On their new record Night Thoughts, Suede reflects the feelings of becoming a parent, playing around with eerie snatches of children singing and dramatic string sections. It’s been a long time since the band’s teen heartthrobs days in the ’90s Britpop era, but their theatrical live shows and instinct for songs that stand the test of time have not diminished. Before their recent concert in Hong Kong, frontman Brett Anderson, guitarist Neil Codling and bassist Mat Osman told Young Post about the thinking behind their seventh studio album.
How are you finding it so far in Hong Kong?
Neil Codling: It’s a bit wet so we haven’t been out much.
Mat Osman: It’s almost Britishly wet, which is saying something. I like how you can walk miles without leaving air conditioning. I can get to Admiralty without putting a step outside. We eat really well here. I love dim sum and seafood.
Brett Anderson: I like taking the ferry across the bay. When the weather’s bad it’s even more dramatic.
MO: Do you stand at the front and do the whole Titanic thing?
BA: Of course. Doesn’t everyone?
How was the process different making an album that you wanted people to listen to from start to finish?
NC: We started off thinking it was going to be the soundtrack to a film that was never going to be made. We set about writing it differently, rather than a standard collection of pop/rock songs, we wanted it to be more cinematic, more dramatic, more dynamic. So that informed the writing process, really. We were listening to film soundtracks, and trying not to think in terms of pop songs. The process was a bit more arty, I suppose.
Why did you decide to make this now: an album so grandiose?
BA: We wanted something ambitious. Grandiose implies pomposity. We didn’t want just another collection of songs. I’m very proud of Bloodsports . It has some of our best songs on it. But somehow, Night Thoughts is more than the sum of it’s parts – even though I don’t think there’s one song on it as good as Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away or For the Strangers. It doesn’t quite reach it in terms of song quality, but I think it’s a stronger album. Night Thoughts has a purpose as an album, whereas Bloodsports doesn’t – it’s more a collection of songs in a traditional way. The fact that Night Thoughts has been so well received has really emboldened us to do something more extreme. There’s no point in Suede just releasing an album of good songs. No one cares. No one wants to hear us trying to rewrite Beautiful Ones. It’s pointless.
How does it transfer live? Does the power of the songs still come across playing the tracks among older songs?
MO: It misses something. But when you’re touring the world, you have a responsibility to play the songs people want to hear.
BA: It’s part of the compromise you have to make as artists. There’s a constant juggling between pleasing people and doing something interesting artistically. There’s a partly mad, energetic, primal, audience-pleasing Suede, but also a very thoughtful, artistic side too.
Some of the lyrics are very poetic and thoughtful. How do you keep the inspiration fresh and avoid cliché?
BA: It’s kind of you to say I achieved that, because I don’t think I always have. I’ve discovered how powerful ambiguity is in writing. The not knowing. An engaged listener will work out what the song’s about. Leaving those little clues in a song. If you find out what’s going to happen in a book too early on you don’t finish. That’s kind of what poetry is for me – playing with imagery, suggesting things that couldn’t otherwise be suggested. I look for stuff in the everyday – little phrases and vignettes that appeal to me.
You’ve spoken about how fatherhood has impacted the songwriting on Night Thoughts. Did it affect it in the way you thought it would?
BA: No. What I tried to focus on was the paranoia of parenthood and the darker, worried side. I didn’t want to write jolly little songs about me and my kids building sandcastles. I had to write about it because it’s the biggest thing that’s happened in my life in the last five years.
How was it working with an orchestra?
MO: We didn’t! The strings were synths! The record sounds orchestral because it has these noises that disappear and never come back.
NC: I think it’s because the first minute is this big string section, which skews the truth. There’s not much of an orchestra on the record, but we used recording tricks that make it seem like there is. Orchestras make things sound cinematic. They give this kind of grandeur.
MO: We deliberately wanted the last record to be just the five of us playing, but this one was almost the opposite. Orchestral music is interesting because you can use an instrument and it never comes back again.
BA: Suede works when it’s dramatic. It doesn’t work trying to write flat, vaguely melodic songs. It’s gotta have drama. Using those instruments is part of that.
NC: It’s really important that we’re constantly learning how to make records. It’s always good to push ourselves and try new things.
MO: If you can fail in an interesting way, it’s better than succeeding in a boring way. You should always be trying to do something you can’t quite do.