On Coal Black Mornings & The 25th Anniversary of Suede
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman
"This is a memoir which is so very good we would have wanted to publish it, whoever the author. The fact that it is by the founder of an internationally successful band of course adds to the attraction. But fundamentally it is a classic memoir, which can stand alongside books like This Boy’s Life and Alan Johnson’s memoirs, as well as music books such as those by Mark Oliver Everett and Tracey Thorn." - Richard Beswick, Little Brown Publishing Director
"A remarkable feat, utterly true. This decade's Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." - Douglas Coupland, Author of Generation X
"Coal Black Mornings is a triumph... a bracingly honest work raised way above the celeb book fray by Anderson's obvious talent for writing... revelatory and delivered with writerly panache." - John Harris, MOJO
"Fascinating... gorgeously written. On more than one occasion it made we well up... most certainly not just for the fan club." - The Guardian
"This memoir is a thought-provoking meditation on how our childhoods form the people we become, as well as a love letter to London, as the band slog endlessly around music venues from Hackney to Camden." - London Evening Standard
"A brilliant, beautifully written memoir from Suede founder and lead singer Brett Anderson, who came from a world impossibly distant from rock star success, and in Coal Black Mornings he traces the journey that took him from a childhood as 'a snotty, sniffy, slightly maudlin sort of boy raised on Salad Cream and milky tea and cheap meat' to becoming founder and lead singer of Suede. Anderson grew up in Hayward's Heath on the grubby fringes of the Home Counties. As a teenager he clashed with his eccentric taxi-driving father (who would parade around their council house dressed as Lawrence of Arabia, air-conducting his favourite composers) and adored his beautiful, artistic mother. He brilliantly evokes the seventies, the suffocating discomfort of a very English kind of poverty and the burning need for escape that it breeds. Anderson charts the shabby romance of creativity as he travelled the tube in search of inspiration, fuelled by Marmite and nicotine, and Suede's rise from rehearsals in bedrooms, squats and pubs. And he catalogues the intense relationships that make and break bands as well as the devastating loss of his mother. Coal Black Mornings is profoundly moving, funny and intense - a book which stands alongside the most emotionally truthful of personal stories." - MEMOIR SYNOPSIS
Acquired by the book publishing house, Little Brown, following a 10-way auction, Brett Anderson's literate, reflective, heartfelt and inspirational memoir, is set to be published in hardback on March 1, 2018, supported by an 'In Conversation UK Book Tour'. And, not only does this come hot on the heels of last year's comprehensive and lavish, Collected Solo Work 5CD+DVD package and 4LP Vinyl Box Set. But this year, Coal Black Mornings will also excitingly coincide with the 25th Anniversary of Suede's critically-praised eponymous debut long player. Which was the fastest-selling debut record in British history for almost a Decade, entering at the very top of the UK Albums Chart (after shifting a behemoth 100,000 copies during its first week on sale, thus being instantly certified Gold by the BPI). And, flush with success, even later winning the illustrious 1993 Mercury Music Prize. With its reputation-establishing, powerful and timeless songs (including the beloved singles, The Drowners, Metal Mickey, Animal Nitrate and So Young, which roared out of the radio), continuing to resonate to this day. And validating how - through the pursuit of musical excellence and dedication to their craft with artistic integrity - the suave and elegant group's long game vision, for both their oeuvre and Suede's lasting legacy in the lineage of great British music, was set in stone from the very beginning. They were not going to be a flash in the pan!
Ahead of the LP's original release on March 29, 1993, which with an electrifying freshness, awoke something in listeners - provoking an ecstatic response in both infatuated fans and fixated critics alike! In the same breath, upending The Music Industry and encountering an inescapable tidal wave of media ballyhoo, headlines and hysteria. With the unprecedented significance of these extraordinary synchronised and epoch-making events, impossible to overstate, and which would ultimately give birth to Britpop - arguably the zenith of Indie music's popularity. And in today's current climate, a cultural / musical movement that would be unrepeatable for aspiring guitar-based alternative acts. In a glowing Suede album review for Q Magazine, after carefully examining his subject; the flash boys' strong aesthetic, sonic toolbox and distinctive amalgamation of antecedent musical styles. Stuart Maconie - renowned as a trusted journalist and a keen-eared enthusiast, with a whip-smart mind - made this diagnosis about the 'saviours' who single-handedly resuscitated the then moribund British music scene, and in the process, kick-started a brand new zeitgeist: "Bowie and The Smiths are obvious points of reference. From each, Suede have taken an alien sexual charisma, a peculiarly claustrophobic Englishness and brazenly good tunes. Moreover, rarely has a record from the Indie sector come with such a burning sense of its own significance." With Brett commenting in Coal Black Mornings, that Suede's music was "our ragged hymn, our howl of frustration - a poem to failure and loss and a paean to the cheapened, indifferent Britain we saw before us."
