What’s next for the band?
I’m always thinking about the next record. The last couple that we’ve made have been expansive, ambitious, and at times slightly florid. I want the next one to be a nasty, live-sounding rock record – something dirtier, punk-ier sounding. It’s tricky, since I’m 52 years old. I’m very aware that men my age have to be careful when making this type of music, because rock has the element of youthful danger, and was originally young people’s music. If you handle it wrong, you can come across as being socially touristic. But there’s a raw, punk-like energy that Suede accesses live, which I want to capture.
What do you think of the 1990s now? Do you think that decade’s musical output will have the same impact as the previous decades’?
It’s difficult for me to say. Even though quite some time has passed, I’m still too close to judge it properly because I was part of it. If I were going to be really objective about it, I’d say that ’90s music won’t have the same resonance in 50 years’ time because the songs were basically copies of things that had gone on previously. Then again, a good song is a good song.
It’s fascinating how these perceptions change over time.
Yes it is. Culturally, the ’90s look quite archaic to me now. Things like Cool Britannia and Britpop look very laddish and jingoistic, with a hint of misogyny in there. I don’t think that resonates very well with 2020, to be honest.
The conversations around sexuality and gender were indeed very different then. In some ways, you were a pioneer in, for lack of a better term, “gender fluidity”.
The phrase didn’t exist then, but it was what I was aiming for with some aspects of my image and statements I made. I famously described myself as a bisexual man who had never had a homosexual experience. It was very clunky – I was trying not to position myself anywhere sexually, but ended up being put into this entire “bisexual” camp. The whole point of it was to avoid these categories altogether. I had misunderstood the way the media works – there are no subtleties, and you can’t speak with nuance.
A sense of sexual fluidity was definitely something I was trying to capture and, retrospectively, it does feel like our message then is incredibly current. I’m quite proud of that, especially if you look at the context: the ’90s were very misogynistic, with lad magazines like Loaded. Yet we were in the middle of it all talking about gender fluidity. It’s like what I said earlier about deliberately avoiding the zeitgeist. We were determined not to join in, and I’m so proud that we didn’t.
Were you already sceptical of Cool Britannia and Britpop back then, when it was happening?
Yeah. I’m sceptical of any movement that becomes big. Let’s look at Britpop. It started off with really good intentions in 1993, with Suede’s debut record. That was an album that looked at and documented the world around us, which happened to be Britain, down to the guy who lives on the dole in rented rooms in London.
Then Britpop became a movement, and it was exciting because it was a rejection of American cultural imperialism. For decades, the world bought into American culture, and every kid from Oslo to Madagascar was wearing baseball caps backwards and speaking with an American accent. Britpop, in its purest from, was a rejection of that. It was saying, “No, we don’t live in California, or any part of America. We live in London and we’ll sing about that.” That was something really exciting.
But of course, when something becomes popular, the high street moves in and the money moves in, and it becomes devalued. Then, you get the hangers-on and it turns into an ugly cartoon. Britpop became a nationalistic cartoon and a parody of itself, and that’s the point you go, “See you later.” Every single youth movement starts with something very exciting, and then becomes a victim of its own success. Britpop was no exception.
You grew up in a small town in Sussex, not too far from Brighton. How did that shape you, lyrical matter aside?
It makes you very frustrated, but also ambitious. I think that all great rock music was made in the suburbs. There’s a yearning to it, a sense that you’re excluded. It’s what gives you the drive and ambition, and that was how I felt when I was growing up just outside of London, but essentially in the middle of nowhere. I just wanted to escape from the lives that my parents had. The world that I was in felt parochial, small-minded and limiting. But I think everyone views where they grew up as unromantic. It’s part of what defines you.
You’ve come a long way from that. Has fatherhood been the great equaliser for you, coming from the world of rock ‘n roll?
I think that when you become a parent, you’re forced to dismantle your ego. You’re not the most important person in the world any more, and that experience levels you out. But it’s also an age thing, because I don’t think I’d have made a great parent in my late 20s. I became a stepfather at 40 and a father at 45, and it was good timing – I didn’t find it hard to cast my ego aside, and I can kind of go in and out of it. You need to have an ego when you go on stage – you can’t shuffle up and be apologetic about it. You’re selling something to the audience, maybe a lie and a truth at the same time, and it’s absolutely necessary.
You’re selling a dream.
You’re selling an image. But I can take the ego off and leave it in the cupboard for a while when I need to.