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A Conversation with Brett Anderson and Mat Osman (of Suede), Part 1

By Nevin Martell on April 14, 2011


A Conversation with Brett Anderson and Mat Osman (of Suede), Part 1

A Conversation with Brett Anderson and Mat Osman

Brett, in later years, you and Bernard had a very contentious partnership. In the beginning, though—as songwriters and as personalities—did you work together well, or was there always a level of contention?

Brett Anderson: It’s never really that black and white. There is always a bit of tension with Bernard and me because we are quite different people. We both really respected what the other did and a part of each of us knew that one couldn’t do what the other did. So it worked quite well as a songwriting partnership because we completed the missing parts of each other. We were there for each other and when it all went wrong between us it was a real shame because the core of our relationship was a good friendship. We are friends again now, so it’s nice that it has come full circle.

When did you did start coming into your own as a songwriter?

Anderson: The oldest existing song in Suede’s catalog is “Animal Lover,” which was on Suede. That was the first song that made me realize I was getting somewhere as a songwriter. It said something about me and I didn’t feel like I was trying to be anyone else. The first truly great song that we wrote was “The Drowners,” though. I remember thinking, “God, this is something really special. We’re doing something here that none of our contemporaries are doing and it’s quite timeless sounding.”

At what point did you realize Justine Frischmann wasn’t going to be in the band and that you were going to go in different directions?

Anderson: Even though Justine was in Suede early on, it became clear she wasn’t really a part of the band. Bernard and I were writing songs that were quite personal, tragic, dark and sexual and she didn’t really get them. I remember when we wrote “Pantomime Horse” she didn’t like it. We had this huge argument about it and she just couldn’t understand why it was any good. And I said, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be in this band, because these are the sort of songs I want to write. This is what I want Suede to be doing.”

Before you had even released a single, the band landed on the cover of Melody Maker. What was that like for you?

Anderson: Three of us were on the dole and I had absolutely no money to my name. We’d been struggling very hard for three years and trying to get anywhere in the music industry. It can be a very bleak experience playing to two people in a pub in south London, finishing the show and then walking back onstage to pick up your amps. You’ve got to really, really want to do it and really believe in what you do. Though no one was watching us, we were just getting better and better; Bernard and I were writing songs like “The Drowners” and “Animal Nitrate.”

The British music industry is so deranged and hungry to find the next new thing that bands are often not allowed to develop. We were lucky enough to be away from the fuss of the music industry so we could get on with our own thing. When we did actually break and Melody Maker put us on the cover, we loved it and we felt like we deserved it. Looking back on it, it was a terrible thing to happen. It was too much too soon and it put a lot of people off.

What was it like having The Smiths’ Mike Joyce audition to be your drummer?

Mat Osman: Until the moment Mike walked in the door, we were all convinced it was a wind-up. He was playing with a lot of interesting left-field British musicians, like Julian Cope and Sinéad O’Connor, so to be taken seriously by him was great for our confidence. He’s ridiculously positive and not pretentious in any way. He didn’t feel weird about coming down and auditioning with a bunch of kids who were Smiths fans. He’d heard a tape of us, he liked it and that was that. 

Ricky Gervais gets a lot of mileage out of saying that he managed Suede at one point. What’s the truth to that?

Anderson: It’s half-true and half-not. He was part of our three-person management team, but we didn’t have a huge amount to do with Ricky. He also used to be in this weird ’80s-sounding band and we supported them once. He’s always been a really funny guy and he liked hanging out with us. He came to a Suede show a couple years ago and it was nice to see him again. I’ve got a lot of time for him.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of FILTER's interview with Brett Anderson and Mat Osman of Suede tomorrow.

This article is from FILTER Issue 43