The Brett Interview – Part 1 (Transcript)

Most have probably read the first part of Stephen’s interview on the Official forum but below is a transcript. Some people will not have been able to access it as it is Flash embedded so please enjoy!

Slow Attack

By Stephen Duke

“Hell is a city much like London” said Percy Shelley, with incredible
foresight for a chap who had never sat on a tube train in summer. To my
utter misfortune, my interview with Brett coincides with one of England’s
rare fits of sunshine. It is so hot that the pensioners have stripped down to
a mere two jumpers each. The flies have knotted hankies on their heads.
And among the beautiful people of West London, the heady odour of
barbecued hair product assaults the nostrils and stings the eyes. AC, AC,
my kingdom for an AC.
When we meet Mr Anderson, we find him svelte, tanned and utterly
untroubled by the insanity of the London heat. He’s recently returned from
a holiday (that’s like a vacation, my colonial chums), a confirmed sun-lover;
no longer the chalk-faced fop endlessly watching Performance and writing
songs that transform bedsit-land into Byzantium-on-a-budget. But I’m sure
that infamous bum-wiggler is still in there somewhere… we shall find out.

Having said that, there really is no need to mourn the passing of the old
Brett; for the new Brett has just made an album named Slow Attack, and it’s
really rather fantastic, even euphoric in places. While most contemporary
albums wear their influences not so much on their sleeves but as sandwich
boards declaring, “I am an indie band and I love The Jam and The Smiths”,
Slow Attack defies any attempt to pin it down. It’s a little Talk Talk, a little
cinematic, a little folksy, a little “Ariel” by Kate Bush, a little Tin Drum-era
Japan… but only a little. In terms of Brett’s own work, well… it’s not Coming
Up, pop-pickers. But it is a little Dog Man Star. Basically, if the Brett you love
is Trash and We Are The Pigs, you’ll be disappointed. However, if The 2 Of
Us, Lost in TV and Funeral Mantra float your boat, you are going to adore it.
The opener, Hymn, is perhaps the most beautiful song he’s ever written,
though it has some stiff competition from the likes of, “Summer”, “Frozen
Roads” and “Ashes Of Us”. In between, we have some truly odd but stunning
music, and some even odder lyrics. And that surely is more than enough for
your hard-earned groat.

The first thing that strikes one about Mr Anderson is that he is extremely
likable. He laughs a lot, smiles a lot. I expected a little awkwardness, but
I feel comfortable almost immediately. Before beginning the interview, I
joke that it’s like Frost/Nixon. As it happens, it’s more Bob and Terry
from the Likely Lads, and I’ve tried to type this up in such a way as to
retain the feeling of a conversation rather than some questionnaire. I
hope that I’ve done my duty, but if I ever had any pretensions of a career
as a hard-boiled journalist, I think I’d better bin them sharpish. I mean, I’ll
never bring down the government or get a murderer to confess with this
line of questioning. Then again, I’m sure Nixon didn’t stop mid-flow to
ask Frost if he wanted a cup of tea.

SD: With Wilderness it sounded like you were moving from one
relationship to another, with Slow Attack you sound a lot more stable
and happy, it’s a lot more positive, whereas Wilderness was half and half,
it’s kind of dark and then there are happier songs, this sounds like you’re
a lot more stable. Has being in a more stable relationship really helped
your writing?

BA: Yeah, I feel very inspired to write but I wouldn’t read too much into
the lyrics of Slow Attack, it’s not a writerly album whereas Wilderness
very much was, it very much lyrically driven, it had so many elements to
it. For me, I was trying to do something that was little bit more abstract
with the lyrics on Slow Attack, more about the feelings, less narrative I
suppose. So that was the approach to writing lyrics, using the voice and
instruments, I don’t know if I have completely mastered  that technique,
but its something I am interested in doing. It’s less about writing a song
based album I suppose.

SD: I suppose you must be used to your fans pouring over your lyrics…

BA:  Yeah, people see me as that sort of writer, a writer that does write “lyrics”,
but that is the point, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I do use words as sounds
and then you open yourself up to criticism, people say you rhyme mouse with
house and that is childish, sometimes that is the point.  I am fully aware, I am
not that dumb, I am fully aware that rhyming house with mouse isn’t
particularly clever and I am fully aware that I am writing lyrics that aren’t the
greatest lyrics ever written, I am very conscious of what I am doing.  I don’t just
dash stuff off.  There is a point to the tone of the words on this record. The
lyrics aren’t going to be written in the CD, for the first time, so that is an
indicator. I don’t mean they are throwaway, its just sort of I am trying to learn to
write songs in a different way.

