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Interview: Suede (HTF Exclusive)

We caught up with Suede bassist Mat Osman to discuss their upcoming tour and the pleasures of playing live with Suede. Check it out here!

suede intAfter a lengthy pursuit (no exaggeration) I’ve finally achieved my life goal of interviewing the indie gods that are Suede; just as we were on the verge of sending photoshopped images of the band with my face replacing the various band members to the bands PR to show them how “Suedelike” I was and secure an interview…well wasn’t that fortunate.

But those who aren’t as up on their Suede knowledge as I am, Suede are a legendary band that are credited by many for sowing the seeds for brit-pop. Following a string of amazing singles (and equally amazing B-sides), including ‘Animal Nitrate’ and ‘So Young’, the band released their self-titled debut in 1993, it was the fastest selling album in 9 years and won the first ever Mercury Music Prize that year.

Following that in 1994 was the dark anti-britpop classic ‘Dog Man Star’ which despite it’s troubled production (which saw guitarist Bernard Butler leave the band) is a constant feature in best albums ever style lists. The album also contained the glorious ‘New Generation’ and perhaps Brett Anderson‘s vocal peak with ‘The Wild Ones’.

‘Coming Up’ was Suede’s phoenix from the ashes moment with new additions Richard Oakes (Guitar) and Neil Codling (Keys/Additional Guitar) to fill the Bernard Butler sized gap in the band. The album was a huge hit with it’s poppy sound and spawned a series of chart hit singles including ‘Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Trash’. Two albums followed, the mainly disappointing pair of ‘Head Music’ and ‘A New Morning’, which effectively saw the end of the group as they broke up soon after. At the time Brett stated  “I need to do whatever it takes to get my demon back”.

10 years on and Brett has his demon back, with commanding live and studio performances fueling their amazing comeback to pencil their name back into the forefront of british rock. ‘Bloodsports’ is the first attempt at rewriting the Suede history book to give it a deserving entry and ranks up their among their other works. Pretty respectable considering Suede have perhaps one of the most critically enviable back catalogs of all time.

Suede currently consist of:

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Brett Anderson – Vocals

Richard Oakes – Guitar

Mat Osman – Bass

Neil Codling – Keyboard/Guitar

Simon Gilbert – Drums

We caught up with bassist Mat Osman ahead of the band’s concert at Kenwood House to discuss their upcoming UK tour, the making of recent album ‘Bloodsports’ and the pleasures of being back with Suede:

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HTF: Hi Mat, How’s it going?
Mat: Yeah not too bad

HTF: Obviously you’re playing Kenwood House tomorrow (23rd August), can we expect any suprises?
Mat: (Adopts coy voice) Yeah quite possibly, I can’t really tell you yet but we’re gonna play some stuff that we haven’t played since we’ve come back. It’s quite an unusual set for us. We’re trying to work out what it is you do in a big park in Hampstead Heath. It’s such a strange place to play that it felt like there were a few songs that fitted there.

HTF: And this comes off the back of an Asian tour…
Mat: Well we just did two quick dates in Korea and Taiwan, the Asian tour is in about a months time.

HTF: Speaking of the Asian tour, do you find that you adapt your setlists to different markets, well markets is such a horrid term, but audiences?
Mat: It’s not really the market, sometimes it’s a bit odd, like in Asia as ‘A New Morning’ did a lot better there than it did in Europe we sometimes chuck ‘Positivity’ and stuff like that in which we would never ever play over here. Sometimes it’s to do with the shape of the hall, sometimes it’s to do with whether it’s gonna be sweaty. If you know it’s going to be a quiet gig, like some European ones are, then you play a lot of slower stuff and if it’s a tiny bar then you play all the fast stuff. I dunno, we change it every night. Brett’s kinda obsessive about setlists and will sit there for literally hours fiddling around with stuff so it pretty much changes every night.

HTF: And obviously with ‘Bloodsports’ coming out recently it makes it even harder I guess?
Mat: Yeah, it is kinda tricky but we’ve got our own tour in the autumn so that’s when we’ll be kinda playing all of ‘Bloodsports’ but there will be big chunks of it tomorrow.

HTF: Whispers are that ‘For The Strangers’ will be the new single. Are there any B-sides lined up?
Mat: Yeah there’s two B-sides, one thing that we almost recorded for the album but changed our mind and the last minute and one kinda newish thing. The video is out tomorrow (23rd August) and was shot at the Ally Pally so it’s a kind of live video from our last big London gig. So yeah, it’s a complete package!

