"I was trying to destroy myself."
“It was pretty extreme,” says Suede frontman Brett Anderson of his blouse-wearing, bottom-spanking, Britpop-inventing early days. “Going from being on the dole to this simultaneously adored and reviled figure was crazy.”
Anderson has spent the first few months of 2011 reliving those heady days, painstakingly sifting through “dusty tape boxes and old photos” for the imminent deluxe-edition reissues of Suede’s back catalogue. He’s also preparing to hit the festival circuit for the first time since the band split in 2003 — a proposition that should hold few fears for a group that just last December played the biggest gig of their career at London’s O2 Arena.
How did you feel listening back to Suede’s old albums? Were you embarrassed by anything?
Well, you make mistakes with your debut album. There’s no way I’d put things such as Moving and Animal Lover on the record now. They’re quite naive tracks when you consider we had songs like My Insatiable One and To The Birds as B-sides. Bands don’t even need B-sides these days — they don’t know they’re born, do they?
Guitarist Bernard Butler famously left the band after you fell out making second album Dog Man Star. With the benefit of hindsight, who was really to blame for the split?
Well, I certainly wouldn’t say any one person was to blame — it was the situation, the whole cocktail of fame, money and drugs. When you’re inexperienced, it’s impossible to know how to deal with that. It’s nearly 20 years ago so it’s less painful. Me and Bernard, we’re kind of mates now, and we speak a lot and spend a bit of time together, which is nice. We’ve both come to terms with the fact that we could have dealt with that whole thing a lot better.
Would you make music with him again?
I definitely wouldn’t say no. He’s not involved [with the current reunion], but it wasn’t really an option. He’s very much moved on with his career and, speaking to him again and hanging out a bit, the last thing he wants to do is be in a touring band.
What if he wanted back in? What would happen then?
It’s tricky. There have been many different line-ups of Suede [through the years]. It’s a thorny issue and I can’t deal with ifs. The reality of the situation is that he’s not in the band any more.
Will Suede make another album now?
We will have a go, but whether anyone hears it is another matter. I don’t want to release a record just for the sake of it — I’m perfectly happy going forward creatively with my solo work. Unless the Suede thing was absolutely amazing, I wouldn’t bother inflicting it on anyone.
Realistically, would Suede have reformed if your solo career had taken off?
It was never designed to take off commercially. My last album, Slow Attack [Anderson’s third], was fairly leftfield, and the one before it was just me and a cello player, so it wasn’t like I was aiming at radio-play or anything. I didn’t see any point in trying to emulate anything about Suede with my solo work — even the success.
You led a famously ‘unhealthy’ lifestyle in the Nineties yet look completely unscathed. Do you have a health and beauty regime nowadays?
[Laughs] We have great plastic surgeons! I do a lot of cycling and I eat a lot of seeds, but I’m not a health freak and I don’t have a regime — I just don’t spend my whole life trying to destroy myself like I did 15 years ago. I enjoy life and respect the fact that I’m alive.
Have you replaced your vices with any less-dangerous hobbies?
I’m obsessed with reading about the First World War — stuff like Regeneration by Pat Barker — and I’m often re reading Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I always look forward to the time when I can read it again. It’s a fascinating period in history: they went into war on horseback and ended the war in tanks. It’s almost this transition point between the old world and the modern world.
Ricky Gervais was your manager in the early days — did you have an inkling he’d become the biggest comedy star in the country?
Well, he was funny back then. The level of his success has been pretty stellar, but good luck to him — he’s a very charming and talented chap. He came to a show a few years ago, and it was nice to see him.
You’ve made up with Butler, but are there any other Britpop-era feuds still simmering away?
A lot of those were media-created or media-stoked. I don’t have any connection with former Britpop people, apart from Justine [Frischmann, his and Damon Albarn’s ex-girlfriend]. She’s always been a friend of mine. I try not to involve my personal life in my public life any more. You just end up regretting it.
Suede are reissuing one album per week, starting with their debut, Suede, on 30 May
(Image: Rex Features)