The Record Collector Interview - Suede
Submitted by: Hagar Itzikson
THE RECORD COLLECTOR INTERVIEW SUEDE
JOHNNY ROGAN PINS BRETT ANDERSON TO A WHEEL
The re-emergence of Suede from the twilight zone of British pop is one of the major musical events of 1996. Since the shock departure of guitarist Bernard Butler and surprise recruitment of teenager Richard Oakes and new keyboardist Neil Codling, speculation has been rife about the prospects of the new line-up.
Meanwhile, Suede have watched impatiently from the sidelines while a veritable battalion of Britpop stars have stolen their column inches and chart thunder. In the new Bible of Britpop, the once excessively publicised Suede appear to have been reduced to the level of an historic footnote.
All that has changed with the release of their new album "Coming Up" and an accompanying nationwide tour. Apart from an aggressively dismissive review in 'Melody Maker', the record has received critical approbation from almost every quarter. It's not too difficult to understand why. After the dark, gothic splendour of "Dog Man Star", the group have returned to the fount of their pop heritage with a work that positively bristles with exuberance, vitality, radio-friendly melodies and a sparkling production. The pilot single "Trash", which entered the U.K. charts at No. 3, is typical of the new approach, expertly marrying that old Suede imagery of tarnished, urban grandeur with an irresistibly catchy melody, expressive vocal and confident playing.
As well as providing a wonderful soundtrack for the late summer, the group have restated their importance at a crucial time. In the present pop climate, a two-year break between albums is akin to a lifetime and Suede have needed their combined powers of reinvention and brand familiarity to restate their claim to pop godhead. Apart from the Stone Roses, none of their contemporaries has reached such heights, only to face possible oblivion amid a potentially devastating line-up change.
Given the unfolding drama, it is all the more remarkable that Suede have replied with such a sprightly and unportentous work. Indeed, their new work has all the freshness and expectancy usually associated with a debut album. Having restated their love of early 70s U.K. pop, they will no doubt be expected to provide something equally riveting next time around. Considering their catalogue to date that should be well within their power.
In celebration of Suede's new beginning, Brett Anderson agreed to a lengthy interview. The following is the pick of a 150-question, three-hour marathon, the edited version of which still represents his longest published Interview to date.
RECORD COLLECTOR: The initial membership of Suede was unsettled, as most groups tend to be when they're finding the right people. Was it difficult in any way being in a group with Justine Frischmann, who was then your girlfriend?
BRETT ANDERSON: Not really too difficult. I don't know. It was all right. I'm good friends with Justine, I always have been. We weren't the sort of people to have any conflict when she was in the band.
RC: Mat Osman says that the early Suede line-up would never have been successful if they'd continued. Do you think he was right?
BA: Definitely, yeah. Losing Justine that early gave us a kick up the arse. It made us go away and regroup and rethink what Suede were about. That was quite an important thing to do, really. It's almost like shedding a skin and coming out as something else. You can draw a parallel between what's happened with Bernard now, losing him and going away and regrouping to make this latest album.
RC: Mat also said of Justine: "We were never any good until we kicked her out", whereas she says that she quit because you and Bernard wouldn't consider playing her songs. Which account is correct?
BA: Oh, God. This is really dredging up the past. I don't know. If Mat said that...
RC: Well you were there, it was at that panel that the `NME' put together...
BA: I'm not sure Mat actually said that, to be quite honest, but I don't know. It's getting a bit close to the bone, isn't it? We've always been good friends with Justine and it just wasn't happening with her and the band. It was just very different visions, that's all it is... I think she wanted to split off and do was Elastica was doing.
RC: But did she leave of her own volition?
BA: I think she didn't want to be in the band any more and it was pretty much a mutual decision about it. It seems strange talking about this, because it's such a long time ago now. I actually can't really remember the exact historical events of what happened really. Do you know what I mean? I can't really remember how it happened.
RC: It makes me thinly is anybody, apart from yourself, indispensable in Suede?