Now hailed as "one of the best debuts of all-time," and by the same token, rightly recognised as indispensable and exceedingly influential. Suede is comprised of thrilling, expressive and euphonious vocals (velvety, aggressive, fragile), wrought with theatrical affectations and an impressive octave range. Astounding, inventive and virtuoso guitar playing, that overspills with detonating riffs and exquisite caressing chords. The thrumming rhythms of bass and drums. Luxuriant accomplished compositions. Textured and nuanced musical backdrops (sonorous, ultraviolent, melancholic). Shifting dynamics. Elevating key changes, crescendos and apexes, which enkindle stimulating sensations. And finally, to wrap up this monumental list, Brett's perceptive, personal, empathetic, ambiguous, abstract and poetic lyrics - featuring an eye for detail and storytelling, self-analysis, clever turns of phrase and efficacious wordplay. All sung with imaginative phrasing, while rotating through a rich tapestry of emotional landscapes; the human condition, kaleidoscopic moods and quintessential Suede tropes. From dislocation, to sadness, to loneliness, to unease, to depression, to desperation, to upheaval, to loss, to yearning, to fading romance, to twisted sexuality, to narcotic psychosis, to urban / suburban suffocation, to seedy city sleaze, to street life, to the impoverished underclass, to the drama of the everyday, to finding beauty in the mundane and glamour in the gutter. The latter, with a hint of the famous Oscar Wilde stargazing quote: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
With Brett justifiably unencumbered and self-assured, that the game-changing, devotion inspiring and opposition obliterating "Suede probably has more cultural resonance than any other of their albums, as a pre-cursor to Britpop and a supplanter of Grunge." Further expanding upon this notion with invigorated gusto: "The album is charged with a naïvety, but it manages to have a feel which I still love; it rages and it screams, it yelps and it whispers and captures some truth of who we were at that moment in our lives: youthful, impertinent, ambitious and flawed. I only have sunny memories of those days. It was a wonderful time for us when we were all still young men; wild-eyed and passionate and heedless, when we were still united and mutually purposeful and when it felt like the world could be ours." With The Guardian recently ruminating on how - in a different class and far removed / divorced from the mutated mid-nineties beery fraternity / jingoistic cartoon side of Britpop - these outsiders (with razor sharp cheekbones and wit) had an edge, creating outlier songs for other outcasts: "Suede’s music, like that of Pulp, would later reflect this merging of grot and glamour, of shabbiness and sensuality. Its swaggering, self-consciously arty intensity was especially seductive to a generation of misfits and dreamers turned off by lager and laddism." And in Coal Black Mornings, Brett even goes as far as to meditate on the otherworldliness that music can conjure: "Why shouldn’t something as transforming and life-affirming and celestial as music have a heft and a gravity that transcends the trivial and the everyday?"
It was therefore a dream come true, not only to have the good fortune of speaking to an iconic singer, songwriter, musician and now a gifted author too - who was articulate, intelligent, sincere, humble, amusing and gracious throughout the entire duration of our interview (which was conducted on January 17, 2018). But also, to the figurehead of a very important, one in a million, top-tier classic band - and 'NME Godlike Genius Award' + 'Q Icon Award' recipients no less! Who continue to stay relevant and inspiring and who have so much depth, with a tribe of adoring / faithful devotees who 'get' Suede, love them with all of their hearts and understandably obsess over the group's exceptional music! About Brett's forthcoming memoir, the emotional, evocative and enthralling, Coal Black Mornings (with Brett encouragingly admitting to Uncut: "One thing I've learnt is that I can write about whatever I want to write about, and that was very freeing.") As well as other titbits, after delving into how - on somewhat of a creative hot streak - he penned songs that would go onto form the basis of Suede's spearheading and music scene dominating, seminal first LP...
1. To begin with, many congratulations on Coal Black Mornings. I was lucky enough to be sent a proof copy, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading and finished in 1 day over Christmas - I think it's a fantastic book (with wide appeal potential), beautifully written and a real page-turner! When did the initial idea of writing a memoir come to you, and how long was this process from start to finish?
