Suede’s Brett Anderson talks about their Q award, new album and playing the greatest gigs of his life
By James Hall
25 Oct 2013
Of all the fake celebrity Twitter accounts that have sprung up in recent years, fewer have been more amusing than the mock ramblings of Suede singer Brett Anderson.
Referring to himself in the third person, @reallybanderson is the archetypal bitchy, rich rock star who is as dismissive of his band mates as he is sure of his own brilliance.
A typical tweet reads: “It’s not every day you ride a stallion around Notting Hill, smoking fags and wearing Gucci shoes. Not unless you’re Brett Anderson.” As with all good parodies, it sails close to the wind. It is therefore of some relief when the real Brett Anderson arrives at our Notting Hill rendezvous neither on a horse, nor reeking of cigarettes, nor sporting Italian loafers.
The 46-year-old says he “loves” the fake account. “The only thing that bothers me is when people think it’s actually me,” he laughs. While he says that the person he really is couldn’t be further from the man portrayed, he concedes that the bogus account has taken his public persona and “extremified” it.
It is 20 years since Anderson and his band arrived on the British music scene to be proclaimed by Melody Maker as “the best new band in Britain” before they had even put an album out. Their debut LP won the Mercury Prize and Suede, with their poppy, snotty glam rock, were the unwitting progenitors of Britpop. Three of their five albums went to No 1, but the band broke up a decade ago amid falling sales and public indifference.
But if 2003 was Suede’s annus horribilis, 2013 has been the year of their triumph. Suede’s first new album in a decade, Bloodsports, won plaudits and reached the Top 10. On Tuesday, the day before the band embarked on tour of Britain and Europe, they won the Icon Award at the annual Q Awards. This week also saw the release of a lush, career-spanning vinyl box set, complete with forensically detailed sleeve notes on every song.
It’s quite a turnaround for a band written off as irrelevant a decade ago.
The comeback, says Anderson, is “exciting and justified” but he says it was never meant to be like this. A “one-off” reunion at the Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust in 2010 was meant to be “an elegant way to put a full stop on the band”. However it just felt “too good”.
“It was my favourite show I’ve ever done in my life,” he says.
Electric feel: Suede perfoming at Kenwood House, Aug 2013
Anderson was initially crippled by fear that the reunion would just become a nostalgia-wallow. The new album was key to preventing this.
While fellow Britpop bands Blur and Pulp have also reformed, they have not released new albums. This sets Suede apart, Anderson says.
“I hate the idea of a band from the Nineties reforming and people coming to see you because they [adopts silly voice] liked you at university. I hate that idea that you’re set in this little time capsule. The fact that we made Bloodsports was absolutely essential to the long-term plan of this… It’s a really hard thing to do, which is why other bands haven’t done it,” he says.
Compiling the new vinyl box set has also provided the band with some perspective on their legacy.
The booklet that accompanies the package is full of fascinating, geeky nuggets. For example, who wouldn’t want to know that Boy George provided the handclaps on 1997 single Filmstar? And no pub quiz aficionado should be without the knowledge that the strings on 1994’s Still Life were arranged by Bamber Gascoigne’s brother, Brian.
The band were all interviewed at length for the booklet. Anderson says that in focusing on the songs in the box set’s literature, the band avoided talking about the gossip and backbiting that accompanied Suede’s early career.
And what a soap opera it was. In a nutshell, early Suede member Justine Frischmann was Anderson’s girlfriend, but left the band in 1991 to form her own group, Elastica, having started a relationship with Damon Albarn, singer of Suede’s rivals, Blur. It was compelling drama at the time. Then there was the acrimonious departure of original guitarist, and Anderson’s co-songwriter, Bernard Butler in 1994. Anderson was seen as generally stroppy, hence the Twitter persona.
Brit pop pioneers: Suede with Bernard Butler (left)
Anderson says that he and Butler now get on well. “We’ve grown beyond the bickering,” he says. They occasionally lunch together and Butler is producing an album by Teleman, the band supporting Suede on tour.
Suede’s intense live shows have been rapturously received. Life on the road is very different now, says Anderson, not least because the band members have families.
“Before, when we went on tour the gigs were almost a part of the social life. You sort of fell on to stage and the lifestyle was all merged. You have to compartmentalise it now. We don’t go out and get drunk in the day or get lost like we used to and end up on someone’s floor, so that our tour manager has to come and find us in Copenhagen or wherever,” he says. “It would be really sad if my life was still like that, really. It would be like dads embarrassing their kids by trying to get into their music. You’ve got to be who you are. I’m a 46-year-old man. But I go on stage with absolute pure passion and love for what I do.” He says that Suede are playing the best concerts of their career and there are, figuratively-speaking, “fireworks” on stage every night.
Away from Suede, life is all about the school run and early starts. “I have a little boy that I get up with at 6.30am and play the guitar to, and I have a stepson and I have a wife, and all of these things,” Anderson says.
The band are already planning their next album. After the Q Awards on Tuesday they met with long-time producer Ed Buller to discuss new music. “It’s very very early days but we want to do something that is more a kind of musical journey than the last album; something that meanders more and has more space and breathes a little more musically,” Anderson says, citing Talk Talk’s 1988 album Spirit of Eden as an influence.
He laughs. “But who knows? The thing about making records is that you always start with this plan and you end up with something completely different.” Whatever comes out, early 2015 would be a likely release date.
Anderson is growing older gracefully, then. However there is one facet of modern life that annoys him: camera phones at concerts.
“I find it utterly infuriating and it seems completely idiotic to me. Why would you do that if you’re actually there? It’s a sad indication of the times that people have to experience everything through a screen. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist unless they’ve posted it on Facebook,” he says.
And despite the rise of the MP3 generation, he believes the art of the album will live on. “The album as an art form will always be a really vital format. You just have to look at The Horrors and Foals and people like this, who are still making fantastic records that have beautiful sonic narratives,” he says.
Before Anderson leaves, he tells a story about how Suede are now playing to a new generation of fans. “There was a girl at one of the recent shows in Tokyo and she said that her mum came to our show in Japan on the first tour in 1993, when she was pregnant with her, so this was her second Suede gig.” It is all rather touching. And a neat metaphor for Suede’s second life.