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Suede - the Insatiable Ones
Arguably the most popular overseas rock band in Hong Kong. Suede blitzed the music scene when Melody Maker called them the "Best New Band in Britain" even before they release their first single, The Drowners in 1992. Living up to the hype, Suede went on to release two classic albums, Suede and Dog Man Star before parting company with the ace guitarist/poster pin-up, Bernard Bulter, in 1994 - replacing him with the then 17-year old Richard Oakes. Man-on-the-scene Dawson Chan caught up with Ricahrd recently during their European tour to talk about Bernard, electronica and this month's live date in Hong Kong.
What was it like talking over for Bernard Bulter? Was that a lot of pressure for a 17-year old?
No, not really. Pressure is only what you put onto yourself. It's just kinda like the band had taken its relationship with him as far as it would go. If he wants to leave and do his own thing, that's fine. I kinda came along and anchored things a little bit. You can really hear on Coming Up that everything is very anchored, it's quite easy on that ear and it's like being a band again. It's like the Beatles making one of their first records - that's when they were really playing as a band, and that's what I brought to the table. We're much more of a band now, not a bunch of individuals as when Bernard was onboard.
For the band's first two albums, the songs were written completely by frontman Brett Anderson and Bulter. But for the subsequent albums, as well as b-sides, it seems to be a lot more contribution from everyone else. Could you explain the band's songwriting process?
I think the way the credits work are quite deceiving. Especially on the first computer of albums, they just had Brett and Bernard's names on them, but everybody worked on them. It's a bit of a shame for the rest of the band, but it's just the way the contracts were drawn up. But nowadays, you're totally right, there's a lot more contribution from everybody. Everytime someone comes up with an idea, we take it straight to the rehearsal room and all five of us work on it. There's none of this working at home at 3 o'clock in the morning and sending tapes by post. That went out of the window a long time ago.
Head Music, in the tradition of Coming Up seems to be more melodic and "pop" as opposed to the moodiness apparent on the first two albums. Is that the direction you see the band going in the future?
Yeah, well I think the band has learned to get rid of a lot of the cynicism and start being a bit more optimistic. I think musically, we feel we can be a bit more instinctive, and we can be a bit more dumb. Things like Elephant Man and Can't Get Enough, they're really dumb songs(laughs). And that's something you have to gain confidence to do. That's something you can't really do on your first album, at least Suede didn't. They opted for the kind of mature, moody option. And it was only when we gained a bit more confidence that we could bash around and be a bit more silly.
Suede has traditionally been a very raw drums-bass-guitar type of band, with the occasional horns and strings thrown in. But on Head Music, there is more sampling and drum machines, a more electronic sound if you will. How did that come about?
Yeah, we incoporated that in. That wasn't to replace anything. It's just something that a lot of the songs suggested, songs like Savoir Faire or Down. When we started recording it, we got (producer)Steve Osborne in and the core ideas that he came up with are very muchin that sort of vein. He likes to stick a drum machine on top of some live drums. And it's not like we're trying to make an electronic or dance album at all. It's just that the embellishments that were made were toward that leaning, 'cause that was our musical mood at the time. The next record will probably be a lot more guitar driven again. Each record is a little bit of a gut reaction to the last one. We've done that so next time we'll do something different. The next record won't have any long ballads or anything. It'll be guitar-driven and kind of harsh, if I"m going to predict what it's going to sound like!
This month's show will be Suede's third visit to Hong Kong. Is there anything particular about the place that has made it one of your regular stops on tour?
Yeah, we always have a great time! Hong Kong's one of those places that you just know you're going to have a blast. It's just the spirit that is really good, and we've got some really good fans there that always write to us and say, "we really enjoyed the album and we're really looking forward to seeing you again" and stuff like that. That's really graifying, espcially during the times when you're not in the public eye. When yuo're amking a record, people think you're on holiday, and it's not like that at all. We get letters from people in Hong kiong saying, "we're looking foward to hearing what you're doing." They're really nice poeple and the gigsare always insane.
So what can the local fans here expect for the show? Are there going to be any tunes form the first two albums?
Possibly. We sometimes chuck them in if we think there are a lot of fans we can please. We did some shows with R.E.M. recently, and there were a few Suede fans there, but there were a lot of people that might not be up on who we were, so to jog their memories, we played Animal Nitrate and Metal Mickey. So we might play a couple like that. We won't play any album tracks; we'll only play the big singles.
Well, my personal all-time favourite Suede song is My Insatiable One(b-side off The Drowners), so is there any chance of slipping that into the setlist just for me?
(laughs) We did play that once this summer, but I'm not sure if that's going to pop up for Hong Kong. We usually leave it up to that day to decide what we're going to paly, so I can't possibly tell you now. (laughs) You'll just have to turn up at our show to see, won't you?!
BC Magazine September 1999
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