They were as loved as they were imitated in the 1990s and now Suede are back on the road. Jon Cronshaw talks to the band.
Formed in London in 1989, Suede brought a much-needed shot of drama and imagination to an indie scene that had become drab and uninspired.
They looked and sounded like no one else at the time.
Comprising Brett Anderson (vocals), Bernard Butler (guitar and piano) Mat Osman (bass guitar) and Simon Gilbert (drums), Suede shone a stark light into some of the grubbiest corners of urban life, tackling the seedier side of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
“In the early days, no one was interested in us at all,” says Mat. “For a band who looked like an overnight success, we spent a long time knocking on the door.”
The four-piece played around London and gradually built up a passionate following.
They recorded their self-titled debut album in 1992 with producer Ed Buller.
“Recording the first album was fantastic,” says Mat. “We’d written hundreds of songs by that point, so going into the studio was just a blast.
“We knew that the songs worked, and we knew they had this dramatic feel to them because we’d played them live a few hundred times,” he add.
The album was an immediate hit and was the winner of the first ever Mercury Music Prize.
“It was strange,” says Mat. “We’d released this album and then looked around and saw that there were a million bands who’d appeared who looked and sounded a bit like us. London’s like that – once something gets big quickly, there are a million chancers on your tail.”
Instead of resting on their laurels, Suede recorded the ambitious second album, Dog Man Star.
“With Dog Man Star, there was very much a feeling in the band of ‘so you want to copy our sound – well, see if you can rip off this’,” says Mat.
“There’s a really interesting thing that happens with bands quite often when they aim for something that’s a bit out of their reach, they always seem to fall into an interesting place – that’s Dog Man Star to a T.”
But during the album’s recording, rifts began to emerge and guitarist Bernard Butler quit the band near to the album’s completion.
“As great as it is to have a record like Dog Man Star in your arsenal, it wasn’t much fun to make,” says Mat.
“I think we could have dealt with Bernard leaving a lot better.
“We were too insular and too stupid to realise what a big deal it was.”
The band placed an advert in Melody Maker for a new guitarist to replace Butler. Richard Oakes answered the advert, and is still in the band today.
“Everyone on the outside thought it was going to be the end of us,” says Mat. “But it was a really smooth transition – Richard came in and was great from the start.”
In 1996 Suede released their third album Coming Up, and added keyboard player Neil Codling to the line-up.
“The recording of Coming Up was one of my favourite times ever in the band,” says Mat.
“We were hidden away from everyone. We had all these songs that we were pretty sure were great, and everyone thought we were dead and buried.”
Cracks began to show with the band’s fourth album, Head Music. Although they saw tracks like She’s in Fashion reach a wider audience than ever before, it was regarded as their weakest record to date.
“The album is just a bit of a mess,” says Mat. “If we’d have had more rigour and higher standards, it could have been such a great record.
“It was a difficult time. We weren’t very together and there were lots of drugs around. It was all very shifty and unfocused,” he adds.
The band’s fifth album, 2002’s A New Morning, was widely slated, and led to the band splitting a year later.
“It sounded like a Suede album that had been made by a committee – it was bland. We’re all quite ashamed of it.”
In 2010, Roger Daltrey from The Who asked Anderson if the band would reform for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust.
“If it was anything else we wouldn’t have done it,” says Mat. “If we hated it, at least Suede ended doing a good thing.”
“When we were about four songs in, I remember looking around the stage and thinking we have to do this again.”
A singular presence in the charts
SUEDE’s debut single The Drowners, released in May 1992 reached number 49 in the UK singles chart, with every single that followed until their split in 2003 making the top 40. During their career, Suede have had eight Top 10 hits: Animal Nitrate (1993), Stay Together (1993), Trash (1996), The Beautiful Ones (1996), Saturday Night (1996), Lazy (1997), Filmstar (1997), and Electricity (1999). The single She’s in Fashion (1999) received the most commercial airplay.
Suede play the O2 Academy, Leeds, October 26. 0844 477 2000, www.o2academyleeds.co.uk