For a while we'd looked like we'd lost a Great British Institution in another rock & roll tragedy. Brett Anderson was addicted to crack, Neil Codling had left the band due to his recurring problems with ME and studio sessions with Tony Hoffer had been scrapped. It could all have been the end, but the truism of "whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" couldn't be more apt as Suede return with a positive outlook and a new album "A New Morning".
We caught up with new keyboard / guitar player Alex Lee who joins the ranks from indie goth band Strangelove to replace Neil Codling. In an in-depth interview he talks about how Strangelove and Suede became the best of friends, before the former band self destructed and in a twist of fait Lee joined his favourite band. He also goes onto talk about the problems of Brett's addictions and the failed studio sessions with Tony Hoffer and John Leckie before going on to emphasize how Suede are back stronger than ever.
Q: Some of our younger readers or Suede fans won't
necessarily be familiar with your previous band Strangelove. So by way
of introducing you to the general public would you like to tell our readers
the journey from Strangelove to Suede?
A: I met Suede in 1994 when I was in tour with Strangelove who supported them. The bands became quite good friends and Brett and Richard came and sang on the odd Strangelove song on the next album we did. Then when Strangelove split up and Suede needed someone to help them out because Neil was ill, they asked me if I'd come in and sit in for him for a few gigs here and there...which turned into more and more gigs as Neil's illness got worse.
I saw them socially on and off throughout the years, but
didn't ever really expect to end up in them. But I guess the whole reason
you join bands in the first place is you don't know what's going to happen
Q: I was a big fan of Strangelove but the split was
never really talked about afterwards. So what did actually did lead to
the bands demise?
A: What bloody didn't, you know. Jesus Christ. We really don't have long enough for me to explain, but we sort of self destructed in the time honoured tradition that most rock & roll bands do. We felt there wasn't a whole lot of reasons to continue, we'd drifted apart as people. You need to communicate with people and we didn't even speak for the last year. 2 days after we'd decided to speak we were all chatting and on speaking terms again, but we just couldn't live together as a band.
I do actually see them all the time because we all still
live in Bristol and were really good friends now. For health reasons we
had to take a break from each other.
Q: When you did join it was a very natural progression.
Brett was a fan of Strangelove. You were a fan of Suede I suppose. Was
it an easy move?
A: I think it would have been quite difficult for them to bring someone new into the fold. I think it helped in this instance that I knew the ropes and I'd made records before and I think they felt fairly comfortable that musically I would fit in and the chemistry was there in terms of playing because we'd already tried it before.
When Richard and Neil joined it was kind of a risk because
it was the first band they'd both been in with any degree of success and
that was actually making records. I was glad I didn't have to get thrust
into the limelight, have photo's with headlines screaming "Here's the New
Suede Virgin" or whatever. It was good that the first thing I did with
them was to go into the studio.
Q: When you went first went into the studio it was
with Tony Hoffer, famous for his work with Beck and Air. It seemed a very
strange choice for Suede which I guess is why the sessions got shelved
in the end. How was it for you?
A: Interesting sessions, very experimental. He's made some very good records with Air and with Beck, both of whom I really rate. But neither Beck or Air are a band and there's chemistry is between fewer people on those sort of records...whereas with a band it's something different. I don't know whether we really captured that in the studio and we had various members of the band feeling slightly disillusioned with the recording. I thought some of the stuff we did was great and some of it was pretty awful. And there was some stuff in-between. I don't think it was coherent body of work really and we had to ditch it otherwise we'd have had to piece it together with gaffer tape.
Q: And then there was Leckie and Stephen Street?
A: We did a session with John Leckie which went quite well, but he then couldn't do anymore because he had something else to go and do. We just thought sod, lets get this record done and we got in Stephen Street who was brilliant. He just walked in and made everything really simple. He's really pragmatic, doesn't take any artistic differing because it enabled us to be spontaneous with songs we'd recorded 3 or 4 times before due to the pace we were recording. Working with him was a total pleasure and a blessed relief after the scratching around of the previous Summer.
Q: Even though you'd played live previously with Suede
and had been friends for years, it was first time in the studio for you
with Suede. Did it gel straight away once Stephen Street came in?
A: Records are never easy to make. You see these things on TV where some kid walks in and they sing on a record and it magically appears - it's not like that for most bands. You put a lot of brain strain in, a lot of sweat and banging you head against a brick wall. It's really tough. You want to make something that you feel really explores where the bands at at the moment.
A classic example is Radiohead who seem to be on the verge
of splitting up on every record that they've done because they put themselves
through the mill so much on all their albums. We had the same on this on.
We didn't nearly split, but we were feeling pretty frayed around the edges
after a long studio session. After all in 10 years time all you're left
with is the record.
Q: Was is hard coming into the band after Brett's was
trying to overcome his well publicized "crack addiction" to quote the Observer
A: It would have been hard if I hadn't had any comprehension of the situation. But like I said before, I have been through some of that myself with various members of the band (not personally). Strangelove's problem is that they were crippled by drink and drugs problems at various different point and that ultimately lead to our downfall. Whereas Brett's been strong enough to turn it round and work it to his advantage because now he's raring to go, totally enthused and energized about the whole project.
But I have seen it before and I know that these things,
although on one hand it may seem like it's essential for any proper rock
band to have these things, I know it's a well trodden path. The most important
thing in the band is that people are happy and healthy and all the things
which traditionally you think are not very rock and roll.
Q: Lyrically the album "A New Morning" is very much
the tale of someone who has come out the other side?
A: Kind of. I think it's about going through a lot and having to take what life throws at you. And having to come out the other side and being a better person for it. It starts with a darker underbelly and hopefully you can put something a bit more positive in there.
Brett went away in the country on his own to start the
whole thing off, but there were also songs which were jammed in the studio
which traditionally hasn't happened before. There are lot's of different
writers, but I thing it's a pretty coherent record. Suede never try to
over complicate things. They're a simple band where being direct is much
more important than any great artistic brush strokes where you feel you've
got to reinvent the boundaries. We are a pop band essentially.
Q: I saw you in Manchester as part of the Move Festival
a couple of months ago and one thing that did come across is that "Positivity",
"Obsessions" and "Beautiful Loser" are classic Suede songs. In a world
where bands rest on their laurels and back catalogue this is anomaly. How
have the Summer gigs been for you?
A: That gig was a really strange one. Just at the beginning of debuting the "Positivity" single, the heavens opened and the keyboard and guitar effects pedals has to be covered with plastic sheets - it was like were going to get blown up or electrocuted!!! It was truly surreal with all these summery songs at the end and it was pissing with rain. And then of course David Bowie came on, the sun came out, he looked all immaculate and were backstage thinking he's in league with the devil!!!
We've had a Summer of strange gigs. There was the festival
in Finland where we heard they were going to set off pyrotechnics at the
end of the night. It was like cool, something out of Glastonbury or the
like. And they didn't tell us they'd put them all across the front of the
stage. So when we did "Saturday Night", a nice smoochy song for the end
of the evening, all these explosions went off and we were just sat there
like cartoon characters with our hair stood on end.
Q: Finishing off, "Positivity" is out this week. What's
the feeling in the band this week? Is there a quiet confidence?
A: The UK is weird because the musical climate changes so fast. You never know when I band like Suede comes back, whether you fit into that or not. And the band has always prided itself on not fitting in, it's always considered it to be a good point. There seems to be a space for Suede and people still want them around so that's keeping us all positive. And we know when we go out to Europe that we've got a loyal following out there.
"Positivity" is out now on Epic
The album "A New Morning" follows on September 30th
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