SD: Do you ever think consciously while you are in the studio, this is really going to
annoy them (the fans) because they are not going to get this, they won’t know what
this is about?

BA: (laughs)

SD: Well, Scarecrows & Lilacs, The Swans, Julian’s Eyes… I have no idea what you’re
on about. It sounds great but you know… I’ll have to learn not to do this because I
spent the whole time listening to those songs thinking “what’s this about, who’s
Julian, is it Julian Cope? Jools Holland?”  Would you care to enlighten us?

BA:  Again, the songs are like impressionism, actually Julian’s Eyes, there is a
narrative there, not sure if I want to go into it. The other two songs are like sketches,
like brushstrokes that hint at things using words as impressionist brushstrokes I
suppose.  Its about the whole thing, it’s a holistic thing, its not just this is about the
lyrics, it’s a piece of music, its the words, and how they work with the music, a
holistic approach to music. It’s not anything revolutionary, but it’s just a different way
for me to approach writing.

SD: It’s definitely different, but I would say it’s a progression from Wilderness.
Wilderness was very much a piece, Slow Attack goes to different places a lot more – did
a lot of that come from Leo, though? When I first heard it, I thought about Kate Bush
and very early Roxy Music, a lot of the woodwind sounds reminded me of that. You
talked about Mark Hollis a lot, you can definitely hear late-period Talk Talk, and his solo
album.  Did the sound of the album come from Leo meeting you halfway? We know
your career, and where Leo is coming from, and it seems like you met in the middle.

BA: Pretty much, from the second time we met, a lot of the sonic things were his
decision, based around how he thought my career should go.  And he said to me that it
would be really interesting if I did a woodwind-heavy album and when he first said that ,
I was like “what?”.  I didn’t know how he could use woodwinds to bring out the sounds I
wanted. I always had connotations of certain instruments that in the wrong hands can
be awful, saxophone is one of them, oboe is another one. And so he said that to me,
and I was like “Ooh, I am not sure about that”. But we both listened to a lot of Talk Talk
and he said how about if it sounded more like this, more like Talk Talk, quite rich and
sort of orchestrated, but you know strings can be quite clichéd, they sound so beautiful
but it’s like… sugar. They can be too beautiful in a way.

SD: Well you know, everybody puts strings on their records…

BA: Yeah, woodwind’s a different kind of thing, it has the same sort of feel,
but with a different tone. But yeah, lots of the things were him stretching
me, and I really enjoyed working with him because he stretched me… he’s
quite a difficult person to work with sometimes, in the best possible sense,
I don’t mean that as a criticism, I actually mean it as a compliment. The
people I’ve worked with who I get the best results with have been like that
in the past- I need to be stretched sometimes, and he’s very much like
that, he’s not the sort of person who would ever take the easy option, he’ll
always suggest doing it in a very strange way. But that’s what
collaborations are. That’s the reason I didn’t want the album to be called
Brett Anderson, I wanted to have Leo’s name in there, because it did really
feel like a collaboration, but in the end I decided against it.

SD: One of the interesting things, and why I thought of Kate Bush, is that
there’s an English folk element to the album. It’s a flavour, it’s not kind of
dominant, but it’s obviously something that Leo does on his solo work.

BA: That was another common thing actually, I was really excited about the
idea of making something quite folksy, the first song I wrote for the album
was actually Wheatfields, because I thought that probably the most
successful song on Wilderness for me was Funeral Mantra and I still listen
to that and think it’s really good. And the original idea for this album was to
do an album like that, a really dark, strange folk record. But the other thing
with folk is that it’s got terrible connotations, people in Aran jumpers with
their fingers in their ears, and awful people drinking real ale and stuff like
that… but when it’s done well, I mean Bert Jansch has done a couple of
really beautiful things that I really like. It can be really beautiful and quite
dark as well, and I really wanted that kind of mood to the record.

SD: Folk has a good track record in pop when it’s just an influence.