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HTF:  I’ve got to say actually that ‘What Violet Says’ was my favourite B-side from the last single. That was one of yours right?
Mat: It was indeed, thank you very much for that. It was one of the very first things that me and Brett wrote when the album was sounding a bit more… we almost threw away a whole record of more post punk sounding stuff which had quite violent imagery and was quite dark. We had 12 songs which I think we thought would make a really interesting record and then we had a couple of dates in Russia where we played a lot of the stuff and it was one of those things where we listened back to the recordings of it and it just didn’t match up to the stuff around them, the old songs. So that’s when we started writing ‘Bloodsports’ in earnest really, when we had a better idea of what it was we wanted to do this time around.

HTF: So was the album very studio written as a result then?
Mat: No, that’s the one thing, back in the day when record companies paid for studio time we wrote everything in the studio. Nowadays we make the records ourselves so we don’t do any of that. Some of it was written at Ed Buller’s (Producer) house up in Highgate, a lot of it was written in Neil’s little attic studio which is one of those places were you had to take it in turns to go up there as it only fitted 3 at a time so we’d have one session of guitars and singing and then another for the rhythm section. But no, it was written over a year around each other’s houses really. Most of the time it was just 2/3 people jamming around with guitars, very melodically submerged as we weren’t starting off with the drums like we used to do.

HTF: So I guess it felt like starting from scratch with the bedroom writing vibe?
Mat: Entirely! One of those things about being in a band for a while is that, especially if you have a contrary side to you, you wanna do all the things that people say you can’t do. I think we felt at one point we’d been pinned down as this very dark, almost gothic, style conscious band with heavy use of imagery. Those were the kinda things people would associate with Suede. Things like ‘A New Morning’ were attempts to do things you wouldn’t expect of us which sometimes can be great but sometimes there’s a reason that people expect you not to do something, which is that you’re not very good at it.

This was the first time for a very long time we sat down and knew we’d been playing the old songs and just sat and listened to the best of what we did and went “what is it that Suede do really well?” and decided, “right let’s do that!”. It’s not a very complicated blueprint for making a record but the way it works. It’s like “what do we do better than other bands?… Right let’s do that!”

HTF: So obviously the new album has come off the back of performing the old songs on tour, has there been anything about playing the old songs that has surprised you in the process?
Mat: Not really, those songs are kind of encoded into my DNA to be honest. A lot of them I’ve been playing for 20 years, an entire human beings lifetime. So no they don‘t really surprise me. I still get the same kick from them but it’s rare that I think “oh my god, what the hell was that?”

HTF: So there was none of that “new perspective on a song” kind of thing?
Mat: Not really. To be honest, normally when you get that it’s from other people and that’s one of the lovely things about meeting people and talking to them about the songs, because songs will either have a personal meaning to it or just have a take on it which is something you haven’t heard before. That’s the way music works. The way I hear my favourite records isn’t the same way you hear them but everyone’s part of the equation when you hear something great.

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HTF: So you have a UK tour in the autumn, what are the plans for that?
Mat: To play a lot of the ‘Bloodsports’ stuff. We spent so much time since the record came out playing festivals where you know you’re playing to a crowd where ¾’s of people don’t know the record so, while we play all of it at sometime or another, it will be most of the ‘Bloodsports’ record and then a ton of old stuff that everyone knows. I can’t wait for it actually. I love festivals but it’s been a pretty relentless diet of festivals and it’s like having fillet steak every night for a year; you need a bit of variety.

HTF: I’m guessing some of that is why bar the Kenwood House gig you’re not touching any UK festivals this year?
Mat: Well we try and just do one big gig. One of the things we’ve been really looking to do is just play the places we’ve wanted to play. When we came back we played the Albert Hall which was like a favourite venue of ours from years back and then the Ally Pally. The Ally Pally makes no business sense to play there as it’s so expensive and the sounds really dire unless you spend a fortune on the PA and stuff but it’s such an interesting and iconic venue that it just felt like somewhere we had to play at some point. It’s good to see a lot of people came from overseas to see it. I hate it when people have travelled from like Brazil or somewhere and they come to the O2 as it could be anywhere in the world whereas, it’s brilliant to be at the top of the hill looking down on people on sleds and stuff. Just when we got the offer for Kenwood again it seemed like this incredible chance to play somewhere we’d always quite fancied.

