“It’s amazing that bands stay together for as long as they do…”
The very brilliant Suede have returned to save us all. The band’s new album, Bloodsports, is their first for 11 years and arrives a full 20 years after their immaculate debut. What’s more, their singer, Brett Anderson, will be hosting his own Soundrop room and playing some of his most loved music live in the Spotify office at 5pm on Tuesday, March 19. Here Brett talks about the “elegant” way the band reformed, the pressure and pleasure of writing new songs, growing up with a classical music obsessed father and the music that made him the person he is.
It’s 11 years since the last Suede album – how do you begin all over again?
Brett Anderson: Well, it was quite a long kind of journey! It started off when we first got back together in 2010. Our first thought wasn’t to make a new album; it was just to do one gig, thinking that would be a cool thing to do.
And then disappear again?
Yeah! We thought it would be really elegant, there’s something quite Suede-ish about it. The gig was, inevitably, kind of amazing, and we couldn’t leave it. It was like picking a scab, so we carried on playing and really, really enjoyed it. We felt energised, hungry for it again. We’ve genuinely loved playing together for the last couple of years. But, every band that reforms and plays their old material, will eventually come to the point where they say, “Right, how are we going to move forward with this? What are we going to do next?”
A band has to be a living entity.
Exactly. You can’t just play the songs from 20 years ago and expect people to still respect you and expect to respect yourself. The only choice you’ve got is split up again or make a new record so we thought, let’s give it a shot. We wrote for a long time before it started feeling right again, getting back on the same wavelength was tricky. It was a tricky record to make, for lots of reasons. We had loads of songs that we rejected – at least a couple of albums’ worth. I wanted to have that kind of mindset where we weren’t a complacent sort of band who’d had success and assumed that anything that they could commit to CD was going to be amazing. Eventually there was a tipping point. We wrote Barriers and For the Strangers at quite a similar time, and the record began to make sense.
Musicians often say that two good songs can help shape a whole album.
Exactly. A key song can have almost everything hanging off of it, can’t it? For me that song is was Barriers, that’s the heart of the new record.
Can you deliberately ignore your baggage? When you’ve created so much music already, how do you escape your past?
You have to both, and that’s exactly why it’s so tricky. You have to have respect for what you’ve done before; you have to reference it. It would be a crazy for a band to come back after being away for eleven years and to completely reinvent themselves and sound nothing like they sounded before: it just doesn’t make any sense. We have to sound like Suede, but we had to sound hungry, the record had to sound exciting and contemporary and it had to tick all of the boxes. That was why we rejected lots of songs and that’s why the writing process took such a long time, because there’s a sweet spot, a very, very narrowly defined space in the middle in this continuum between these two points. And we had to hit that space to make it work. We knew we had to compete with the songs that we’d already written and equal them or even better them.
When your first album came out – 20 years ago this month – you were battling it out in American with bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Primus and Alice in Chains. What do you remember of that time?
It was very exciting, that whole period, 1992 and 1993. Suede, I felt, were really out there on our own, completely peerless. There was no such thing as Britpop, there was no big gang of bands that were like trudging along laboriously together. We felt like we were cutting our way through the forest with machetes all on our own. Then, as you say, we went to America and we stuck out like a sore thumb!
That’s good for a band though?
I hope so, because we always have done – that’s the nature of our chemistry. We’ve always been a bit confrontational.
Tell me about the first music you were aware of.
Oh, classical music. My father was an obsessive classical music fan. It was actually beyond obsessive. He used to drive in his old Morris Minor to Franz Liszt’s birthplace every year; a town in Hungary called Raiding. He would bring back soil from his birthplace and wear it round his neck for the next year. So I grew up with Liszt, Berlioz, Beethoven, I was force fed classical music, and inevitably, as is the rite of all teenagers, you kind of rebel against what your parents like, and so I got into bands like Crass, very violent post-punk bands.
You went as far as you could go in the other direction?
Yeah! We used to live in this council house down in Sussex and my Dad had his big, hand-made music system down in the lounge and I had this crappy little stereo up in the bedroom. So he’d be downstairs playing Liszt and I’d be upstairs playing Sex Pistols. I would stand on the stairs and soak up this really bizarre mixture.
Do you think the perfect song exists?
I actually think there are lots of songs that are perfect. I think Vincent by Don Mclean is a fairly perfect song. There’s something so moving and beautiful about the melody and the words, it strips music down to the barest essentials.
What five albums created the person that you are?
Definitely Never Mind the Bollocks, that’d have to be number one. Then Hunky Dory, without a doubt. Bowie was obviously a huge influence, in fact it’s possibly overstated with Suede, because the reference points seemed to be close, but to be honest, for me and for Simon, who plays the drums, we were huge fans of the Pistols, so the Pistols are probably a bigger influence, really. Then I’d go for The Queen is Dead, I suppose you can’t really ignore The Smiths, they were huge for me when I was, you know, 14, 15, 16, that kind of age, the imagery about adolescent confusion resonated with a confused adolescent, you know, it seemed to sort of work!
Then probably Music for Airports by Brian Eno. If I had to listen to one record for the rest of my life, it would be that. Finally, Kate Bush, The Hounds of Love, I love the whole journey of it. It’s such a beautifully conceived album, and these days, when the actual art of making an album is under fire, it’s even more important that people should listen to it all the way through from start to finish. The second side of it, the Ninth Wave side, it’s unbearably beautiful.
Is there one you’d nominate as the greatest record ever made?
That’s Never Mind the Bollocks, in a funny sort of way. There’s something so perfect about it, and it sums up the vitality and the importance of rock music.
What life lessons have you learnt as a professional musician?
That’s an interesting question. I think it would be about maintaining your relationships, that’s an incredibly important thing. To not be complacent. There are so many parallels between family and your band, and you have to have respect for them all. When we split up in 2003, we’d all got a bit bored with each other. There’s so much downtime spent shuffling around airports with people, it gives you a twisted view of what people are like. We’re willing to work on our relationships a lot more now.
I’m always surprised more people in bands don’t end up killing themselves or each other.
Yeah! It’s throwing people into a pressure cooker, isn’t it? A pressure cooker that lasts for years! It’s amazing that bands stay together for as long as they do.
OK – here’s my simple – but crucial – final question: what’s your favourite noise?
OK, so that’s an interesting question too. Well, birdsong in the morning is a beautiful sound, isn’t it? I like the sound of cicadas as well. We have a little house out in Spain that’s out in the middle of the Spanish countryside, just completely surrounded by nature and hundreds of thousands of cicadas. There’s something lovely about the noise. In fact, I don’t know why it isn’t irritating, because it’s almost deafening.