BA: Yeah, exactly, I’d hate to do a record that was a kind of mock-folk record, I just tried
to use little things, I’m not that kind of musician that would try to make a reggae record
or something, you know what I mean? That would be pretty rubbish.

SD: I’ll say for the benefit of those who haven’t heard the album, because we’re talking
about English Folk, there’s no song called, “The Ploughman’s Lament”, so don’t worry!

BA: Actually, where the folk thing comes from is that I was listening to this soundtrack
from Babel by Gustavo Santaolalla, and he wrote this sort of middle eastern guitar
music, really beautiful quarter tones and stuff like that, and when I was writing songs I
was trying to use my voice in a different way, and I was kind of emulating that, trying to
emulate these strange quarter tone scales… and I can’t do that, because I’m not from
Baghdad or somewhere like that, so my version of it became almost like English folk, I
guess they come from the same places, you know.  And that my version, suddenly I was
doing this thing with my voice, emulating something and it kind of mutated. And that
was one of the reasons I chose Leo, I wanted to do something very filmic and with his
background and the people he’d worked with, his film background.

SD: One of the key moments for me is on The Hunted. As it was building to the chorus I
was thinking, “aye aye, here we go, here come the Les Pauls, there’ll be a big chorus and
then a solo near the end, and that’s the single”. And it didn’t go there. It’s a great song, but
it doesn’t do that, it didn’t turn into Obsessions or something, and it could have…

BA: (laughs): That’s definitely Leo! If it had just been me, the Les Pauls would’ve come out!
And you know, handclaps and “la la la”! It would’ve turned into a track from Coming Up,
you know…

SD: But I was thinking, if you were on a major, the record company would say, “no, you
can’t do that! That’s the single, we want the big chorus”. So is it really liberating not having
to deal with all that… shit?

BA: It’s fantastic being able to make exactly the kind of records I want to make. What’s
more fantastic is the fact that I know that no-one’s going to play them on the radio, ‘cause
that’s the biggest thing, when you’re tied to this relationship to the radio. I mean I think it’s
fine being on a major label if you’re Sigur Ros or something like that, but if you’re selling
records through getting Radio One airplay,  you’re making records for the radio. Lots of my
records, you know, Coming Up or whatever, it’s a shameless pop record…

SD: Well, there’s nothing wrong with shameless pop records…

BA: No, I’m not at all turning my back on it, I love that record, it’s a great record,
I love it, I still play it, but I don’t want to make that record any more. I don’t
have a relationship with radio anymore, so that leaves me free, and when we
wrote The Hunted, and it did sound like a single, but you know… Leo was the
last person in the world who was going to turn it into a happy-clappy, three-
and-a-half minute single, so he put this weird, middle-eight drum break in it,
and it falls the right side of tasteful.

SD: Yeah, after the chorus there’s a sound like the woodwind section are
falling down the stairs.

BA: Yeah, it collapses…

SD: Is that what Leave Me Sleeping is about; you’re in your own world now,
and you don’t want that celebrity world any more?

BA: Maybe subconsciously. It’s an interesting interpretation, but I think it’s
much more literal than that. You can write a song and only find out what
you’ve written about a couple of years later, I’ve realized ten years later
that I’ve written about this, that or the other, and I didn’t realize at the time.

SD: Those songs that were character-based, do you think that some of
those songs are actually more revealing than the baring-your-soul stuff?
Just because of the type of people you chose to write about, the kind of
lives you were drawn to, do you feel that you were actually writing about
yourself rather than creating fiction?

BA: No, I was quite conscious that I was writing about my friends. I was
creating a world, and I was quite conscious of documenting the fringes of
society, that’s how I saw it. I was quite happily being the documenter… I
felt I was right in the middle of it, so I was justified in writing about it really.

SD: So, around the time of Coming Up and those b sides, when it felt that
you were writing something fictionalized, and a barrier had gone up, in fact
that was your life?

BA:  Exactly. Even when I fictionalize, I’m writing about someone I know,
I’ve just changed the names. I think everyone does. Fiction doesn’t really
exist; it’s just fragments of different facts. There’s no such thing as fiction,
like the old adage, you write what you know about. That’s why there are so
many books where the main characters are writers, a disproportionate
number of novels you pick up, the main character will be a writer because
it’s a thinly disguised autobiography. It’s the same with songs, even if
you’re writing in the third person, you’re often writing about yourself or the
people you know or a collection of people you know. And it’s that
amalgamation of different characters that go to make a character named
Sadie or whatever.

