Sunday, 13 October 2013

Music: Interview with Suede

Formed in London in 1989, Suede brought a much-needed shot of drama and imagination to an indie scene that had become drab and uninspired.

Comprising Brett Anderson (vocals), Bernard Butler (guitar and piano) Mat Osman (bass guitar) and Simon Gilbert (drums), Suede shone a stark light into some of the grubbiest corners of urban life, tackling the seedier side of sex, drugs and rock and roll.


By the time Suede released their debut single The Drowners in 1992, they had already been declared ‘The Best New Band in Britain’ on the front cover of Melody Maker magazine.

“In the early days, no one was interested in us at all,” says Mat. “For a band who looked like an overnight success, we spent a long time knocking on the door.

“We couldn’t get on any bills – our faces didn’t fit and the music was very unlike anything that was around at the time.”

The four-piece played in the backrooms of pubs, sometimes in front of four or five people, and gradually built up a passionate following around London.

“The scene in London was very dull, and far removed from real life,” says Mat. “We liked the Bowies, the Kate Bushes, the Lou Reeds – all the quiet, but theatrical, overwrought music. At the time that was incredibly unfashionable.”

The band recorded their self-titled debut album in a church in Islington in 1992 with producer Ed Buller.

“Recording the first album was fantastic,” says Mat. “It’s a lot harder for bands nowadays, because the first 10 songs they write become their first album, and their first gig goes up on YouTube for posterity.

“We’d written hundreds of songs by that point, so going into the studio was just a blast,” adds Mat.

“We knew that the songs worked, and we knew they had this dramatic feel to them because we’d played them live a few hundred times.”

The album was an immediate hit and was the winner of the first ever Mercury Music Prize.

“It was strange,” says Mat. “We’d released this album and then looked around and saw that there were a million bands who’d appeared who looked and sounded a bit like us.

“London’s like that – once something gets big quickly, there are a million chancers on your tail.”

Instead of resting on their laurels, Suede recorded the ambitious second album, Dog Man Star. With its cinematic sound and epic song structures, it’s widely regarded as one of the best albums of the 90s.

“With Dog Man Star, there was very much a feeling in the band of ‘so you want to copy our sound – well, see if you can rip off this’,” says Mat.

“There’s a really interesting thing that happens with bands quite often when they aim for something that’s a bit out of their reach, they always seem fall into an interesting place – that’s Dog Man Star to a T.

“It falls into a really unusual place for a British guitar band if you look at the Britpop records around then which had suddenly become very cartoony,” he adds.

But during the album’s recording, rifts began to emerge and guitarist Bernard Butler quit the band near to the album’s completion.

“As great as it is to have a record like Dog Man Star in your arsenal, it wasn’t much fun to make. It wasn’t a particularly pleasurable experience,” says Mat.

“I think we could have dealt with Bernard leaving a lot better. We were too insular and too stupid to realise what a big deal it was.”

The band placed an advert in Melody Maker for a new guitarist to replace Butler. A young guitarist Richard Oakes answered the advert, and is still in the band today.

“I know everyone on the outside thought it was going to be the end of us,” says Mat. “But it was a really smooth transition – Richard came in and was great from the start.”

In 1996 Suede released their third album Coming Up, and added keyboard player Neil Codling to the line-up.

“The recording of Coming Up was one of my favourite times ever in the band,” says Mat.

“We were hidden away from everyone. We had all these songs that we were pretty sure were great, and everyone thought we were dead and buried.”

Cracks began to show with the band’s fourth album, Head Music. Although they saw tracks like She’s in Fashion reach a wider audience than ever before, it was regarded as their weakest record to date.

“The album is just a bit of mess,” says Mat. “If we’d have had more rigour and higher standards, it could have been such a great record.

“It was a difficult time. We weren’t very together and there were lots of drugs around. It was all very shifty and unfocused,” he adds.

In 2001, keyboardist Neil Codling left the band due to ill health, and was replaced by Alex Lee who filled in on keyboard and rhythm guitar.

The band’s fifth album, 2002’s A New Morning, was widely slated, and led to the band splitting a year later.

“We were completely lost as to what we wanted to be,” says Mat. “We all had different ideas about what Suede should be and all had personal things we were going through.

“It sounded like a Suede album that had been made by a committee – it was quite bland. We’re all quite ashamed of it.”

After the band split, the members went their separate ways. Anderson pursued a solo career, and wrote an album with Bernard Butler under the name Tears.

In 2010, Roger Daltrey from The Who asked Anderson if the band would reform for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

“If it was anything else we wouldn’t have done it,” says Mat. “We were really nervous about it, but it was a cause we care about. If we hated it, at least Suede ended doing a good thing.”

“When we were about four songs in, I remember looking around the stage at the others and thinking we’re going to have to do this again,” he adds.

The band reformed with Oakes on guitar and Codling returning as the keyboard player. They also reunited with the producer of their first three albums, Ed Buller.

Earlier this year, Suede released their sixth album Bloodsports, which saw a return to form for the band.

“We threw away a lot of songs when we were writing Bloodsports,” says Mat. “We wanted to have the things we do well – the drama and the heart, but if it sounds like something we’ve already done before, what’s the point? It’s a weird balancing act.”

The band announced their new album by releasing the single Barriers as a free download as a gift to the fans.

“When we gave away Barriers before the release of the album, it was such a sweet moment,” says Mat. “We’d had the idea of releasing it as a free download, and two days later anyone from around the world could listen to it, and that’s an amazing thing.”

As for the future, nothing is certain with Suede.

“We’re all in the midst of writing – we haven’t stopped since releasing the record,” says Mat.

“Once the tour’s over, we’ll no doubt get back together and listen to what we’ve got and decide whether to make another record or to self-destruct again.”



This article was originally featured in the Yorkshire Post on October 11, 2013.

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