"I wrote something ages ago, but I can't even remember what it was for - it was like a mini-essay and it was kind of about my childhood and growing up. I sent it to my Manager and he sort of planted the seed I suppose, because he said: "Have you thought about taking this further and writing a book?" And I was like: "Oh, no - it's not my sort of thing." Because I've always had this thing in myself, that I didn't want to be a literary sort of writer. But, the older I get, the more important books become to me - it's a strange thing. I've always loved books, but nowadays, I'm obsessed with them! I devour them and I always need to have a good book. If I don't have a good book, I feel like I'm not quite complete. So, I'm reading all the time and I just thought that I would give it a go and a lot of the motivation, like I've said in the foreword of the book, was leaving a sort of document for my boy (Lucian). I kind of had a strange, scruffy little childhood and I didn't just want that to disappear, I suppose. I wanted it to be there for him to read about, because his childhood is very different from mine you know? He's living in a different part of the country or whatever. So, I wanted to leave this for him - that was definitely the initial motivation, leaving this document for my kid. I actually wrote the book quite quickly, it was over a few months - I couldn't stop writing it! The first version was about half the length, it was about 22,000 words and I wrote that quite quickly, probably in about 6-weeks or something like that. But, I literally couldn't stop writing, it was like an urgent need to impart and it was stopping me from sleeping! I just sort of had to get it out, it was one of those sort of things. I probably wasn't a very good husband for a while (laughing) and not very good company either (laughing again)! But sometimes, you've just got to do these things. Then I sent it to the publisher and they said: "This is great, but it's too short." So, I went back and sort of filled it in and made it longer for them. All in all, it probably took me about a year to write, dotting the i's and crossing the t's, stuff like that. But, it's not a very long book, it's about 43,000 words, so it isn't hugely long. But what I didn't want to do, was go beyond the time where it ends chronologically. It was really important to me to stop when Suede get signed (by Nude Records in February 1992). That was a very important thing for me! Like I say in the foreword, I wanted it to be a book about failure and not the normal career arc of a band, which is so predictable you know? They struggle, then there's success, continued success, excess (laughing) and then the spilt and rebirth, or whatever it is. I didn't want it to be that, I wanted it to have a different kind of narrative."
2. Did you approach writing your book like your songs, i.e. do you have a favourite place where you write / contemplate, or perhaps a routine?
"I write in my 'Writing Room' at home, which is also where I write my songs - it's a big blue room overlooking the garden, which is quite nice. I'm standing in it now as I'm speaking to you over the telephone. It's kind of quite old-fashioned, there are old window shutters and there are instruments and bits of furniture, stuff like that. So, it's a very creative space for me and I've written lots of stuff here now. We only moved into the house recently, but I've written an album and a book here, so it's been pretty good. Funnily enough, I wrote my memoir as e-mails actually, because I didn't have Word for my computer (laughing)! Do you know the Notes thing on the Mac? I wrote it on Notes and when I finished what I thought was a chapter, I just sent it off to my Manager. So, I basically wrote it with e-mail!"
3. I read that the title, Coal Black Mornings, "refers not only to the death of Anderson's mother, and the loss of his lover, but also to the 'choked Britain' of the early 1990s." Did you immediately think of using this?
"Yeah, and what I do is, I have notebooks which have little phrases in them, which I kind of steal. I'll be reading a newspaper and I'll say: "Oh, that's a good phrase, I'll have that!" Just jot it in there you know? Loads of my songs have got these little funny things that I've just picked-up on, and then I've forgotten what the provenance is you know? But one day, I looked at one of my notebooks and saw Coal Black Mornings, and it seemed to evoke something of my childhood. I don't know why. As you probably recognised in the book, it's a phrase that I use repeatedly, but deliberately so - it's almost like a literary device, repeating the same phrase every now and then. It can be applied to different things, but there's just something about it, that evokes something for me about those early years of my life. Especially growing up in the house that I lived in, where there was no central heating and kind of struggling through the winter and sitting by the open fire. Those kind of hardships and privations. I also thought, that there was something quite romantic about it, the beauty of the bleakness of it."
4. In your foreword, you openly admit that at one point, you had "no book deal and no real knowledge whether anyone would be particularly interested in publishing this as it was." You also state - as previously mentioned - that you didn't want your memoir to be a clichéd 'coke and gold discs' rock autobiography and have "limited it strictly to the early years, before anyone really knew or really cared." However, you also touch upon how "there was a natural fear of exposing yourself so nakedly," although effectively, how through songwriting "you've been doing that for years" anyway. Is this thought process, what made you push ahead?
"No, I think that was the one thing that made me consider not doing it. That kind of exhibitionism (pausing), in fact, with the early version that I wrote of the book, I sat on it for a while. I thought: "Do you know what, I don't want to do this... (assertively) I'm not going to do this!" I wrote it and read it and I thought, it gives too much away of my life - strangely enough, says the man promoting his memoir (laughing)! But I'm actually quite a private person, so I was quite uncomfortable with it and I changed it quite a lot and made myself comfortable with it, before I kind of showed it to anyone, really. But there was a version of it that was (pausing), not more revealing, but just giving different things away that I didn't feel comfortable with giving away. I manicured it over a period of 6-months to a year, to a point where I felt as though it had the right balance of being revealing - because it has to be, because it's a memoir. Although there's a thin line that you're balancing on as a memoir writer, I think. There's lots of my life that isn't anyone else's business except mine and the people that I've lived it with, kind of thing. But of course, when you're writing a thing like this, it needs to speak and it needs to breath with life you know? So, there are things that you've got to disclose."
5. As this book is principally a timestamp, do you think that you will ever pen a follow-up volume, focusing on everything that has happened in your life since February 1992?
