Interview: Feeling 'Starcrazy' with Suede

All decked out in black, the members of Brit rock royalty Suede oozed irreverence with their simple fuss-free fashion sense. The band consisting of vocalist Brett Anderson, guitarist Richard Oakes, bassist Mat Osman, keyboardist Neil Codling and drummer Simon Gilbert seemed visible aloof as I sat down to break words with them.

Perhaps feeling the sting of jet lag, they seemed like a reluctant bunch of kids who had been kept indoors on this hot and humid Friday afternoon. But then again, it was Suede after all. Around since 1989, the celebrated Britpop pioneers didn’t really have anything to prove. I chatted up Anderson and co to get their thoughts on getting back together, releasing their new album, Bloodsports and their sixth concert here on our little island.

It has been more than 10 years since the last album, and the music scene has changed. What are the things that you guys do differently now?

Mat Osman: I don’t think it makes any difference to writing and recording. A record is a record and it’s supposed to do the same things that it did before. That doesn’t really change. All that’s changed is the music industry and we are not involved in that. I mean there are nice things that have arisen. Like with ‘Barriers’, we released it as a free download. That was totally something unheard of in the 90s’. There was no way that you could record a track and have 10 million people heard it the next day. That was something that was a complete change, but it didn’t change the way we wrote ‘Barriers’ or the way we made the record. It is just the way it gets delivered. It is like whether you have a milkman or you buy your milk from the supermarket.  A hundred years ago, the only way you could hear music was to go to a concert hall in your town and hear musicians play there. But at the heart of it, from that to a Suede record delivered on mp3 today, the kind of experience is exactly the same. You hear these sounds and it makes you feel something. That hasn’t change in anyway. I always laugh when people talk about how music is dying. Music industry might die, but music’s doing the same thing it’s been doing for hundreds of years.

Can you describe the long process of making the new album, Bloodsports?

MO: I think there is something really seductive about coming back. You go out and play the 20 best songs you written to people who haven’t seen you for 10 years, and everybody loves it. Then, it is really easy and you just say oh great, we will do a record like that. And for the next six months, we wrote a ton of stuff. We kind of wrote an album, but all we kept from it really is ‘Sabotage’ out of those first six to eight months. Then we played a couple of gigs in Russia in which we played a lot of new stuff, and it went down pretty well. But I think when we listened back to it, it was really obvious. Old song, old song, new song. And then, I think we just realised how hard it was going to be. Alright, this is why so many bands that reformed make shit records.

Brett Anderson: It is always hard making records. That’s where the magic lies. Anyone can play live, it is too easy. It’s actually making the record and giving them magic. That is the whole point of this.

MO: And then, we wrote and wrote and wrote and Ed (Buller) got more and more involved. He has known us for twenty years, so he is not like a producer that just sits there and twiddles knobs. He’s really involved. And he cares about it, it really matters to him. So, he kind of pointed us in the direction. Through saying what he didn’t like than what he did like. And then, we got to ‘Barriers’ and ‘It Starts and Ends with You’. Suddenly, the shape of the record became apparent and how it was going to sound. And then after that, it went ok. That was when we wrote quite quickly while in the studio.

BA: Yeah, it was the tipping point wasn’t it. If it is not hard, you are not doing it right. We made our best record with Ed. He has made his best record with us and he’s a member of the family. He goes that extra mile, because he’s just as obsessed with making great records as we are. He just works with this band and I really trust him. He’s kind of an amazing person. I still got respect for him.

On this album, Richard, Neil and Brett wrote most of the song lyrics. So, how does the music writing process work now?

BA: Yeah, we do it slightly differently. The way we did Bloodsports was pretty much me and Richard sitting there with ideas and you take the ideas away to turn it into songs. It’s a bit more of a group thing, that’s the way we got results. As you get older, it is harder to get the magic and I am not going to make any complains about that. You definitely have to work harder. And to make Bloodsports as good as it is, it was really hard work. Your brain just doesn’t work in the same work as it used to. You are not firing in the same way. The ideas use to completely flow out of me like a river, and they don’t any more. And, you have to grab them when they do. In that way, you do have to work harder.

With Anderson declaring Bloodsports as the most satisfying Suede album to date, do you think that it was down to the fact that you recorded it before approaching Sony?

MO: I don’t think it makes any difference to be honest. If the record company people are pressurizing you, then you are doing something wrong. The pressure of releasing this record, which is as good as anything we have done before, comes from us and Ed really. If the record company cares more than the five people in the band, then you are probably a bit f*&%ed I think.

BA: If you are not self-motivated by the time you get to our stage, then you can’t do it. You have to motivate yourself. It’s only young bands that don’t quite negotiate their way around the world of music. They have to be motivated by outside people.

MO: Generally, I don’t think record companies want to be involved. Most of them, they are nine-to-five people. If your record company is being involved in what your album sleeves looks like or the track listing or something like that, then it’s because you are not getting involved enough yourself. You don’t really need a record company now to put that stuff out.

There are times when music has its low sides. So, how do you keep your spirits and momentum up when you hit that all time low?

MO: I think one of the really nice things about having 10 years off and then coming back together is that having experienced ‘real life’, you realise that the lows involved are not as low as working in a supermarket. And, the highs are kind of incomparable. I mean it is hard work, but you can’t really complain about everything because it is the kind of work most people would want to do. For all the lows, there are the highs of doing this that most people don’t get to know.

So, what do you think it is that you have that keeps your fans so loyal to you after so many years?

MO: All I can really think of is that the songs that we write mean something to people. There is cold music that’s just the soundtrack to what you are doing and there are the kind of songs that just kind of worm their way into your life. Luckily, the latter are the type of songs that we have written. Even 20 years on, a song like ‘The Wild Ones’, I know is still part of the fabric of some people’s life.

BA: I think it is preparation and stamina. Seriously, I think that’s what we are good at.

This will be your sixth time in Singapore. Is there something that draws you to our little island?

MO: The crowds! It is really not complicated. We came here and we had a gig that we loved and so we came back. And we will keep coming here until we don’t have a gig here. Then, we will go to Indonesia or something.

So, what was your craziest experience in Singapore?

Neil Codling: First time we ever played here, I think. We were told that there was a list of things that we couldn’t do. We were told that the audience would not dance, shout, scream or anything like that. And literally, the minute we went on stage there was security at the front and literally the whole crowd just went whoosh. It went insane and people were getting thrown over the barriers and security was hitting the kids with their sticks. It was the craziest thing. So yeah, I remember that very very clearly.

We heard that Brett, Richard and Neil signed a publishing deal recently, so the future of Suede is looking good. But if things were to end here, do you think it is a good point to end things?

RO: There’s never really a point that you can say ok that’s it, we’ve done our job. There will always be a feeling like there is unfinished business. There is another record that we want to make. You know it’s going to be better than the last one. And, that’s what we got. I am focused on doing another record that’s better than Bloodsports.

BA: I think Suede is successful when it is reacting and when the stakes are high. It is when we start coasting, that’s when it goes wrong. I think it is the sense that we need to keep proving to ourselves and to other people. I think the greatest thing about Bloodsports is the fact that we learnt we can make great new music together and that’s a huge thing.