Suede are set to play at The Forum as part of the NME Awards shows
Published: 5 February, 2016
by ROISIN GADELRAB
"I REMEMBER packing for our first American tour by filling a plastic bag with clothes from my floor, and that was that. None of us had really travelled before, none of us had washing machines or personal hygiene.”
Veteran Suede bassist Mat Osman is reflecting on how far the band have come since their early days.
“The biggest difference is I don’t pack 30 seconds before going away,” he says.
“When we first used to go on tour I hadn’t been anywhere, it was basically a six-month holiday with gigs interspersed and we got pretty ragged, especially during the American tour, which was great. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world but we were very hit-and-miss, and if people didn’t immediately adore us we could be sniffy. Now we live more like monks. I think we sound and live better than we have done before. We don’t really have bad nights anymore because that [show] is what we’re thinking about when tourin.”
Suede have been incredibly busy since their 2013 comeback with acclaimed album Bloodsports. Now promoting their more indulgent concept album, Night Thoughts, with an accompanying film by celebrated band photographer Roger Sargent, they play the NME Awards Shows at The Forum in Kentish Town on February 12. It may be the last time the band run through Night Thoughts behind Sargent’s movie screen on UK soil. We were lucky enough to witness this at the Roundhouse last November.
“The Roundhouse was a leap of faith,” says Mat.
We’d had the film made and already decided to play the whole record from start to finish. Originally we were going to be playing in front of the screen but it was the worst of both worlds – we were distracting from the film, and playing the album from start to finish is quite difficult, so we were quite boring. So the lighting guy said they could light us from behind the screen. We didn’t get the chance to try it until 9pm the night before and couldn’t see it because we were playing.”
A photographer friend showed them some stills and they decided to run with it. As at the Roundhouse, the Night Thoughts set will be followed by a second set of older hits.
“Usually a Suede gig is fairly incendiary, normally pretty physical and sometimes unmusical. It’s about the performance, the circle of energy between the crowd and the band,” says Mat. “I loved that but this was the opportunity to do something very different, it forced you to concentrate on the music. It’s really important to be out of your comfort zone. There’s a tendency for a band who have reformed to stay in your rut, play the same stuff from 20 years ago but we really didn’t want to do it... it’s so seductive when you come back, for a year you play the best songs you’ve written for 15 years and it’s tempting to go, ‘oh, we’ll just do 10 more Animal Nitrates’. You suddenly realise it’s hard work, you’ve got to write 10 rubbish ones before a good one and it’s harder as you get older.”
Mat says this attitude fuelled the thinking behind Bloodsports, adding “there’s always a chance that this is the last thing you’re going to do, it better be good”.
He puts the band’s resolve to create something new and better down to the “hunger” that came following their reformation.
“When we split up, we hadn’t done anything else. We kind of went from school to doing this and it got to the point where it all felt ordinary, and it’s not, it’s the least ordinary thing in the world, it’s incredibly privileged, moving,” says Mat.
“When we came back, there was this sense of fragility, that it’s going to end, and suddenly there was a real hunger to do it right, to rewrite history, the kind of band you are.”
This is most apparent with Night Thoughts.
“It’s definitely a more extreme record than we’ve done before, it’s a lot darker in places and a lot less immediate than we’ve done for a long time, which is deliberate. There’s a lovely easing of pressure when you realise you’re not going to have number 1 records, be played on Radio 1, there’s something freeing about it because you know you can do what you want. You know there are people who will listen, people saying, ‘we didn’t get it until the second or third listen’.
“It’s really good to know that people will actually do that rather than give up after a 30-second clip on Spotify.”
With Suede being anointed by the NME for Godlike Genius last year, and Coldplay being chosen this year, Mat has his own ideas about who he would like to honour.
He says: “I’d give it to Scott Walker, how old is he now, going on for 70? He makes these incredible, difficult, beautiful, uncompromising records that sound better and scarier than anything young people make today.”
And he has great things to say about fellow awards show band The Strypes: “The Strypes have got the best bass player. God knows how young he is, it’s absolutely terrifying. We were on Later the same time as them and he’s pretty good.”
Mat’s spirits are buoyed by the new crowds that have been following Suede.
He says: “I love it. If the only people coming were people who’d seen us back in the 90s, I don’t think we’d still be doing this. The whole joy of playing songs is it’s part of something moving forward and I do like that the first 20 rows are people new to these things, and gradually it gets fatter and balder towards the back. If it was just people like that, I’m not sure it’s something I would still be doing. But I love it.”
He paid tribute to David Bowie, who once predicted Suede would become an institution by 2000.
“We met Bowie a few times, we’ve done gigs with him, met him backstage. He was always the most genuinely charming, impishly surprisingly funny, overwhelmingly engaged in music, one of these people constantly interested in music. You could talk to him about any band and he knew them, an inspirational music lover.”
And his answer to the age-old question: what are the odds of Bernard Butler ever coming back?
“None at all,” he says. “He’s really happy doing what he’s doing. It would be his idea of hell, it’s not something we want and it’s not something he would want. We get on fine nowadays but he was in the band for a fifth of the time the other two have been in it.”