Shortly after Suede released their comeback album Bloodsports three years ago, Brett Anderson became a father for the first time.
He insists it wasn’t deliberate, but Anderson soon began writing lyrics about his newborn son. However, far from getting soppy, the new songs were amongst the darkest of Suede’s career.
The resultant album, Night Thoughts, drips with claustrophobia and a sense of creeping dread. Hey Jude it most definitely is not.
“As soon as I try to be happy in songs, it just sounds crap,” laughs Anderson. “I don’t think singing about the joyful side of life works for me as an artist. I’ll leave that to other people.”
“Fatherhood has wonderful, life-affirming moments. I just didn’t want to sing about them”
Sat in the office of his PR, Anderson is highly entertaining company. This may come as a surprise to some – despite being a flamboyant whirling dervish on stage, his interviews tend to paint Anderson as a slightly austere, distant presence.
But, although careful not to name his son, Anderson is charming and open as he examines the genesis of Suede’s best album since their classic Dog Man Star 22 years ago.
“Fatherhood has made me more terrified,” he admits. That’s the one thing I was surprised about fatherhood. It’s a wonderful experience, of course, but nobody warns you that the thought of something going wrong would absolutely destroy you.
“It makes you more vulnerable in lots of ways. Suddenly, there’s someone more important than you, this vulnerable, susceptible little person that you spend your life having to protect. That was a huge revelation for me, and a lot of the ideas that spawned Night Thoughts are born of that terror.”
Don’t worry – Anderson doesn’t spend his days wracked with fear. Married to neuropath Jodi, Anderson is also stepfather to her 11-year-old son from a previous relationship. “What I write about doesn’t mean I don’t have sentimental thoughts,” explains the 47-year-old. “My experience of fatherhood isn’t this permanently terrified neurotic existence where I don’t know what’s going on and waking up at 4am worrying about my life. Of course fatherhood has wonderful, life-affirming moments. I just didn’t want to sing about them. No-one wants that from me, and I don’t want it from me either.”
Night Thoughts is accompanied by a film based on its songs, directed by veteran music photographer Roger Sargent, best known for his work with The Libertines. It’s about a man who walks into the sea to kill himself after his son dies.
It’s a bleak question, but: when did Anderson last want to walk into the sea? “Every time I have to promote a record,” he smiles. “It fills me with horror. When you finish a record, you’re really happy with it, then suddenly… It’s horrible, suddenly seeing yourself in context and realising what people really think of you. I feel ‘Oh God, do I really have to go through this again?’ You can’t make a record in a vacuum, nor expect everyone to love everything you do. But every time I release a record, I think ‘Right, this time I’m going to do a Reggie Perrin.’”
Sargent’s film was commissioned as Suede didn’t want to have to make any regular videos for its singles. Anderson clearly loathes them, his usually calm face screwed up in anger as he spits his words out. “We didn’t want some crappy advert for a song that wouldn’t get played five minutes after the single was out.
“Making videos is so heartbreaking and soul destroying. It’s such a fucking waste of money. The money we wasted on them in the 90s to get on MTV… It’s a fucking racket. So many of those videos are no good. The darker ones are good, like So Young and We Are The Pigs. But the mainstream ones? My God! Everything Will Flow is a piece of shit and Wild Ones? Fucking hell! That really annoys me, because it’s the greatest song Suede ever wrote, and it’s got this awful video. It makes me shiver. That fucking video gives me night thoughts…”
Whatever its furious genesis, the film is worth it, achieving the band’s aim of “giving people something they might want to watch in a couple of years, which actually means something.”
“Making videos is such a fucking waste of money”
Given its story and his own recent fatherhood, Anderson admits he finds Sargent’s film hard to watch. “The horrible spectre of the death of a child is so uncomfortable,” he grimaces. “I can’t even read books about it. I can’t let stories about it into the room, as I’m too superstitious. But the film needed to be simplistic, with a recognisable tragedy to show how the main character’s life unravelled. It needed something extreme.”
The album also deals with Anderson’s relationship with his own parents, who died some years ago. I Don’t Know How To Reach You is “very much about my father feeling like he’s losing contact with me and how those things get passed on from father to son.”
Anderson admits he doesn’t think going into music would be a good idea for his own son. “Oh, he’s going to be a lawyer,” he says, only half-joking. “I guess that’s the ultimate rebellion against having me as a father!”