BA: I don't know. I couldn't answer that because I wouldn't want anybody to be indispensable in this band. So it's a really unusual question. We're pretty united as a band for the first time and pretty single-minded, so it isn't a question.
RC: Well, considering the various changes and the fact that you've always wanted Suede to change from album to album, perhaps, in one sense, it wasn’t the ultimate tragedy that Justine If even Bernard left. Could we go further? I wonder if we could even envisage a Suede without you...
BA: Ha, ha! That would be an interesting thing to see. I'd quite like to see that.
RC: Was the first Suede gig at the White Horse, Hampstead?
BA: Yes. That was the first proper Suede gig.
RC: Did you get a little scene going there?
BA: Not really. There were a couple of kids that were going along there to see us... we were playing with two bands, the Prudes and the Ruby Tuesdays, and there were a couple of random, floating indie punters there, who said they really liked us, so we took their addresses and sent them information about the band, in a very home-done way. It was like a cottage industry. It was so pathetic.
RC: I remember seeing you at the White Horse and it was quite impressive.
BA: What, not that gig! We played about three gigs there. We played that one, then we played a gig with the Divine Comedy, which was really good, and then we played a fan club gig there.
RC: Prior to Simon Gilbert's arrival, Mike Joyce briefly teamed up with you.
BA: It was really strange. We put an ad for a drummer in the paper and Mike Joyce sticks his head around the door. We were all massive Smiths fans and it was like ‘Jim’ll Fix It'. He turned out to be a really lovely guy, and we've kept in contact. I saw him about two weeks ago and went for a drink with him in this bar by my house. He acted like a father figure to the band. He helped us out as much as he could and acted like a real diamond. A great bloke.
RC: He told me that he didn't join because at the time it all sounded a little too much like the Smiths. Was that your recollection?
BA: It just would have been ridiculous, wouldn't it? A band with no profile suddenly getting him as the drummer. It would have been like 'Mike Joyce, featuring Suede', so it wasn't really healthy from anyone's point of view. It was nice to meet him and to work with him for a bit.
RC: So, after Mike, Simon Gilbert appeared…
BA: No. Then Justin [Welch] appeared! It's like a catalogue, isn't it? It's mad. If you added up how many people have been involved in this band, it must be something like about 20 people. It's insane.
RC: So, you went from a drum machine to Mike Joyce. ThThat’s wild. Then Justin Welch, who later joined Elastica, and finally Simon Gilbert.
BA: Yes. I can't remember how I met Justin, I think it was another advert in the music press. He was an absolutely great drummer, really exciting. He played on that track "Be My God" with us. Again, he was an absolutely diamond bloke. I still see him and he keeps in contact with us.
RC: So was it a matter of weeks between his leaving and your getting Simon Gilbert? Or were there yet more drummers?
BA: It was quit a long time, I think. We went through phases where we were doing lots of auditions. We were rehearsing for a while with a couple of people, semi-permanently, whose names I can't quite remember now. It just wasn't happening. And we finally found Simon. We started hanging out together and never looked back. Simon had been through a lot more of the grind thin we had. He'd been in 12 or 13 bands or whatever…
RC: Suede had a lot of business hassles early on. "Be My God" was going to be released on RML, but that didn't happen. What went wrong there?
BA: We signed a dodgy record deal early on without any, or with minimal, advice, which I wouldn't recommend anyone to do. It was a classic case. He was a friend of Mat's, but even so we were signing record deals without really knowing what we were doing. The guy's intentions were fine but I don't think there was really a huge amount of commitment, which was fair enough because there wasn't really the material to give the commitment to. It all turned a bit nasty later on, because basically we were still partly under contract and after we had the success with the first single, he kind of crawled out of the woodwork.
RC: One of the things that was most attracted me about Suede was that they initially made an impact through three really strong singles. I've always believed that the single is the lifeblood of pop, and you offered nine songs before issuing an album, so I assume you feel the same?
BA: Definitely. Singles have been something I've grown up with. But singles being more than just the A-side. I pretty well grew up with things like punk, and later on the Smiths and stuff like that, and the B-sides were always important. It was always such an important part of being into the band, rushing down to W.H. Smith's and buying this 12" thing, and probably putting on the B-side first because you already knew the A-side from the radio. I always wanted Suede singles to be much more than just an A-side with a couple of dodgy remixes. I always wanted them to be mini-albums in themselves.
RC: That idea seemed to get lost between the 60s and the punk/indie era.
BA: I think it's starting to get lost again now, because bands have got this pressure put upon them now of formatting records. Basically, you're asked to produce four new songs for each single and it's actually quite hard work. We've managed to do it pretty well so far and I think the quality control we've had on each formatted record has been excellent. But it's just one of those things. If you're competing in this marketplace, you've really got to compete, simply from a business angle.
All the early singles, none of them were formatted. "Stay Together" would probably have gone to No. 1 if it had been formatted. It's just a matter now of competing with everyone else in the marketplace, and formatting is one of those evils of being in a band that you have to deal with. So I do think that the sense of the importance of the single has been obliterated again through formatting.
RC: Do you ever see Suede doing a "Hatful Of Hollow"?
BA: Yes, I'd love to do a B-sides compilation. Definitely.
RC: There's probably enough material to do both a singles compilation of A-sides and a collection of B-sides and rarities.
BA: I know. It's something I'd pretty much intended to be the third album. But because we lost Bernard, it didn't seem like something that we could really do. But I thought about it a lot. We actually compiled an album at one point. I worked out the running order and what songs should be on it. So it has been very close. It's just a matter of deciding. It's too backward looking at this stage. But, it'll definitely happen.
RC: Suede's debut album was an amazingly accomplished work, which offered an almost enclosed world of small-town hopes, bored teenagers, consciousness-numbing drugs like Valium and barbiturates, and slightly sordid sex. Did you envisage a fictional landscape for the entire album or was it just a collection of songs that fitted well together?
BA: I suppose it was the latter. It was never a fictional landscape. It was always just a reflection of my perception of things. But it was definitely meant to be a manifesto, the first album. That's why we called it "Suede".
RC: Over the three albums, you've retained that love of decadent, tarnished glamour, from "So Young" to "Trash". It's very much the rock ‘n’ roll myth of fashion, drugs, sex or rebellion as a means of escape from moribund small-town morality.
BA: Yes, I suppose it is. There's a different edge on it. Even though there's an element of decadence, there's never a blind celebration of decadence. It's like there's something a bit more there; something with a bit of an edge, I think. Something a bit more interesting than just raising your hand and shouting, "Here we go".
RC: Judging from the lyrics, you also seem to have a morbid fascination with car crashes!
BA: I don't know why, really. Lots of things I talk about are just images floating through my head. I don't think I particularly have a morbid fascination for car crashes. I've quite a fascination with cars, generally. I don't know why. It's a funny little environment, being in a car, isn't it? It's definitely part of urban life or suburban life, whatever. I suppose it's the fact that I've never driven that gives me the morbid fascination. I just sit in the passenger's seat and watch other people drive.
RC: Do you still write in the studio or dictate onto tape as opposed to sitting down and burning the midnight oil?
BA: I tend to write when my brain doesn't work. I will do it when I get inspired. I've actually woken up in the middle of the night. The most inspiring time of the day for me is actually waking up.
RC: Do you ever keep a notepad by the bed?
BA: Oh yeah. I always have a pad and a Dictaphone, definitely. And I carry a Dictaphone around with me generally when I'm walking around London. I get quite inspired just by walking about, whether it's a tune or a set of lyrics.
RC: Has the writing process changed from working with Bernard to working with Richard and Neil?
BA: Yes. The way in which we're writing now is much more open. Instead of following a formula, which is pretty much what we were doing before, now there's a lot of freedom in what we do. Whatever it takes to get a good song, we'll do it. I'll wander down to Richard's and just hum him a tune and he'll work out a guitar riff and he'll take it to the band, or whatever. It's just really random ways of working.
RC: You used the word "formula". Do you mean that presumably with Bernard Butler, it was the music followed by the lyrics, like Morrissey & Marr?
BA: Not at all. I've never worked that way. My role in writing the songs has never been just as a lyricist. That's something that's been vastly misunderstood about the band.
RC: You said you underplayed your role in the music for political reasons. Was that because you wanted the partnership to be seen in terms of lyricist/musician?
BA: Not in the slightest. I don't really know why. It was just a matter of how our roles were perceived in the band and it just seemed to fit at the time. It's difficult to talk about.
RC: But did the music come first, irrespective of your contribution to it?
BA: Yes, I'd never actually sing him something. But I don't really want to talk about how we worked too much. It's something that's completely irrelevant. All that I can say is that my role was never just as a lyricist. It was always something much more musical than that.
RC: In promoting the first album, you'd open your shows with "The Next Life", which I always admired as an audacious move. I remember expecting it to be an encore and thinking: they're opening with the final track as if to underline that they've already moved on. Was that the intent?
BA: Definitely. It was quite audacious, but we didn't want to do a traditional rock gig. There was a real strong determination with the first two albums not to comply with what people thought was rock music. I always tried to push it a bit. I've actually refocused my ideas and fallen back in love with rock music. But for a while the thought of just actually doing a rock show was horrible. Lots of people misunderstood that as feyness. We could rock with the best of them, but we wanted to do something slightly different.
RC: So, what would you say was specifically "fey" about the show?
BA: Well, take the early incarnation of Suede. It would have been very easy for us to go onstage, play a blinding rock show with a load of great rock/pop anthems... That was just too easy to do. We wanted to do something slightly different. And because we stuck things like "The Next Life" in there and "Sleeping Pills", people saw it as "maybe they can't rock".
RC: I'm amazed if people would say that. I didn't see any reviews that said that.
BA: Especially in the States, they saw it as a deviation from a rock blueprint. It was said that we had a chink in our armour. It was just a result of us being ambitious about how we wanted to be perceived. There's a lot of stupid people out there that just see things in two dimensions.
RC: Although people always go on about Suede as representatives of English pop, with lyrical landscapes filled with council houses and suburban unrest, nobody mentions that you also use Americanisms; words like "gasoline" and "trash" are very much a part of the Suede vocabulary. If you did an album it would more likely be called "Modern Life Is Trash", not "Modern Life Is Rubbish"...
BA: I've always had aspirations towards being a kind of universal person. I just don't want to be seen as this one-dimensional character. I think there's a lot in "Dog Man Star" that wants to break free from that, from the typical image that people had of us, which made us write songs like "The Power", about some basic human principles, and being more global about our outlook.
RC: That said, you haven't had much luck in America. While the Cranberries broke through, you had to change your name to London Suede. More recently you were reduced to performing with a cane on painkillers after a fall. Ever feel America's been jinxed for you?
BA: Yeah, I think so. It's a funny old place. We've had our ups and downs there. We haven't broken America in the slightest but there have been pockets of extreme Suede mania that we've had when we've been touring there, on both major tours. I don't know, it's just a matter of breaking into the mainstream. It's all based around the radio and there's something about the idea of Suede records on the radio that doesn't quite sit properly to American ears.
RC: Saul Galparn (founder of Nude Records) gives the impression that America's a market you won't be tackling again for some time. True?
BA: I don't know. My feelings about America are... I've given up thinking about it too much, really. It's a big market and that, but Europe's a bigger market. And Europe is more important for us at the moment. We're No. 1 in two countries in Scandinavia and it's just starting to happen in Europe, and we're concentrating on that for the moment.
There was a problem generally worldwide with the last album, because there was a lot of confusion over whether we'd split up. In total, we've done something like 100,000 copies there between the two albums. But it's great in Sweden and Finland. We've just gone to No. 1 in Finland, which is great. The whole of Scandinavia we're in the Top 5, which is cool. Denmark's a great country for us too.
RC: "Dog Man Star" was almost cinematic in its approach, both musically and lyrically, with songs like "Heroine", "The Wild Ones", "Daddy's Speeding" and "Hollywood Life" all containing film references. That's no coincidence, I take it?
