I kind of need to know who I am sometimes and I'm just sort of discovering that really.
The Banks Mansion hotel in Amsterdam likes to think of itself as a bit suave and sophisticated, a one of Amsterdam's elite hotels. The only problem is, if you've spent any longer than a couple of minutes inside its walls, you'll soon realise that it's all surface, no feeling. Yes, the door staff are polite, the rooms are an adequate size, the showers tend to work and the sheets don't threaten to stand up and walk down to the laundry on their own - which is quite a feat for an Amsterdam hotel, it must be said. To my mind at least, the hotel seems to be trying too hard. It's decoration is garish to the point of absurdity (The hotel says it gains inspiration from the Amsterdam Berlage school and Frank Lloyd Wright and yet the whole place looks like Ikea's attempt to do Art Deco - dangerously overstated) and the fact that it calls it's only exclusive room "The Suite," only adds to the inflated self importance it's going for. Still, it used to be a bank after all, so at least your passport safe should be secure. As some clever bastard once said, "Image is Everything" and as much as the carpets of the Banks Mansion give me a headache, it does seem like a strangely apt place in which to meet Brett Anderson, a man who has spent more than the last decade of his life crafting and living up to his rock star image.
Thinking back to Suede's debut album, it's impossible not to recollect how much Suede stood out from the crowd. Hot on the heels of Baggy , Acid House and other such late eighties/early nineties nonsense, their androgynous, bisexual, mysterious look was incredibly alluring and a huge kick up the arse for the music scene in general, which was desperately short of icons back then. There was a mystique about Suede, they looked incredibly pampered and obviously showered regularly, but there was a dirty, seedy underbelly to them and their music that at once attracted you but repulsed you at the same time. Suede had the ability to turn you on and make you feel guilty for it at the same time and nothing summed this up more than their front man, Brett Anderson.
Although the androgynous look wore off somewhat as the band matured, it's still fair to say that Brett was still sporting the same look and portraying the same image right up until the end of Suede and the appearance of The Tears a couple of years ago. Brett's image has been incredibly important to him and he's one of the few artists that really seem to have crafted a persona for him, a character to play and have managed to make it a successful one. The only thing is, with the recent release of his eponymously titled solo album, he's set about trying to pull that all apart. Incendiary simply had to find out what possessed him to do.
Incendiary: Image always seems to have played an important role in your career, whether it's the image of the band, be it Suede or The Tears even, and even more so for yourself because you seem to have crafted this 'Brett' persona over the years but would it be fair to say that, with the new album, you've tried to rip that all up and throw it in the bin?
Brett Anderson: It's like that Mike Yarwood thing. You know, where he used to do impressions and at the end of the show he'd go, "Yeah this is me" and do a song. Heh heh. You've pretty much hit the nail on the head there, that's pretty much it. I feel comfortable enough with the world to just sort of see 'me' now. Not that they didn't see me before, but it was a very....I didn't really know who I was before so I didn't know how I could have shown the world myself and just, when you're in a band your personality becomes very, distorted and pulled around and you become a very strange person.
I think over the last few years I've got a bit more balance in my life and become a bit more of a rounded human being and not this sort of freak that can't handle anything. Do you know what I mean? Which is what I became for a while. I've been learning how to be normal human being again, which is more interesting than it sounds. You know, it sounds like some sort of cop out, or of someone abdicating from the rock and roll dream but it's not like that at all. It's about engaging with reality and engaging with the world and kind of deciding that every day life can be fulfilling and beautiful in a very different way. The record is very much an expression of that and, hopefully, an inspiring expression.
IN: Is this, then, the opposite to that new band idea, where you've got a bunch of kids who hate who they are, where the come from and just want to escape it all. Is your album the mature response to that where now you're saying, "Let's take stock and see what's happened to me?"
BA: Yeah, very much so. That's sort of where my brain is at, really. I kind of need to know who I am sometimes and I'm just sort of discovering that really.
IN: Was it a comfortable experience, delving into that?
BA: No it's never really a comfortable experience, is it, facing up to things. It's like that sort of strange moment of seeing an x-ray of yourself. It's a fascinating thing, it's something that is so present in your body and in a sense you're so familiar with it and yet in another sense it's so alien to you. It's such a weird duality. I guess it was that kind of experience where, you know, even though you live with your personality, sometimes you don't really know what it is and it takes a bit of distance from it to see yourself with any kind of clarity and honesty. Yeah, it's never really that comfortable, because you have this kind of idealised version of yourself and then when you confront yourself with the reality you realise that you're a bit of an idiot, you know? (laughs)
Interview : Damian Leslie