously maddening and beautiful at the same time. That's something I want to get across in the songs, the Englishness of the songs isn't about flying the flag. Conversely that's not a criticism, there can be beauty in the crap of it all."
The video for 'Stay Together' was going to be shot in the urban wasteland of Eastern Europe, but rundown South London will provide the desired effect just as easily. This might be significant. Do you think the government and politics is an irrelevance, that England is the one-party state of western Europe?
"There's a lot of disillusionment about politics among people of my generation. It doesn't really seem to get anywhere or do anything. I don't know what's going to happen about it. I think the leaders have got to have a bit more power. No-one really has interest in any of the parties because they have to make too many compromises to get anywhere.
"You can draw a parallel with the music industry, the way bands have to make so many compromises to get anywhere. These grey, meaningless public servants decide who's going to be popular. The powers that actually pull the strings are turning everything into a grey bilge.
"You get the same sense with politics, the Labour Party smartening up its ideas and stuff like that. I don't know whether that's right or wrong, I don't really want to get into a discussion about which political party I support. But they're like a Thatcherite group trying to appeal to the yuppies and all these socio-economic groups and going to the ad agencies and doing all those things that you have to do until it becomes completely meaningless.
"It's the idea that John Major is in power purely because he's a set of compromises and people are too scared to jump out on a limb and exert some meaningful power. I feel politics is exactly the same as the music business in that respect. All the ways you get music played is a series of compromises. Hence you get people now going completely outside that and making just as meaningless music because they want to be so extremely uncompromising and that's even more meaningless. My dream is to operate within the laws and do something meaningful, something that gets under the skin."
BRETT TALKS a bit about his musical loves - the unfashionable Terence Trent D'Arby, Prince, whose prolificacy he'd like to one day emulate with "to a certain extent" proviso, of course. He mentions men he considers geniuses - Bowie, who has just phoned him up for a pleasant chat about a compilation album next year, and Morrissey.
"I met him a couple of weeks ago. I think he's got the genius seed. He might have mislaid it for a while but I'm sure it will come back."
I thought there was a bit of bad blood between you two.
"Oh completely irrelevant, that was in the olden days. He's quite an entertaining bloke actually, I spent a very funny 25 minutes with him. We talked about funny things - America, things like that. It was more physical than talking, I tugged at his quiff, played with it a bit. I get the sense that he wants to party."
Did he tug at any part of you?
"He fiddled with my furry collar. To make sure it wasn't animal fur, I think. It was the first thing he did."
Brett Anderson was the youngest child of maverick parents. His mother went to the woods and painted in the style of Mondrian. He thinks his father, who flies the Union jack outside the house every Trafalgar Day, may have actually arranged for him to be born on the same day as his hero Admiral Nelson, the military leader who at various times in his life was a focal point for patriotism, at others for civil disobedience. Brett's mother died in 1989, and he regrets she never lived to see him have success with his own art.
"But to a point she was responsible for it, maybe that's enough. She nurtured an artistic sensibility in me, just by being who she was I suppose, by loving music and painting."
How does your father take to your success?
"He loves it, he comes to quite a few of the gigs, he likes being a luminary in his own right. He drives a taxi and talks about Suede a lot. He came along to our fan club gig before Christmas and he was chatting up loads of girls, giving them his address and stuff. I think it's a positive thing for him, it gives him a new interest."