"Well, the bloody-mindedness person in me says no (laughing)! I quite like the idea of leaving it there, it kind of appeals to me, because it's at exactly the point where people want to know about what happened. But, I'm not going to tell them (laughing)! I find that quite satisfying, but in reality, who knows. I really enjoyed writing the book and I've found that it's really helped me personally, in understanding who I am, to a certain extent - if that doesn't sound a bit like psychiatrist-speak. But, it really has! If you visit a psychoanalyst, basically what they do, is sit there and kind of reflect your own thoughts back at you, as a sounding board almost, and that's exactly what this book did. I thought things and I wrote them down, and when I read them back, I thought: "Oh, my God, that's why I do this or that's where that bit of my personality comes from." Things that you know, but you have to sort of remind yourself of almost. I find it very useful in those terms and it's clearly a self-help tool (laughing). So, I might do another one, but who knows."
*Just out of curiosity, I ask Brett - although knowing his estimation of this genre - if there are perhaps any music books, autobiographies or biographies that he has enjoyed reading*
"Yeah, I really enjoyed the first John Lydon book, Rotten: No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs. That was really great and obviously I'm a huge fan of the Sex Pistols and PiL, so that was amazing, I loved that! But it's more just because he's amazing - I'm not talking about it as a piece of literature - I'm talking about the story of his life and what he's achieved. But as I touched upon earlier, I find the rock biography a very underwhelming genre, to be honest. It's very formulaic and it doesn't really ever manage to stray from cliché, I don't think. So, I find the genre slightly dull and I don't sit and read tell-all rock biographies, really. Occasionally, when I'm on tour, there's resonances that I quite enjoy - you're sort of sitting there on a plane reading about bands sitting on planes (laughing), it's quite funny! But hopefully, Coal Black Mornings is not a rock biography, I didn't really want to do that and that's the whole point of the book, it was supposed to sit slightly outside that genre. In fact, if there's any real influence on the book, it would be Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee. That's kind of what I wanted to do, I wanted to write a suburban Cider With Rosie and that's why there's so much stuff about my childhood, because that's kind of how the book started off. I just basically wanted to write about my childhood and then it kind of merged into me being a young man, and then that merged into me starting a band. But, I was determined that it wasn't just going to be a straight rock biography."
6. In Coal Black Mornings, you recount growing up, family, friends, home life, education, employment, wanting to escape, recreational pursuits, living on the dole, flatsharing etc. But do mention however, that after checking your childhood diaries, there wasn't a lot of interesting information which could be used. So did you find that once you had started writing - "hunched over the fossils" of your past - memories and specific details gradually started to come back to you?
"Yeah, I did. It was strange, because when I told people that I was writing a book, I had a few of them say: "God, I couldn't remember anything about my childhood." But, it's remarkable when you actually sit down and try to remember it, how much of it does come flooding back. Memories sort of link onto other memories and you think: "Oh yeah, then I did that." You remember these tiny little details. So, with the process, I didn't rely on anything else except my memory, really. My sister helped out a bit with a few of the facts, because some of the stuff about our early childhood, I needed to ask her exactly what happened there or what did we do, and she kind of reminded me, just jogged my memory. But again, she said that she didn't want to plant memories in my head that weren't there, like: "I don't want to create manufactured memories for you, you have to remember them yourself." So the book is very much a product of my own memory. But like I said in the foreword, there's a famous Nietzschean quote about how 'There's no such thing as truth, it's just perspective', and that was a really fascinating maxim that I pondered over a lot. That whole question of what truth is, when you're writing something like this. You know, how there's no such thing as absolute truth, because it's just a version of one's own perspective. It can be applied in a broader sense to history as well, and it makes you think about what actually happened in history. It's a fascinating idea."
7. Along with many very interesting personal accounts / character building tales, something that is extremely heart-warming about your insightful, descriptive and revelatory book, is the genuine love and affection with which you write about your family, and just how important your Mum, Dad and sister were to you in your young life. Be it your mother's love of literature bleeding through to you in due course, your father's quirks, or how through their necessitated 'home-made' attitude towards living, your parents showed you that creativity was accessible and actively encouraged you to pursue your aspirations of having a career in music. But, it's fair to say - although there's an honest emotional balance between moving and funny moments - that writing your memoir, was "a wrenching experience"?
"Yes, it was just very, very emotional, especially writing about things like the death of my Mum. When you're writing something like this, it's almost like going back in time and it was incredible how emotionally engaged I felt with it. It felt like being back there in 1989 - it was unbelievable and I didn't feel any distance from it at all. So hopefully, that comes across in the writing, because it was a very, very emotional thing for me to do - to face things."
8. You also speak very fondly of how your sister's influence on you was huge, from turning you onto music that would shape you, to inspiring you to want to be educated?
