Suede

A New Ending

Jul 16, 2013 Photography by Kate Garner Issue #45 - Winter 2013 - Phoenix
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Suede frontman Brett Anderson admits that he never thought much about reforming Suede after the band broke up in 2003. After storming onto the British music scene with its first two albumsSuede in 1993 and Dog Man Star in 1994Suede saw founding guitarist Bernard Butler leave the band, but it soldiered on to release three more albums without him. After a brief reteaming with Butler as The Tears in 2004, Anderson embarked upon a solo career. The four albums he released under his own name, starting with a self-titled release in 2007, mostly eschewed Suede's patented guitar rock sound for softer, gentler landscapes. Anderson seemed to have left Suede far behind.

"When I was making the solo records, I was very much trying to think what Suede would do and then do the opposite," says Anderson from his London home. "It was about having the freedom to break away from that. I made an album that was just me and a cello player. It was very quiet and minimal, and four people bought it. But that wasn't the point. It was me trying to try new things as an artist.... The only time that I had to think about reforming [Suede] was when people asked me in interviews. They'd always say, 'Are Suede going to reform?' And I thought, 'Well, the last time I thought about it was when you just mentioned it, so I doubt it right now.'"

Now, for the first time in 10 years, Suede has released new music, in the form of Bloodsports, an album that reunites the Suede lineup that took shape with 1996's Coming UpAnderson, guitarist Richard Oakes, bassist Mat Osman, keyboardist Neil Codling, and drummer Simon Gilbertalong with longtime Suede producer Ed Buller. It was an unlikely reunion spurred by what was meant as only a one-off show in 2010 to benefit the U.K. charity Teenage Cancer Trust. At the time, the band hadn't performed together in seven years.

"When we came offstage, we were all shocked at how much we enjoyed it," says Anderson. "And we were all shocked as well at how much the audience enjoyed it. They enjoyed it because we enjoyed it and because it was good. It was a very special night. If I had to name one gig in my whole 25-year career that I'd take with me to the grave, it would actually be that gig.... We got offstage and we were like, 'We can't leave this alone. We've got to carry on with this.'"

Carry on they did, performing scattered shows across Europe and Asia over the next couple of years, as well as playing Coachella in 2011. But for Anderson, the prospect of writing new music was very different from the prospect of simply getting the old boys back together for the occasional gig.

"It's a terrifying idea," says Anderson. "It's one thing reforming a band and playing songs that you wrote 20 years ago that you know are classics and great, and another thing stepping into the unknown and writing a new album. It's a real leap of faith, especially after being away [for so long]."

Once Anderson committed to writing a new Suede album, it was a meticulous process. He was conscious of, as he terms it, "competing with our past." And, in order to release a new album under the Suede name, everything had to be right. The band began writing toward the end of 2011, composing 30 to 40 songs through the following year. The resulting album harkens back not to the pop-wise Coming Up or the soft melancholia of 2002's A New Morning, but rather to the sound of early Suede. Tracks such as the guitar-heavy "Snowblind," the über-melodic "It Starts and Ends With You," and the enchanting first single "Barriers," strongly recall the first two Buller-produced albums that cemented the band's legacy.

"I think he gave us the confidence to allow ourselves just to be Suede," says Anderson, admitting that bringing Buller back into the fold helped to mold Bloodsports. "Before that, we were like, 'Maybe we should make a post-punk record,' that sort of thing. But the last thing you want to do is reinvent yourselves. It's going to confuse people. We needed to make a Suede record. And I think we needed to hear that from someone whom we trusted before we could do it. So we started going about doing that, and just writing songs instinctively."

Another consideration had to do with Anderson's dissatisfaction with A New Morning. He has been publicly critical of the album in the past, and his feelings have not tempered. He calls it "the weakest album" and says, "it was a mistake to release it."

"All the decisions about making A New Morning, even the artwork, were supposed to be really opposite of what the conventional idea for Suede was," says Anderson. "We were trying to destroy the Suede thing, I suppose. You just get to that stage of your career where you play those mind games, and things like that do seem important to you. Looking back on it, it's absolute madness. I wish someone could have just sat us down and said, 'Look, you shouldn't be releasing this record. You need to go away for a couple of years, think about what you want to do, and come back to it with passion or don't come back to it at all.' And that's exactly what we did with the reformation."

In harking back to the band's early history, however, the inevitable question arises as to why the architect of the guitar sound prevalent in Suede and Dog Man Star does not play on Bloodsports. It is fair to wonder whether it ever crossed Anderson's mind to ask Butler to return, especially given their repairing of relations in 2004 as The Tears, a band that also referenced much of the early Suede sound.

"Not really, no," says Anderson bluntly. "When we decided to reform and play the shows in 2010, I knew Bernard had no interest whatsoever in being in a touring band. I just knew he wouldn't want to do it. I know Bernard personally. We're kind of friends again. I've seen lots of interviews with him where he's said he's not interested in reforming bands, so I didn't think there was any point in really asking him. And then once we started playing together as Suede, as the five piece, the Coming Up lineup, I wasn't going to suddenly split that lineup up and ask Bernard to make a record with us. It just wouldn't have made sense.... Bernard is doing very well doing his own thing and really enjoying what he does.... He doesn't want to be in a rock band anymore. He really doesn't."

Has Butler at least heard Bloodsports?

"I don't know, actually," says Anderson. "That's another weird thing. I'm not going to send the album to him. It's kind of a bit odd, because he's a mate now. If he doesn't like it or he feels weird about it, he's going to be in a bit of a position. He can't sort of say, 'God this is a pile of shit, isn't it?' I'm just not going to put him in that position."

With Bloodsports, to the happiness of fans worldwide, Suede is back once again. But for those in the United States, the story is more complicated. Suede never made a huge mark in the States, due in part to a lawsuit that forced the band to change its name in America. The moniker The London Suede was adopted for stateside promotion, and it's one with which Anderson has never been comfortable.

"The name change killed it dead, really," says Anderson. "It was a real shame what happened. We loved touring America when we played there in the early '90s. And I loved playing Coachella a couple years ago as well. So the band's always had a lot of love for America, strangely enough. But we just can't really operate there with that stupid name."

Anderson goes on to talk about the expenses of financing an American tour and the need to play to enough fans to make touring worthwhile. But the biggest challenge is not in the books.

"I think it's a mental obstacle that I have," he continues. "I don't think that we want to go to America and be known as The London Suede. It's as simple as that. It's really hard. I find it embarrassing. I wish I could go back in time and actually make that decision again, and if we had to change the name change it to something completely different. I don't know. Whatever. Something else. The Ruins."

Regardless of whether or not Suede tours America any time soon, Bloodsports represents the rebirth of one of England's greatest bands of the past 30 years. And with this comes the chance to revive the legacy, reclaim the history, and, for Anderson, this time end Suede on his own terms.

"I think a couple more great records under our belts would be nice," he says. "Bloodsports is a small title, but it's a huge thing. I've learned that we can write really well together again. And I didn't know that before we started. Now I know that we can make a great record. And I think Bloodsports could be the first stage of a creative rejuvenation of the band. Not just us jumping up onstage and playing songs from 20 years ago. Actually making new music. So I'd like to think that, yeah, a couple great albums under our belts, that would be a great ending for me."

www.suede.co.uk

[This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's March/April 2013 print issue.]



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