HTF: Have you managed to scope out the venue yet?
Mat: I’ve been there before, I saw Bryan Ferry there a while ago but I think it’s changed just a little bit as it was very strange there. There used to be a lake between the band and the audience which really, really doesn’t suit us but they’ve changed it this year so there’s actually a bit of connection. I mean I can’t stand it when the audience are kind of cut off from the band. It’s where all the energy and passion of a gig comes from.

HTF: and obviously Brett has a name for himself for jumping the barrier a few times
Mat: Yeah, a really good gig is twenty thousand and five people going nuts…and five of them just happen to be on the stage. You can’t do anything without the crowd, it’s not like how we perform in a rehearsal room or something, it’s about the reaction and the kind of madness you get on a great night. Yeah, it’s quite important to get that kind of closeness. I hate, hate, hate gigs where you might as well just be watching on a big screen, this whole gigs as souvenir thing where everyone holds their phone up so that they can watch it later rather being in the moment. I hate it and it’s really important for us to have just that kind of connection.

HTF: Have you decided the length of the promotional chain for ‘Bloodsports’ yet and what comes after?
Mat:  No, not really. We’re trying really hard not to plan anything too much in advance. It’s one thing I hated about the first time round was that you knew literally what you were doing for the next two years. Once the record was finished the tours would be booked and b-side sessions and it was like “right, in 18 months time I’m going to be in say Austria for the second time” and this time we’re trying really hard not to become ordinary. So luckily we’re taking it one gig at a time.

HTF: So it’s an embrace of freedom this time around…
Mat: Yeah exactly! It really is you know. We made the record on our own without a record company which was lovely, I mean we’ve always been pretty hands off with record companies anyway but we made the record on our own and we haven’t done big long tours. Obviously if we wanted to we could spend 300 odd days on tour a year but then it becomes ordinary, it becomes a grind and it shows on the gigs and stuff so we tried to just play gigs we love and places that we’ve never been before and tried hard to say no to a lot of stuff. Touch wood it’s worked out really well. I still get excited before every gig.

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HTF: So just to take it away from Suede a minute, while you were away from Suede you did some work for Le Cool (Culture Magazine)…
Mat: Yeah, I did lots of writing actually, I wrote for a lot of newspapers and magazines and all kinds of stuff. I guess when Suede split I really wanted to get out the music business. I thought it was a money grabbing and shallow kind of industry, and of course what happens is you go away and try some other stuff and you realise that all jobs are a money grabbing, shallow industry if you know what I mean? If you do Journalism or something it ends up seeming all the same. But yeah, that was the reason it. I kind of wanted to do something that just wasn’t music but there’s nothing like being away from something for several years just to make you realise what you’re missing. There’s nothing quite like being on stage in front of 20,000 people. It’s a completely different scene from ordinary life.

HTF: So did it take that phonecall for the Albert Hall gig to sort of bring back that love of music?
Mat: No, I was actually very dubious when the Albert Hall gig came up to be honest, I’d completely accepted the fact that I wasn’t gonna do that again, I didn’t really want to be in a different band, I didn’t wanna start from scratch. It was playing the gig that brought it all back. We were all, for various different reasons, nervous and dubious about that gig, as much as anything I had no idea if anyone was still interested. It was only the fact that it was the Albert Hall and it was for the Teenage Cancer Trust, it just seemed like even we hated it, it would be a good thing to do. It was about halfway through, realising that there were people who loved the band and just getting that feeling again. So when the phonecall came I was nervous and slightly dubious, it was five songs into the gig that I just thought “I’ve gotta do this again”.

HTF: and did it take long to relearn all the bass parts?
Mat: I can always easily remember or relearn my bits. I mean Neil and Richard are stupendous musicians so if they don’t mess it up then I can remember what I played. There’s also fantastic people on youtube, for some reason these guys who have uploaded themselves playing every bassline that’s ever existed, so every now and again there’s a B-side and I’ll go “Oh, I can’t remember what I played on this, it’s just swamped in reverb” and you go online and there’s some kid from Korea playing it on a 5-string bass. So it’s pretty easy to pick it back up.

HTF: In terms of bass equipment what do you actually use? I mean for Suede a lot of the guitar equipment has been really nit-picked at but I’ve not really heard a description of your bass set-up…
Mat: Well I mean that’s because I don’t really use much. I’ve got an ancient 1960’s Rickenbacker which looks like it’s been buried for forty years and is scratched to hell and a couple of Ampeg amps. I don’t really change very much, I don’t change strings, I don’t do nothing, it’s great! Basically back in the day I can remember going to see the Stone Roses and always loved the way Mani’s stuff sounded and literally just ripped off his set-up and it’s kind of worked for me ever since.

