ShortList meets Suede’s singer backstage before an intimate London gig to mark the release of their sixth album, Bloodsports. The singer looks flash in black with no hint of his Nineties leather, lace or satin. As the band pick up where they left off, he tells us how the music industry and the art of the frontman has changed in the decade since they split…
What was the turning point between the reunion gigs and writing new material?
The difficulty with reformed bands is they assume the magic is still there and don’t have to start again. I thought we had a lot to prove. The last Suede album was the weakest and I didn’t want to be complacent. We wrote new songs, played a gig in Russia, decided it wasn’t good enough and so started again.
Is it true you didn’t play big venues such as Wembley in the Nineties because you thought they were uncool?
It was partly because we couldn’t have done it right. Reluctance because it wasn’t cool, but it’s only recently we’ve learned how to do that sort of gig. You learn how to deal with crowds differently – how to fill that space.
Your new album is about the cycle of a relationship. There aren’t many concept albums any more – is that a sad change?
Oh definitely. It’s such a vital, incredible art form. It will never die. It will become less mainstream, but it will always be there. My favourite artists are album artists. Someone like Kate Bush made albums that had a path, that took you somewhere. Even if it’s not a lyrical narrative, all of my favourite albums, sonically, are in a ‘place’.
So which ‘place’ is Bloodsports in?
I am talking about life as it is now. It’s not a fantasy or a piece of fiction. It’s just a side of life that I choose to pick. It’s about a very real emotional landscape. I find it fascinating that within any relationship, however harmonious or successful, how two people react to each other is such a complex thing. You don’t know what the other person is thinking.
How has the writing process changed since the drug-fuelled days?
The most different thing isn’t the lack of drugs; it’s how you change as you get older. There’s a lot of nonsense written about the fact people can’t sing when they get older, but what is really hard is writing. Back in the day, songs just came. They flowed out of you, you couldn’t stop them – it was annoying, it kept you up at night.
What’s your biggest form of procrastination?
Answering emails. I’d love to go back to writing with an 8-track, but you just can’t do that these days.
What do you make of Bowie’s comeback?
I haven’t heard it yet.
Are you interested?
Of course. I’ve read a lot of hyperbole about it. People find it impossible to be objective about his work now. I’m a huge fan, but is [the new album] as good as Hunky Dory? I’d love it if it was, but I’d be surprised.
You used to be a very fancy man. How do you feel when you see pictures of yourself – ‘he needs a slap?’ or ‘I wish I still had that blouse?’
“Fancy” [laughs]. There was a dodgy phase. But everyone in the Nineties looked a bit strange.
You seem a little more sophisticated these days...
Well, I’m 45 years old. I’m not going to dress like I’m 20. The clothes I wore were from junk shops – they weren’t a fashion statement. It’s because I didn’t have any money. If you look at us in ’96 we looked quite sharp.
Do you think the art of the frontman has died out?
There is a change there. You don’t have outspoken frontmen any more. Now people know what’s expected when you’re in a rock band. I do lament that a little. When we started, the rules were still being written, things were shifting and you could get away with stuff you couldn’t get away with now. The music business has always been conservative.
What is your wildest memory of the early days?
I’m not one for anecdotes. No nice little stories, I’m afraid. Lots of serious wildness. Nasty little stories.
You always seem to distance yourself from Britpop. Why didn’t you fit into the Blur/Oasis scene?
Well I still always wear Union Jack underpants as a homage [laughs].
Are there any Britpop bands that you still have time for?
Do Primal Scream count as Britpop? They’re lovely people and they’ve carried on making great, really interesting music.
Britpop was full of smaller bands aping the bigger ones. Who were the biggest Suede rip-off merchants?
It’s easy to parody Suede, but it’s hard to rip us off. People who have told me Suede was an inspiration to them are Kele [Okereke] from Bloc Party and Jamie [Reynolds] from Klaxons; people who don’t even sound like Suede. They were inspired by an element they interpreted in their own way. That’s a lovely thing, rather than some band who just have our hair.
What’s on your rider now?
Fruit. Mainly limes. It used to be dwarves with trays of cocaine. Now we can’t bend down, so it’s normal-sized people.
Bloodsports is out now