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ID Magazine Interview

october 1994 Brett Anderson looks like a runaway from a detox clinic. He's wearing frayed Levi's, odd socks, a shapeless black T-shirt and dying shoes. He gazes blankly at the world through painfully red eyes, and speaks through a permanent sniff in a theatrical London drawl that trails off into an introspective slur. At other times he whines like a girl, toys nervously with his hair and regularly scratches and picks at some reddening scabs on his arms. He laughs when I ask him if he's wasting away on heavy drugs. "When you're sucked through this media machine and run under the wheels of the star machine, you can go to bed with a cup of cocoa and wake up looking like Bela Lugosi in the morning." Trashed on success, then. Brett could pass for one of the heroic victims that inhabit his songs; wasted from too much youth, bad drugs and violent sex. This is the mythology of Suede: eternal teenagers hooked on downers, sleeping pills and self-abuse, chasing a soundtrack of swooning guitars under the cold lights of some vicious city. In rock 'n' roll terms, it's X-Ray Spex's gritty urban alienation combined with The Smiths' heartfelt indie-passion and topped with the dispassionate slide into kinky junkie doom of Lou Reed's Berlin and Bowie's tarty Jean Genie. The core elements are familiar, but two years ago Suede injected the shock of simply being Suede into their plagiarisms and somersaulted into full-blown fame. On stage, Brett used his mic as if it was a cock, whip and bondage cord to encircle his thighs in a brazenly, transgressively sexual gesture. On Top Of The Pops, he jiggled kitten-like hips in low-slung trousers while a cropped top revealed a wiggling navel that both startled and simply turned people on. They released defiant singles like Animal Nitrate, a sleazy soap-opera that thrust unheard of amounts of rough trade and S&M imagery into the charts. Before they'd even finished their debut LP, Suede had appeared on 19 different magazine covers and, when it was released in March '93, the eponymous record sold over 100,000 copies in just two days. One year later and Brett sits on the floor of an East London photographic studio talking about his past, his future and what it's like to be a pop star - while I wonder if he's got enough energy and vision to be anything more than last year's model or this year's casualty.

Like so many pop stars who spin myths of inner city glamour, Brett was raised in the suburbs. Born on September 29 1967, he grow up in Haywards Heath, some 40 miles away from London, and recalls a childhood menaced by violent skinheads, playground beatings and bloody skirmishes after gigs. "Yeah," says Brett, "all these awful, violent, boorish men who used to pick on you and call you a poof. It happens to anyone who's vaguely effeminate and lives outside London. I firmly believe that London is the only civilised place in Britain. Go into the countryside and people are still living in 1953." And Brett was an effete child, an obvious victim whose penchant for peroxide, crimplene and a limp-wristed, lip-curling sneer at macho values set him up for target practice. "People used to actually think I was a girl. When I was young I was with my sister who's quite a tomboy, and she used to constantly call me a girl and tease me about it. When we were, walking around school together, people thought we were girls. Even the lollipop lady used to think I was a girl." Talk to Brett about his past and the picture of an outsider emerges: taking acid in the park, wearing flamboyant clothes and being too sexually ambiguous and too self-consciously teenage to belong. There might be 100,000 different reasons to like Suede, but the most immediate revolve around how deeply the idea of this teenage outsider works its way into Brett: body, voice, sexual identity, songs. "I've always had a foot in the teenage grave,' he confesses. 'Pop is all about doing something that connects really easily, and that's why I've never had any time for classical music. Partly because my dad used to shove it down my throat, but it just bores me because it's too easy. Anyone can be that complicated. Three notes is far cleverer than three hundred if they're arranged in the right way, and that's what pop music is all about." Suede soundtrack their teen dream with an amphetamised three or four chord stomp, while Brett laces the band's fire with unflinching tales of waste, sexual surrender and angst. It is classic deviant rock; the sound of every soft white kid in leather who decides that slow death by glamour is better than rain, school and semi-detached dullness. "The myth involving teenage waste for me is much more connected with real low life," Brett insists, "which in my experience is kind of like poor English kids on glue. That's where the mythology for me lies. I wasn't brought up with Nico and stuff like that. I suppose it's the same sort of idea, but translated into a different culture.' So it's Haywards Heath rather Warhol's Manhattan, and it's a slow descent into cheap housing and cheap drugs in a low-rent English accent. When Brett sings in his nasal, distanced, almost music hall cockney, he joins