SD: On The Tears album, you’re described as Executive Producer, and as
someone who knows nothing of how music is made, I imagine that’s what the
singer does, kind of looks down from above, sees how the songs relate to each
other. Is that harder when you’re writing the music and you’re down in the
trenches, to judge your work and be objective?

BA:  Yeah, you get very close to music, and sometimes I don’t really know what
my records sound like until a year later, hence the fact that I’ve thrown away so
many really good tracks as b sides because I didn’t actually realize that they
were very good at the time. Or alternatively I have a kind of vision of the sort of
album I want to write and those songs didn’t fit the vision and it wasn’t until
afterward that I realized they were really good, and I shouldn’t have had things
like Moving on the record, Animal Lover, and had Big Time and My Insatiable
One instead, but that’s the way it goes! But that executive producer thing, you
know, it’s a phrase, production is a really interesting thing because it’s a very
loose definition. Obviously, you have people who are producers and can control
the record and stuff like that, but production, it’s difficult to define actually what
constitutes production, you can have very technical producers and you can
have people who are more just into the vibe of the record.

SD: How was South America? Does going somewhere like that make you feel
painfully English, and start ordering egg and chips in a very loud voice?

BA: Brits abroad! That’s what the band do, we spent an extra weekend in Lima,
and Jim and Didz spent the whole time in a British bar getting drunk, having
fights with Welshmen! It’s great going to countries I’ve never been to before,
especially South America, very exotic. But you know, the whole situation, being
detained in the country was horrific!

SD: Can you see yourself living abroad?

BA: When we were stuck in Lima, I thought I’d have to! I had this terrifying vision
of phoning home and saying, “do you want to move to Lima?” No, I don’t know,
vaguely, I always think I could live abroad, but my love affair with London never
seems to fade, I do really love London, there’s something so inspiring about it,
I’m constantly writing about it. I’m aware that I do write about London a lot, but I
don’t care, it’s like being in love, even though people have felt that emotion
centuries before you, it’s never any less special. I wouldn’t just move to New York
just for a fresh story, sort of thing. I’ve thought about living in Europe, but…

SD: Preparing for this interview, I listened to a lot of the old Suede stuff, and it’s
interesting just how much you’ve documented London life and how London has
changed. In the early years, it was people coming from the suburbs or small towns
and more recently it’s been refugees and migrant workers. How do you feel about
how London has changed over the years?

BA: I’m not sure that I’ve been here long enough to say how it’s changed, I can only
say about my reality, I don’t really know. All I can say is that it’s exciting because of
the multiculturalism, but I’ve lived in West London since 1990, and I’ve seen this little
area change, it’s become more gentrified, even in the last ten years. And that’s a
shame. This little area used to be very multicultural and it was exciting because of
that, but it’s become more white, middle class now and I’m not sure that’s the
greatest thing in the world. But London is such a great melting pot, and that’s why
it’s the centre for music in the world, it’s unique.

SD: I moved to London in ’96, and when I come back, I notice how even places like
Shoreditch are gentrified now. The cheap bedsits are disappearing, you can’t get a
student grant anymore, and I think it’s really sad…

BA: I totally agree with you. I’m not sure if London as a whole is changing, but the
different areas, people are being pushed around. I moved here in 1990, and I had a
tiny little flat and paid 60 pounds a week, and you can’t do that anymore.

SD: A lot of new bands stay in their home towns now, and use the internet to
promote themselves rather than, you know, moving to London and playing at the
Rock Garden or whatever.

BA:  Well it’s (the internet) just one of those things, you just have to engage with
it, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a thing. It’s a piece of
technology that unless you engage with it and use it to your advantage, then you
massively disadvantage yourself. Yeah, it’s great because I can release a record
myself, which you could never do before, or if you did you’d sell three copies and
have to sell them off the back of a lorry or go to a car boot sale and sell them
there, but now you can which is incredibly liberating. But there are lots of bad
things about it, like musical piracy. I’m not one to get on my high horse about
piracy, but the public have to accept that musical piracy through illegal
downloading is going to reduce the quality of music created, because artists are
now being rewarded for playing live and not for actually making new music. It’s
simple economics, there’s less money to make good records with now. Okay,
you can argue that they have to be more inventive and blah blah blah, good
music will always come through, but the very fact that people aren’t rewarded for
it is a real shame.

