Brett Anderson and Mat Osman from influential ’90s indie outfit Suede are back with a new album and a new film to match
It’s one of the defining images of the ’90s British music scene: Suede’s Brett Anderson swinging his mic as he tore through unifying glam-rock hits Animal Nitrate and Trash. Along with his old-school friend Mat Osman, Anderson founded Suede as a student in the late ’80s. When Britpop exploded, the four-piece became the smarter, darker, more ambiguous face of the scene. Five albums later, they called it a day in 2003. But Suede have been back since 2010, touring and lately recording. Night Thoughts follows Bloodsports as the second album of Suede 2.0. A brooding, expansive and playfully eccentric record, it nods to the experimentation and orchestral sound of their 1994 album Dog Man Star, the last to feature guitarist Bernard Butler.
With a release date of January 22, 2016, set for the album, we caught up with Brett and Mat, both 48, who talk going up against Kanye and writing like Whitney Houston.
You were up against Kanye West as headliners at Glastonbury earlier this year. How was that? Mat: “We loved it. We were only there for about three hours.” Brett: “It’s a bit hit and miss for us, Glastonbury. We did the main stage below REM about 15 years ago, in daylight, and it was terrible. I think we’re a much better live band now than in our heyday. We’re on a different level.” Brett: “We’ve got some resilience to that now. We were so used to adoring crowds in smaller venues, it became this little cult. I love playing live now. When we first started I used to be all about writing stuff and the studio, but bizarrely enough as I’ve got older, I actually enjoy the physicality of playing live.”
But anyone who has seen you play live, especially in the early days, always remembers you really going for it, swinging the mic lead… Brett: “That wasn’t what it was about for me. It was about coming up with the magic in the studio.” Mat: “I still think that’s the measure of the band for me, the albums you leave behind.” Brett: “Of course it is. The live performance is transitory, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful thing. It’s life-affirming – and all that nonsense.”
Brett, you’ve said you believed you were writing big Whitney Houston-style pop belters when you were writing songs like Animal Nitrate. Do you still feel like that? Brett: “Yes. Less so with this new album. But I’ve always thought Suede’s music was quite poppy. The whole indie ghetto thing, especially in the ’90s, I thought it was limiting. Pop music is incredibly powerful, even in its most crass form. If you sit in the back of a cab and listen to Magic FM [a UK easy-listening radio station, similar to Dubai 92] and all those sloppy, sentimental songs, they’re beautiful songs. Because they’re performed by cheesy artists, they’re considered naff. But they still have emotional resonance.”
Night Thoughts is much more experimental than Bloodsports (2013). Did you have less to prove? Brett:“We definitely felt we could do things that we wouldn’t have done with Bloodsports. It was about re-establishing the Suede brand, horrible as it sounds. There are echoes of Dog Man Star, our most-loved record. But it’s a different record, a lot harder to pin down.”
Filmmaker Roger Sargent made a full-length film to accompany the album. How did that come about? Brett:“We wanted to make one long film instead of making videos. Partly to reinforce the idea that the album was designed to be listened to as an album rather than a collection of songs.”
Are you film fans? Mat: “I think Brett’s probably the biggest film lover in the band. When we were planning the film for Night Thoughts, we all went to Roger with lists of films we liked.” Brett: “Lots of arty stuff. Lots of Bergman. Things like that.” Mat: “Lots of kitchen-sink drama.” Brett: “Yeah, ’60s stuff. We’re high art kitchen sink.”