a tradition that takes in The Only One's Peter Perrett, Kenneth Williams, countless London transvestites who revel in sounding 'common' and of course Bowie as mod, during Hunky Dory and the Buddha Of Suburbia. It's the petulant, whining voice of a girl, a drugged-up boy or, more tellingly, a rebellious boy-girl who refuses to act like a man. "That's what you're taught by the backwardness of society," he says, "you've got to be this fist-thumping breadwinner, you know, that's what the role of being a man is. But what everyone should realise is there's another way of being just as successful, of being more successful. It's a very old fashioned way of thinking, that every man has to be fucking stupid and has to treat his wife like a prostitute." Instead of which, Suede sing about boys who take it rather than men who give it. And they sing about submission like it's the most romantic, glorious and hero thing you could do. And on their fourth single, So Young, Brett took the glamour of waste as far as he could and, while guitarist Bernard Butler created swoon chord heaven, wailed "we're so young and so gone, let's chase the dragon. Catch Suede live and you'll find numberless uncomfortable, gawky boys who close their eyes, raise their heads in bliss and silently mouth the words. And you know that they'll never so much as kiss another male and can only dream longinly of danger. "We've given a lot of people that kind of freedom again in music smiles Brett. "I think it was illegal to express any sense of softness or femininity, in the musical climate that preceded us. And I think we've given a lot of people space to do that again."

It's a space that quickly closes up. Youth is always about borrowed time, especially when you're singing about it in your late twenties. Already Oasis are set to update Suede's vulnerable and victim-like vision of youth with something much more macho. "Yeah," Brett interjects, "the singing electricians versus the limp-wristed glamourpuss." If Brett is the eternal teenager, more boy or even girl than man, then Oasis are the opposite. They're classic lads, boys pretending to be men, and they literally speed through youth without regret. Suede are more Peter Pan than George Best, and Brett's personal vision of male identity deals with fantasy. Years after his own teenage years, he looks back in regret and dreams of how drugged up, dangerous and sensual thing could have been."It's about walking the tightrope. It's about the possibility of everything crumbling, and it's very much about the teenage dream. You've actually got very little time to do it, so why not just fucking eat it whole You might as well. You only get one bite of the apple, so you might as we have a fucking big bite." But then, a few months ago, people began to wonder just how big a bite Brett had taken. Finally given the chance to live out all his teen dreams, he seemed to be really going for it. Rumours shot through the music industry that he'd developed a huge cocaine habit. The tabloids accused him of being 'Suede By Drugs', a bad influence on the nation's youth. And then, a few weeks ago, just as Suede were preparing themselves to release a long-awaited new single and album, guitarist Bernard Butler quit the band amidst much public and legal acrimony. His timing couldn't have been worse. Always more than just a musician, Bernard was Brett's co-songwriter; hailed as the new Johnny Marr and adored for his quietly sensual presence. Without him, Brett is left with bassist Mat Osman and drummer Simon Gilbert. Osman gives good interview, Gilbert even better having come out as gay but Brett is now left alone to write the songs. And without Butler, opine the music press, Suede could be like Morrisey without Marr and nosedive into rock'n'roll's second division. The songs on this month's astonishing new album, Dog Man Star, are the last of the Brett and Butler partnership; the single, We Are The Pigs, is a lush, angry Top 10 piercing bullet. But Bernard clearly thinks that Brett doesn't have what it takes to create any more like it. "Brett's so fucking slow it drives me insane," he said recently, before legal proceedings were instigated that have effectively stopped either discussing the situation. "It's difficult for Brett to get around, anything that isn't ABC. He doesn't surprise me an awful lot." So this is the aftermath. Suede sailed into the big time riding some wave of messed up youth, and you can't help wondering if the next chapter is about being messed up on fame. Maybe Brett's gone too far; maybe his band are falling apart, and maybe he is too. "I think I'm getting harder as I get older,' he contradicts. 