HTF: On ‘Bloodsports’ I did actually notice, maybe it was just my ear, that the bass was more prominent?
Mat: erm, I think that just in general the mix is brighter and louder and nicely separated. It was mixed by…I’ve gone and forgotten his name (Andy Wallace). So we went through this weird process where he’d mix it in New York and send through the mixes at like one in the morning and then everyone would listen to them so we’d be on email and skype together and after 2 weeks he sent back the finished mix. So the entire record was made at one in the morning in various west London houses but I was always frustrated about the mixing on early Suede records. Whenever I hear our stuff on the radio it sounds just a bit quiet and this one it sounds really good on radio and on computer speakers, which you kinda have to mix for now.

HTF: So in terms of live concerts, have there been any particular highlights for you? I’m guessing the Albert Hall is up there?
Mat: The Albert Hall was an amazing, amazing gig. We’ve played a couple of amazing gigs in Korea and we’d never been there before, that was amazing. We’d played a place called the Jisan Rock Festival and it’s held in a ski resort. It had been raining for 72 straight hours. I’d never seen anything like this. You get in a van on a mountain and there’s literally a river on either side of the road streaming down. We got there and every single person had been given a clear plastic mac and you’re just thinking “this is going to be the most depressing experience ever” and it was just one my favourite gigs I have ever done with the band, such a raucous crowd and literally by the 3rd song there was just steam coming up from the audience, it was amazing; a real highlight.

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We played in Scilly, which we’d never played before, there’s always something thrilling about playing somewhere where you’re a new band. That was one of my absolute favourite gigs, very wild. I just like it when people throw themselves around and sing as well!

HTF: I guess another thing that must be really humbling for you guys is the fact that you do have the sort of fans who will literally pack their bags and get on a plane just to see you guys.
Mat: I’m always stunned and always incredibly grateful. When we played Ally Pally people came from South America and lots of people came from South East Asia because it was before we announced any dates and a lot of people coming from the states. It’s weird because I always think of myself as a slight musical obsessive, but I never did that for the bands I loved. I might travel up to London to see them or Brighton. Humble is the right word. I’m always shocked and awed there are people for whom it means that much. That’s the point of being in a band really, it’s the reason you’re in a band. When I was growing up there were certain bands and singers and records that were just part of my life, it’s not complicated, they were as tied up in my life as certain people and places were. When you form a band you’re just trying to make other people feel that I think. You’re just trying to create songs that wind into people’s lives.

HTF: Do you feel that’s perhaps what’s missing right now from music, the whole gang aspect?
Mat: I’d say no. It’s what I want out of music but it’s not necessarily what everyone has to do. I think if there’s something that’s missing it’s something that is often missing in music and that’s…people are chasing each other’s tails if you know what I mean. Whenever you get any interesting band you just suddenly get 2 years of peoples slightly bad photocopies of them. But I’m pretty excited about the state of current music to be honest. I think the fact that there’s been so many years of very mainstream stuff has just driven a lot of the interesting bands nearly underground. There seems to be some great records by great bands every week.

HTF: Have you got any bands that are really doing for you at the moment?
Mat: I really like Night Engines, I think they are really interesting and are one of those band who as soon as I saw them I thought “yeah everyone’s gonna get this”. There’s a band called Drop Out Venus who I really like and was telling everyone about last week and then they emailed me and said they’d split up. So whatever comes out of the guys in Drop Out Venus will be real interesting. I really like Teleman who will be playing with us at Kenwood, I think they are gonna be a fascinating band they are so simple but really affecting. I love The Horrors and Toy, I think they are really good. I mean there’s tons of stuff. Every week things appear in my inbox, there’s some genuinely odd and exciting stuff out there at the moment.

HTF: I guess that’s really the wonder of music isn’t it.
Mat: It really is! It’s so weird because if you think, there’s only 12 notes. Surely at some point we’re gonna run out of interesting ways to put them together and then literally, especially now, you switch on your computer and click on a link and there’s just a beautiful thing that didn’t exist the day before, that’s just an incredible thing, like finding rubies in your breakfast cereal.

HTF: It’s been a real pleasure talking to you, I’m sure you’ll catch me waving from the barrier at Kenwood!
Mat: It’s been great speaking to you; sorry it’s taken so long! If it’s you waving I’ll be sure to know it’s you and keep an eye out!

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