SD: It seems now that when the music industry gets a successful new
band, the record company makes them tour and tour and tour, and that
can’t be good for a bunch of early 20-somethings. They should be in a
rehearsal room, learning to write better songs, but the record company
doesn’t have too many cash cows these days, so you get 5 singles from an
album, and its 2, 3 years between the first record and the second.

BA: I agree, I don’t know how it must be for a new band trying to make it,
very difficult, because I have a fan base, it’s a kind of different thing for me.
But you know, I make records now to generate live shows and that’s how I
make money. It’s a very different sort of industry, it used to be the other
way round, and you’d go on tour to promote albums. You have to make a
different sort of music now; I couldn’t make my kind of music now if not for
the internet I suppose, so I have to be thankful for that.

SD: About the early image, the whole… (mimes slapping his arse with a
microphone, Brett joins in). You know, this being England, if you have an
earring people call you a poof… so presumably at the early Suede shows
you were getting stick. How much was that image just you playing up to
that, and how much of it was a conscious decision to go in that direction?

BA: It’s a difficult one for me to talk about how I was in those days
because people assume it was a persona, but it kind of wasn’t really. It
was me. I was just a very different sort of person, it was quite instinctive,
and it wasn’t this calculated persona. I was just quite a strange young man,
living in a very unusual sort of self-created little world. But yeah, there was
an element of winding people up I suppose, I like to antagonize people, I
saw it as my duty as a performer to wind people up. I think that’s quite a
commendable attitude. If I have one blanket criticism of modern music it’s
that there’s not enough hate figures.

SD: I think people forget how weird the early 90’s were. We’d had Thatcher
and AIDS and Back To Basics, but we were all taking ecstasy. With ecstasy,
men are like this and women are like that doesn’t make much sense
anymore- everyone is hugging each other and kissing each other, and
what you were doing really struck a chord.

BA: You know, that’s a very perceptive point, I hadn’t really thought about
that before, but the influence of ecstasy was huge. I did take huge
amounts of it and you’re right, you’re just sort of a being aren’t you, not
necessarily a sexual being, more an emotional being, and the lifestyle I
was living was very much geared around that.

SD: Like in Trainspotting, “a thousand years from now, there’ll be no men
and women, just a room full of wankers”. (BA laughs a lot at this point). But
it seems that only yourself and the Manics were actually addressing that…
for the early 90’s generation, we weren’t thinking in those terms anymore,
gender roles had blurred or merged.

BA:  Exactly, I mean the word androgyny, it’s a boring overused word, but it
does have a point. Androgyny wasn’t a style thing, it wasn’t something to
be turned into a photo shoot for the cover of The Face, it was more of a
point of view, more of a thing of trying to reject old values, it wasn’t a sort
of homage to early seventies glam rock, it was sort of like saying, “no I’m a
human being first, and let’s have a look between my legs and see what I
am second”. What sex I am is secondary to me, I connect with people on
an emotional level, and that was what I was trying to say really.

SD:  The glam thing seems to be very superficial, “oh, they look like that and
they play guitars”… and there hadn’t been a guitar band doing that since
the seventies, so they had nothing else to pin on you.

BA:  Exactly, and music journalism is so self-referential, you can’t describe
anything without reference to what has gone before, but the whole glam
thing came about completely by accident, it was a combination of the fact
that we played guitars and I had the kind of voice that I have. If anything,
punk was a bigger influence, for me and definitely Simon, and the whole
spirit of the band; punk bands were the first bands that excited me. I didn’t
really get into it, even with the whole seventies thing, the glam period never
really interested me. It was an accident honestly, sorry about that (laughs).

SD: It seems as well that what you were writing about, and you’ve
continued to do this–

BA: (laughing, mock-stern) AND YOU’VE CONTINUED TO DO THIS!

SD:  No, but it seems that it wasn’t a gay thing, more not being the
dominant partner. I mean, I’m not saying you have a dungeon and you like
to be whipped or anything, but it was kind of about not being The Bloke,
about being pushed around by women or being passive, and people
wanted to make it a gay thing rather than think about that.