"Like I say, we were a slightly strange family. My Mum and Dad (Sandra and Peter) were very cultured and very artistic, Mum had been to Art College, but neither of them knew anything about modern education, it was almost something that happened to children from privileged families, which we certainly weren't. It wasn't that they didn't care about education, they didn't really know how to sort of advise me about it. My sister (Blandine) is 4 or 5-years older than me and having been through that process, she was the one that made me realise, that unless you become educated, then you could end up working in a furniture shop or something. So, she was the one that made me realise that. I thought: "Ah, ok, this is kind of actually quite important." I've always enjoyed learning and I loved school in lots of ways, I loved learning about things and I wasn't one of these kids who would bunk-off, or who was cynical about school, I found it really fascinating learning about stuff. Education seemed important to me and it's not a particularly cool of fashionable thing to say probably, for a man in a band (laughing). But increasingly as I get older and with my own kids, when I look at their lives and try to advise them, I say: "Look, God, you don't realise how important this is - it's so important and it might sound boring, but unless you do this, you're going to regret it." Another interesting parallel in the memoir, is how for me, one of the themes of the book is my relationship with my son and therefore the mirror relationship with my Dad. It's almost on a line between generations you know and how my relationship with him, mirrors the relationship with my boy. So, that's a really important thing!"
9. The primal rage of Punk was vital to you, and injected with a proclivity, the very first LP that you ever bought was Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, heralding a lifelong affair with alternative music. But, I found it fascinating, how the non-cosmetic distorted sound of a cheap turntable and its lack of clarity and precision, potentially informed the way you began to listen to music?
(laughs heartily) "Yeah, it was a crappy old Boots Audio turntable, that was handed down to me - it was probably new in about 1972 or something. It didn't sound very good at all and because it was so thin-sounding, I learned not to listen to the bottom end in music and I sieved out bits that didn't seem important - it was all about the top-line and the song. But the music that I was listening to, that was the point of it, it wasn't supposed to sound sophisticated. I was listening to the Sex Pistols and lots of Pop and stuff, and I think sometimes musicians (pausing), I've always been the sort of musician who's at the end of the spectrum where virtually the only important thing, is the song, and the energy of the band playing it kind of thing. I think when people get caught up in the microscopic technicalities of music, it's just kind of missing the point, really. You're missing the vitality of it and the purpose of music. But obviously, with some types of music, that's really important. Like with Classical music or whatever, those subtleties are really important. But for the kind of music that I make, it's just about the energy, it's about the words, it's about the melody, it's about the meaning - it's a very, very simple thing. That kind of bled through to me from my love of Punk music, where 'capturing' that energy was sort of the most important thing!"
10. Due in part to poverty, you discuss how your working class family were outsiders, which is something that has perpetually stayed with you. Along with the fact that you've "always loved art and artists that find a place and have the discipline to stay in it... never seeing repetition of themes as being a weakness, merely as essential in establishing identity." Do you feel that these are the key reasons why Suede embraced 'outsiderdom', you had a target audience in mind and you also "wanted the band to inhabit its own universe - a 'Suede World'"?
"Yeah, absolutely (without any hesitation), they're completely linked! My background was a very strange one, I was brought up in a cheap council house, but it was kind of connected to this nice little village. So we didn't live in a tower block in Dalston and we didn't live in a Yorkshire mining village, or something like that - it wasn't that kind of working class. But at the same time, it was very, very poor and very, very working class. However, there were middle class values at home, like my father was a Classical Music obsessive and Mum was an artist, so there was this sort of weird mixture of things that meant I didn't fit into any group, and I never have! You know, I've never been able to be the beer drinking, flag-waving Socialist and I've never been able to be Oscar Wilde, sitting there with his book of poems. My group, is my specific life. There's probably others like me, and some of them are probably Suede Fans, but that's the kind of thing that you do when you're in a band - you almost create your own tribe. That's what I was doing with Suede, I was creating a nation of disparate people. But yes, very much so - I was very much influenced by the fact that I never felt that I fitted in anywhere as a child, and therefore, I never felt much kinship with other bands when I was in Suede, really (laughing). Not as an aloof thing, but that's just the way it's been you know? So with our fanbase, it's sort of a tribe of people who don't quite fit in anywhere else (laughing). We're the only club who will have them (laughs heartily)!"
11. Throughout your memoir, you talk in-depth about learning to play guitar, developing your own style, turning personal events and the truth into songs, plus honing your lyrics / songcraft, melody, choruses and hooks etc. As well as how you improved as a vocalist / the importance of singing with your own accent, and even shed light on your earliest bands. But something that struck me, was where you noted: "During the mid-eighties, songs about weakness and failure and the drudgery of real life began to resonate powerfully with me." Could you elaborate on this indoctrination?
"Yeah, it was a really interesting time I think, the mid-eighties. In music history, I'm not sure it's ever really given the kudos that it really deserves - there's obviously bands like The Smiths, who are hugely respected and probably more so now, than they ever were at the time. But it wasn't just them, there were a whole load of bands, people like The Housemartins and all of these kind of lesser bands, Lloyd Cole (pausing), there's a definite sense that all of the posturing from The '70s, was becoming tired. People wanted to write about a much more kitchen-sink reality, almost like a John Osborne play or something, that kind of thing. So songs about "the drudgery of real life" I think is the phrase that I used, just became really, really important to me and really spoke to me. Yeah!"