BA: I think I did get quite obsessed with films. I did want it to be a big sweeping album, a really massive, epic thing. Like I said before, a lot of the lyrics were a desire to try to break away from the mould I'd been put in. I wanted to do something with more of a universal sense.
RC: "Still Life" reminded me of Scott Walker, both vocally and in the Brian Gascoigne arrangement. Indeed, Gascoigne would later work with Scott on "Tilt". Were you aware of Scott Walker's work back then?
BA: Much less than people assumed.
RC: Did people assume it?
BA: Yes, they did. The first comparison we ever had with Scott Walker was with the song "The Big Time" and I'd never really heard Scott Walker. Of course I knew "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and stuff like that, but those were covers. I wasn't really aware of Scott's solo work at all. So, when someone said, "That really reminds me of Scott Walker's stuff", I checked it out and I said, "Yes, I suppose it does". I think it was more of a case that the way the song was written just seemed to suggest the arrangement, with Mellotrons and sweeping things like that. Scott Walker is someone I've just started to listen to recently. During the making of this album I went out and bought all the Scott Walker albums and checked them out. But there was nothing at the heart of it at all. It was just a form of making music, just one of those basic blueprints.
RC: On Bernard Butler's departure: you said: "I don't think he ever really wanted to be in the band or have anything to do with it", and Simon added, "He hated our guts". But surely it wasn't always like that, was it? Was he always distant from you and the others, or was it just in the months leading up to "Dog Man Star"?
BA: It's difficult to talk about, again. We were very unified early on and then things just started going wrong. Bernard had always been slightly separate from the band. I don't know what happened. It just happened, like it does.
RC: He said of you: "It took a long time for him to trust me and trust my music". Was that comment valid?
BA: No. I don't think so. No. I can't really comment on anything he says. A lot of the things that have been said since the split-up have been said in strange circumstances. So, from my point of view, it's not valid. Maybe from his, it is, otherwise he wouldn't have said it.
RC: Did you feel that he was trying to take over the musical direction of Suede at that time?
BA: Um (long pause). Not as such. No. But, on the other hand, I think if you're serious about anything you do and if you've got any sort of vision and any single-mindedness, then one naturally thinks that one's opinions are correct about things.
RC: Was there a different philosophy about how the musical direction should go?
BA: I don't think so. Much less than people would think. It wasn't such a dissatisfaction with the music. The popular misconception is that we were arguing about songs and things like that. It wasn't so much like that... The departure I presume was... it's difficult. Because I haven't spoken to him for such a long time, I don't really know what's in his mind. I didn't really know how his mind was working when he left. So I can't really say. Maybe he was completely dissatisfied with it musically. It could be totally true. But I felt it was far more a personal thing.
RC: Was there any sense of him wanting to take over the production?
BA: I don't want to talk about that (accompanied by a twinkling smile).
RC: It's interesting that you will talk to me about the musical direction but you won't talk to me about the production. I can only draw certain conclusions from that!
BA: Ha! Ha! Ha! (He laughs for almost ten seconds!)
RC: On Radio 1 recently, you mentioned that Suede lost the plot at one point but never actually pinpointed when you felt that was. It sounded as if it was just after "Dog Man Star".
BA: Yeah, it was pretty much in the period when we were touring an album that wasn't relevant to the line-up. Richard had joined that band and he was playing songs that had been co-written by me and Bernard. It's a confusing and difficult time for a band to go through. Everyone thinks you've split up. Everyone thinks you're just miming to a load of songs.
RC: You were very confident that Richard Oakes would prove the right choice, and it seems you were vindicated?
BA: I've always had a lot of faith in gut reactions. A load of other people were saying, "God, you can't get him in, he's only 17 years old", but I'd heard him playing a guitar and I just thought, "He's great". I really have faith in him all the way. I still have. I think he's getting better and better as a musician as well. He's starting to really see music with perspective now.
He's a really nice bloke as well. I get on really well with him, which is nice. I spend a lot of time with him socially and he's one of the nicest people to be with you can imagine. He's a really funny bloke and he does incredibly funny impressions of people.