'I used to be incredibly drifty, with my head in the clouds. I stopped smoking dope so that probably did quite a lot of good. I only take fast drugs now. I think long term, I think if you're a habitual dope smoker it does actually change your mentality. I think you... I... feel a very different person to when I used to smoke. I just sort of like it wasn't kind of working with my life at all any more. When You're doing things like this all the time you've got to be in control of yourself, and the only drug you can do and be in control is coke. You can't really drop an E and do a photo session or something like that. You've got to be in charge of it, if you know what I mean. If I took a day off, everything around me would probably crumble into dust. It's like that thing in Alice Through The Looking Glass, where the Red King is sleeping and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee tell Alice not to wake him because she's only in his dream and if she wakes him up he'll stop dreaming and she'll cease to exist." So do you take a lot of cocaine? "I suppose so, yeah." Doesn't it mess with your creativity? "It's bloody awful, it turns you into a fucking gibbering wreck. There's no reaction, whatsoever between cocaine and creativity. Quite the opposite. I use it for relaxation as well. Ecstasy's a really really creative drug... I get really, really inspired by Ecstasy. I have real visions on it. I don't black out and do a William Blake or anything like that. I just have these visions about music, and really dig in deep about what's brilliant about things and use them the next day and write them in songs. Lots of songs I've written the day after I've done E. They're not necessarily about the experience, but it just kind of like makes me really kind of excited and feel the creative juices going." But could you function without cocaine? "Oh easily, yeah. I don't like it that much. There's much better drugs than that. It's just that you can actually function, you know, function with it. It's the one you can actually do and communicate with other people." So there's no problem? "I don't really have a problem with... I don't think... use it, I kind of... I tend to use it at the moment. It doesn't use me. I use it with other things." What other things? "Well, you know, anything else really," he says, looking down at his arm and scratching a red scab. "Just a mixture of everything.' What else? "I've tried everything. There's nothing I haven't tried." Do you take heroin? "No comment. I'm not a heroin addict." "I had a dream," Brett recalls later, "that I was sent back in time to stop James Dean going out and killing himself. I don't know if I made it this coherent after I'd dreamt it, but this is how I saw it. I was sent back in time to stop him killing himself, but instead of that I look a load of coke with him and I encouraged him to go out and crash the car." Brett Anderson is now at the point where he's given is his personal mythology and is becoming aware of the role he's expected to play in public rock'n'roll mythology. It's a question that must go through the head of any intelligent and self-conscious person who becomes a star: what the hell have you become? Rock'n'roll starts to sound like the most dangerous drug there is. A drug that brings about radical transformation, corruption and Destruction. And the closer you get to that point of no return, the more seductive it becomes. It offers you a shot at immortality, a high that turns talented human beings into the glittering stuff of legend. But the come-down is terminal. "It's something I find quite beautiful and quite heroic," enthuses Brett. "I mean you know that's what all rock mythology is about: James Dean, car crash, death, Jimi Hendrix, all that stuff. It becomes a cliche but it appeals because its something that doesn't exist, an unattainable state. That's what pop music is about, it's becoming something that you're actually not. And the whole process of making music, promoting and getting paid for it actually turns you into a complete nutcase. You spend all your time in ridiculous situations, having to do incredibly extreme things. You go on stage to act like a complete lunatic, and have to party afterwards because there's no way of actually relieving yourself. You can't just go to bed, so you have to get completely off your face and then get woken up by someone at 7am and shoved onto a plane and flown to another city do exactly the same thing again. And when you do that for six weeks in a row, you just turn into a complete animal. It's not through choice, it's not through wanting to act like Jim Morrison or wanting to act like Keith Moon; you just end up doing it because you can't help it." When Brett talks about being a rock'n'roll animal, you almost forget that he's best known for being a rock'n'roll queen. Rather than trash a hotel room or abuse a groupie, you can't help thinking Brett's more likely to ask for softer pillows or be und tied to the bed. In an interview, he once famously declared that 'I'm a bisexual man who's never had a homosexual experience'. Now he says, "I couldn't stand down from that statement. I would criticise the way it was interpreted, in that I was trying to express something about myself; specifically about the way I write songs. It was used in totally the opposite way to what I was trying express which was something more universal." The 'universal' thing being that Brett would write from the point of view of a man, homosexual, woman or bisexual. Two of the tracks on the new LP, Still Life and The Two Of Us, are sung from point of view of a housewife. Influenced by the confessional dramas of Brel, these songs are soaring epics of suburban discontent and show how strong a singer Brett has become. He whispers, cries, soothes