12. In terms of your relationship with London (which could almost be thought of as a central character itself in Coal Black Mornings), you declare: "I've always been inspired by the arse-end of the city and tried to look for stories and vignettes in the bustle and majesty of the everyday." Can you tell us about your notebooks and using unsanitised language, by scribbling down phrases that you overheard on the Underground. As well as how you also copied graffitied scrawlings which you came across in the toilet cubicles, along with chronicling 'nowhere places' and the hinterlands etc? All of which, not only paint pictures in listeners minds, but once slowly pieced together from your outings, catalogued your love of words and became "a kind of Impressionist collage from the flotsam and debris that littered the streets of the capital; a lexicon torn from the dirty pulse of the city" as you wonderfully put it.
(laughing) "Thank You! Well, it's just what I do - especially when I was a young man - I used to sit on The Tube and scribble into my notebooks and overhear things people said. For example, with something like Animal Nitrate, I was stood at the back of a gig and I couldn't really hear what the people next to me were saying, because the band were playing, but I thought they said the words animal nitrate. They were probably saying amyl nitrate (a 'club drug' also known as 'poppers' in slang), but I thought: "That sounds great!" So I went to the loo and just wrote it down, then the next day, I kind of had an idea for the song. It's just these things that you hear or see, and without my notebooks, I don't think I would be able to write anything. I quite like the thing that happens with notebooks as well, where random ideas kind of become connected to each other. So, I might have the phrase Animal Nitrate and underneath it, I might have a different phrase. Sometimes, when writing becomes too linear, it becomes boring. It's quite nice to slip-off tangentially and I've always liked the slightly random element, of having lots of phrases on the same page, that can kind of suggest a different sort of story. So, I use that quite a lot. I guess it's like the William Burroughs 'Cut-up technique', that famous thing that Bowie went onto do quite a bit, where he would randomly cut-up a load of phrases and words, then throw them on a table to see how they scanned. The human mind then makes a narrative out of that, so I suppose it's a way of doing that."
13. On a similar note, you refer to how you began "to eschew the cliché about writing about universal experiences, convinced that the most powerful resonance was achieved through focusing on the microscopic rather than the macroscopic." Explaining that the way in which you write, "is in many ways very instinctive and occasionally almost subconscious... it's often only years later that I can pin any meaning onto it," and that for you personally, "the vast majority, if not all, art is in some way about love." However, you do go onto share that you appreciate and understand, "how the lifeblood of a song is about subject interpretation"?
"Yeah, but in terms of "the lifeblood of a song being about subject interpretation," I'll actually kind of slightly contradict myself with this whole question (laughing). Because on one hand, I'll say (angrily): "I find it annoying when people kind of assume that all of my songs are about this or that." But then later on (laughing), I'll say (cheerily): "Oh, I really like it when people have their own interpretations and stuff." So, I'm aware that those are contradictory statements, but for me, it's that sort of thing of (wearily): "What is a song about?" It always reminds me of a butterfly that has been killed and put in a glass box, and labelled with a Latin name. There's something dead about just saying (authoritatively): "This is what a song is about, and it's absolute and you're not allowed to contradict it!" Songs have as many meanings as there are people listening to them. You know, it's not wrong for someone to say that this song is about me and my girlfriend, when the writer doesn't even know them from Adam sort of thing. In a way, it is about them and their girlfriend. It's fascinating and I'm not absolutist about songs, and I'm aware as a writer - even with my own songs - that I sometimes don't know what their about and I really like that as well. I talk about The Next Life in the book, as being a song that I wrote not really knowing that it was about my mother, and it wasn't until years later, that it dawned on me that of course it was! You know, these things kind of reveal themselves, even to the writer."
14. Penning tracks such as The Drowners, He's Dead, Moving, Pantomime Horse and To The Birds, were real turning points for you as a songwriter, unlocking something deep within. But, prior to recording any demos and the 'Anderson & Butler Songbook' scaling even greater lyrical and musical heights, with the heart of Suede hung on your songwriting partnership. Can you recall, how after initially presenting these songs to the whole group during rehearsals and hearing them play along for the very first time, this made you feel inside? As evidently, the 'Words & Music of Suede' indubitably have a magical symbiotic relationship.
