Interview: Suede

Interview with Suede

Suede

Introduction

After a decade apart, Suede are back together and ready to reveal their first fresh material since A New Morning. Front man Brett Anderson spoke to us to discuss the creative process behind new album Bloodsports, and to explain why living up to their legacy was “big concern”.

Questions and answers

When did you decide to get back together?

We only reformed to do a one-off gig for the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall, in 2010. But it happened to be possibly one of the greatest shows we ever did, and then we really couldn’t leave it alone.

Did you all feel like there was unfinished business to resolve with Suede?

Yeah, I think so. I think we felt like the last Suede album before we split up, A New Morning, was a bit of a disaster and an unfortunate way to finish a career. It always left a bit of a nasty taste in our mouths. Part of making the new album was to put a full stop on it, in an elegant way.

So what was the first track you wrote together after reforming?

We wrote lots of songs that we decided to reject, but the earliest song that’s actually made it to the album is a track called ‘Sabotage’, and that was written in that first period of writing. We wrote lots and lots of songs for this record – possibly 30 or 40 – most of which we rejected. But we were very hard on ourselves with it, and approached it very much in the mindset of being a new band; not resting on our laurels, and not relying on our reputation. I really wanted it to matter, you know?

Has the creative process changed since you were last together?

I don’t think that the creative process ever changes that much; it works in a certain way because it works. But I think when we started off writing this record, in our heads we thought we were going to do it differently this time. Everyone wanted to get involved, and we were all writing stuff but it didn’t quite work. So we reverted to the model that we’d used before, where pretty much Richard, Neil and I wrote most of the album.

Your fans are very loyal, and notoriously protective of your back catalogue. Did you feel the weight of that legacy when you were writing Bloodsports?

Absolutely, yeah. I think that was a big concern, and our main impetus when we were writing; we were competing with what we’d done in the past. We didn’t want to release stuff that wasn’t up to that standard.

When you come back after 10 years away it’s hugely important to not let down your fans. But at the same time you’ve got to be allowed to have a bit of freedom to go where you want with it, otherwise you’re going to back yourself into a corner and make a very self-conscious, claustrophobic record.

But yeah, I’m very conscious of the fans that we have and how loyal they are and how wonderful they are, and how much we mean to their lives. We have genuinely been the soundtrack to lots of people’s lives, and that’s a huge privilege.

In terms of your back catalogue, where would you place Bloodsports?

I was asked this when we were making it, and I said it was somewhere between Dog Man Star and Coming Up. It was quite a glib answer in a way, because there’s a huge chasm between those two records: Dog Man Star is, for us, almost as leftfield as you can get, and Coming Up was at the other end of the spectrum.

But it’s definitely classic Suede territory, and that was what we were trying to do with the record. We just relaxed and said, “Instead of trying to reinvent ourselves, let’s just write naturally.” And as soon as we let go and trusted ourselves, the songs started to flow naturally.

This is the first time that you’ve worked with producer Ed Buller since Coming Up. Why did you choose to go back to him?

I think just because he’s got so much love for the band, really. We made our best records with him, he made some of his best stuff with us, and because of that he’s always been like family: we can trust him and we can argue with him like family. And I think it’s really important when you’re making a record to not be tiptoeing around someone, and to be able to be brutally honest with each other.

And we genuinely were: if Ed didn’t like one of the songs that I’d brought in he’d say, “This is rubbish, go away and write something else,” and I’d carry on writing and writing and writing. He was that filter that we really needed.

It’s like that saying, “War’s too important for the politicians.” Sometimes you’re too close to what you’re doing, and you need someone outside the band to look at it really objectively and with some perspective.

Thematically, where did you find inspiration this time round?

I almost wanted the record to follow this linear path, plotting the points on the journey through a relationship. So, for the first song to be about meeting someone, and the second song to be about infatuation, and so on.

The album’s about the endless battle that it is to be in a relationship; that sense of struggle and love, and about how fine the line is between those two things. Because sometimes that line gets blurred and you can’t tell which is which.

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

There’s a song called ‘For The Strangers’, which I really love. It’s a beautiful melody and it’s my favourite guitar part on the album; this kind of cyclical, arpeggio guitar part, that was actually inspired by ‘Rise’ by Public Image Ltd.

Me and Richard were listening to that song a lot, and thinking, “God, let’s write something like this”, and we wrote ‘For The Strangers’. It doesn’t actually sound anything like ‘Rise’ – ‘Rise’ is an angry punk song and this is a lilting ballad – so people won’t even be able to see the connection, but that was the starting point. (Laughs)

You’ve been doing this for a fair while now. What do you think your 25 year old self would have said if he could see you now?

I think he’d be very pleased that I still have my own hair.

But did you always intend to make music with Suede for this long?

Yeah, of course. I was always in it for the long game; it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, what I’ve always been obsessed with. I’ve always written and I always will write, regardless of how many people are listening to it. And I’ve always felt like I have things to say that other people aren’t saying. I’m lucky enough to have spent my life doing what I love and that is a massive privilege.

Ok, if you could go back to 1993 or 1992, is there anything you’d do differently?

I think when we got a lot of exposure very early on, I would have advised myself to try to deal with it better. I think it was very damaging to the band and, in a funny sort of way, very irresponsible of the media to give the band so much attention. But then again, the media aren’t some kind of centrally-governed body that has a manifesto and policy; it’s just a group of individuals. With the same breath, bands just do stuff that comes to them.

But I wish there had been someone with a bit of experience who’d said to me, “Look, you’re going to put as many people off with this exposure, as you are going to attract.” There are lots of things that you almost have to find out the hard way, that no one can really tell you. I think that genuinely goes with life, but that’s definitely something I’ve found in my career.

Surely it’s better to provoke a reaction and risk polarising people, than to be uncontroversial and easy to ignore?

Yeah, absolutely: it shows that people are listening in a way. You’re just very instinctive when you’re younger, and do things blindly without thinking about the consequences. I don’t really mind that we polarised opinion, but I think the media attention that we had was actually quite damaging to the band; it caused the band to implode. It was just too much, too young.

So what’s the plan for 2013? Will you be playing any festivals this year?

No, I think we’re going to leave festivals for this year. But I think we might be touring at the end of the year. And we’re playing Alexandra Palace with Temples and Spector at the end of March, plus a couple of other things around that time.

I actually think we’re a better live band than we were in the 90s, to be honest. We feel as though we’re really on fire live.

And beyond 2013? Do you plan to keep writing together? Or should we view Bloodsports as your swansong?

I honestly don’t know right now. We’ll have to see how we feel about the record when the dust settles. But I’d like to make another record, yeah.

The thing that I found out when making this record – and the most important thing about making this record – is that Suede can still make great music. I think Bloodsports is up there with some of our best stuff. And that’s a wonderful thing to find out, actually.