RC: What was the nature of the arrangement with him? Was he put on a wage and recruited on a trial basis? Is he still on trial?
BA: Not at all. He's part of the band. He signed an inter-band agreement quite a while ago.
RC: How long did that take?
BA: It took a while. We were touring. It took a few months, I suppose, and then we started 'writing with him and it just seemed natural.
RC: Does the same thing apply to Neil?
BA: Pretty much. But they're both completely part of the band now.
RC: Is Suede now a two-tier financial operation with the senior members on a higher percentage?
BA: No. Well, yes. (Laughs). No, no, no. Yes! I don't want to talk about money too much. I do most of the writing, so naturally if you do most of the writing you get most of the readies.
RC: Yes, but I meant financially apart from that.
BA: I see. You'd have to ask Mat and Simon about that. I don't pry into other people's financial arrangements.
RC: Is the age gap with Richard and Neil a problem as well as an asset? Is it easy to relate to each other? To what extent is Suede now a group of juniors and seniors, in terms of attitude, power, finance, etc?
BA: In no respect whatsoever. When we're rehearsing and writing, everybody's equal. Richard and Neil are strange people. They're incredibly well-developed for their age. Richard is 19 years old, he's going to be 20 in about a month's time. He does some interviews and any interviewer I've spoken to about it says they can't believe how grown-up and sorted he is. He's just got one of those brains, that he isn't fazed by anything. He's just very sorted, so there's no sense of him being younger, or anything like that. Not at all.
RC: What about Neil? I wouldn't say it's quite a happy accident, but he almost seemed to be there at the right moment.
BA: Yes, pretty much. He just turned up and could play everything, and it was great. But we weren't really looking for anyone. It's strange. It wasn't like with Richard, where we had to find a guitarist. With Neil it was something completely different.
RC: But I thought you wanted to incorporate keyboards into the act.
BA: That was a while ago. I was thinking about it for a while. But the way Neil joined the band was just very natural. He just started coming down to rehearsals and started playing along on the piano. I said, "It's great", and, Bob's your uncle. He just seemed to be an incredibly Suede person.
RC: Did you find it difficult to listen to, or appreciate, artistes after they were gratuitously slagging you off, like Oasis and Blur?
BA: Yes, it is quite difficult. I've always got an open ear for music, generally, and I never randomly slag people off. Well, I did very early on, but that's just what happens very early on. But later on in your career, you expect fellow musicians to have a general respect for people. There's a lot of pigs in the business and I do find it hard to appreciate the music of people who've slagged me off. Which is a shame, because I'm a big fan of music generally. There's not that much music that I actually genuinely hate. Generally you only get slagged off by people who feel threatened by you, that's the thing.
RC: Blur's Dave Rowntree reckoned, "We were in major competition with Suede because we felt they'd nicked our ideas". I'm sure you'd argue the reverse?
BA: No comment on that. Just look at things chronologically and anyone with a brain will know that that is absolute nonsense.
RC: Damon Albarn's heroin allegations appeared to cut very deep. Yet you've said, in interviews, "I'm obsessed by drugs… I've tried everything. There's nothing I haven't tried." Even in recent interviews you speak positively about E, acid, drugs in general. Then when heroin's mentioned you clam up with a "No comment". Why the big taboo? It struck me that you might be wary of tabloid exploitation but, given your comments on all other drugs, that doesn't fit. Besides which, it's not as though you're Cliff Richard. So is there a problem there?
BA: I just don't like people commenting on my life and assassinating my character. I'll say anything off my own back and talk till the cows come home but when someone starts attacking you...
RC: But would you feel sensitive about mentioning heroin if you did take it, had taken it, or will take it in the future?
BA: Yes, I suppose it in some way reflects on that. I wouldn't justify anyone's so-called "knowledgeable opinions" with any sort of comment.
RC: What interests me, and what I'm getting at, are the implications of somebody having said something like that. Now, you're having to clam up on something which you normally would talk about. If that Damon comment hadn't been made, and I said, "Well, what do you think of heroin then, Brett?", you'd either say, "Yeah, I've taken it a few times" or "I've taken it a lot", or "I went through a phase of taking it", or "I never bothered". You wouldn't have a judgmental attitude towards it, which you now, forcibly, appear to have.
