Not So Young, But Still Fighting: Suede Interviewed
, December 16th, 2010 07:55
At the end of a year when their demons were well and truly eviscerated and sent back to Beezlebub, Luke Turner speaks to Suede about their triumphant return
Last night, Suede played a concert alongside the Manic Street Preachers and the lesser joys of The Drums, White Lies and Mona as part of Xfm’s Winter Wonderland at the Brixton Academy. It marks, after a year of gigs largely for the devoted faithful that culminated in the arena-shrinking triumph at the 02 last week, the first foray by the revitalised Suede back into the realm of mainstream British guitar music that they created, defined, and finally abandoned back in the late 1990s. With Brett Anderson saying that the band are likely to carry on playing live in 2011, this marks an interesting turning point. Their mantra throughout 2010 has been that they’ve wanted to carry on only as long as things could be kept "special", having learned the lessons from the original fizzle out in 2003.
Deciding when "special" stops is surely going to be a difficult thing to do, especially with offers of lucrative festival dates and so on coming in – but it’s to be hoped that Suede don’t become the British equivalent of the Pixies, endlessly churning out the hits like a touring one-band indie disco. However, having seen the band play four times over the past year and spoken to them at length on a couple of occasions, I’d say they can be trusted to do the right thing. Their return has reinstated them to their rightful position as one of the finest British groups in the 1990s and, interestingly, their rehabilitation (and its undoubted impact on the return of Pulp next year) seems to have been a kick in the teeth for the lingering laddism of Britpop. Cheeky chappy guitar bands (so long as Brother are killed in the crib) are as far from a position of dominance since any point in the late 90s. And for that, at least, Suede should be praised.
So, Suede, how has the past year been?
Brett Anderson: It's been quite nice starting again. We've been talking about this. When you're in a successful band you can get a bit pampered in every way, musically as well, and it's quite nice playing in really shitty rehearsal rooms because it makes you focus on the essence of the music. When we first started rehearsing for the shows earlier this year it was a tiny room in Ladbroke Grove. It was just us five. We didn't want any management any crew there, it was literally just us playing and getting to know each other again - the last time we'd been a room together with Neil was over ten years ago. It was re-establishing those links and playing together again.
Simon Gilbert: It was a bit weird before we started playing any songs. There was an air of nervousness about it.
BA: There was an air of anticipation about it. I actually found it strangely un-weird. It was as if the whole thing was on pause, somebody had pressed the play button and it all came back to life. It felt quite natural. I think when you're on tour together for years and years and playing songs you kind of get embedded into each other.
I can imagine it being like like an old partner, there's always something there…
BA: You can draw parallels with a relationship. You can even find yourselves making the same jokes. It was quite an emotional day, and we all went out in the evening. We didn't really know... we'd obviously decided to rehearse and we'd committed to doing the Royal Albert Hall, but we didn't know how we'd feel after we played those shows, whether we'd hate it and we'd not want to do any more, whether it would be a disaster and go down really badly. It was a bit of a leap of faith.
What do you say to the constituency who say without Bernard it’s not Suede?
Neil Codling: From my perspective if you were on one of the later Apollo missions and you walked on the moon, you'd go 'why is it only Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin that anyone wants to talk to. I did it too, and I did important stuff too'. That's what people do, they think of the first few months and years - that's how bands make a splash. Me and Richard have to go well, that's what people do, they find new stuff and then they move on, that's how it's been since time immemorial, that's popular culture.
BA: It's interesting because it's a very UK-centric view. If you go to Scandinavia, Germany, Spain or most of Asia, the year zero Suede was Coming Up. This is the line-up that most people recognise.
Was getting back together a hard decision for any of you?
Richard Oakes: Yeah. I spent a long time thinking about it, but that's perhaps more to do with the fact that I'm the type of person who'd focus on all the things that could go wrong, and in a way that's good because when it didn't go wrong it's a pleasant surprise. I hadn't actually played a live show since the last Suede show, in work terms I'd very much got used to hibernating and being at home. Suddenly the idea of playing a show at the Albert Hall made my head spin a bit, and it took a lot to think about whether it was the right idea for me, let alone Suede. In the end I decided it should be done.