BA: You’re right, as soon as you’re not rampantly heterosexual, then you’re
gay, there’s no grey area in between. It’s so dumb it’s just ridiculous. I was
trying to look at relationships from a different perspective, looking at
sexual politics with a different bias and trying not to talk in clichés. I’ve
always hated rock clichés, and Suede started at a time when clichéd rock
was back, and all these bands singing “yeah, baby, yeah”… oh, shut up. I
wanted to sing about my life, and not be clichéd.

SD: Where I came from, the “real men” were pushing prams while the
women were the breadwinners; learn a trade and be tough was pointless,
it was all gone. So, what you were doing made sense to me, so thanks!

BA: Well, I’m glad it did, because I sometimes wonder if there’s any point in
doing anything subtle and it really depresses me. I sometimes think that
pop music and the music industry, you know, there can be no appreciation
of any subtlety. It’s all about people being put into little boxes, so I’m glad
that people understood that there are grey areas, and I wasn’t singing
about being gay or being straight, there are states in between black and
white, you know.

SD: Nick Cave once said that there was a point in his life when he was
subconsciously doing things that were bad for him because he knew he
would get songs out if it. Do you think you’ve ever plunged yourself into
bad relationships or drugs in order to generate material?

BA: Yeah, I definitely treated my life as an experiment, as a means by
which I could get songs out of it, yeah. I didn’t treat my life with any sort of
respect for a long time, the only point of my existence was creating music,
and I threw myself into completely doomed relationships to have
something to write about sometimes, yeah. I can completely understand
that, it just seemed interesting. But you can when you’re younger, you can
pick yourself up, dust yourself off, so…

SD: Was there a point when you realized that doing that kind of thing was
really stupid, or did you feel that your writing relied on that kind of life?

BA: I came to a point where I sort of started… wanting to be happy, instead of
torturing myself, and I came to realize that happiness and creativity weren’t
mutually exclusive. I just don’t believe in the boring clichéd myth that you can
only write if you’re tortured, quite the opposite. The way I’m writing at the
moment, it’s about inspiration, about being in love with life. Okay I have
documented the darker parts of life, that’s something that I’ve done before, but
when I’ve been the most fucked-up in my life I’ve also been the least creative.
You know, around the time of Head Music, I was seriously off the rails, in a
really dark place and I didn’t go in the studio for a year at that point, I’d just sit
in bed smoking drugs. So all that kind of bullshit is just nonsense and I’m not
going to go there again just so a few people can say, “oh he’s more interesting
now cause he’s fucked up”, I just don’t care whether people think I’m
interesting or not, I just couldn’t give a shit.

SD: It seems that there are a lot of other people out there who’ll do it for you…

BA: Exactly, and they’ll probably do it a lot better and good luck to them! If they
want to lead deranged lives, then that’s their decision, but there is another way
of doing it.

SD:  It’s like, get the haircut, get the clothes, get the drug habit…

BA: Yeah, it’s sort of an outsider’s point of view of about how people make
music, okay pain is an important part of music, it’s an important part of
expression, because angst is a drive for art, always has been and there’s
millions of examples about, but there’s also millions of examples of
harmony as well. I don’t know. But then again, I sound as though I’m trying
to say I want to make something quite bland, I don’t mean like that, I just
don’t want to write about the same kind of angst-ridden fringes of life that
I’ve always written about. I want to think about life, I want to question life; I
don’t want to just write about flowers and bunnies, and nice harmonies… I
still want to write about relationships, and questioning life and questioning
relationships, but not necessarily in a doom-laded way.

SD: I have a recurring nightmare. 80’s nostalgia gives way to 90’s
nostalgia, and there’s a Britpop legends tour with Echobelly and
Menswear, 20 quid with chicken-in-a-basket. With reference to a certain
90’s band, your thoughts please…

BA: Britpop nostalgia tour? I’d love to do that. With kind of a Britpop
supergroup, members of sleeper and echobelly and shed seven. Who
wouldn’t want to do that?

And on that bombshell… end of part one. Coming up (ho ho) in part two:
suburbia, strictly come dancing, extra tracks and Your Questions
Answered!

http://www.brettanderson.co.uk/ – Interview

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