RC: But you've always liked the link between drugs and creativity.
BA: No, I've never liked it. I think it's something that isn't particularly there. I think it's a bit of a myth. I've never heralded drugs as being a stimulus to creativity.
RC: I got the impression that that was precisely what you were saying.
BA: Not at all... I've said that I have appreciated drugs and appreciated music in altered states, but I've never said that I've dropped acid in order to write "Strawberry Fields Forever", or something like that.
RC: On to the new album, "Coming Up". The first surprise is that it sounds so fresh. In many ways it has all the exuberance and vitality that you'd associate with a first album.
BA: I don't know why. It's just a fresh leaf, isn't it? Two new members have come in. It's a bit of a debut album and a bit of an experienced third album, so it's got some of both. It's got that freshness. I suppose it was partly a reaction to the last album, which was quite dragged down, so it was necessary to do something completely different.
RC: It seems crammed full of potential singles: how many do you think you'll take from it?
BA: Four or five. Definitely four.
RC: Which ones? "She" and "Lazy"?
BA: Not "She". "Lazy", definitely. "Saturday Night", definitely. And either "Filmstar" or "Starcrazy", probably.
RC: To what extent is that marketing, and to what extent is that what you want to do?
BA: It's totally what we want to do. If we didn't want that to happen, it wouldn't happen.
RC: Well, before you spoke of the inevitability of formatting and so I was wondering what your view was of taking singles from albums. Are you happy to treat it like a Michael Jackson album, almost turning it into a greatest hits collection?
BA: Everyone does it, don't they? I don't think it's cynical. It's just a matter of getting your record into people's houses. Whatever it takes to do that is quite an important thing. I never feel guilty about things like that, because I don't feel we're conning people in any way. I think if I was the Spin Doctors or someone like that... There are loads of singles that are good and you listen to the rest of the album and it's dreadful and all these people get conned into buying these awful pieces of plastic that they never listen to because they're rubbish. I think with Suede we make really good albums and I want people to actually own them, whatever it takes.
RC: Will you continue to do specially selected non-album singles in the tradition of "Stay Together"?
BA: Yes. Interim singles. It's not something I've particularly thought about, but I quite like them. I really like that sense of urgency when you stick out a single that isn't on an album. The thing is when you write a pop album with a lot of singles on it, you do want the singles to be heard, because it's raising the consciousness of the band. The single is always the most popular song on the album and it's going to be how you're judged. So if you write a lot of good songs, why not have them out as singles?
RC: Was "Young Men" dropped because it was too dark in the context of the album?
BA: It just didn't fit in the context of the album, really. It just tipped the balance. It was quite slow and quite heavy and rocky. "Europe Is Our Playground" was also possibly going to be on the album, but it didn't fit the mood either. I just wanted the album to be really neat and compact.
RC: One assumes that those songs will emerge as B-sides.
BA: Oh, yeah. "Young Men" will be the B-side of the next single.
RC: The writing credits attest to your prediction that after Bernard Butler you would be using more than one writing partner. It's interesting to see that you'd written "Europe Is Our Playground" with Mat. Had you written with him before? Has there been other stuff that hasn't made it?
BA: No, there hasn't, actually. There's a couple of things I'm working on at the moment that are in a similar style. But that's the first thing to make it onto record and the first thing we've done together.
RC: Will that collaboration continue?
BA: I think so. It's part of the new regime of freedom in the band. I'll work with anyone. If Simon comes up to me and says, "What about this?", I'll go with Simon.
RC: The idea of collaborating with Mat Osman is particularly appealing on one level because you go back so far with him.
BA: It's quite strange, isn't it? Quite topsy-turvy. There were songs that had been written by us years and years ago, but nothing that you'd want to listen to.
RC: At one point, it was claimed that 20 songs had been written for the album. Is that about right?