and rises great torrents of tearful passion. It's all about grand theatrical gestures and ends up sounding like some fabulous hybrid of Noel Coward, Les Miserables and I write lots of songs from the frame of mind of being a housewife," Brett says indignantly. "I feel quite an affinity with housewives, I don't know why." Let s hazard a guess. We're still in suburbia, watching rain streak the windows, and wanting a feeling of love or danger that's strong enough to make us feel alive. It's the intense and desperate desire that's classic Suede, only this time the teenager's gone. Another new track, Wild Ones, is about a dying relationship where Brett pleads and practically begs his lover to stay. All are songs of romantic longing and, right now, no one does romantic longing better than Brett. Talking culture, Brett dives right back into queendom. He name checks gay writing like Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane and Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library for their pictures of cheeky rent boys and bisexual lads on the make. When he goes out he likes Heaven on Friday nights, a full-on mainly queer clubbing and cruising experience. It seems that he's seriously into gay culture, "I'm interested in a lot of culture," he retorts. "It's a refuge for talent, I think, the gay world. If you're gay, the one world where you can express yourself is in some kind of creative work. You'd have to live a lie in every other life. If you're a farmer it must be pretty difficult being a gay farmer, but actually being creative and gay you're allowed to let yourself go. So it always throws up incredibly talented people. Behind every success, there's a... kind of like, gay man or gay woman waiting in the wings. So if you were gay, would you come out? "Yeah." Have you ever had a homosexual experience? "I don't want to talk about this, really. It's kind of irrelevant. It means nothing, what I am. I don't really care what I am, and I don't think anyone else should either. I have nothing to say. I am what I am. The way I live my life, I just do it. I just don't like analysing myself too much. Who knows what anyone is really? I don't know what I am. You start analysing yourself and you have to stand by your guns. I'm a completely different person to the person I was six months ago, six weeks ago: fuck knows what I am now." Brett tells me that he's in a relationship at the moment with a girl, but insists that "she's not really normal". He refuses to say anything more, other than that he's changed his mind about sex. "I had this theory that sex made you creatively impotent. I'm not sure if it's true any more. I've been having sex quite a lot recently. I had a lot of sex when I was making the album, and I don't think it makes you creatively impotent." Beyond the contradictions of his sex and drugs, when Brett talks about pure rock'n'roll there's nothing but clarity. He might skip along the edge of an abyss, but he's too much of a show-off to jump. When he talks about his talent, he comes on like a post-punk aesthete: a fusion of John Lydon and Oscar Wilde who delights in turning bitchiness, beauty and anger into an achingly lovely soundtrack. "My ambition is to be this permanent thorn in people's flesh. It's weird, because people said we'd never make a decent second single. At every stage of our career they've been saying 'oh the second album won't be any good'. They'll say it about us forever. People get pissed off when you're good at anything, but it's my intention to never do anything that isn't brilliant." There's a cruelty in this sort of determination, isn't there? "I can be quite cruel. I can be quite a nasty person. It means there's a side of me that's quite selfish. To a lot of people I come across as incredibly nice and diplomatic, but underneath there's an incredible sense of ambition and desire to achieve. I do purely live my life to achieve. I don't really have any goal of settling down and being married and living this blissful, cosy little existence. It doesn't interest me in the slightest. All I want to do is create. That's all I want to do and that's what I'm on this planet for and I'll probably die in the process of doing it," That's a bit fierce, isn't it? "I think our music is really fierce. I think this fey thing is a tag put on us out of laziness. I think our music is incredibly violent and vicious and hard. No one wants some pie-eyed doter. It's just not interesting. You don't fall in love with pie-eyed doters. You fall in love with bitches that give you shit. The nice people are the people that are just left on the shelf. Music is a love, and that's what you fall in love with. You don't fall in love with some pretty little tune. So you have to un-nice yourself to be a pop star? "Yeah, I think you probably do actually. You have to for the sake of art. You have to become a horrible person." Brett giggles like a mischievous girl; like a prima donna who, just for a second, let's you see the tarty little bitch behind the immaculate image. "It's like aspiring towards a dream isn't? It's kind of like a fantasy." The single We Are The Pigs is out on September 12 on Nude, followed on October 10 by the album Dog Man Star.