BA: I'm quite glad Richard did have reservations about it, because it made me think. Instead of being really gung-ho about it me and Richard spent a lot of time having long telephone conversations about the implications of it, how it could go wrong, how it might be perceived in the wrong way. It might seem like we're being really precious about it, but all that really matters. I didn't want to twist Richard's arm and say 'come on, let's do it, it'll be great'. I didn't want to do it if he didn't want to do it, I wanted everyone to be really behind it else there was no point. That whole process of talking about it made me come to what I think was the right decision. If we hadn't had that big long discussion about it I might have been onstage thinking 'what the fuck am I doing here, is this the right thing to do?’ It did help.
NC: I think after that first get-together in winter last year when we got back in the rehearsal room it was business as usual, it was like stepping back onto an escalator. From then on I was really into it. All the songs sounded great, it was great to get back a room with just the five of us and play those songs with a bit of objectivity and perspective, and a bit of time since we'd last heard them. From that first rehearsal we couldn't wait to get up and play them again.
Simon Gilbert: It didn't feel like it had been seven years since we'd last played together. The first song we played in the rehearsal room was ‘Filmstar’ and it was like 'wow'. What's the next one going to be? It was so natural.
Neil Codling: We knew the songs to such an degree that we could rattle through them, but it was like they all had a fresh coat of paint.
They sounded so fierce at the gigs. It also takes you away from that misconception that Suede are a drippy indie band.
BA: I don't think we've ever felt like part of the indie herd. When we started it was a deliberate attempt to stick out. I never wanted to be part of the gang of musicians all slapping themselves on the back. That's quite a hard road to take because it means you're on your own, and I don't want to come across as elitist but it was our intention that the band stood on their own. When we did get lumped in with Britpop, which was ironic anyway because it was something that we initiated and rejected, I never felt comfortable with that. For me I've always seen the band very much on our own.
MO: When we started we were utterly ignored for two or three years, and that just does foster a fury. For us it was this calling, and you'd find yourselves among these awful careerist people.
Yet the way it ended never felt right, and there’s been an element of proving a point to these reformation gigs.
BA: To be brutally frank, and without disrespecting the fans that like that record, I think it would have been better to finish the band after Head Music. Making that fifth album was probably a mistake. Whether this best of is a full stop or a different kind of punctuation on the legacy I don't know, but I think it's important for us to say we think this is what represents the best of the band.
Matt Osman: I'd have had no problem ending with something like Head Music, which was chaotic and a mixed bag of highs and lows, which was the way we'd always been. We'd never taken the easy path and would always head off into the brambles at any opportunity.
Are Suede happier now?
SG: Towards the end of the New Morning tour it had become mundane. Now it's got this whole new energy.
BA: Having been apart for seven years we've all had to get on with our own lives a bit. I've personally learned a hell of a lot not being molly coddled or being treated like a petulant child, which when you're in a successful band you're treated like royalty, and it's not very good for you. You need to get out and live in the real world a little bit, and I think that's what all of us have been doing for the last seven years. That's been good for us.
Do you look back on yourself and dislike how the younger Brett Anderson was?
BA: Anyone in a successful band is a complete twat most of the time, it's your job to be outrageous and you're paid to be confrontational and be a bit of a dick.
Some of that confrontation seemed to be getting away from that all lads together mentality of Oasis or the wahey cheeky chappisms of Blur
BA: I don't think we ever created that sort of culture. There was always an aspirational element to the band. I think people were quite inspired by it. We intended to give people confidence, perhaps a bit of arrogance. I don't think we ever wanted to create an army of clones, we wanted to preach individuality a bit if that doesn't a bit pompous.
NC: People who know about it are really into it and because you've got their complete attention and you can move them down different roads, which you can't really do if you're just making pop music. It's all or nothing, and that's great,