You get distracted by the whole rock star myth. Fame and money and all of those things, they’re seductive things.
Prior to his appearance at this year’s Crossing Border Festival in the Hague, Incendiary met up with Brett Anderson on a whistlestop visit to Amsterdam to talk about his latest album, Wilderness and just what the hell goes on in that head of his.
IN: I had a wander around town earlier today just listening to the album, as I normally do before an interview, but I found it really hard to listen to with crowds around me and eventually found myself wandering down some back streets where it was a bit quieter and it seemed to suit that so much better but I was remembering when I spoke to you last time, after your first solo album came out and you said then that you had this idea of what you wanted your next album to be like, which was like a kind of band-oriented solo record and then you come out with this.
BA: Which is the complete opposite. Yeah I know. I think I was still looking for my sound on the first record. It was a sort of a hangover, not in a bad way, but having been in a band for years that’s just the way you work. Then last July I did a show with just a cello player, having done a rock tour and stuff, and I just loved the way the songs sounded. Lots of the songs I’d reinterpreted and re-kind-of-arranged and I thought it sounded so powerful because of the simplicity. And I played some old Suede songs as well and I thought, God, some of them actually sound better than the recording. You know, sometimes less is more, it really is. So I just started touring like that and I’ve been touring with a cello player for just over a year and when it came to making a new album I thought, this is how I’m going to make it.
I feel confident enough to play like this. I feel confident enough in my personal playing. I’m not kind of a virtuoso piano player or guitar player but I can play well enough for it to be OK as a backing. I thought it would be more important to have the dynamic of me actually controlling the song than the actual technical ability of my playing. I could have gone out and hired a piano player who would have played better but the energy would have been different and I wanted to keep that. I recorded the album live, all live takes. Me and the cello player in room singing and playing at the same time. It’s like a live album without the audience.
IN: It comes across as a really honest album. There’s no flourish to it.
IN: There’s no spin on it and it reminded me of something else we spoke about last time, when you said you hated the way some producers always try to put their stamp on things, and this is the exact opposite as that, it’s almost non-produced in a sense. This really is just your sound and nothing else.
BA: Well this is as much me as you’ll ever get. As anyone will ever get. You know I played everything on it except the cello. I played the bloody Tablas on it and stuff like that, which is kind of bizarre, but I did everything on it really. Which I loved as well and that wasn’t sort of showing off, I wanted it to be a really true expression of me. I didn’t want to hire some guy to come in and play the bass. I wanted it to actually be me. It’s not an ego thing it’s just, you know I did all the artwork and everything.
IN: I think that’s why I think it’s a confident record.
BA: I couldn’t have made this five years ago.
IN: You’re just sure in your own ability more than anything else.
BA: Yeah definitely. I couldn’t have made this record even, possibly, a year ago even. It’s purely because of the confidence that I’ve gained from being a solo artist. It’s really exciting. It’s an interesting journey, where I’m going to go now and I’m confident enough now to just go where I want to go. Whereas before, when I left Suede, I was sort of…still…kind of in a slightly fragile state where I felt like I needed a band around me and I needed people to do things for me and it’s a real freedom to realise that I can just do everything for myself. It’s lovely.
IN: There’s something in the biography section on your website where you say that you’re so much more at home in yourself now. Did that realisation take a long time to kick in? To say well actually all the stuff that you thought you needed you can actually do without?
BA: I think a lot of it is just destroying your ego. I’d built up a huge kind of ego, persona, over the last 18 years or however long I’ve been sort of professionally working for now. A lot of it was subverting that and destroying that and kind of chipping away at it.
You know, not needing a huge record company. Not needing a huge publishing deal and all those things and not caring whether that many people are actually listening to me. And you know, that’s been a personal journey for me but I think that I’ve come out of it OK and a better artist for it actually, you know.
IN: It must be rewarding to come to realise that the mask isn’t everything.
BA: Exactly and I just genuinely don’t care. I genuinely don’t have a…You know some people say, “Oh you must miss the kind of, you must miss being screamed at by thousands and thousands of people,” and I’m like, “No I don’t really.” But if I want that, I have it. I’ve still got a pretty rabid fan base, hardcore fan base. I played Shepherd’s Bush Empire the other day to 1500 insane people and they absolutely loved every second of it. So it’s there if I kind of want it but I don’t need it like I used to need that. It’s almost like, it’s fun for a night. It’s like a little bit of tourism almost but it’s not like the sort of pulse of who I am anymore.
You get distracted by the whole rock star myth. Fame and money and all of those things, they’re seductive things. They’re distracting and I’ve sort of shed a lot of those things and really kind of boiled what I do down to the essence of what it is. And that’s what this record is but hopefully it’s not just about that. If it was just about that I wouldn’t have bothered releasing it. I think it highlights what I do best, which is melody, which is songs, which is my voice. Trying to…emoting. All of those things, which I’ve always thought I do well.
I still have a lot more to learn about music. I’m not sort of saying it’s a perfect album or anything like that but it’s, in it’s own simple, quiet, little way I think it’s quite special. And that’s all you need.