"Well, The Drowners was a really key song and it's strange that it actually became the first single, it's kind of quite appropriate. I do remember that feeling where that was 'the moment'. We'd written a couple of things before it, that kind of ended up making the album, things like Animal Lover and one of the b-sides, Painted People, stuff like that. But The Drowners was the first real moment, where I felt as though we were through the looking glass, do you know what I mean? Like: "Ah, I've got it, ok, this is it! This is what we're doing - we've got the balance between melody and drama and edge, and all of these things." The lyrics are oblique, but they still scan and all of these elements came together. So yeah, I definitely remember that being a huge, huge thing and I think when me and Bernard wrote it (in 1991), we looked at each other and we thought: "Yes, this is it - we're on the way now!" But annoyingly, it took a while - I remember playing it to 4 people at a gig in ULU (University of London Union). We were supporting (pausing), well, not even supporting, we were playing on one of the tiny stages next to the main stage, where Teenage Fanclub were playing, and as I said, we were playing The Drowners to 4 people. It was like (frustrated): "Why don't you get this (laughing)?" It was that kind of feeling: "How can you not hear this (laughing again)?!?!?" We played many frustrating gigs, as I say in the book - countless shows - and we were playing The Drowners, To The Birds, Moving, Pantomime Horse, all of these great songs that ended up on the first album. One time, there was 1 person in the audience! So, there was regularly more people onstage than in the audience (laughing), when we were playing these songs. But it always felt like: "How are you not hearing this?" And this is why it's interesting in Suede, with our genesis or our growth or whatever, that lots of people saw us as suddenly being this overnight sensation. Because we'd been ignored for such a long time, that we grew on our own and just carried on writing. But suddenly, as soon as anybody noticed that we were actually quite good, we'd already sort of become quite fully-formed. Lots of bands I think, have 1 or 2 good songs or whatever, but we basically had an album's worth of material by the time we'd first been written about kind of thing. And because of that, I think people assumed that we were just overnight sensations, but actually, we were one of the longest overnight sensations ever! We were playing toilets for like 3-and-a-half-years (laughing), but it was quite good for us. These trials, they're onerous and they're difficult, and they're hard and they're challenging, but that's what made us the band we were, being ignored. You know, you can't just have it all straight away - that's the point! You've got to learn to do it and you've got to fight for it."
15. Forming in 1989, you cover the different line-ups / incarnations of Suede and your romantic relationship with Justine Frischmann. The group's rudimentary musical phases and early gigs, right through to your evolving sartorial looks (later including a touching theory about the reasons behind your overt femininity), to how you eventually picked the band's name. You also disclose how you came to meet Bernard, Mat and Simon, your chemistry / camaraderie and considerable admiration for them as musicians, plus how taking time to find your sound and fine-tuning this was a real learning curve. After Justine left, could you tell us more about how, crucially, this boon resulted in the reorientation of Suede with a new-found common purpose and becoming much more focused as a fledgling unit, which in turn, then led to your self-belief skyrocketing?
"Yeah, I think it was a real pivotal moment and I don't really mean that disrespectfully to Justine at all, but it kind of was. Somehow, her leaving the band, kind of realigned us and made the chemistry work. Whereas previously, her presence was confusing. That's not to belittle her influence on the band in anyway, because I think without her, it would have been completely different and without her in my life, I would have been a completely different person. But the fact that we had split-up at that point and she was still in the band, it was just this confusing mishmash of wrongness that didn't quite work. Then she left and suddenly, we were 4 guys, very united and somehow, it gave us that sort of impetus. We became a little gang (pausing), you know, I say this in the book, she was developing a slightly querulous voice and questioning what we were doing, blah blah blah. When she wasn't there, suddenly, we became much more single-minded and clearer about the path ahead. It was one of those things that had to happen and I don't think Justine had many qualms about leaving. She didn't really want to be in the band anymore, it wasn't working and we weren't really going anywhere. But she went onto achieve something remarkable in her own way (fronting Elastica), and I've got so much respect for her as an artist for doing that."
16. Describing yourself at your core as "a co-dependent person; a romantic who seeks completion through others and through fantasy, strangely never quite whole just as myself. It's possible that this flaw in me, this imbalance, is the motor which generally drives my need to constantly write songs; fulfilling the old cliché about seeking to create perfection in art when it doesn't exist in life." It's worth noting, that you believe some of your greatest work, has come from the times you've spent as a 'tortured artist'?
"I mean that in a broad sense. That was leading on from me talking about Justine leaving and the fact that lots of those early songs, were about the torment of us splitting-up, and without that, I would have possibly just carried on writing underwhelming material. Sometimes, you need that huge shift in your life, that huge thing to fight against and to document, to write anything with any meaning. You have to dig down deep and sing about your fears and pain and all those things. Nobody wants to listen to someone singing nice songs about nice things, and I suddenly realised that. I hate to say: (enunciating) "Tortured artist," because it sounds like I'm a sort of idiot pretending to be Lord Byron or something like that. So, I don't think of myself like that, but I do think - I don't mean for every single artist, because I couldn't speak for them - but for me personally, there needs to be an edge to what I'm doing. I can't describe harmony well, I have to describe discord, and that's important for me as an artist."