BA: It was near enough that. There's a few knocking about. We didn't have any problem writing four B-sides for the next single. We already had three knocking around, so we just knocked together one more.
RC: The Suede story is one of high drama in pop history. Are you aware of the inherent drama in the current situation — the highwire element, the sense of this being make-or-break time? Did that get the adrenalin going or did you take a much wider view of things? There was so much more expectation than there had ever been before. Did you thrive on that?
BA: A little bit. When you've got a load of people out there not having any faith in you and being cynical, it naturally makes you buck your ideas up and make sure you've got a fuckin' good record to answer them with. So, partly, yes. But you can't keep making records for what other people think. You've got to make records that you think are good and not worry about it too much. So I do like to remove myself from it a little bit. There's always that sense that you've got to be accountable... But, generally, you have to think about music for music's sake, I think.
RC: You always seem at your most confident when a new album hits the shops: when the first album was issued you said "I feel invincible"; when "Dog Man Star" was issued you said "I feel unstoppable", and with this one "I'm feeling pretty invincible. I am superman". Are there times when you feel more vulnerable?
BA: All the time. That's all just bullshit for the press. No, it's not — it's a bit of both, isn't it? Those comments sound funny, looking back on them, because they all sound like I'm bullshitting, but I don't bring a record out unless it turns me inside out and I love it. I really don't... I make sure every record is a really good one, and it doesn't even get out of my head unless it's great. It just doesn't work like that. So I'm excited about everything we do. The day that I'm not excited about it is the day we won't release a record.
RC: Where next, stylistically? Any ideas yet?
BA: I'm just starting to think about it. I think it's going to be a pop album again. I'm getting really into Motown things. I can't really describe it. It's almost like I want the next album to be really rhythmic and really poppy, but really gritty with a lot more emphasis on the rhythm. That's as far as I can describe it. You know the way those Motown records are really human and really earthy and really poppy at the same time? That's the only way I can put it. I know that sounds really vague, but it's as close as I can get at the moment.
RC: Could you see yourself recording a solo album in the future?
BA: No. I really like being in a band.
RC: Recording a solo album at some point doesn't mean you have to leave them.
BA: I'm not competent enough as a musician to record a solo album unless I get a load of session musicians in. I can play instruments but I'm not good enough to get them on record. It's not where my forte lies. My forte lies in piecing together songs and coming up with the inspiration and the vibe for songs, and stuff like that. So, no, I can't really see it. It'd be a deviation for me.
RC: You once said: "We don't want to be a gigging band that achieves popularity through familiarity". Is that still true, or will you take on a hard touring schedule?
BA: No. Much less hard than before. This tour, I want to tour much less. The last tour nearly killed us, both physically and mentally, and this one I want to be pretty short and sweet and personal, and that's it. In and out, and then making the next record.
RC: Are you anxious to get back into the studio, then?
BA: Definitely. As soon as possible. We're just getting into our flow of writing at the minute.
RC: So, another album in 1997?
BA: Hopefully, yes.
RC: You also said: "To be the most successful band in the world you have to get an element of blandness. I don't think we could ever be at the U2 level. Maybe it'd be a bad idea to try." Is that statement still valid, post Oasis?
BA: I think it is. If you look at anything that gets really big, it is like that, isn't it? Look at the really big bands nowadays and there is a blandness to them.
RC: Well, it depends. If that album you just did suddenly became massive and somehow hit America later, you'd be caught up in the same process.
BA: Well, maybe. I don't know. It's possible. It's kind of like... that was probably said a few years ago in the climate when the big bands were slightly bland. It's probably getting a bit more left-field and they're more interesting now. But, we'll wait and see.
RC: Finally, you once stated that your ambition was to be "a thorn that you can never really get out". Is that still the Brett Anderson of 1996?
BA: No. I've got much more harmonious views at the moment, really. I'm not interested in rubbing people's backs up at the moment. I'm quite into just making good songs that go with the flow. I've got this tetchy side, but I've got rid of it, I think. I like songs to have an edge but I've felt I've spent too long battling against the tide, and it doesn't get you anywhere.