Brett Anderson Interview: On Black Rainbows, Brit Pop and Being Called A C***
Suede’s frontman talks about his acclaimed new solo offering ‘Black Rainbows’, the perils of Brit Pop and why he hates ‘reunions’.
11am and I’m busy wringing my hands in the EMI foyer. I’m here to interview Brett Anderson and am passing the time by hyper-ventilating and replaying tall stories of butt-clenchingly awkward interviews in my head. Minutes later and I’m greeted by a rather chirpy version of the man so often painted as the Jack Frost of 90s bands.
With a much anticipated Suede reunion tour already underway, he’s now focussing on promoting his fourth solo offering, ‘Black Rainbows’ a much more radio friendly record from Anderson, still laced with left-field lyrics but embracing a maturer, earnest sound, it’s already been lauded as a ‘return to form’. So, after some fluffing of my questions and breaking my dictaphone we finally get settled…
‘Black Rainbows’ has a very serene sound in comparison to the drama that Suede are known for. Was that your aim?
None of my solo work has been at the vanguard of popularity like Suede were, they haven’t got that white heat of hysteria. But they were made out of love, out of the need to make music. I think with a band like Suede, there’d be no joy in constantly trying to replicate that sound.
Has the change in your voice been a conscious one? A way of stepping away from that hysteria?
It’s partly a conscious change and partly musical maturity. When I listen back to songs like ‘So Young’ I’m kind of yelping. It’s all very dramatic, the registers I wrote in then were out of naivety, but naivety is beautiful, it’s what made those records so exciting. But, like I said, you can’t be chasing that hysteria the whole time. On my solo stuff, my voice has evolved. I wanted to experiment and use my voice differently because there’s this incorrect assumption that with age the voice deteriorates, but it’s really just a different emotional register. My voice is warmer and more baritone because I have much more control now over how I sing.
What has the reception to ‘Black Rainbows’ been like so far?
The response has been amazing. My fan base are very opinionated, even though they’re fans they don’t hold back, but so far they love the record. For me, the best albums are the ones that change your sonic landscape and I think ‘Black Rainbows’ does that because the songs are compatible, it isn’t just collection of random tracks. Some musicians aspire towards eclecticism because they think it shows technical ability, but in reality without consistency it can end up sounding like a hodge-podge of sounds.
How did you get that ‘sonic landscape’?
With ‘Black Rainbows’ it was made as a jam session, so nothing was written beforehand. Once it was edited down, I wrote songs on top of it. So that’s why all the songs sound like they should be together.
Does that process get any easier over time? You’ve been writing for about 20 years now…
No, not at all. It’s always hard making records. Nothing worth doing is easy, it’s that struggle that’s the beauty of making music. Today, we live in a culture where people expect reward for no struggle. That’s fascinating to me, that there are people who aren’t prepared to put in the work and still expect some kind of payback. It contravenes a universal law.
Do you think that’s the problem with the music industry now, that instant gratification where music is cheap and there is such a high turnover of new records?
Whether you like an artist or not, they’re still putting a lot of work into making music, but yeah, I’m sure a lot of record companies probably do think of it all as a lottery. Yes, you could sit on GarageBand for a couple of hours for zero money and minimal effort, but that isn’t how great rock music is made. Music costs money and emotional investment, and the general public are losing sight of the amount of work needed to make a record because everything is available for free.
With the way the industry is going, do you think you’ll get to the point where you stop making music completely?
Possibly. Right now the industry has musicians on the margins, which I guess I’ve deliberately pushed myself towards. The kind of artists that will be forced out of it, because they don’t have that commercial pull.
You’ve always been honest that you think the whole industry is a bit of a snake pit. Is that what’s divided people’s opinion of you?
Maybe. I’ve never had any respect or love for the music industry. I’ve never networked; I was never able to do that. I can’t go to record company parties and do that kind of bullshit because I’m just not interested. I suppose that’s made people think I’m arrogant.
So, when you’re putting new music out, is having to do things like this a pain?
This isn’t a social thing; I can do things like this without expending too much energy. This is just a nice chat, but schmoozing…I can’t do it.
How did you cope with that when Suede were getting big?
I didn’t, I was off my face [laughs]
Has that polarisation of opinion been a good or a bad thing?
It’s very painful having your work judged but I think it’d be worse to be middle of the road. Even now, twenty years after the first album, we divide opinion, there’s still that vitriol and on the flipside that love. A lot of bands reach a stage where they have this clichéd, creeping respect because they kept their heads down and never said anything too outrageous. We still spark an extreme reaction, but isn’t that great? Suede’s career was a rollercoaster and we’re proud of that.
No regrets along the way?
Of course, I’m self critical so there’s a lot of regret, but what can you do other than learn from it. It’s dodgy territory to get into, like a pulling loose thread from a jumper.
So what’s it been like being with the band again? Reliving all that?
Our first gig back together at the Albert Hall was beautiful. There was so much love in the audience, which was a massive relief. I was worried it’d be nostalgic in the wrong way, almost like a parody of a 90s band but I didn’t get any sense of that. All our shows now have been strangely contemporary. Usually words like ‘reunion’ make me cringe and I know that sounds hypocritical, generally bands reforming make me shudder. But I mean, we’ll just see how it goes, there’s no huge master plan to reveal. The solo album is what I’m concentrating on now, that’s where my creative drive is.
Do you think because you’ve put out so much solo stuff in-between, it hasn’t felt cringey getting back with Suede?
Yeah, if I’d been sitting on my arse for seven years watching EastEnders that’d be really sad. I’ve learnt so much as a musician in my solo work. Being in a band there’s this division of labour but when you’re solo, the momentum is dependent solely on you, it’s a very different experience.
Which do you prefer?
I like whatever I’m doing at the time. I don’t like having time off.
I have a lot of friends my age that are hardcore Suede fans and it’s been noted how young some of the audience have been at recent gigs, why do you think that is?
To see people as young as 18 and 19 in the audience was really special. It’s very rare to have a band that can resonate with completely different generations and again I think it’s because there is no middle-ground with Suede.
Has that gap in time made you realise how much of an impact you had on 90s music and Brit Pop?
In the 90s I didn’t listen to anything. There was so much rivalry and bitterness that it was hard to take anything in when you were at the centre of it. You could pick NME up and read the band you were listening to calling you a cunt, it slightly coloured your enjoyment!
Do you listen to a lot of new music now?
I love a lot of music out at the moment, I think it’s only healthy to keep up with new artists. Now that I’m far enough removed from it, I can actually enjoy it. The shuffle culture we have now has completely changed how people consume music. You don’t get that very 20th century phenomena of tribalism any more, people are much more open to different sounds and artists. There was too much comfort in the safety of numbers, you had charlatans slipping in the back door because they had the right clothes on, but now bands are judged on merit.
You don’t seem to have liked Brit Pop much!
We never wanted to be under that umbrella term. The problem with movements like Brit Pop, is that once they grow in popularity, and it did so quickly, it starts to tail off into self-parody. When we started in 1992, yes I was writing about British life, but it was a snapshot of everything around me, from the sleazy to the beautiful to the depressing. I think as a movement it became about over emphasising Britishness and descended into a Carry On film. It got lost in a sea of flag-waving.
So will there ever be another Brit Pop?
I hope not.