17. One of life's most important lessons, is how circumstances can change for the better, and in your memoir, you acknowledge all of the people who helped / championed Suede along the way, securing your Manager, Charlie Charlton, and inking your record deal with Saul Galpern for Nude Records. As this coincided with the growth of the group as a mind-blowing ferocious live entity, gaining new fans and being featured much more prominently in the music press, as you "stabbed and kicked against the dreary mediocrity of the time with a style, a spirit and a force that ended up breaking down doors and laying the foundations for the music that defined a Decade." Would you agree, that prior to the now-famous Melody Maker front cover from April 1992, and Suede becoming the most talked-about 'Best New Band In Britain' / finding yourselves in the big time. That after all of the hard work, sacrifices and impediments, signing to Nude as a breaking band - from a business / commercial standpoint - was one of the most important decisions that you've ever had to make during your career?
"Um (thinking)... No (laughing), not really, but who knows. It's part of the story, definitely, and I can't sort of say that it's not important (as a symbolic moment), although I'm unsure if the story would have been radically different, if we'd signed to a different record company, to be brutally frank. If we'd have signed to East West or Island, who were both snapping around our heels at the time, I can't say that it would be radically, radically different. Having said that, Saul ended up being very influential with us and the fact that it was a small record company, kind of worked with the ethos of the band, really. I think if we'd been on some huge major label, it would've been different. But, it's difficult to answer."
18. Have you been pleased with the feedback that you've received for Coal Black Mornings so far, and are you looking forward to your 'In Conversation UK Book Tour'?
"Yeah! I mean, it's all new to me and so I'm not jaded about it yet. Ask me again in 6-months time and I'll go (witheringly): "Oh, for fuck's sake (laughing)!" I just don't know what to expect really, it's kind of odd, but it's a novelty for me - I'm kind of all wide-eyed about it, like some little puppy that's crossing a motorway: "Ooh, that looks nice over there! Watch out for the lorries (laughing)!" So, who knows. It's new, so it's fun and it's bound to be at the moment - I'm just dipping my toe in, but I don't know what I'm doing really (laughs heartily)."
19. Are you allowed to reveal any information about the new Suede record, and also (on behalf of collectors and completists everywhere, who have snapped up all previous meticulously curated, vault-raiding Suede reissues in your discography), are you planning anything special for the 25th Anniversary of Suede's chart-topping debut long player?
"The new Suede record is recorded, me and Neil are currently doing post-production and we're doing a string session in February, then we're mixing it in March. We've worked with a new producer this time around, but as I don't want to turn this into a news story, the only other thing that I can tell you, is that there will be a new Suede album out within the next year. So, it's very, very exciting! I'm just so excited about making new Suede albums (enthusiastically), it's got to that stage where I feel that I've got the energy back that I had in The '90s, which I certainly didn't have in the previous Decade. The last Suede album (Night Thoughts) was really good I thought, and it just makes us want to carry on making new music. It feels like there's a great creative energy in the band at the moment! As for the 25th Anniversary of Suede's debut record, there's a Deluxe 4CD+DVD Silver Edition planned and this book has coincided with the Anniversary, which is why they're releasing it in March. I guess it's relevant, because a lot of the songs that I talk about, ended up on that album. We're not gigging or anything, but it will be a thing you know?"
20. Lastly, having published a couple of editions of your own lyrics book, The Words of Brett Anderson, and gone on record as saying that you consider The Wild Ones to be Suede's finest hour. Just for fun (and because the front cover of your memoir utilises your handwriting, also mirroring some of your hand-written titles on Suede's sleeve artwork), if you could have the lyrics to one of your most cherished tracks written out by the songwriter, personally dedicated to you and signed, what would you choose?
"I'd choose Greensleeves by Henry VIII, I think. Do you think you can arrange that for me?"
*I joke that this may prove to be rather difficult*
(laughs heartily) "The story behind Greensleeves is really interesting actually, because it was Medieval and if you described a woman as Lady Greensleeves, it meant that she was a lady of easy virtue - because she had grass stains on her dress you see, from frolicking around in the undergrowth. So even though Greensleeves comes across as a very romantic and beautiful thing, that's the true meaning behind it. So, there you go (laughing)!"
*At the conclusion of our interview, I thank Brett for his time and wish him Good Luck with the publication of his memoir, the 25th Anniversary of Suede's debut LP and putting the finishing touches to what will be Suede's 8th studio album. "Thank You, and I'd like to see this interview once it's online. I think the magazine that you contribute to is really cool and I read the 2010 interview that you did with Ed Buller [look here]; I just thought it was really well done and it was very interesting for me to read, because obviously, when you're working with someone, we don't sort of sit there for hours and talk about what we thought of our pasts, do you know what I mean? So, lots of the things in there - I wouldn't say I didn't know - but it's nice to hear him saying them. I thought it was great, well done!"*
A very special thanks to Brett, to Zoe @ Little Brown, to Didz @ Quietus Management and to George @ MCPR, for all of their time and help.
http://www.repeatfanzine.co.uk/intervie ... 202018.htm