Brett Anderson, the angular, erudite frontman with Suede, is on the line from London. Or is he?
Not long ago, he let slip that many international phone interviews back in the 1990s were actually bass player Mat Osman impersonating him. Is this really Anderson on the phone?
“You’ll never really know, will you,” he says, laughing. “You’re just going to have to trust me. You’d know if it was Mat because his answers would be cleverer.”
Suede arrived in 1992. Their songs were a bold mix of grit, grandeur, drama and sex, all wrapped up in the musical trappings of glam and indie rock. They galvanised the English music scene at the time, appearing on the cover of Melody Maker under the headline “The Best New Band In Britain” before they’d even released their first single.
They inadvertently helped birth Britpop and enjoyed huge success. There was the inevitable fall, brought on by the splintering of Anderson’s songwriting partnership with mercurial guitarist Bernard Butler (who left after the second album) and then the drug years, when he descended into heroin and crack addiction in the late 90s.
You’ll read about none of this in Anderson’s memoir Coal Black Mornings, which was published earlier this year. Instead of detailing his time as a pop star, he wrote about his life up until Suede got signed.
We learn that he grew up poor. His father was a taxi driver who was obsessed with history and classical music. His mother was an artist who left the family home when Anderson was still a teenager.
“The problem with most rock biographies is they follow a formula, because rock band career arcs follow a formula,” he says. “They’re all the same. It’s a story of struggle followed by success, followed by disintegration. It’s like the life cycle of a frog. It’s utterly predictable.
“I wanted to use a different voice and not be another person in a band blathering on about how many girls they slept with. I can’t think of anything more boring.”
So, how many girls did you sleep with?
He laughs. “Well, that’s a question for another day, I think, Barry.”
Anderson then reveals the inspiration for writing the book and also the two most recent Suede albums — 2016’s Night Thoughts and the newly released The Blue Hour. It’s Lucian, his six-year-old son.
“Before I became a father, I didn’t care very much where I’d come from,” he says. “Then I became a father and started thinking about it a lot. Having a child reminds you of your own childhood and stirs up all these thoughts about mortality and the big questions in life. I found it very inspiring.
“In the ’90s, I wrote songs about lovers and crazy romantic entanglements and now I find passion in reflecting on family. That might sound boring but I’m trying to do it in a way that doesn’t use the old cliches. I also use the darker moments of childhood, like self-doubt and hesitation.”
Before I became a father, I didn’t care very much where I’d come from.
He singles out the new song, Life Is Golden, as one that is specifically for Lucian. It’s a song of both comfort and celebration that opens with the lines “the same blood runs through your veins, the same strange way of talking, the same thoughts sink through your pillow, the same crooked smile”.
“It’s a song where I’m trying to give a message of hope. There’s going to be that moment which will inevitably come when you die and you won’t be there for your child. That song is saying that in some way I will always be there for him. It may not be in a literal way or a physical way, but in a spiritual, metaphorical way, because I’m part of him.
“It’s a tricky song for me to talk about because I can come across as sentimental and I really don’t want that at all. It’s the warmest song on the album by a long way. It’s also my favourite Suede song since The Wild Ones (from 1994).”
What does Lucian think of it?
“Oh, he loves As One, which is the opening track on the album,” Anderson says. “He won’t let me play any songs after it, but wants that song over and over again when we’re in the car. I think he likes the drama of it and it probably reminds him a bit of The Lord of the Rings, because it’s one of his favourite films.”
The Blue Hour is out now.