SUEDE TAKE BERLIN
After Suede’s latest album ‘Night Thoughts’ stormed into the UK’s top ten and garnered their greatest critical reception to date, Splendid Berlin met their debonair English singer Brett Anderson in Mitte’s Monbijouplatz, to discuss music, Europe, cheekbones and his memories of David Bowie.
Portraits taken in Monbijouplatz by Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit
Interview & final two images by Mark Fernyhough
Despite it not pandering to current musical trends, your latest album ‘Night Thoughts’ debuted in the UK charts at number six below only David Bowie, Adele and Justin Bieber. Suede’s future must feel pretty rosy…
Yes, the future does indeed beckon with possibility. The last time it felt this exciting being in Suede was in the mid 90’s when everyone was awaiting our next move. I think ‘Night Thoughts’ has surprised a few people. What I’ve learned from it is that the odder bits are what people have gravitated towards so I think we feel emboldened to think about making the next album stranger still. The chart was actually a surprise as we genuinely made the record assuming it would be harder to sell than ‘Bloodsports’. Shows what we know.
The album has garnered some of the greatest reviews of your career. Do you read your own press or Google yourself?
Don’t believe anyone who tells you they don’t read their own press. It’s impossible not to unless you undergo some sort of exile procedure. Releasing records is always tough on the ego, even the good reviews can somehow be disheartening sometimes. I think you need to create a sort of fiction about yourself in order to create and suddenly having your work assessed and filed so clinically and coldly often shatters that self-myth.
You sing ‘I have the scars of ambition’ on the song ‘What I’m Trying To Tell You’. Is that true or false in your case?
Yes, the scars of ambition are present and correct, I just do a good job of hiding them, especially from my family as I refuse to become some sort of music business casualty for them. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve felt strong enough to re-enter that poisonous arena. For years, especially around 2008/2009, I was on a self imposed exile. An album like ‘Wilderness’ was all about me disengaging as a means to protect myself more than anything I suppose. But being in Suede in 2016 is very different from in the 90’s. I simply refuse to jump through the hoops these days.
You’ve made various trips to Berlin over the years, how do you feel it’s changed?
Everyone speaks perfect English now and there’s much better vegetarian food. When we first came to Germany 25 years ago we would always leave a little thinner and a little hungrier.
Are you ever tempted to cut a record here?
It’s an inspiring and enthralling city but I think Suede making a record there might always be seen as parodying someone else’s Berlin period.
Do you want Suede to remain in the eurozone or make a Brett-xit?
I’ve always loved the idea of being a European and hated the narrow mindset of the little Englander cliche. Dog Man Star was very much a rejection of those parochial values so the romantic in me says stay.
Like many people you were saddened when Bowie left us this year. He very publicly championed Suede. What are your fondest Bowie memories? Appearing on the cover of NME with him so early into your career must have been tremendous…
I have very, very fond memories of him as a person. He was always so charming and warm and funny and we are all far, far poorer without him.
Musically what Bowie albums would you consider to be most influential to Suede and to you personally?
Oh God, it’s so hard to narrow it down, there’s just so much quality. The sun kissed melancholia of ‘Letter to Hermione’ and ‘Cygnet Committee’, the questioning bombast of ‘Quicksand’, the sweep and scale of ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’, the gnarly twist of ‘Always Crashing in The Same Car’, the icy grandeur of ‘Warszawa’. A tapestry of beauty like no other.
Some of your albums such as ‘Dog Man Star’ and ‘Night Thoughts’ have quite an otherworldly vibe. Have you ever dabbled in the occult, esoterica or purely insomnia?
I was fascinated by all that while I was making DMS, obsessed with the whole ‘artist as visionary/seer‘ idea. I suppose outré figures like Crowley and Kenneth Anger are always interesting and inspiring to kids raised on the shitty streets of suburbia.
When Suede first appeared in the early 90’s you were quite a controversial and progressive entity. Do you think today’s super politically correct culture could cause artists to second guess reactions to their initial creative impulses and censor their work in order to avoid possible criticism?
Yes, there’s been a creeping conservatism growing in music that’s resulted in blandness and lack of daring especially of course in the mainstream. It felt beautifully risky to be in Suede in 1992. Today’s bands need to worry less about their careers and more about their legacy.
What publishable Night Thoughts are plaguing you at the moment?
Mainly life insurance.
You recorded ‘Night Thoughts’ with Ed Buller who has produced all your classic records, what qualities do you think makes a great producer?
It’s an interesting question because the answer is so variable. I think it kind of depends on the band rather than there being some sort of absolute quality. For us, Ed always managed to push us in the right ways and eventually get the best out of us. Sometimes he encourages us and sometimes he goads us but we know that he very much cares about what we create together. For him, Suede is much more than just another band he works with. We kind of grew up with each other. Sessions with Ed can be very fraught sometimes but it’s almost like we’re family to each other; we can step over the line sometimes but know it’s not going to break us.
Will you ever return to your deep baritone singing style of earlier Suede tracks such as ‘The 2 Of Us’ and ‘Wild Ones’?
Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about singing more within my range. I really like the verse of ‘Outsiders’. Sometimes I push my voice to the limits of its range in order to create tension but there’s a fine line that if you over step becomes uncomfortable. I’m more in control of my voice as an instrument now especially in the baritone range.
There is much wonderfully amusing internet fan art dedicated to you, from crayon drawings to Photoshop curios – do you ever print them off to put on your fridge?
I’ve yet to stumble across it to be honest but when I do it’ll go straight on the Smeg next to the pictures of dinosaurs.
You have the world’s sharpest man-cheekbones, did you inherit them?
Don’t tell anyone but they’re implants.
Do you ever envy other members of your band for being less publicly recognisable?
Ha! That’s the front man’s pact with the devil of fame isn’t it? You can never have it all your own way exactly when you want. As Oscar Wilde famously said ‘ The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’.
Thanks to YouTube, much vintage Suede footage is being dusted off and rediscovered for a new generation – including an unlikely clip of you duetting with Terence Trent D’Arby on French television. That must have been memorable?
I’m not sure if it was my finest moment but I always liked him. ‘Introducing the Hardline…’ was a late 80’s classic and he was always very kind to us.
Should there ever be a psychedelic Suede film biopic, what would be the most entertaining ‘based on actual events’ scene?
A disturbed fan once sent me a photo of herself ironing her doll. That would have to make some sort of appearance. Mat always says that the actor Peter Egan should play me. My riposte is that Nicolas Cage should play him.
What is on the horizon creatively for yourself and Suede?
I want to make at least one more Suede album to complete the come-back trilogy. It won’t be called ‘Tennis Courts’ but it will more completely embrace the spirit of adventure we dabbled with on ‘Night Thoughts’. I wish I knew how it will sound, I often only find out where I’m going while I’m on the journey. One little hint is that I had tea with Neil the other day and we talked about writing a 15 minute song.