He returns to being serious when he contemplates how the music industry has changed in the 23 years since Suede first emerged with early singles like Metal Mickey and Animal Nitrate.
“Anyone who makes a music out of living is incredibly lucky,” he insists. “I never forget the privilege of that. There’s no money in it now.
“That’s really sad, and it’s the interesting artists on the fringes who simply can’t afford to exist any more. I don’t think you’d have bands like The Fall in today’s climate. They wouldn’t be allowed to exist, as a band who’ve done incredible things artistically but who’ve never sold that many records.
“The music industry only encourages people who used to be in boybands and Sam Smith”
“The industry today doesn’t encourage anyone as progressive as David Bowie. It’s very safe, very mainstream. It only encourages people who used to be in boybands and Sam Smith. It’s depressing.”
Anderson believes Suede would still have succeeded if they were starting out today, pointing to their “arsenal of great songs”, though he’s quick to point out that they chimed with “what the mainstream wanted” in the early 90s.
However, he somewhat surprisingly reveals how he hates his voice on early Suede songs. “I love the songs,” he states. “But I regret a lot of the vocal performances. If I hear So Young, I think ‘God, I could sing that so much better now. What a shame.’ But you can’t pick at these things, you have to leave them in the past.”
His singing on new songs like eerie ballad Tightrope and the falsetto drama of No Tomorrow is certainly haunting, and Anderson says that “doing my scales” is the one way he practices for Suede concerts.
“I had housemaid’s knee from dropping to the stage so much”
Given how he’s one of the finest frontmen of any generation for cavorting about the stage, does he not run around his living room at home, handclapping as he jumps over footstools? Anderson corpses with laughter at the idea, but insists: “You have a very different idea of me than the reality! I love performing, but there’s nothing choreographed about it. I do have to hold myself back a little sometimes, remind myself not to go too far.”
Are there any aches and pains he has to watch out for on tour as he gets older? “Dropping to my knees. I had housemaid’s knee! I dropped to the stage so much that suddenly I can’t bend my legs as they were all swollen up. But in general, I’m not too bad. We haven’t got the walking frames out yet.”
Anderson believes his voice has improved from experience, and his bandmates’ maturity shines through on Night Thoughts too. Guitarist Richard Oakes’ playing is particularly stellar, swaggering on the glammy Like Kids and elegant on album finale Fur And The Feathers. Oakes joined Suede in 1995 following the departure of Bernard Butler, yet he is still viewed as The New Boy by some veteran fans.
“Richard lived with the legacy of Bernard for a long time,” Anderson admits. “Bernard was a tempestuous, free musician who would play solos a lot. Richard wanted to form his own identity, so if you asked him to solo he’d say ‘Oh, I don’t want to, it’s not me.’ Gradually, we’ve teased it out of him, by just saying ‘You do it so fucking well.’”
It was Oakes who needed most persuading when Suede reformed in 2010, seven years after they initially split. Anderson talks passionately about Oakes, who has rejected all interview requests around the new album, saying that the guitarist “simply doesn’t give a shit about anything else except music. He’s very purist.”
It’s not as if Anderson is exactly someone who relishes the spotlight when he’s not on stage. He’s glad Suede were at their commercial peak in an era before selfies and social media sharing every nugget, muttering: “I find all that really rather ugly.”
You’re actually most likely to spot Anderson cycling around London. A keen cyclist, for once he has to stop looking suave on his bike. Famed for always looking elegant on stage, he laughs gamely when asked if he wishes there was a more stylish option for cyclists than safety helmet and hi-vis tabards. “I’m a dad now, I can’t risk not wearing that stuff. But you see, I’m very rarely spotted. Because if someone sees a bloke in a hi-vis jacket and cycling helmet, they’re going to think ‘That bloke looks a bit like Brett from Suede. But it can’t be. He’d never wear that.’”
So he’s unlikely to write his auotobiography, then? “I certainly don’t want to write an autobiography of my time in a band. There are so many chattering voices of people thinking they have something interesting to say about, but it’s always the same clichéd story over and over again: band forms, band gets successful, band takes drugs, band splits up. It’s such a dull, dull concept. I liked the foreword of Viv Albertine’s book, when she said the only people who write rock autobiographies are either wankers or broke. If I write one, I obviously won’t have enough money.
“Sometimes you have to do these things. But hopefully not any time soon….”
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn